Matthew McConaughey Went Primal Committing To His Reign Of Fire Role

Sometimes, it feels like we are past the era of prototypical action movie stars. Sure, there's Tom Cruise, Dwayne Johnson, Keanu Reeves, Jason Statham, and more, but they seem to appear in fewer movies than stars of the '80s and '90s like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Then there are actors who definitely should be considered bigger stars, like Frank Grillo and Scott Adkins, but aren't. 

The problem with the former group is, for the most part, they are such big personalities outside the screen (much like stars of the '80s) that you can often predict what their entire movies are based on their casting. No matter the movie, you know Dwayne Johnson is always playing the same character, Vin Diesel will never take more than a handful of punches, and Tom Cruise will run like he stole something (and sometimes he actually did).

This is part of the reason the filmmakers behind the criminally underseen, early aughts masterpiece "Reign of Fire" picked not Schwarzenegger or Stallone, but Matthew McConaughey to be their grizzled, badass dragon slayer.

"The producers had asked me if I would consider Stallone and Schwarzenegger," director Rob Bowman told Gizmodo. "I said the problem with that is I know who's gonna be alive at the end of the movie and I know what's gonna happen to the dragon." Bowman went on:

"I kind of torpedo the dragon's menace and threat from the beginning because I have that impenetrable, perpetually victorious actor character if it's Arnold or Sly. Those guys have such a huge screen presence. I'm already asking the audience to say 'OK, there's fake dragons in this movie as the villain.' I couldn't ask them to do anything else."

'Go be a man of action, go be a bad-arse'

Luckily for all of us, Bowman won in the end and we got a movie where future Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey played a dragon hunter named Denton Van Zan, probably the most badass character of the '00s. In the film, humans accidentally discover a cave full of dragons while doing construction on the London Underground, unleashing an army of flying, fire-breathers that decimate the human population.

More of a post-apocalyptic war thriller than a monster film or an action film, "Reign of Fire" is a somber movie where kids are constantly praying not to see a dragon, and Christian Bale and Gerard Butler (shortly before their respective blockbuster breaks with "Batman Begins" and "300") reenact a scene from "Empire Strikes Back" as a stage play to a group of kids. It is also a movie where McConaughey plays a character covered in Polynesian-inspired dragon tattoos like a man straight out of Robert Eggers' most metal dreams

In the same Gizmodo interview, writer Matt Greenberg said McConaughey was so committed to the project he spent all of pre-production acting and talking in character. Bowman confirmed these stories:

"He's a funny guy, he's got a great sense of humour. [He was also] tenacious and ferocious in his commitment to playing that role Matthew basically told me that I wasn't allowed to make this movie without him."

Method acting has become a bit of a dirty phrase due to some performances making it seem like method is just acting like an idiot around your co-workers. But when the method works, it can lead to hilarious anecdotes from behind-the-scenes, and awe-inspiring results in front of the camera.

As for McConaughey, it is unclear if he prepared for the role by going out to the woods with a big axe and chopping the heads of fantastical fire-breathing creatures, but it is clear that he gave us one of the coolest military characters of the '00s.