You’ve got to hand it to Matthew McConaughey; he will go to any length to nail a role. You’ll recall he lost more than 50 pounds for his Oscar winning performance in the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club in 2013. In his new film, Gold, directed by Stephen Gaghan, he dials down his sex appeal again with a receding hairline, beer belly and crooked teeth. McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a gonzo, white trash mining prospector who heads to the jungles of Indonesia in a frenzied hunt for gold.
At the world premiere of Gold in Manhattan recently, McConaughey told me on the red carpet – in his thick Texan drawl – of the inspiration for his character’s look: “I looked back at my own lifem and the Kenny Wells’ I’d met through my dad, who was a salesman. They were all large, physically almost larger than life,” said the actor “They were all kind of heavy, burly and strong, and they weren’t people who looked in the proverbial mirror. Most of them didn’t live past 60 years old either. Some of them died of heart attacks early because of their lifestyle.”
You root for Kenny Wells because of his zest for life, his passion for the hunt and the way he throws himself into the pursuit of the American dream. But he’s no match for the Wall Street sharks who start circling when they sense gold. Kenny’s long-suffering girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), tries to protect him, but Kenny’s too punch drunk with visions of riches and glory to know he’s in over his head.
Gold is a delirious free-fall ride with enough twists and reversals to keep the action humming. It’s inspired by a real-life 1993 mining scam that began in the Borneo jungles and involved a Canadian firm and some $6 billion.
Co-star Edgar Ramirez told me at the premiere he was glad he didn’t have to gain weight or lose hair for his role as Michael Acosta, an enigmatic and mysterious man who is Wells’ accomplice and either friend or fraudster or both. He accompanies Wells to Indonesia as they struggle with monsoons, malaria and deserting mine workers.
Of his character, Ramirez told me, “There’s an epic element to this character, also some sort of poetry to him. Regardless of all the science and all the technology that goes behind gold mining, being the geologist, it’s a very instinctive activity. In the end there’s no way to be sure that you’re going to find gold or that you’re going to find any metal. There are certain indicators that gold might be there, but it’s always a hunch, so it is kind of poetic, in my opinion. Then you just get a bunch of people, workers, machines and a lot of people investing money on your hunch, ‘I think that the gold must be around here.’ And you just throw a stick on the ground and say you’re going to drill here. Almost like Moses. There’s like a prophetic aspect to it. And then it’s not there!” he laughed.
Ramirez told me they shot in Thailand under conditions that looked much like what you see in the film. “We’re shooting in the middle of the monsoon season and then the water raised 5, 6, 10, 13 feet and we lost locations. We lost sets. And our station was so messed up that there were moments we had to sleep in our trailers in the middle of the jungle just to make the hours, just to make it up so we’d stay on schedule. I listened to all the sounds of the jungle, drinking wine. It was how I imagined movies were made in the 70’s.”
Ramirez is currently shooting the Netflix film Bright, directed by David Ayer. Curious photographs of him have turned up on the Internet from the set, and he’s wearing a zoot suit, blue hair and elf ears, like a character from The Lord of the Rings. The elfish ears are particularly striking. “Once they’re stuck to your real ears you don’t feel them, so it’s fine,” he told me. “It’s a good transformation. I feel like a rock star as an elf.”
Bryce Dallas Howard was next on the red carpet, and she told me she shot her scenes in three weeks. “I was so ready to kind of dive in to something that I felt was going to be an acting environment where I could kind of just shake it out and have fun and be experimental and have this immersive experience,” she said. “This movie is based on a true story and it’s just so crazy and the twists and turns are so insane it’s almost like you would never believe that something like that could happen, so I think having a character like mine is sort of a counterpart to him (Kenny Wells) and grounds the story.”
Up next for the actress is the next installment of the Jurassic Park franchise, which the actress noted was “super physical, so a lot of running” is involved.
Meanwhile, on the red carpet McConaughey’s wife, Brazilian-American model Camila Alves, stole the show. She was dressed literally all in gold except for the waterfall of diamonds decorating her ears. She posed for photographers and occasionally her husband swooped in and gave her a smooch in between selfies he took with cast members and fawning press.
Gold, a Weinstein Company and Dimension Film, opened Friday, January 27.