In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, doctors struggled to find the best way to treat this deadly disease. In this emotionally charged new movie, Matthew McConaughey plays a real-life cowboy with HIV, searching for a treatment that will save his life.
It’s based on a true story
Dallas Buyers Club is based on the life of Texas native Ron Woodroof, (played by Matthew McConaughey), who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given a mere 30 days to live. A straight man living in a very homophobic environment, Woodroof had to face his own homophobia when his friends turned their backs on him, further complicating his struggle to find a cure for his disease.
One of the first treatments for HIV approved by the FDA was a drug called AZT, but it was highly toxic and the high doses the doctors were administering seemed to be doing more harm than good.
By doing intense research and seeking the help of an exiled doctor in Mexico, Woodroof found a treatment that seemed to work — the only problem was, it wasn’t approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Woodroof was forced to battle the FDA, the DEA and the IRS to get this new form of treatment for himself and others with the disease.
Matthew McConaughey’s massive weight loss
The Magic Mike actor lost nearly 50 pounds to create his frail, emaciated frame that would fit a man dying of AIDS. At his lowest weight, he was a mere 135 pounds which makes for a shocking image on screen when his bony back and legs are revealed in a hospital bed.
After consulting a doctor, McConaughey started his weight loss regimen four months before shooting. At first, he thought it would be 50 percent dieting and 50 percent exercising.
“Thankfully, said the Method actor, “I found out it was 98 percent dieting — though that was pretty hard-core, with the controlled meals — and 2 percent exercise.” He also added, “I was always hungry, so I had to constantly dampen the fire of desire; you find out just how much food sublimates your time. I chewed a lot of ice.” Now, that’s commitment!
About shedding the pounds, Matthew claimed, “It was a wonderful journey, spiritually and mentally, something that was good not only for the role but also for me. I read more. I wrote more. My mind became sharper. I slept less, three hours less a night, every night. I learned a lot about discernment and choices, and about respecting things you take for granted.”
Mom jeans and dressing 1980s
The costumers certainly had a challenge before them, considering the film took place in the mid- to late ’80s. Their best resource? Texas thrift stores provided many of the polyester suits, jackets with shoulder pads and really high-waisted jeans.
About her costumes, Jennifer Garner said, “Wearing those jeans way up on my waist — it’s funny how much clothes can take you back to a certain time. While playing Eve, I found myself wearing the kind of clothing that I can remember on my mother.”
For Woodroof’s cowboy styling, the costumers turned to Richard Avedon portraits as well as movies like Urban Cowboy and TV’s Dallas for inspiration. You’ll notice Woodroof upgrades to snakeskin cowboy boots when he starts making a bit of money.
Jared Leto gives a fearless performance
After a six-year break from acting, Jared Leto returns to the screen as a transgendered drug addict who calls herself Rayon. Rayon also suffers from HIV then AIDS. Despite Woodroof’s homophobia, Rayon manages to work her way into Woodroof’s heart, eventually becoming his business partner and true friend.
To get into his character, Leto said, “I did get in touch with my feminine side, because it’s a strong attribute of the character. In terms of emotions it was important for me to study as much as I could about what it meant to be a transsexual woman, to get at how you see things and what you want out of life.”
It is a performance not to be missed and we think will very likely earn him an Academy Award nomination.
A movie 20 years in the making
Having heard about Woodroof’s real-life struggle to get the medical treatment he needed and his determination to help others, screenwriter Craig Borten drove from California to Texas to meet with Woodroof just a month before Woodroof’s death in 1992.
Borten said he asked Woodroof if he’d like to have a movie made about his life. Woodroof told Borten that, “I’d like people to have this information and to be educated on what I had to learn by the seat of my pants about the government, pharmaceutical agencies and AIDS.” Borten also said Woodroof really wanted his life to mean something in the end.
The screenwriter, however, had no idea it would take 20 years to get the film made. The project kept getting picked up by various producers then abandoned. In 2000, Borten partnered with screenwriter Melisa Wallack to rewrite the script. It took another 13 years to get the movie made — talk about the finding the strength to keep going.
About Woodroof’s story, Borten said, “Here’s someone who gets a death sentence and turns it around, and makes these discoveries. In the process, he is changed and he helps other people. Anyone who defeats the odds is inspiring to me and that’s what Ron did. And he was a better person for it.”