I’ve never cared much for the Oscars. It’s not about principle; they just don’t matter to me. Yet I was gobsmacked by the academy’s negligence in passing over Matthew McConaughey. His turn as Cooper is layered, earnest, and visceral.
Like Nolan’s direction, McConaughey’s performance is very grounded in the first act. He’s a farmer, a father, and a widower; the blight has sucked all the air from his aspirations. Slowly, we see the explorer awakened. Cooper plummets out of his comfort zone, embracing the possibilities of an infinite universe. By the end of the film, he’s transcended time and place—and through McConaughey’s performance, the audience has also.
Here are ten brilliant acting choices by Matthew McConaughey in “Interstellar.”
10. The Blink
Cooper is confounded by Miss Hanley’s assertion that the moon landings were faked. McConaughey portrays this with a blank stare and rapid blink.
9. The Look
When Cooper asks Brand about Edmunds, he infers history from her response. McConaughey’s reaction (a simple flick of his eyes) lays the foundation for Brand’s later confession.
8. The Smirk
When Donald calls Cooper a man out of time, McConaughey smirks slightly, tapping his foot. Clearly, Cooper’s heard this speech before.
7. “C’mon, TARS!”
With the fate of humanity in TARS’ hands (appendages?), McConaughey could have played Cooper as fearful and frustrated. Instead, his delivery of “C’mon, TARS!” evokes brotherly encouragement.
6. The Smile and Wave
The best moment in the “years of messages” scene is when Cooper sees his grandson. McConaughey’s smile/wave make the reveal of Jesse’s death even more devastating.
5. The Shush
As Murph steps out of the elevator, Professor Brand tells Cooper that his “daughter’s generation will be the last to survive on earth.” McConaughey whispers “shh,” prompting Michael Caine to lower his voice. This creates foreshadowing to his parenting speech on Miller’s planet.
4. The Close
Ellyn Burstyn’s Murph has the film’s most breathtaking line: “Because my dad promised.” Considering she lived 90 percent of her life without him, the strength of hers and Cooper’s bond is incredible. McConaughey’s reaction (merely shutting his eyes) speaks volumes while letting Burstyn’s line breathe.
3. Peering into Space
“Interstellar” is blissfully optimistic. The moment that best demonstrates this is Cooper peering into space in the film’s final frames. McConaughey’s slight smile tells us that Cooper (and Brand) will be okay.
2. The Squint
When Murph asks Cooper if he “left her there to die,” McConaughey could have gone big with his reaction. However, his miserable flinch and the slight squint of his eyes are far more powerful.
1. The Emotion
I had the displeasure of seeing “Interstellar” in a hipster-filled theater on a Saturday afternoon. These too-cool-for-school punks would actually chuckle during emotional scenes. It’s deeply saddening that the barest hint of emotion or sentimentality is derided as maudlin in today’s world. We’ve adopted as virtues darkness and awkwardness. But McConaughey don’t play that. In the tesseract scene, he cashes in all the credibility gained through his earlier subtlety, delivering an intense, gut-wrenching performance that anchors the film’s climax. If McConaughey’s strangled shouts don’t elicit tears, you may not have a soul.