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A Time to Kill was the movie that made Matthew McConaughey a movie star. He broke out in Dazed and Confused but director Joel Schumacher gave him his first lead role in the John Grisham movie. McConaughey played Jake Brigance, a lawyer who agrees to defend Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) for killing the men who raped his daughter. Brigance delivers a powerful closing argument to the jury. 

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for A Time to Kill.]

Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock in a courtroom scene from A Time to Kill
Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

McConaughey recently wrote an autobiography called Greenlights where he discusses his life and movie roles. In an interview with Marc Maron for his WTF podcast, McConaughey recalled filming the climactic scene in A Time to Kill, and how Schumacher read his mind.

‘A Time to Kill’ is one of the most powerful Matthew McConaughey movies

A Time to Kill deals with racial tensions in the South. Hailey’s daughter is one of many victims of violence perpetrated by White assailants who got off with light sentences, if any. To sway the jury to empathize with Hailey, Brigance describes a rape in harrowing detail, then asks them to imagine the victim is White. McConaughey said he could not wait until his closeup to deliver it.

A Time to Kill stars Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson in a jail cell
L-R: Samuel L Jackson and Matthew McConaughey | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

“I remember Joel Schumacher going, ‘I’m going to shoot the jury first, we’ll do the wide shots, you can warm your way up into it,’” McConaughey told Maron. “I wasn’t even looking at him, I was gazing off, I was already in my zone. He was saying that and I was not agreeing with him. I just kind of glanced out of my eye and he goes, without missing a beat, ‘And we’re going to shoot the wide — No, I take that back. We’re shooting Jake Brigance’s closeup first, everyone get ready.’”

Matthew McConaughey truly had telepathy with ‘A Time to Kill’ director Joel Schumacher

A Time to Kill was Schumacher’s second Grisham adaptation after The Client. For the closing argument, McConaughey was in charge. McConaughey said he was able to communicate his needs as an actor without saying a word.

“He could tell I was locked in,” McConaughey said. “I let him know without saying ‘I was locked in’ [that] I was locked in. He said we’re not going to shoot everything first and let you warm up. We’re going to cover you right now first because you’re ready.”

‘A Time to Kill’ hinged on this speech 

McConaughey knew this moment, in which Brigance confronts the jury with their own biases, was pivotal. There were many powerful courtroom moments leading up to it, but A Time to Kill lived or died on this speech.

Matthew McConaughey as Jake Brigance in A Time to Kill
Matthew McConaughey | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

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I knew even at that point that if that final summation doesn’t absolutely nail the truth, then it doesn’t matter what the rest of my performance is like. The turn that story depends on, Jake Brigance delivering that final summation and getting the jury into that world and then making the flip where he goes now imagine she’s white, Akiva Goldsman wrote that and I knew early on. This summation is the thing that has to work. If this doesn’t work, doesn’t matter how good you do in the rest of the movie. The movie doesn’t work and your performance won’t work unless you nail this. 

Matthew McConaughey, WTF with Marc Maron podcast, 10/22/2020

Source: WTF with Marc Maron podcast