Matthew McConaughey on ghosts and romance in Girlfriends Past

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Matthew McConaughey, star of the new supernatural-themed romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, told reporters that he took the role because it gave him a real range of acting challenges.

"It was a really well-written role—very colorful," McConaughey said in a news conference last week in Los Angeles. "In this type of film I don't get to start off playing a lead male that has such an opinion one way, that's crass and rash and not pandering—to then go through the story, learn some lessons and come out of the story the next day a new man, a guy who's lost his way and then finds his way."

In the film, inspired by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a legendary ladies' man who begins to reconsider his commitment-free ways when he is visited by three ghosts who force him to revisit past relationships. McConaughey appeared alongside co-star Jennifer Garner and director Mark Waters to promote the film, which opens Friday. The following is an edited version of that interview. (Spoilers ahead!)

Mark, what was the challenge for you in updating A Christmas Carol and making it feel believable in a contemporary setting?

Waters: In this he's running to stop his brother's fiancee, and this kind of heroic act is actually saving his brother's wedding. But the moment when he is a truly redeemed character is when he gives a toast at his brother's wedding, which he tore apart and then saved, and it's almost like the Jane character is able to not have the redemption be about her. In essence, she's able to say, "I am able to watch you become a mensch, but there's still more distance you have to travel to earn me back." It's not necessarily a fait accompli that she's going to be with him.

Matthew, Mark described this is your best work. Do you agree with that, and do you feel a particular connection to this character?

McConaughey: ... It's a journey to get his brother's love back and look up and still have his childhood love there for a second chance. It was a long way to go. We had a great element in the story that helps us go there—these ghosts, who scare the hell out of me. It's comedic, but in one night, a ghost visiting you can really move your floor and change you a hell of a lot better than one night—or one year—of sitting down and going through therapy or something. You get the s--t scared out of you, you can really make a change.

What was the challenge of playing this character, especially at the beginning, when he is so cynical?

McConaughey: A lot of what he and Uncle Wayne say, in the scientific world, that's true: Yeah, whoever cares less has the most power. Then the question is, is that what you really want? First reaction is like "Hell yeah," and then it's like, "Wait a minute; sure, you have all of the power, but it's going to be lonely." And, like we said, you're going to go to your funeral, and no one's going to be there. He was cynical about love, because if you love someone and hunker down, in his past, everyone he'd done that with, he lost. Anyone that he sat down and holed up with and said "It's you and me," the only person he had left was his brother. Then [Jennifer's character] comes back, so anytime he's settled down to say, "Yes, this is the thing I love," he lost it. That helped me embrace [him], because he didn't have a negative look towards women. He throws it off saying "I love all women: That's the problem here." He's forced to keep it light to survive.