- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

It will not go down as one of the all-time juiciest Hollywood scandals, but as a silly little career pick-me-up, the bongo incident was perfect for Matthew McConaughey.

Last October, the star of "U-571" became the subject of headlines, affectionate jabs by Jay Leno and David Letterman and lots of chatter around the nation's water coolers. Normally, you can't buy publicity like that, but it only cost Mr. McConaughey $50 in fines and a few hours in the slammer. That was his punishment for violating a noise ordinance and basic good taste.

Police, responding to a neighbor's complaint, found the actor beating on bongos at his Austin, Texas, home that night. The kicker was that the cops spotted drug paraphernalia (but no drugs) and Mr. McConaughey was nude.

"Well, you know, it feels better that way," Mr. McConaughey drawls with a naughty grin. "I think everyone should go to jail once, but after once, I don't want to go back. I've got a sense of humor about it, though, because there was nothing wrong that was really done. What I learned is, shut your back window. I left my back window open, and that was a neighbor I didn't know. But yeah, it was loud. I wouldn't want anyone waking me up in the middle of the night, either."

Mr. McConaughey is making the promotional rounds for his widely praised World War II submarine adventure, "U-571," about the capture of one of the infamous Nazi Enigma machines. The machine was an incredibly complex secret-code translator that looked like a typewriter. When the British captured one in 1941, the tide of the whole war turned.

"U-571" has Mr. McConaughey leading an American submarine crew on that heroic mission. As a proud patriot, he does not have a problem with the historical fudging.

"I saw the film, and I didn't get the feeling that it was saying this is exactly what our history is, this is who did it," Mr. McConaughey explains. "I mean, someone's probably going to gripe about it, but I never felt that this story was ever trying to be sneaky. There are obvious reasons for making the heroes American. It means there's going to be more people going to see it. Hey, it's a Hollywood movie. It is a yarn, it is a tale being told, and if you see it that way, it completely makes sense to me. I don't see a problem there."

Mr. McConaughey's cocksure positive attitude is the main reason for his rapid rise to stardom in Hollywood, apart from his rugged looks and frisky Texas charm. It won him his first film role, in Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused." The strength of his appearance in that 1993 slacker movie led to a series of high-profile casting calls, and Mr. McConaughey, now 30, was proclaimed the "next big thing."

He just wrapped filming on "The Wedding Planner," with Jennifer Lopez. She plays the ceremony coordinator, and he is her Mr. Right, although he is engaged to one of her clients. Mr. McConaughey has a knack for playing homespun simple folk, but he also has played cunning lawyers in two films, "Amistad" and "A Time to Kill" (opposite his one-time girlfriend, Sandra Bullock).

It is a role he nearly wound up playing off-screen, too. Before he signed up for film school at the University of Texas, Mr. McConaughey had intended to study law, but he wasn't sleeping well with the idea of being a lawyer. He started keeping a diary, jotting down his perspective on things.

"I'd go back a week later and read what I wrote and go, 'Man, that's good. I like that,' " he recalls.

Law school meant another six or seven years of classes.

"I didn't want to wait to be able to go out and, I don't know, express myself. So I went to director's school, and then I tried out acting," Mr. McConaughey continues. " 'Dazed and Confused' was the first thing I worked on, and I was having so much fun, I couldn't believe they pay you for that. Then people said I was good at it and I ought to try it some more. I really thought I was getting away with something, because it was not something that I was raised to think was really practical, something to pursue."

Mr. McConaughey smiles that now familiar grin. "But it seems to have worked out."

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