Watch Matthew McConaughey’s Audition Tape for Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, the Indie Comedy That Made Him a Star

In 1992, Richard Lin­klater faced one of the most for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges in the life of any suc­cess­ful film­mak­er: fol­low­ing up on his break­through. The pre­vi­ous year he’d become an art-house star with Slack­er, an exam­i­na­tion of the var­i­ous lives aim­less­ly but amus­ing­ly lived at the Generation‑X periph­ery of Austin, Texas, a film whose delib­er­ate­ly wan­der­ing form per­fect­ly matched its sub­stance. That got him enough of a pro­file to com­mand the rel­a­tive­ly huge bud­get of $8 mil­lion (ver­sus Slack­er’s $23,000) to make Dazed and Con­fused, the sto­ry of a bunch of Austin teenagers on the last day of high school in 1976. While the movie hard­ly turned block­buster, it did help solid­i­fy Lin­klater’s place among the Amer­i­can auteurs — and almost acci­den­tal­ly launched the career of one of today’s biggest movie stars.

Matthew McConaugh­ey stole Dazed and Con­fuseds show, as many crit­ics and fans saw it, as David Wood­er­son, an ear­ly-twen­tysome­thing who still prefers the com­pa­ny of high-school­ers. You can watch a piece of his orig­i­nal audi­tion tape, made avail­able by the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, at the top of the post. “He is a char­ac­ter we’re all too famil­iar with in the movies,” wrote the Austin Chron­i­cle’s Mar­jorie Baum­garten, “but McConaugh­ey nails this guy with­out a hint of con­de­scen­sion or whim­sy, claim­ing this char­ac­ter for all time as his own.”

Some of the most mem­o­rable moments of his per­for­mance, which you can see in its final form in the clips just above and below, owe to its impro­visato­ry nature: orig­i­nal­ly a small part with just a cou­ple of lines, the char­ac­ter of Wood­er­son grew with every res­o­nant on-set inven­tion.

“Of the many great peo­ple I met in the process of cast­ing this movie, you were select­ed because I had a gut impulse about you,” wrote Lin­klater in the let­ter that accom­pa­nied the 1970s mix­tape he sent out to inspire Dazed and Con­fused’s cast. “Know your char­ac­ter so we can for­get about it and build some­thing new, some­thing spe­cial, in its like­ness. As I’ve said before, if the final movie is 100% word-for-word what’s in the script, it will be a mas­sive under­achieve­ment.” And in a sense, McConaugh­ey’s cast­ing itself, as he and cast­ing direc­tor Don Phillips told it in a Texas Month­ly oral his­to­ry of the movie, hap­pened impro­vi­sa­tion­al­ly as well. It came as the result of a chance encounter at an Austin hotel, where Phillips spot­ted “this real­ly good-look­ing girl at the end of the bar with this pret­ty cool-look­ing guy.”

That cool-look­ing guy was, of course, McConaugh­ey, who’d turned up for the drink dis­count from the bar­tender, his film-school bud­dy. “Hey, man, the guy down at the end of the bar is in town pro­duc­ing a film,” said the bar­tender to the aspir­ing actor by way of a tip, and before they know it, in McConaugh­ey’s words, “We’re talk­ing about life and women and some great golf hole he’s played.” By the time of their ejec­tion from the bar, they’d devel­oped enough instant cama­raderie for Phillips to offer McConaugh­ey an audi­tion: “Maybe we’ll put you on tape to see what you look like.” Though Lin­klater at first balked at his fel­low Tex­an’s exces­sive hand­some­ness, he even­tu­al­ly came to real­ize his suit­abil­i­ty for the part, and the rest — up to and includ­ing McConaugh­ey’s reprisal as a fortysome­thing but oth­er­wise unchanged Wood­er­son in the music video for The Black Wid­ows’ “Syn­the­siz­ers” — is cin­e­ma his­to­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Great Mix­tapes Richard Lin­klater Cre­at­ed to Psych Up the Actors in Dazed and Con­fused and Every­body Wants Some!!

Watch Free Online: Richard Linklater’s Slack­er, the Clas­sic Gen‑X Indie Film

Scenes from Wak­ing Life, Richard Linklater’s Philo­soph­i­cal, Fea­ture-Length Ani­mat­ed Film (2001)

In Dark PSA, Direc­tor Richard Lin­klater Sug­gests Rad­i­cal Steps for Deal­ing with Tex­ters in Cin­e­mas

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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