CNBC Transcript: Actor and Author Matthew McConaughey Speaks with CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla Live During CNBC’s @Work Summit Today
Matthew McConaughey On The Paranoia About The Coronavirus
TYLER MATHISEN: Now, for one of the highlight moments of our day. In his new book "Greenlights" Matthew McConaughey talks about the journey he's been on to get to this point in life. The personal and professional encounters that have shaped his outlook on life and how he's learned to create conversations and cultures built not so much on winning, but on greater understanding. Here's Carl Quintanilla, in conversation with Academy Award-winning actor and author, Matthew McConaughey. Carl, over to you.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Howdy.
CARL QUINTANILLA: T, thank you. Matthew, it's great to see you. Thanks so much for the time today.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Good to be here. Hanging out in my Airstream here, talking to you.
CARL QUINTANILLA: That looks good. That looks like a nice place to open a beer, maybe after we're done here. So I don't know, I think you might have been hearing some of the conversations earlier this afternoon. We've talked a lot about returning to the office safely, through protocols, managing COVID. We've talked about how technology is going to alter sort of workplace culture. But I hope you don't mind if we turn to you and talk about how we're going to inspire workplace culture, how we're going to manage our differences, how we're going to create greater understanding, especially given everything we've been through in the past year; the polarization, racial discussions, obviously paranoia about the disease. How much are you thinking about that? Obviously, it's deeply embedded in your book, and there are so many lessons we can point to in the next few minutes.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah. I mean, the hope is that this last year, especially, has shaken our floor enough that when we do turn the page and we get our freedoms to go engage again, that we don't snap right back; that hopefully this last year, when we were forced to reevaluate what the hell matters to us in our own lives, a year we were forced to do that, hopefully we're going to take those reevaluations out of this year and evolve a little bit as people, as individuals, as well. How are we going to turn that page, though, because things have changed? You were talking about a work-from-anywhere, any time world. It's got such major assets to that; but at the same time, when our country lacks trust in leadership, lacks trust in each other, when we trust ourselves even less than ever before, boy, now we're going to go remote? How do we build trust when we're getting more remote when what we need to do, I believe, is come together. That will be a real challenge.
CARL QUINTANILLA: So, you talked a lot about this, I know you talked about it with Time Magazine a while ago, obviously, it's in your book, as well, this idea of getting to unity. But in order to get unity in culture, you need to have some confrontation, you need to have some discussion, you need to be able to look at the other person's point of view and accept it as legitimate, right? And I wonder how much of that you think is going to be a part of coming back to work.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah, you said, "Accept it as legitimate," even though it may not be my opinion. We've gotten to this spot where if you voice your opinion and it opposes mine, my gut reaction, our gut reaction is, "Oh, well, you must be saying that at the exclusion of mine." If you state your opinion and it's different from mine, we now hear people say, "Oh, then you are illegitimizing mine." If I say I'm a believer, someone goes, "Oh, then you must not believe in science." Well, I didn't say that, no. I just said I was a believer, and I believe in science. We have such contradictions. And when we start realizing those are actually paradoxes, that both are true, that two differing opinions can exist at the exact same time, then you can have a conversation. Then you can put it on the table. Now we can discuss it. We can come away going, "I still disagree, but fundamentally, principally, you and I are attached." You and I can still be attached even though we have opposing views, saying we have similar expectations of each other, civilly, civically, as people. And we're not doing that right now. We are illegitimizing people, and that is not, there's no way that can be the way forward.
CARL QUINTANILLA: So do you think, Matthew, do you think we're out of practice because we've been doing this remote thing, we're not in meeting rooms, we're not having large-scale get-togethers in the office where we're just, our muscles have atrophied in sort of handling that moment where we're trying to process it, accept and respond to other people's conflicting points of view?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: I think, look, it's a muscle that will get back in shape very quickly, but let's not let it just get back in shape how it used to be. Let's get it in better shape than it used to be. It's there. I believe it's going to be like riding a bike. But the challenge now is that we've had a year of limbo. Any time you're going through a transition, you get limbo. And what do you lose in limbo? You lose identity. We need something solid to hold on to. So in this year of limbo, when we're missing identity, we have an uncertain future more than ever before. What is the human nature to do? You want to run to something, a pole to grab onto and go, "Okay, I've got a stance here, I feel like I'm on solid ground." Well, those poles have been on the flanks on the left and the right. And I believe that some people are feeling like they're having buyer's remorse by running so far to the right and left, once they hung out and sat at the table and heard opinions from people that were over there and they go, "Wow, I'm a little more centric than maybe I thought I was. Maybe I ran too far right, ran too far left." The muscle memory will be there. I think it's a great opportunity to redefine it for the reasons I was saying earlier. The one person we have had to have the discussion with more than ever before is ourselves in this last year. Now, did we get in that time with ourselves where we want to exclude more people because we want to be so individual at the exclusion for exclusion sake? I hope not. Hopefully we have, as I said, reevaluated who we are and see that, yes, it's got to be personal, but that doesn't mean it can't be the best for the collective, as well, in whatever choice it is we make.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Yeah. You've thought a lot about conflict resolution. You've written profoundly about watching your parents try to communicate as a kid or struggle to communicate. And you've kind of come up with a series of lessons on how to manage all of that, how to manage conflict between people. I wonder if you can try to frame it in a way where -- I'm not asking you to be a corporate consultant here, but a way in which managers can sort of take a couple lessons home, whether they're in HR or maybe they're just someone who sees some direct reports reporting to them. How do you think, what can they do as people return?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: As people return. Well, first, I think you have to consider what you said. It's going to be a bit awkward. I mean, it's going to be a tad awkward. So people are going to need a little amnesty to find their legs, okay, on that muscle that I believe we do have muscle memory for that we'll get back to. Have a little bit of, "Hey, don't," you know, the first day may not need to be: Everybody charge! No, we're all coming out of our own independent world and are going to reunite again. So let's sit down. Maybe that first week back needs to be, "Let's sit down and talk about what we learned" that maybe is outside of business. Let's sit down and talk about: What was your life like? Were you more productive remotely? How can you bring what you learned, maybe that you got better at, here to the table where we're back and we're not remote any longer? Getting to hear people's experiences. Everyone, people have had cathartic moments throughout this last year, and maybe it would be a good idea to sit down before we get into, like, "Hey, let's check out our numbers on our company," to sit down and say, "Hey, you, as my employees, you, as the company, what did we learn from this last year?" How are we not going to snap right back to who we were? How have we evolved as a company? How can we be better as a company? How can we revive some trust and belief? And then go, now, collectively, here's where we're going as a company. But maybe take that first week to sit down and hear stories.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Uh-huh. I wonder if you are actively discouraging tools that thrive on polarization. I mean, I'm in journalism, so I'm on social media all day long –
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah.
CARL QUINTANILLA: On Twitter especially. But, I mean, I see how that affects people's behavior, and I know you do, too.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Are there things that you think workers should avoid?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Oh, if I think there's things workers should avoid that. Look, I'll say this. Let me go to a broader place. We, as people, what we don't agree on right now that I think is the essential thing we've got to agree on, whether it's in the workplace or whether it's just as humans in society, we've got to agree on facts again. F-A-C-T-S. We're delusional about what facts are. We're not even arguing from the same reality right now. So if we can agree on facts, then I believe we can start building trust. Trust in facts can lead to trust in others and trust in ourselves. Remember, part of that coming back to the workforce is that we're living in the most untrustworthy times. And when we don't trust our leaders and we don't trust the media and we don't trust others, we start to not trust ourselves. That's that amnesty I'm talking about. Let's settle a minute and agree on some facts so then we can build some trust. You know, you're going to have polarization, you're going to hear it. It sells. It's the headline, it's the graphic, it's the image. We love to rubberneck! We don't rubberneck when we see success and health. We rubberneck when we see disease and problems. That's human nature. Let's realize that, and admit that. Because I think most of us, and especially Americans, are more centrist than we're giving ourselves credit for. It just doesn't, we're not being sold that, we're not being told that in a way to believe that. We're not being fed that through media and tools. You don't get more likes, unless it's something that is sensational or, you know, fetishized. You don't get more headlines because it doesn't sell. Let's admit that first. But that doesn't mean that needs to define who we are, and what we need to do and what we expect of ourselves.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Yeah. So you're getting now to a really interesting point, and that is leadership in this country, whether it's corporate, whether it's political, I wonder if you think that playbook that has been used in recent years, where you're trying to get people to rubberneck and get attention, do you think that is still the predominant playbook in leadership? Or are we getting closer to a place where it seems you're trying to go; that is, being aggressively centrist in your words, thinking about the "we" and not the "me."
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: No. Look, the rubbernecking and the mudslinging still sells, baby. We know that. It sells. And as long as, you know, I get it. I have fame and I have money. But as long as more money at whatever cost, and fame at whatever cost is the top two priorities of what we deem you to be successful for, how you win a blue ribbon, how you get a gold medal; bank account only, forget the souls account. As long as that's the measuring stick, if that's at the height, in the end we're all going to lose. Remind you, I'm for money and I'm for fame. But how we get those things, how we treat others, how we treat ourselves, fills the souls account along the way. That's long-term ROI that I think CEOs need to double down on more. We've seen in the last year CEOs be much more functional than the government in many ways. Are CEOs ready to take the responsibility to say, hey, I'm going to pay my tithe, I'm going to give back to the shareholders and the stakeholders. I'm going to pay back to the city that I'm in, that I moved to because I left a place that I didn't want to be in, and I don't want to turn this city into why I left that one. We're dealing with that in Austin, Texas. Don't come here and try to turn this place into why you left where you came from. So, CEOs are in a position of more power right now than I think they ever have been to lead where we're going to go as a people and as a country.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Yeah. You know, I know you're a graduate of UT, like my dad, and you know Texas well. And you're talking about the flow from California and New York, to some degree. I've got buddies who have moved to Austin, along with everybody else, in the past year. I wonder if you believe in this sort of notion that, to your broad point about culture, we're entering sort of the purpling of America, where the cities lose some people, and that's going to come at a cost to those cities; but overall, the disparity of political view evens out, and whether you think that's long-term healthy.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: I do think it's healthy. Look, purple, we have a misnomer with what centricity is. I think we've got to remember unity does not mean uniformity. I'm a "meet you in the middle" centrist. That's always been perceived as, oh, that's the gray area of compromise. Oh, that means you're not about anything. Now, more than ever, to come together in the middle is a radical dare! You want to be a radical, come to the middle, I dare ya! The extremes have gotten so far out. Someone said to me, yeah, nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and dead armadillos. I said, "Listen to you. I'm walking down the middle of the highway right now and the armadillos are running free because the extremes are so far right and left, their tires aren't even on the pavement anymore." So it's a radical dare now. Whether it's called purple or whether it's called central, you have to remember this: In the middle, it's not necessarily a stable position. It's actually an agile stance in relation to positions on different platforms, left and right. So it's not a fence post; it's an agile stance that I believe is hopefully where we can head and where we're going.
CARL QUINTANILLA: I mean, you seem long-term optimistic?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah.
CARL QUINTANILLA: I know my favorite line in one of your excerpts in the book, you say, “The red light year of 2020, if we work hard enough, will inevitably turn green.”
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yep.
CARL QUINTANILLA: And perhaps be seen as one of our finest hours.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yes.
CARL QUINTANILLA: How does that happen?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: How does it happen? When we come back and start re-engaging somewhere in 2021, which it looks like we're going to do, we don't snap right back. We don't live in a way where we look back at 2020 and say, remember that year back there, remember that little aberration? No, we're going through a major growing pain. As I said at the beginning, hopefully our floor has been moved enough where we go, no, I'm a different person coming out. I'm going to go about my engagement with the world, because I don't like how, I don't like what got exposed in this last year. That wasn't brand new. A lot of the problems we had in this last year weren't new; they just really got exposed and got the spotlight put on them this last year. Ultimately, we have to be optimistic about that. What's our choice? We have to look at that and go, that was a growing pain. Did we learn anything? And are we willing enough to have the fortitude? Yes, we did. I learned something. I learned something about myself. Did you learn something about yourself? I'm going to take that into life, changed as a more evolved person. Don't give up on that. Don't snap right back and go, "Whew, we skipped by. We got away with 2020, now I'm glad that's over!" No. It was there for a reason. It was hardship for a reason, there was sacrifice for a reason. There's things to learn for a reason. But to turn a page, not necessarily in the same chapter. Let's turn a page and start the new chapter.
CARL QUINTANILLA: So I'm a little ashamed to ask this, but given everything you're saying and given the way in which people may be inspired by it, certainly I am, how are you addressing questions about running for office? I know you've discussed it repeatedly, you've said it's a serious consideration.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah.
CARL QUINTANILLA: You talked to Al Roker just a few weeks ago. What is left to be said about you and public office, short of filing papers or raising money?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: The only thing that I have to say is what I have said, and I'm not teasing the idea or anything. I'm actually trying to look at the idea and give it serious consideration. I have a new chapter for myself, personally in my life. I believe it is in some sort of leadership role. I don't know what that role is. I don't know my category. We've been talking about the "why" of leadership and even, I would say, we need some more good leaders. And I'm not just talking about me. I'm talking about you out there, everyone out there, we need leadership. So I'm not just talking, we've been talking about the "why" we need leadership. My question for me is: What is my "how"? I talked to you a second ago about CEOs have more power now to influence where we go and make functional changes. The private sector has an incredible amount of power to change where we go from here. Well, so does politics and politicians and government officials. I'm still working on my, for me, what is my category moving forward that would be best for the most amount of people, but also best for me and my family. And those are real considerations that I'm giving to where, what my future holds.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Can I get away with one movie star question before we go?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah, yeah, go for it.
CARL QUINTANILLA: All right. So you know we're CNBC, we cover Wall Street. And it's legend on the street, the scene in Wolf of Wall Street when your character, Mark, goes to lunch with Jordan, and it's fugazi, it's a woozie, it's a whazy, it's... fairy dust. Can I get the definitive breakdown of how exactly, of how that moment got caught on camera?
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Well, I mean, it was one of those characters in a scene that when I first read it, I was like, Whoa, this is a doozy, fugayzi, fugazi, this character is wonderfully out of his mind. And I was like, What if he really believes this? And so I started interviewing different brokers from that time, et cetera, et cetera, and I started extending the scene and writing more things that my character might say and do. And Leonardo and I do the scene. The scene's great. Before each scene, I'm banging on my chest, hmm, hmm, hmm. For myself, it's a relaxation technique, right? And then when we start the scene, I quit doing that and I do the scene. So we do the scene five times. We got it, we are moving on. Leonardo's idea, he raised his hand, he goes, "What's that thing you're doing before the scene where you're beating on your chest?" I told him, and he goes, "What if you put that in the scene?" So I said, "Sure." Next take, that's what you see.
CARL QUINTANILLA: I love that so much. It's legend now.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: It was fun.
CARL QUINTANILLA: On the street and beyond. Matthew, I hope you'll come back and do this again because we need to have conversations like this.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: Yeah.
CARL QUINTANILLA: And you're a great person to have them with. Our thanks to you.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.