Will Matthew McConaughey Return to 'True Detective' Glory with 'The Stand'?

Though Matthew McConaughey’s potential entry into casting conversations for the long, long, long gestating screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Stand seems like just another industry scoop, the implications therein are plenty. Both in regards to the work in question and to the career of everyone’s favorite punchline-turned-superstar. McConaughey has been pegged to play Randall Flagg, a villainous character introduced in The Stand and revisited in later King stories (like The Eyes of the Dragon and The Dark Tower), characterized by deep sadism and a colorful, violent past.

As one of King’s most celebrated characters (dawning from one of his most cherished novels), Flagg’s casting was hardly an endeavor to be taken lightly. In fact, the works of King in general tend to rein top dollar preciousness when it comes to the question of screen adaptation. Although fans are constantly clamoring about which of the overlooked entries in the prolific writer’s library most deserve their time in front of the camera, just as often are King devotees disappointed by what films do amount from their favorite stories.

So delicate is the word of King that even The Shining — perhaps the greatest thriller since the works of Hitchcock, and directed by he who might be the most talented filmmaker in the history of mankind — has its legions of detractors.

An even better representation of the territory’s fragility, and one that calls to attention the industry’s cognizance of thereof, is the propensity for any King adaptation these days to fall into purgatory following the announcement of production. The Stand is hardly the only of the author’s works to fall victim to lapsed development; stories like The Dark Tower, 11/22/63, The Ten O’Clock People, and a heap more have struggled for years to find appropriate vision.

So nobody, Warner Bros. and director Josh Boone included, can be in the dark about how much precision a The Stand movie would entail… or, rather, make that four The Stand movies, strung together as a series (dubbed necessary to envelop the 1168-page tour de force). As such, we’re led to the conversation about the all-important element of casting, and back to the issue of McConaughey: perhaps he was always the perfect man to play Flagg, but one who could never have done so until now.

Just two years back, McConaughey would never have been considered for a role of this sort. Just one year back, he might have earned a director’s eye, but would still have yet to pass muster with the King-reading public. Today, however, we have a fan favorite over whose insertion into the Flagg role few will take issue.

Sure, we can accredit McConaughey’s festival favorite Mud, his celebrated supporting role in Magic Mike, his Oscar winning transformation in Dallas Buyers Club, or even that whimsical single scene in The Wolf of Wall Street for lighting the fire under his colossal ascension to critical and public favor. But the project that really did the trick, that cemented McConaughey as a creative force altogether independent from the rom-com hack that he had for so long been rendered, was True Detective.

As Rust Cohle, McConaughey flirted with villainy, building a character grey in morality prone to social antagonism… plus, one that provoked suspicion when it came to the central mystery of True Detective. So adroit at harnessing the nefarious, McConaughey aims to prove a tenacious Randall Flagg — capable both of accessing the character’s core evil as well as his immutable charisma.

But though The Stand looks to benefit from McConaughey, would he be making the right move by signing onto the four-picture project?

Despite the complicated nature of Rust, McConaughey’s golden era has yet to showcase his proclivity for playing bad men. Those long tuned into his talents have seen it before — Killer Joe might be the darkest and best example — but even the grimiest of the McConaissance characters have wound up achieving redemption. (Well, maybe not the Wall Street guy, but he was far too loony to be looked at as a true heavy.)

And honestly, that’s what McConaughey does best. For ages, his looks kept him anchored to rom-com heroism, and his Southern boy charm to seedy but altogether harmless secondary characters in Richard Linklater pictures. But McConaughey could use a flat-out bad guy to further impress the world at large. It might be the best step, in fact, to ensure his tenure in the limelight.

After Dallas Buyers Club, there was little he could do to up the ante of Academy favor — physical and ethical transformations are pretty much the highest mitzvah as far as the Oscar is concerned. True Detective, then, gave him more room to play, showing that he could handle truly “out there” characters as well as traditional winners (like Dallas Buyers’ Ron Woodroof). Most recently, McConaughey took another type of role: the unadulterated heroism of the blockbuster adventure, handling the third duty with aplomb.

Now for yet another new achievement: abject villainy. Something he can master, and that the world needs to see. After a successful stint in The Stand, the already-sitting-pretty McConaughey will have little left to prove. If he can represent himself as an adept bad guy and win over the King crowd? Any role from hereon out will be his for the taking.

Images: Getty; Warner Bros.; HBO (2); Focus Features