McConaughey recognizes that there's a lot of Big Jim in him, but he dismisses the notion that bearing witness to his parents' volatile marriage might have factored into his waiting five years to pop the question to Camila. It was clear to McConaughey for a long time that Camila was the one for him. What wasn't so clear was what was so necessary about getting married. He kept asking himself, "What is it more than a signed document? What is it more than a formality? I gotta believe in this thing."
The answer, McConaughey says, came from the pastor of his church. Beginning around 2011, he and Camila started spending more time with his family in Texas. They bought a second home there. His mom was then seventy-seven. That's "fourth-quarter stuff," as he puts it, and now that he had a son and a newborn daughter, Vida, he wanted his kids to grow up in a place where "a mile feels like a mile and an hour feels like an hour." He started going to a nondenominational church, Riverbend. He liked the pastor, Dave Haney. McConaughey says it was the first time he didn't leave a church feeling guilty.
"What interests me about the Bible," he says, "is not the burning bushes, but finding the literal road maps to satisfaction, success, health . . . they are all over the Bible." Pastor Haney helped McConaughey find these road maps. "I spent a good amount of time talking about the sacrament of marriage with Pastor Haney, getting past that fear of, Am I going to lose myself? And seeing it's not now I'm one and if we marry I'm 50 percent of myself and you're 50 percent of you. No, it's one and one, and multiply and become three."
"It's one and one, and multiply and become three."
McConaughey surprised Camila with the proposal while they were visiting his family during Christmas in 2011. "I remember hitting the knee, looking into her eyes, and . . ." McConaughey's voice trails off. He looks away. Oscar or no Oscar, no one can fake the way he falls back into that moment. "I remember her face. I remember this smile coming up from her feet. I remember her having to catch her breath. And she didn't say yes right away. And then the whole family was going, Jeezus, she's gonna say no."
The couple married in 2012, after Camila grew tired of waiting for McConaughey to find downtime in his schedule and instead simply presented him with the invitation and told him, "Be there." Her whole family was there from Brazil; his whole family was there. As McConaughey looked around at his wedding, he noted that everyone was there, except for Big Jim.
McConaughey's Pop died in August 1992. Big Jim had always predicted K-Mac's lovemaking would kill him, and damned if that's not what happened: a heart attack after being with her. McConaughey was in the midst of filming Dazed and Confused. He left the set, went home for the funeral, and then returned to work, saying that's what Pop would have wanted. Richard Linklater has said he thinks Big Jim's death inspired McConaughey to come up with Wooderson's closing line: "You just gotta keep livin', man. L-I-V-I-N."
For a long while, in the wake of his Time to Kill fame, that was McConaughey's motto. It fit the McConaughey of that time, a dude who didn't spend much time reflecting.
That was then.
Now, twenty-plus years after Dazed and Confused, McConaughey hasn't abandoned his belief that you just gotta keep livin'. In fact, the charity he started in a handful of at-risk high schools around the country—after-school programs to help kids not give in or give up—is called the J. K. Livin Foundation. However, McConaughey has embraced another catchphrase—"No cheatin' the man in the glass." It's the signatory line he has set to automatically attach to his emails, the paraphrased theme of the poem "The Guy in the Glass." Depending on the source you consult, the poem was written by an unknown poet or by a guy named Dale Wimbrow.
It goes like this:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self, and the world makes you King for a day, then go to the mirror and look at yourself, and see what that guy has to say. For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife, whose judgment upon you must pass. The feller whose verdict counts most in your life is the guy staring back from the glass. He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest, for he's with you clear up to the end. And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test if the guy in the glass is your friend. You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum, and think you're a wonderful guy. But the man in the glass says you're only a bum if you can't look him straight in the eye. You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years, and get pats on the back as you pass. But your final reward will be heartaches and tears if you've cheated the guy in the glass.
"No cheatin' the man in the glass" is a sentiment that seems about right for this McConaughey, who has starred in his fair share of hits and taken his fair share of shit; a forty-six-year-old married father of three who has built a brand, broken it, and started anew; a dude who's made some mistakes but who has no regrets, because he's done it his way. Just like Big Jim, just like Wooderson, just like Kenny Wells. "For Kenny Wells," McConaughey says, "it was fourth down and fifty-five yards to go five or six times in his life. Somehow he pulled it off. And yeah, I can relate to that."