From True Detective to Real Professor
Matthew McConaughey is only the latest celebrity to land a starring role on campus
Last fall, actor, record producer, and philosophical luxury car pitchman Matthew McConaughey joined the faculty of the University of Texas Austin’s Moody College of Communication as a professor of practice, leading students through coursework on film production. The True Detective and Magic Mike star is no novice: he’s been a visiting professor at Moody College since 2015.
McConaughey has roots in Austin. It’s where he makes his home, and his breakout role as Wooderson came in the 1993 film Dazed and Confused, directed by Austinite Richard Linklater. He’s also a UT alumnus. So his showing up in front of a classroom makes some kind of sense.
But anyone who sees this as a case of a university bringing in a marquee name as stunt, think again. His course will be “the class I wish I would have had when I was in film school,” he said in a press release. “Making movies, turning words on paper into film, is both a science and art—no matter the time or generation. The elements of truth and genuine joy for the process are timeless. That will always be our classroom focus.”
Tim Warner/Getty Images
Matthew McConaughey watches player warmups before the game between the Texas Longhorns and the LSU Tigers at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Austin, Texas.
McConaughey isn’t the first Hollywood star to take his Tinseltown celebrity to the tweedy halls of academia.
The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik—who has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA—has taught undergraduate chemistry, biology, and neuroscience. In 2017, Angelina Jolie taught a course at the London School of Economics, and she worked as a United Nations goodwill ambassador before she was appointed special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. And Spike Lee used his expertise as one of the most acclaimed directors in the world to teach filmmaking at Harvard in 1991 before joining the NYU Graduate Film faculty in 1993, eventually becoming the program’s artistic director.
And then there’s actor/author/Renaissance-Man-no-seriously-I-am James Franco, who has been hired to teach undergraduate film courses at NYU, USC, and UCLA. The Disaster Artist star has worked in the film and television industry since 1999, and he did earn his bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing from UCLA and his MFA in creative writing at Columbia University. He also started an acting school that led to his being sued by his former mentees, which puts him in a class by himself.
Sarasota County Schools Education Channel/Youtube
"The Big Bang Theory" actor Mayim Bialik and neuroscience PhD visits students in one of Sarasota County Schools STEMsmart's TechActive Classrooms of Tomorrow.
Other celebrity professors have gotten into classrooms in more surprising ways. Their coursework may not reflect degrees they’ve earned, but they still know what they’re talking about—in a way that’s novel to academics.
In 1971, Paul Simon taught undergraduate songwriting at NYU. Oprah Winfrey and her partner, Stedman Graham, co-taught Dynamics of Leadership at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in 1999. Supermodel Tyra Banks, who coached contestants on America’s Next Top Model, taught a course on personal branding at Stanford in 2017. Alec Baldwin taught five consecutive summer acting workshops at Southampton College of Long Island University. And The Roots’ drummer Questlove taught two classes in 2012 on classic vinyl and Prince.
And then there’s Kanye West. (There’s always an “and then.”) Kim Kardashian’s husband taught a class in fashion design at L.A. Trade Technical College—as part of his 2014 community service for attacking a photographer. Not the greatest way to get your foot in the door, but he does have a successful clothing line, so... It’s just too bad he’s not down to teach whatever alchemy he discovered to record Graduation. But based on his recent stage show, maybe he needs a refresher course himself.
Or, you know, maybe he can teach a “How Not to Write Opera” class instead.