Shining the spotlight on changing disease & one incredible real-life storyBy Jaime Netzer
Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey dropped close to 50 pounds, stayed out the sun and ate only fish and vegetables for four months to prepare for his role as Ron Woodroof, a real-life rodeo cowboy and electrician who after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 taught himself about drug treatments and eventually began smuggling in experimental drugs from outside the U.S. He sought these solutions elsewhere because his immune system responded negatively to the FDA pre-approved drug, Azidothymidine (AZT), which was used to delay the onset of AIDS. If the transformation in McConaughey was dramatic, his success may have been even more dramatic—McConaughey nabbed a Golden Globe Award for best actor in the film and, basically from the moment it first screened, has been considered a front-runner for the best actor Oscar (he received his first Academy Award nomination for the role in January of this year).
The story, which has bounced around Hollywood for nearly 20 years, first showed up in the pages of The Village Voice. In 1992, some individuals diagnosed with AIDS believed the FDA was taking too long to sanction a lifesaving medicine. As a result, “buyer’s clubs” popped up around the country. The members’ monthly fees paid for often-illegally imported prescription drugs. At the time Dallas Buyers Club takes place, AIDS was still largely misunderstood, which McConaughey says he personally remembers (he was 18 in 1987): “I remember going to doctors going, ‘Give me the straight dope. I am heterosexual; I am not doing drugs; I am not having sex with women doing drugs, I am not having sex with prostitutes—give me some numbers. Protected sex. Unprotected sex. And there was real fear, as no one had the same answer,” McConaughey told New Zealand’s 3 News.
“It wasn’t until 1995, we learn, that the way to treat HIV was to take three drugs at a time,” Dr. Steven Pounders, who was Woodroof ’s doctor from 1989 until he died in 1992, told The Telegraph. “Unfortunately, Ron [Woodroof] got the disease before we knew how to effectively treat it.” The lives of AIDS patients have changed dramatically since Woodroof was alive. “Today my office is totally different in every way,” Dr. Pounders told The Telegraph. “Today, if they take their pills, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. I’m just honored to have taken care of people who have lived to witness this big change.”
Even though treatment has changed, the stories of those first patients diagnosed with AIDS like Woodroof remain. And portrayals like MConaughey’s, which is subtle even as it demands attention, bring those stories to life. Dallas Buyers Club is emotive and charged with energy from several impressive performances (Jared Leto also won as supporting actor Golden Globe and an Oscar for his role as a transsexual prostitute also living with AIDS who becomes Woodroof ’s business partner in the club). Instead of the 30 days the doctors originally gave Ron Woodroof, he lived on for seven years and unfortunately lost his life in 1992. And thanks to the hard work of Matthew McConaughey’s and the rest of The Dallas Buyers Club production team, Ron’s story will live on for much longer still.