It happens but rarely: an Oscar acceptance speech with something of substance to communicate, other than a list of thank-yous. Yet last night was one of those rare occasions, as actor Matthew McConaughey used his well-deserved award for Best Actor to express his views on how to lead an ethical life:
Here is the text of his speech—much thanks to reader Phil Kraemer, who located it:
Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this—all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn’t see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.
There’s a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.”
To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear. And he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who’s here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers… demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.
And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.
So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.” To that I say, “Alright, alright, alright.” To that I say “just keep living.” Thank you.
You have to wonder about the various tweeters and pundits who objected to McConaughey’s candor about his inner compass as “bizarre” (Time) or egomaniacal (several). Yes, by nature and necessity actors are unusually self-absorbed; the latter complaint is akin to faulting a dog show winner as inarticulate. What was admirable and inspiring about McConaughey’s speech was his exuberant explanation of how his personal hero is always who he will be in the next ten years.
I doubt that this is an original formula, but I have never heard it before, and it is the essence of ethics: we strive to keep learning, getting better, and aspiring to be the best people we can be, or life is pointless. Ironically, this was also the lesson of “Groundhog Day,” the comedy masterpiece of the late writer-director Harold Ramis, whose name and career were evoked more than one during the Academy Awards broadcast. Having other people as heroes doesn’t accomplish much, unless we aspire to and learn from their values and conduct, and eventually capable of similar heroism ourselves.
As for all those who are criticizing the actor for his religious sentiments: back off. Religion has played a major role in minting some good and remarkable human beings, and McConaughey seems to be one of them. If he chooses to thank God in his moment of exhilaration and triumph, that should be beyond reproach.