The final stage in the final years of the McConaissance (before we move on to the Age of McLightenment) comes after a high-profile break from acting. Matthew McConaughey already has his Oscar, and he already created one of the decade’s signature television characters in True Detective‘s Rust Cohle. He starred in one prestige blockbuster, but outside of his leading role in Interstellar, the man’s been pretty quiet since his 2013 zenith.
Looking at his upcoming work schedule, though, it’s clear what point in his career McConaughey is at right now: He’s in his “working with Gus Van Sant/go for another Oscar in a prestigious period drama/undergo massive body transformation in a way that inverts his previous sex-symbol status” phase. Or something like that. Not to mention he’s got a handful of voiceover gigs in animated films to pay the bills in the meantime.
The most promising future entry on his IMDB page, however, is Free State of Jones, a Civil War drama in which McConaughey stars as Newton Knight, the real-life founder of the titular settlement in Jones County, Mississippi, that became the home of an armed insurrection against the Confederacy. And now, the first trailer for the film—out May 13th—gives us a look at McConaughey’s first true bid for a follow-up Oscar.
Free State of Jones is directed by Gary Ross, who boasts impressive credentials—previous efforts include critical and commercial successes like Pleasantville, Sea Biscuit, and The Hunger Games—and pairs McConaughey up with a supporting cast that includes Gugu Mbuthu-Raw and Keri Russell.
A press release about the film describes Knight as “a compelling, if controversial, figure,” and it’s worth taking just a moment to look at what that means. Generally speaking, white Southerners from the 1860’s aren’t held up as bastions of equality, but the controversy around Knight doesn’t center around racist statements or actions he made while claiming a position of power in Mississippi: Rather, even on anybody-can-edit-it Wikipedia, the references to Newton Knight as a controversial figure revolve around the fact that, rather than being the noble “Robin Hood” figure he’s sometimes been depicted as, he may have been more motivated by self-interest in that he wanted to avoid the legal consequences of being married to a black woman in Civil War-era Mississippi.
There are likely to be a lot more amateur historians poking around into the legacy of Newton Knight if Free State of Jones is as good as it looks, or if McConaughey receives the sort of awards consideration that the subject matter and film pedigree suggest that he might. That’ll make for an interesting conversation over the following months, at the very least.