PARK CITY, Utah--Lance Armstrong's two-night interview with Oprah Winfrey -- in which the disgraced cyclist admitted to doping, bullying his detractors and never considering himself a cheater -- left a slew of questions unanswered and the fate of Armstrong's hoped-for public redemption uncertain.
People remain angry at the seven-time Tour de France winner. Armstrong's good friend Matthew McConaughey understands where they're coming from, as the actor exclusively told MTV News at the Sundance Film Festival, because he too was upset.
"My first reaction was I was pissed off," he said, explaining that he wanted to be "delicate" in how he addressed the scandal. "I was mad. I then got kind of sad for him. First off, I had a part of me that took it kind of personally, which I think a lot of people have."
"For him, it was impersonal because he was living a lie," McConaughey added. "It was a whole unanimous facade he had to carry around."
Their friendship stretches back years. Both men call Austin, Texas home, and their longtime bromance included shirtless marathon training sessions, beach vacations, and work together on Armstrong's Livestrong nonprofit to support people affected by cancer. McConaughey's initial anger at his pal's lies, though, gradually gave way to a more nuanced and generous understanding of the unfolding scandal.
"What I realized is that those of us that took that personally, like, 'Oh, he lied to me,' it's not true," said McConaughey, who was in Sundance to promote his buzzy drama, "Mud." "What I mean by this is, what was he supposed to do? Call me to the side and go, 'Hey man, I did it but don't tell anybody.' Then I would have really had a reason to be pissed off at him, going, 'You want me to walk around holding this?' "
During Friday's Oprah interview, Armstrong spoke directly to the millions of fans who felt betrayed by his vehement cover-up effort. "I lied to you and I'm sorry," he said. "I am committed to spending as long as I have to to make amends, knowing full well I won't get many back."
McConaughey, for his part, is trying to find his way back. "Where I am now is I've put myself out of the way and I am happy for this guy, who has now chosen to reenter this new chapter of his life a truly free man. And the weight he had on his shoulders, without the boogieman under the bed, the skeleton in the closet that he's carried for 14 years. Fourteen years he lied and carried the lie with him."
Like Armstrong, McConaughey acknowledged that many fans might never forgive the disgraced hero, a fact the actor completely understands. So too does he understand the long, painful road his friend must now travel.
"You know the old line that Oprah said the other night, 'The truth will set you free,' " he explained. "Yeah, but she forgot one part. It's miserable in the beginning. And it's going to be miserable. But he's looking it in the eye, and he'll handle it. He'll deal. And he's ready for how hard it's going to be to deal."
In my opinion, at the end of it all, this so-called life, his legacy will be what he did for cancer," he added. "That's what will go on living. That's if he doesn't do anything else."