Matthew McConaughey Talks Staying Power of Signature 'Alright, Alright, Alright': 'A Compliment' (Exclusive)

The Oscar winner embraces the catchy phrase he first uttered 30 years ago in 'Dazed and Confused'

It’s been 30 years since Matthew McConaughey first uttered the iconic phrase "Aright, alright, alright" on screen as David Wooderson in 1993's cult classic Dazed and Confused.

The three words have followed him ever since.

Unmistakably McConaughey in laid-back life-affirming spirit, the indelible catchphrase — the first words he ever said on camera — has had inimitable staying power. The star himself included it in his acceptance speech for Best Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards for Dallas Buyers Club.

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Universal/Gramercy/Kobal/Shutterstock Matthew McConaughey in "Dazed and Confused" (1993)
Universal/Gramercy/Kobal/Shutterstock Matthew McConaughey in "Dazed and Confused" (1993)

"I had no idea that that line would precede me for the rest of my life," McConaughey, 54, tells PEOPLE in an interview for this week’s 50th anniversary special issue. "People ask me all the time, 'Are you tired of that preceding you?' And I'm like, 'Hell, no.' "

"Aright, alright, alright" wasn’t even in the original Dazed and Confused script, and instead was the real-time brainchild of the actor finding his character on his first job.

"That [came] out of my mouth in a scene that I was never supposed to be in, that was never written," recalls the star, who improvised it during a scene where he pulls his car alongside actress Marissa Ribisi in a drive-thru to try and pick her up.

In the moment, McConaughey says he was "starting to get a little nervous" as he worked through who his character was.

Recounting the origin of the catchphrase, he says: "I started to go, Well, who's my man? Who's Wooderson? I said, Wooderson loves his car, and I'm like, well, I'm in my car. There's one. I said, Wooderson loves rock and roll... well, I got Ted Nugent in the 8-track. There's two. I said, Wooderson loves to get high, and I'm like, well, Slater's riding shotgun. He's always got a doobie rolled up."

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<p>John Nacion/Getty</p> Matthew McConaughey

John Nacion/Getty

Matthew McConaughey

"Then I said Wooderson likes picking up chicks … Then all of a sudden, I heard, 'Action!' As I put it in drive, I thought to myself, 'I got three out of four and I'm going to get the fourth. Alright, alright, alright. That was three affirmations for the thing that my character had as he was going to get his fourth. It was a kick-starter.”

The scene, and the role in the Richard Linklater-directed film, jumpstarted his career, and McConaughey still feels fondly about the line.

"Every time I hear it, I'm like, 'That was the first three words you said ever on film 30-something years ago,' " he says. "I take it as a compliment."

For more on our 50th Anniversary, check out our special digital issue, and pick up a star-studded copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands April 12.

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