Matthew McConaughey says parts of his childhood were 'bloody, ugly, sometimes violent'

The Oscar winner recalled how he was disciplined as a kid and how this affects his own parenting in a new interview with Willie Geist on Sunday TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

When it comes to disciplining his three kids, Matthew McConaughey does things differently from his parents.

The actor, 50, who grew up in South Texas, recalled to Willie Geist on Sunday TODAY that his parents' behavior toward him might be considered abuse, but McConaughey himself doesn't see it that way.

When Willie asked McConaughey if he thought, as a kid, that his parents' behavior was wrong, the Oscar winner replied, "I was scared at the moment, but even then and immediately after that, I didn't ever question the love that Mom and Dad had or the love that they gave us."

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McConaughey shares some of his difficult childhood stories in his newly released memoir, "Greenlights," which he wrote based on diary entries over the last 36 years.

"I tell these stories that are bloody and ugly and sometimes violent," he said. "And I think the reason I tell them is that those were times where the love that we had — that was never in question — was most challenged, but never had a chance of being beat."

Asked if he sees his parents as abusive, McConaughey said no.

"Is it really fair for someone else to say that, if the person who is actually sane and very conscious of what happened says, 'No, it wasn't'?" McConaughey questioned. "I'm not in denial of it. My mom and dad are not in denial of it. So I don't know that it's really fair for someone to tell someone else, 'Oh, you've been victimized and you were abused,' if that person goes, 'No, no, I wasn't. That isn't how I took it.'"

The "Dazed and Confused" star then turned the conversation to his own children with wife Camila Alves: sons Levi, 12, and Livingston, 7, and daughter Vida, 10.

"I don't raise my children the same way my parents raised me ... but I don't dare judge how my parents did it because every single time I got in trouble or got the belt or whatever, I earned it," he said, laughing.

"I choose in our family to have much more dialogue than my parents choose or their parents choose," the actor continued. "My wife and I do a little more explaining. 'OK, let's debate this out.' ... And even today, my mom goes, 'Geez, y'all talk about it too much.'"

McConaughey also reflected on his journey from rom-com heartthrob to more intense roles and eventually earning the Academy Award for best actor for "Dallas Buyers Club" in 2014.

After the major success of "The Wedding Planner," which also starred Jennifer Lopez, in 2001, McConaughey said, "I gave myself license to enjoy it. Let's just lean into your life that you've got, McConaughey, and the excess and affluence and fame. And you'll know when it's time to get out."

Around 2008, he left Hollywood for 20 months to recalibrate.

"Well, I knew where I wanted to go and what roles I wanted to do, but those roles were not coming my way," he told Willie. "I had met my now-wife, Camila, at that time and was falling in love with her and we had created our first child. So those were two really great anchors to have for me in my life when I chose to take a sabbatical from working. But I entertained, 'Maybe they never call back. Maybe Hollywood never calls back. Maybe this is it. Maybe I'm gonna go be a high school football coach.'"

Of course, Hollywood did call, with a slew of new roles, from "True Detective" to "Magic Mike." McConaughey may have "rebranded," in those two years off the radar, he said, but he's still grateful for the career that came before.

"Those other things were me, too, and I always said that," he told Willie. "Rom-coms, I love them. People try to go, you know, 'Oh, this is now and that was then. That wasn't really you as a shirtless guy, a rom-com guy. Now you're showing us the true self.' That's a bunch of BS. That was me, too, and still is.

"And those rom-coms I was doing, they were paying the rent for the houses that I was living on the beach shirtless on," he added, laughing.