Matthew McConaughey Once Tried to Film a Movie Without Studying the Script — And It Did Not Go Well

Many people know that a big part of an actor’s job is memorizing scripts they have been given. However, in the early days of his career, Matthew McConaughey decided to experiment with his acting chops and improvise on set instead of reading from a script. In his memoir Greenlights, McConaughey recalled this experience and revealed how much of a disaster it was.

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey | Piyal Hosain/Fotos International/Getty Images

Matthew McConaughey decided to film ‘Scorpion Spring’ without studying the script

When McConaughey was filming the 1995 movie Scorpion Spring, he decided that, if he understood his character, he could go on set and improvise his way through shooting.

He shared, according to Chicago Tribune, “Well I decide, my bright idea at the time was, you know what? I know what the problem is and why I’m not landing roles: I’m thinking too much, I’m learning too much and I need to go back to how I did it in the beginning on ‘Dazed and Confused’ where I improvised and went with my instincts because I knew my man — my man being the character, right? — and you could put me in any situation and I would just say what my man would say and do what my man would do.”

McConaughey had a “one-day role” in Scorpion Spring as a character named El Rojo, so he thought winging his scene was something doable.

Matthew McConaughey suddenly realized he had to do a monologue in Spanish

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On the day of shooting, McConaughey realized he might have made a mistake when he looked at the script for the scene he was filming.

“So I get the sides and I decide right before they call action that I’m going to have a look at them,” he recalled. “Page One: OK. Page Two: OooK. Page Three: OooooK. Page Four: Oh (shoot). It was a four page monologue — in Spanish!”

McConaughey decided to ask the crew for 12 minutes to prepare, and he tried to make use of the Spanish he learned one semester in 11th grade. Unfortunately, that did not do much to help the monologue stick into his head.

“Well, 12 minutes was not enough time to learn a four-page monologue in Spanish, and I came back exactly 12 minutes later and did the scene,” McConaughey said. “I don’t know what I did — I think I started off speaking very poor Spanish. Like, ‘Porque yo no valgo.’ I was numb, I don’t remember the moment. I may have put together a semblance of a scene and made something happen, but I don’t remember what I did. I’ve never watched it and I doubt I ever will.”

Matthew McConaughey was embarrassed by the experience

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McConaughey chalked the experience up to being the “worst moment” of his career, and he was extremely embarrassed by it.

He said, “From that day on, I heavily prepared for all my work and have since, because that embarrassment, the absolutely embarrassment — I was humiliated and I felt horrible for being so irresponsible — from that day on, I’ve been a heavy-duty preparer. I had feelings of guilt and shame for about a month after.”

Fortunately, McConaughey learned his lesson and went on to become a successful Hollywood actor. He has since appeared in a number of box office hits, including How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Magic Mike (2012), and Dallas Buyers Club (2013).