Matthew McConaughey didn't have the lead role in 1993's Dazed and Confused, but it only took one line to turn the then-unknown Texas actor into a movie star. And he delivered it under extraordinary circumstances.

The scene, where we meet his character, Wooderson, takes place outside the Emporium, the local pool hall where he's hanging out with Don (Sasha Jenson), Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) and Mitch (Wiley Wiggins). Wooderson, who's older than the three high school students, says he's debating whether to stay at his job, which puts money in his pocket, or return to school, where the girls are. After a young woman passes by, he steps forward and enters cinematic immortality.

"That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

Everybody on set immediately realized something special had happened when McConaughey delivered the line. "The minute those words came out of his mouth, I swear to God, he immediately took us all: the cast, the crew," production assistant Valerie DeKeyser recalls in Melissa Maerz's new book Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. "It was like, 'Holy shit. Who is this guy?'"

Maerz's book devotes an entire chapter to the story behind the scene. They were a few days into the shoot when McConaughey learned that his father Jim had died. Needing someone to talk to, the actor called his friend Sam Lawrence. They went to a strip club, where McConaughey opened up about his relationship with his dad ("By the way, if you ever want to feel invisible," Lawrence quipped, "go to a strip club with Matthew McConaughey.").

Shortly thereafter, McConaughey went to his parents' home in Houston, accompanied by producer Monnie Wills. At the funeral, his mother told everybody that Jim passed away while they were making love -- something his father had long predicted would happen -- even specifying that "he did get to finish."

Given the gregarious way his parents approached life, Matthew realized it would be a dishonor to his memory if he grieved. "What my dad taught us was resilience," he recalled. "No way I was going to be moping around and miss what I was in the middle of doing."

A day later, before Linklater could even re-arrange the shooting schedule around his absence, McConaughey was back on the set. He assured the director that he was ready to continue, and the famous scene was in the can by the end of the day.

Ben Affleck, who played O'Bannion, recognized the contradiction of the stature of the scene, noting that "people still quote that line to me, and I'm not even in the scene. That's a testament to Matthew's enormous charm." But he also knows views on such behavior have changed in the nearly 20 years since Dazed and Confused's release -- and 40 years after its 1976 setting.

"In light of the Me Too era, it's not an entirely appropriate thing to be quoting," he added. "It probably never was. 'I keep getting older and they stay the same age?' That's R. Kelly's anthem."

McConaughey said the line helped give him an insight into the character. "You can trust Wooderson, man," he said. "He's right there out in the open with you. There's nothing about him that I ever saw as creepy -- which might be exactly why that's even creepier. ... It's a mantra. It's a philosophy. He's pleased with himself and his coordinates in the universe. You could say he's delusionally optimistic.

"He was processing this deep, deep loss as he was doing his job," set decorator Deb Pastor said. "How could all of us not love this guy after experiencing that? And this was going to stay with him, through all the successes he experienced."

Watch Matthew McConaughey's Famous Line From 'Dazed and Confused'

 

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