Dallas Buyers Club: Is the 2013 Movie Based on a True Story?

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a drama film set in 1985, and revolves around Ron Woodroof, an electrician, who is diagnosed with AIDS. In denial at first, Ron reflects on his promiscuous ways and comes to the realization that the diagnosis is accurate. But when Woodroof realizes that there is no way to alleviate the symptoms and extend his life (If not entirely cure it) due to the US government’s policies regarding AIDS, he turns to smuggle the drugs from Mexico for himself and other AIDS patients.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the 2013 film features the talents of Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, and Steve Zahn. A daring story about one man’s quest for better healthcare for everybody, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a must-watch. But is there any truth behind this incredible story? Let’s dive in and find out!

Ron Woodroof: The Real Inspiration Behind the Movie

Yes, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a true story. The film is based on the real-life escapades of Ron Woodroof and is told fairly accurately. This is owing to the fact that one of the film’s screenplay writers, Craig Bolten, met with Ron Woodroof and interviewed him quite extensively. Bolten then worked on the script with Mellisa Wallack, which took them about a year to pen down.

The world first learned of Ron Woodroof and his exploits on August 9, 1992, when from a report published in The Dallas Morning News. “There are 500,000 pills crammed into the trunk of the rented Lincoln Continental,” it stated, then detailed how Woodroof has been smuggling in life-saving drugs for HIV+ patients from across the border since 1986, having made the trip at least 300 times. When asked why he takes such a heavy risk, Ron replied, “This is mandatory, that is the problem. It is not a matter of whether or not you want to take these risks, it’s a matter that you have to take these risks.”

To organize it all, Woodroof also established a “buyer’s club” in Dallas in 1987 – one of 9 to exist at the time of the article’s publication. It is this report that drew Craig Bolten to Ron Woodroof and his story. In an interview with Go Into The Story of The Black List, Bolten explained how he had called Woodroof multiple times before the latter called him back. Bolten then explained who he was and what he wanted to do, and Woodroof told him to reach Dallas the next day. “I had no money. I slept in a AAA park in a tent. Then we spent three days together, and I tape recorded everything,” the writer said.

Bolten added, “He gave me the blessing to go write a movie about his life.” When asked what inspired him to even pursue the story in the first place, Bolten continued, “I related to it because my father had dealt with a terminal illness. He had lymphoma. Some of the things I learned during his illness were reflected in Ron Woodroof’s struggle for alternative medications, protocol, the protocols for getting access to alternative medications, the way the FDA worked, the NIH, stuff like that. It spoke to my heart a little bit, his plight.”

Director Jean-Marc Vallée brought Woodroof’s story to life on the silver screen. He captured the film entirely with a handheld camera in naturally available light, which brought out and enhanced the raw emotion of both Woodroof and those involved with him in his endeavors. As serious as the story’s subject matter is, dealing with life and death, Vallée managed to inject a little fun and entertainment for the audience in it as well.

“When I was reading the script the first time, I was deeply moved and my eyes were wet.  I was like, ‘How can I do this?’ At the same time, the subject matter is so serious. How can we get out of that, and smile and laugh and have fun, and don’t go there and try to make people cry and be too serious? The screenwriter had already addressed this concern, and I came in, and I put some Marc Bolan in him and made Rayon a T. Rex fan, and tried to get some humor with Ron in this strip joint making a prayer just to have fun also with this. That’s life and it’s not always serious, but it’s not just a comedy,” the director told Collider.

He further revealed how the rest of the characters, besides Ron, all stem from the imagination of the screenwriters, but the story itself remains unchanged. Taking on the role of Ron Woodroof is actor Matthew McConaughey, who lost close to 50 pounds for the role. “…I know those people. I know that language, I know that perspective, I know that anarchic humor. And, you know, one of things I wanted to make sure about this is to stick with that anarchic humor, stick with him being a selfish bastard, stick with him being a businessman out for himself,” the actor said in an interview with Roger Ebert.

According to reports, the real-life Ron Woodroof succumbed to his illness in September 1992, nearly a month after he was interviewed by Craig Bolten. For his part, Bolten made good on the promise he had made to Woodroof – that he would get his story made into a film. And that is exactly how we have something as amazing as the ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’

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