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Rachel Winter & Robbie Brenner On Dallas Buyers Club
The Oscar-nominated producers talk us through their Matthew McConaughey-starring drama

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Producers Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter teamed up to get the script for Dallas Buyers Club, languishing since the early '90s, to the screen. Their journey wasn't an easy one - the film was dropped by its studio, and then the independent funding fell through with only weeks to go - but the finished film is nominated for six Academy awards, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto hot favourites for the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor prizes. We spoke to the two producers about the film's tortured journey to the screen, and why they worried that women all over the world would blame them for breaking Matthew McConaughey...

Rachel Winter & Robbie Brenner On Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof. Producers Rachel Winter & Robbie Brenner on set of Dallas Buyers Club.

This film has had a tough road to the screen. You two have had to shepherd this through some difficult times.
Robbie Brenner: It's been a long, exhausting road of amazing highs and great lows. It started in the '90s with the screenwriter, Craig Borten - he was one of my first friends in LA - and then Melissa [Wallack, co-screenwriter], and them believing in me to get the movie made. There were other producers on the movie and other actors at various times, and then we set it up at Universal. I am very close to Marc Forster, who'd made Monster's Ball, and I gave him the script. He signed on, and Brad Pitt got on board, and that started an eight year journey at Universal. They were always very supportive of the movie, but I think this was the sort of movie that should have been made independently in a very intimate, personal way, and probably for less money, and in a way that it wouldn't have all the pressure on it, as a studio movie.

So in - when was it? - 2009, the script reverted back to the writers. They gave me the script, and I gave it to Matthew's agent, and Matthew signed on very quickly and was very excited. Then we set off to find the director! I had a relationship with Jean-Marc Vallée - we had developed another movie together that never got made - so we sent him the script and he loved it and got on board. Now I have a day job [Brenner is President, Production at Relativity Media], and Rachel and I have been friends for fourteen or fifteen years at this point, we have very similar sensibilities, and I thought what better person? So she came on board and we started this journey to really get the movie made in its current incarnation, and here we are today!

What was it you saw in Matthew in 2009? At that point, he was better known for rom-coms...
Robbie Brenner:
When I first saw Matthew I thought, 'Women all over the world are going to kill us! You broke Matthew McConaughey!'
You know, it was just an intuitive thought. He hadn't made a movie like this. I think it's very clear from his earlier work that he had the depth and he's very talented. Ron [Woodroof] was very charismatic and likeable, even though he was a very strong character and sort of greedy in his own way. I just had this feeling that Matthew had all of the qualities and characteristics of the person Ron was, and I just thought that he could make that turn.

His likability helps as well, especially at the beginning of the movie, where Ron is not a likeable man. Being an independent movie must have helped there, where a studio might have rubbed off some of Ron's rough edges.
Rachel Winter: Any time you have an antihero, you're going to stack your deck because you're approaching a character who's a racist, homophobic son of a bitch. To start with an actor who has a natural charisma very much like the real character he's playing, it really just works, and then it only enhances the journey where Ron finds himself at the end of this movie. Matthew just nails it.

Robbie Brenner: It was something Rachel and I talked a lot about. Matthew found the perfect calibration of the character, and walking that line between being a son of a bitch and then slowly, throughout the movie, he had it all planned out, the evolution of Ron, and when he would find his humanity. Rachel and I asked a lot, "Are people going to be able to get on board with this guy? Or is he just going to seem like a greedy son of a bitch?" Matthew was so in the zone with this character, and having prepared for six months and really studied his voice and read his journals and visited with the family, he just knew exactly how to calibrate the performance.

Rachel Winter & Robbie Brenner On Dallas Buyers Club
Jared Leto stars as Rayon

How about the rest of the cast? Jared isn't someone who acts very much; why was he the one who came to mind?
Rachel Winter: When we were getting close to production - I mean 22 years, and then you have, like, three months to do the whole thing - we were lucky, we had Matthew and Jennifer Garner. Then it came time to really focus on Rayon and a bunch of names were being batted around. I think it was CAA or Jason Weinberg at Untitled who suggested Jared, and Robbie and I were immediately like, "He would be amazing." I mean look at Requiem For A Dream! It's a delicate balance, that character, because it can so easily go into caricature, or something that it wasn't going to be this counterpart to Ron's character, which it ultimately became.

And Jared, he had a Skype call with Jean-Marc, and he flirted and put lipstick on, and was actually in drag in this Skype call. Jean-Marc was immediately taken with him, and that was that. Robbie and I just felt like Jared's a tremendous actor and maybe the fact that he hasn't acted in five years at the time would almost bring something else to it. Subsequently you've heard that Jared feels that way, that if he hadn't taken that break, that maybe he wouldn't have brought what he brought to this character. So I think things work out the way they're supposed to work out.

In that very last period of pre-production, it seems like everybody took a leap of faith. You must have been frantic behind the scenes, just to make sure that everything would happen.
Robbie Brenner:
When we went to see a full cut up in Montreal at Jean-Marc's house, we sort of clasped hands and were both teary-eyed.
We had a gun to our head. I mean, nine or ten weeks out when you lose your financing on a movie, to be able to accomplish what we had just spent two and a half years doing was going to be pretty impossible, but there was no choice. When you have that much momentum on a movie, and the train had left the station and Matthew's lost 40 pounds, there was just no "no" for Rachel and I. There was no time to stress out; it was fight or flight. We had to do it, and luckily there were some people that came to the table and helped us.

Rachel Winter: It was an insane time. I got down there five weeks before we were going to be shooting. Jean-Marc showed up a couple of days later, and Matthew two weeks after that. And every day I'd be on the phone with Robbie: "It's twelve o'clock, we have no money! Any money yet? Any money yet?" We literally had three and a half weeks of paid prep on the movie. It was terrifying but as Robbie said, I think everybody was on the same page with a shared philosophy. We are making this movie come hell or high water, and that's it!

It sounds like Matthew really enjoyed the 25 day shoot. The fast pace seemed to work for him.
Rachel Winter: Sure. I think both of them sort of needed to keep it going because they were in a weakened state physically, and it was helpful to just do their job, keep going and stay in character for most of the time.

Rachel Winter & Robbie Brenner On Dallas Buyers Club

What was your reaction when you first saw them post-weight loss, arriving on set?
Robbie Brenner: Oh my God. I was actually scared when I saw Matthew. You think back to Magic Mike, and Matthew has such an iconic body, and he's known as this fit surfer on the surfboard playing sports, on his bongos with his gorgeous body. And to see him like that was shocking!

Rachel Winter: I had a similar reaction. I called Robbie and I was like, "Women all over the world are going to kill us! You broke Matthew McConaughey!" He just looked so different. Then Jared showed up, and he was already Rayon. I met him dressed like a woman; he left dressed like a woman. Robbie and I truly did not meet Jared Leto until Toronto. He was just so immersed.

Robbie Brenner: The other thing is that Jean-Marc Vallée was a huge fan of Matthew's, but he was, I don't want to say doubtful that he could play the role, but he just wondered, "Is he going to go there? Is he going to really immerse himself in this role?" He knew what kind of commitment this was going to take. I don't want to say we were all shocked, because we all cast him for a reason and we knew that he had it in him, but much more so than I could have ever imagined. I mean, when you look at the tapes of Ron that we've seen, he became Ron and there was no Matthew McConaughey.

When did you first know that this was going be as good as it is? Was it the dailies, or was it when you began to see it cut together?
Rachel Winter: Robbie, feel free to disagree, but I know when we went to see a full cut up in Montreal at Jean-Marc's house, we sort of clasped hands and were both teary-eyed. I believe that was when we both said, "Holy shit, this is great. This is just going to be a great film."

One final question: are you ready for the Oscars yet?
Rachel Winter: [Laughs] Us? Two women? You think that we're prepped? What do you think Robbie, are we prepped?

Robbie Brenner: People ask Rachel and I every day, "Wow, you've been nominated for an Academy Award, what are you wearing? What shoes? What bag?" We've both picked out our dresses, and it was really fun to do it together, but I think that we're just going to be there to enjoy the evening. We're so proud of what this movie has done already, and the way that it's resonating with people. We're just going to be excited for any outcome because we feel like we've totally won already.

Rachel Winter: I'll just add that I had the ugliest prom dress. This is my chance to sort of do it over again, so I fully intend to replay that moment with the Oscars!


Interview by Helen O'Hara

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