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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Best known for romantic comedies, Matthew McConaughey is doing what many men do when they reach their 40s and find fatherhood -- thinking more seriously about life and that has reflected in his work.
McConaughey's new movie, legal drama "The Lincoln Lawyer," hits U.S. theaters on Friday with the actor, who once made magazine covers more for his muscled-up, washboard stomach than his acting prowess, portraying a defender of the downtrodden whose morals are challenged by a wealthy, Beverly Hills bad boy.
The 41-year-old told Reuters that he sees a lot of himself in the role of Michael "Mick" Haller, an attorney who is struggling with life-and-death issues and the direction his own moral compass is pointing.
McConaughey said he doesn't necessarily take one movie role or another because he is now solidly in middle-age and has a son and daughter with companion Camila Alves. But reaching that point does influence his role choice.
"I didn't think, 'Oh, now I've got family, let me make different choices,' but maybe I'm making different choices and that's not coincidental," he said.
It is not that McConaughey has avoided serious roles in the past. His filmography features titles such as the John Grisham legal thriller, "A Time to Kill" and Steven Spielberg's "Amistad." But the Texas native is better known for titles like "The Wedding Planner" or "Surfer, Dude."
Mick Haller in "Lincoln Lawyer" is perhaps different than any role in his past. Haller is a Los Angeles defense attorney who works out of the backseat of his Lincoln Continental. His clients are more likely to be pimps, prostitutes and petty drug dealers than doctors, businessmen or big corporations.
Then, Mick gets a call job to defend a wealthy young man (Ryan Phillippe) who has been accused of attempted rape and murder. Seeing an easy case to defend and big bucks in his bank account, Mick jumps at the chance, but soon finds the job far more complicated than he imagined.
Haller soon learns that not only might his defendant be guilty, he also is linked to an old crime that landed a different Haller client in jail. The defense attorney is soon caught in a crisis of conscience dealing with truth, justice and client/attorney privilege.
"This is more (about) real life situations and predicaments that have heavy duty consequences for a lot of people's livelihood. So, you can be real honest about how you feel about certain things," the actor said about taking the role of Haller.
By comparison, he said, romantic comedies do not touch on much reality and, as a result, "involve more acting."
Haller and Phillippe's character, Louis Roulet, play a complicated game of cat-and-mouse that is of paramount importance to the movie's tension. To get the conflict right, McConaughey said he and Phillippe did not rehearse.
"I didn't want to get an idea of what he might be trying to do. I wanted to meet him and get to know him through the work and the character," McConaughey said.
The actor added that he is enjoying working now more than ever and a big part of the reason is his family life in the posh, seaside community of Malibu, California where they live and, importantly, he still surfs.
He said his children, Levi, 2, and Vida, 1, understand when he has to leave home to go to work and Levi even wants to start to go to the office with his daddy.
And McConaughey said he is starting to see a lot of himself in his children. "In some ways, my son will do something at two-and-a-half and I'll be like, 'I just saw myself.' But I didn't think I was doing that until I was 18."
Reporting by Michelle Eaton; Writing by Bob Tourtellotte