ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In August 2015, Matthew McConaughey showed up at the Albuquerque Journal for his most recent film project.
Known for his dapper style and fit physique, the 47-year-old Oscar winner had employees at the Journal doing double takes, as we watched him and his fellow actors become their roles while cameras rolled.
Sure, he was decked out in slacks and a button-up shirt. Classic McConaughey, right?
Yet the McConaughey filming had a belly, not to mention less hair on his head.
This is what was needed for him to transform into the role of Kenny Wells in “Gold.”
The film opens nationwide today, and moviegoers will notice plenty of New Mexico scenery.
“Gold” tells the story of Wells, a modern-day prospector, hustler, and dreamer, desperate for a lucky break.
Left with few options, Wells teams up with an equally luckless geologist, Mike Acosta, played by Édgar Ramírez, to execute a grandiose, last-ditch effort: to find gold deep in the uncharted jungle of Indonesia.
McConaughey says Kenny is about family and trying to make the situation better.
The film is “about his father, about resurrecting the company, about reconnecting the chain that Kenny broke through his family lineage and keeping this company alive,” he said in a statement.
McConaughey embarked on a daunting physical transformation for the role, beginning with some weight gain.
“Kenny Wells, the way I saw him, was a guy who was on liquid lunch and liquid dinners a lot, and he’s kind of let himself go, but has a huge amount of energy,” he said. “So I gave myself the pleasure of saying, ‘You can eat whatever you want and you can drink whatever you want for four months, go for it.’ Two months later, my weight was up to 211 pounds, which my body has never had on it before.”
The film began production in Thailand, moved to Albuquerque, then Reno, Nev., and completed principal photography in New York City.
According to the New Mexico Film Office, the production employed at least 150 New Mexico crew members, 17 New Mexico actors, and about 1,350 New Mexico background talent workers.
Reno scenes were shot in both Albuquerque and Reno.
According to the production, most of Reno’s interior scenes were filmed in Albuquerque, due to its extensive film infrastructure with crews and equipment, and New Mexico’s film incentives.
The Three Greenhorns bar was established at the former Paul’s Monterey Inn. with its dim lighting, high booths and padded bar.
“Paul’s was one of the keys to attracting ‘Gold’ here,” said Dennis Muscari, New Mexico location manager. “(Director) Stephen Gaghan flipped for it. We turned two rooms into one big room and kept the original light fixtures, booths, inside lanterns, chandeliers with wine bottles, and look of a dark, smoky lounge.”
Workers built the Prospector’s Suite at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino on an Albuquerque stage, decorating it with a wooden pool table, wooden bar, vintage wooden furniture with fabric panels, marble tables, amethyst and granite sculptures, greyhound sculptures and decorative animal horns.
Set technicians built a New York Stock Exchange trading floor on the second floor of the Albuquerque Journal building and filled it with 1980s computers and telephones.
More than 350 extras costumed in glittering gowns and tuxedos packed The Prospectors Awards Gala, filmed in a giant ballroom with crystal chandeliers.
Set designers built an apricot-colored stage curtain, a brass trophy with a prospector’s pickax embedded into a gold brick that was custom-made by a blacksmith in Cimarron. Dozens of tables sported handmade golden centerpieces, showy desserts and Champagne bottles in silver buckets.
The location for the home of Kay – Wells’ girlfriend, played by Bryce Dallas Howard – was in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, nestled against the Sandia Mountains. Workers beautified the house with freshly planted lavender and bougainvillea landscaping, as well as a newly tiled pool.
The Valles Caldera National Preserve offered the most dramatic location.
This is where Kenny takes Kay with plans of building their dream ranch. And Gagan was so attracted to a nearby mountain road that he added a short driving scene with Kenny and Kay there.
“We filmed a big panorama of green grasses and wild lilies, with elk in the distance and hummingbirds everywhere,” Muscari said. “There were swirling clouds in the blue sky, and we shot at magic hour.”
Not hard to do in New Mexico.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Arts Editor Adrian Gomez at email@example.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.