NEW YORK — Matthew McConaughey loved the duds his sharp-dressed weed dealer wears in The Gentlemen. So much so that he did one thing when shooting wrapped — he swiped them.
“I got away with it,” McConaughey says, laughing in a midtown Manhattan hotel. “They were custom-made for me,” he explains. “They aren’t going to fit anyone else. I thought, ‘I’m taking those with me.’”
Playing an American expat drug dealer who has built a marijuana empire in England, McConaughey’s Mickey Pearson is looking to sell his business and exit the criminal life.
“I’m king of the jungle, and I’m ready to sell it for a fair price and fade out,” says McConaughey, who a decade ago traded rom-coms for more challenging fare that won him an Oscar for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club.
But this being a Brit gangster romp coming to us courtesy of writer-director Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Lock, Stock andTwo Smoking Barrels, RocknRolla), packing up his things and sailing off into the sunset isn’t going to be a slam dunk for Mickey.
“In this world, no one pays a fair price,” McConaughey muses. “So I have to get up and bite somebody.”
Ritchie rounds out the rowdy crime caper with a bevy of conniving characters — played by Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan and a track-suited Colin Farrell — all looking to take a piece of Mickey’s pie.
“This was the kind of Guy Ritchie film I wanted to be in,” McConaughey says. “This is the kind of sandbox I wanted to play with Guy Ritchie in. This is the kind of Guy Ritchie film that is very specific to him. You can see from trailer and go, ‘That looks like Lock, Stock (and Two Smoking Barrels).’ It’s the playground I wanted to play with him in … At the end of the movie, not everyone can remain standing and you don’t know who’s going to go or how they’re going to go, but you’re going to have a good time watching it.”
As it interweaves a myriad of different storylines, the audience is left wondering not only who’s going to win, but who the actual good guy is. “I remember going to Guy a couple of times, ‘I can see this changing from the original script. I just want to make sure: I still win in the end, right?’” McConaughey says with a chuckle.
The surprises went all the way to the very last day of shooting, Hunnam adds. “We shot a couple of completely different endings,” he says.
For Grant, who plays Fletcher, a slithery investigative journalist trying to extort Mickey, the rambunctious action mirrored his real life. “I have five small children, so it was like home, really,” he says.
Grant’s history with Ritchie dates back to 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. reboot, in which he went unrecognizable in the role of Alexander Waverly.
His disappearing act continued, notably in Paddington 2 and Florence Foster Jenkins, and is on full display in The Gentlemen.
“I thought I was OK doing character parts,” Grant says. “It’s just no one ever gave them to me — especially after Four Weddings (and a Funeral).”
Elsewhere, Dockery recounts how she relished going from the prim and proper Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey to playing Mickey’s wife, Rosalind.
“This was a really fun job,” she says. “Guy works in this way where you learn your lines and then you come onto set and he says, ‘Nah, we’re not going to do that’ … then he comes up with something even better than what’s on the page.”
But for a film dealing with an assortment of characters who are anything but gentle, the cast has trouble settling on a definition of what a true “gentleman” is.
Hunnam thinks it’s someone who “always endeavours to do the right thing.”
Grant smirks, and then offers up his take.
“A gentleman always punches up instead of punching down,” the 59-year-old says.
But it’s McConaughey, now 50 and a married father of three, who goes deep, distilling his own nugget of wisdom.
Suppose you have a funny story about someone, he floats aloud in that familiar Texas drawl. One that you know will bring the house down.
“How many times are you sitting around a table, like this one, and you know (if you tell it) you’re going to be the most popular guy at the table. You’re going to get the most laughs. But usually when that happens, people lose a little bit of respect for you. They’re left thinking, ‘That son of a bitch might tell (a) story about me at another dinner table.’
“A gentleman doesn’t do that.”
Just how a gentleman doesn’t reveal how he nicked eight suits at the end of a movie shoot. “When we’re off mic,” McConaughey says with a grin, “I’ll tell you some tricks.”
The Gentlemen is in theatres now.