'Just Because': Matthew McConaughey says new children's book started as a 'Bob Dylan ditty' in a dream

The actor sat down with ABC News to discuss book and gun safety activism.

September 15, 2023, 3:08 PM

Matthew McConaughey rose to fame as a leading man, and his talent eventually earned him an Academy Award in 2014 for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in the biopic “Dallas Buyers Club.”

But in the days after the deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary, his activism took center stage as he pledged to help his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

On top of being an actor and activist, he’s now adding another title – children’s book author – to his list of accolades. McConaughey says the idea for his new picture book “Just Because” first came to him as a “Bob Dylan ditty” in a dream.

The actor spoke to ABC News’ Linsey Davis earlier this week about the inspiration for his new book and how he says he's working to make schools safer through his Greenlights Grant Initiative.

PHOTO: Matthew McConaughey looks on during the second quarter in a game between the Texas Longhorns and Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Matthew McConaughey looks on during the second quarter in a game between the Texas Longhorns and Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

LINSEY DAVIS: You are already a New York Times bestselling author for your memoir, “Greenlights.” What made you decide 'I'm going to go out and write a children's book'?

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY: I’ve got three children. So you start to, I think every parent knows, you start to see life through the lens of having children, and you start to think that way. And this came to me in a dream one night, and I thought it was really like a Bob Dylan ditty of a song and it had this little meter in my mind, and I was dreaming to it.

[Singing] “Just because they threw the dart, doesn’t mean that it stuck. Just because you got skills, don’t mean there is no luck. Doo doo doo, Just because…”

And so I woke up, and I kept that – you know, you wake up from a dream, you don’t want to stop the rhythm of what you – So I started writing it down and it sort of just came out on the page. And after four hours of writing, I decided, well, OK, I think I got my dream down, went back to sleep, woke up, come back and check it, ‘cause you want to check those 2:30 a.m. ideas to see if they still hold the next day, and it did.

DAVIS: “Just because you follow doesn't mean you're not a leader. Just because I keep winning doesn't mean that I'm a cheater.”

It feels like this is not just for children. I mean, for the adult reader, there's a takeaway here.

McCONAUGHEY: I hope so. I mean, I've learned that through life. I used to think that if you were going to be a leader, you had to be in front. And I got in front many times where I should have been in front, and I got in front many times where I didn't know where I was going, and I shouldn't have been the one in front. And I started to learn that you're a better leader if you fall in behind someone who knows where they're going and you want to go, someone who has a good aim.

DAVIS: Let's talk about the illustrations. One, the significance of the treehouse.

McCONAUGHEY: Yes. For me, and I wrote about this in my book “Greenlights,” that was my place to dream, to be with my own thoughts, to have my own stuff, to write in my own journal, that I knew I didn’t have to share with anybody, because that was between me and my treehouse and whoever I wanted to invite to my treehouse.

DAVIS: You’re a father of three, youngest is 10. So I know your kids have to give you feedback. What are their thoughts on the book?

McCONAUGHEY: They – so far, so good. I mean, my eldest thinks it's really cool. My daughter is very visual, so she's a big fan of the art. And my youngest so far is probably acting like, “Oh yeah, it's all right.” But he's come back to me a couple of times and said something where I'm like, “You remember that?” So he's letting me know that he did retain some things from the book.

DAVIS: Switching gears for a moment. We do know, of course, that gun safety reform is near and dear to your heart, especially after the shooting at Robb Elementary in your hometown of Uvalde.

[McCONAUGHEY speaking at the White House last year] “What every parent separately expressed in their own way to Camila and me? That they want their children's dreams to live on. That they want their children's dreams to continue to accomplish something after they are gone. They want to make their loss of life matter.”

Talk to us about the Greenlights Grants Initiative.

McCONAUGHEY: Yes, so the first time in 30 years of bills passed, federal bills passed to help safen [sic] schools, bipartisan, billions of dollars to help safen the schools through mental health and physically safen the schools. In 2026, if that money's not spent, and the government wants to spend it, wants to allocate it, that money could be reallocated.

What I found out is months and now even over a year later, since that bill has been passed, that money is there, federal grants there to give that money to schools that need it. Not many schools are applying. So I said, “Why?” The math doesn’t add up.

We found out that the grant writing process is extremely complicated. The superintendent in each district that needs to fill out that grant is usually wearing two, three hats, doesn't have the time. They're driving the bus, the P.E. teacher, and they're [saying], “You want me to fill out this 50-page grant that’s so damn intimidating? I don’t have the expertise or the time.”

PHOTO: Matthew McConaughey visits The Empire State Building on September 12, 2023 in New York City.
Matthew McConaughey visits The Empire State Building on September 12, 2023 in New York City.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

So we with the Greenlights Grant Initiative, we're going to have grant writers write grants for a lot of these highest need, lowest capacity schools. We have a website, greenlightsgrantinitiative.org, that will shepherd any school district and superintendent through the grant-writing process to give them the best chance of writing a grant that will be awarded.

DAVIS: Because what happens to the money if it’s not allocated?

McCONAUGHEY: It can be repurposed. [unintelligible] and go, “It wasn’t spent.” The government will say, “We didn’t feel the need.” Well, the need’s there.

DAVIS: I know you've considered before being a politician, but you and your wife have shown us all that being a private citizen, you can impact the world. What would you suggest to people who are out there just thinking, “You know, I want to make change, but I don't have the platform.”

McCONAUGHEY: That's a good question. And my hunch is we're hitting something that can be a real sweet spot with the Greenlights Grant Initiatives. We’re private citizens working with the public sector, the government. A lot of times we think as private citizens, “Well, government, my person's in office, it's all handled, I can sit back.”

No. Civics is a very not sexy word that Americans kind of get bored to even hear the word. Well, we need to do a little bit of a wakeup call with the civics class. The Greenlights Grant Initiative is sort of a civics class in supply and demand. The private sector with the public sector need to work more together.

DAVIS: You make civics sexy. We thank you for that on behalf of our nation. [Laughs.]

McCONAUGHEY: It can be! Help me out with it, I mean it really can be, you know?

DAVIS: What is it about you that you use your platform for good in this way? Because we see a lot of A-list actors who are just about that life. Right? But you seem to take it in a really heartfelt, different direction.

McCONAUGHEY: What is it about me? I mean, look, I mean, one answer could be that I've always seen myself – comes from my mantra, “Just keep living.” You know, I’m a mammal, a child of God, a McConaughey Texan and an American and a human before I was ever a celebrity.

I believe in people. I really do believe in people. I don't think we're going to find a Kumbaya answer to figuring all this stuff out. Is the Greenlights Grant Initiative the answer to gun violence in schools? No, it's not. But it damn sure is a step in the right direction that can be compounded moving forward.

DAVIS: Thank you so much for your time and the book.

McCONAUGHEY: Hey, you're welcome.

DAVIS: All the best to you.

McCONAUGHEY: Thank you