When Matthew McConaughey first read the script for his latest film, "Killer Joe," he had a very immediate — and very negative — reaction. "My first read, I was disgusted. I remember throwing it in the trash and going to take a shower and wishing I had a steel brush," the actor admits. "And then I have some people that I work with whose opinion I really appreciate, and they had read it at the same time and I talked to them that afternoon, and they were in love with it."
While McConaughey admits he didn't see what they saw, he was persuaded to give the script — based on a play by Tracy Letts — another shot. "They were laughing at the humor, and I was like I don't get what's funny,'" McConaughey remembers. "I gave it two days and let it get out of my system, and I read it again and found myself sort of chuckling, and I had a few laughs, then I started really to see the hilarity in it. And then I met with [director William Friedkin] for an hour. He was so precise about what he wanted to with it, what the tone of it was, that's when I got in and went to work on it."
McConaughey stars as the Joe of the title, a cold and calculating Dallas homicide detective who moonlights as a hired killer. The challenge for McConaughey was finding the humanity in such a frosty menace. "There are things I know that I liked about Joe and I worked on. He is about structure, he is about order. If he doesn't have that, he's out of whack and he either dismisses himself from the situation or handles in a street justice way," McConaughey says. "His sense of discipline is, most people would say, a little askew. It's not exactly an eye for an eye. Joe's violence comes from [the other characters'] lack of order."
Without giving too much away, the climax of the film involves a very disturbing use of fried chicken — a scene that's easily the most talked-about among audiences after a screening, with many worried they've lost their appetite for the food altogether. So has taking part in the pivotal scene changed McConaughey's appetite? "I'm more of a fan now," he says with a glint in his eye. "There's an angle, and I haven't quite figured it out yet. Why didn't Kentucky Fried Chicken come to us and say, 'Let's piggyback on this whole promotional tour?' Would that be bad for business?"
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Everything's scarier in Texas
"Killer Joe" is yet another project for Matthew McConaughey set in his native Texas — and not necessarily one that paints the best picture of the state. So why does Texas and the South in general continue to be such fertile ground for thrillers, horror movies and tales of the worst parts of human nature? "On a very basic level, you've got fear like from 'the Shining,' which is, 'Yell as loud as you want, no one's going to hear you,'" McConaughey explains. "In the South, there's more room. Trailer parks are inhabited, but when you hear domestic violence next door in a trailer park, you don't go over there and go, 'Hey, what the hell is going on?' You mind your own business."
But McConaughey, long a booster of Texas, thinks it's something more positive — a propensity for storytelling — that makes the area such a popular setting. "There's something to the geography and the space in the South and the rural areas, where a lot of great drama has come out of it," he says. "There's a lot more sit on the front porch and see the day go by and sum it up. It happens everywhere, but I know where we grew up, that's what dinner was — storytelling time."