With three movies set for release, Matthew McConaughey arrived in 1996 as Hollywood’s new It Boy, boosted by cheerleaders that included Joel Schumacher, John Sayles, and John Grisham. By summer, the 27-year-old Texan was everywhere, frolicking in a stream with a nearly naked Ashley Judd for Interview and earning the sobriquet ”hunky newcomer” in TIME. His comings and goings filled gossip columns, and, in short order, McConaughey, whose previous credits include Dazed and Confused, Boys on the Side, and Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, went from bit player to leading man. Not since Julia Ormond had an actor with so small a resume gotten so big a push.
Through it all, there was nary an unkind word. With so little to say of his body of work — along with A Time to Kill, this year he had roles in Lone Star and Larger Than Life — reports focused on his physique (”his is the…body to contend with,” gushed Liz Smith). But by November, Matthew mania seemed to be abating. ”That was by design,” says his publicist, Pat Kingsley. ”He’s working on a movie and there was no reason to stay out there.” He’s now costarring with Jodie Foster in Robert Zemeckis’ sci-fi thriller Contact, but it remains to be seen if McConaughey has staying power. There’s reason for hope: Ormond is attempting her comeback next year.