He would look better on the wide open spaces of a prairie rather than being crammed into a hotel suite settee, hemmed in by the obligatory coffee table. Matthew McConaughey swings his bejeaned and booted legs on to the surface, tipping back to make himself comfortable.
Despite his efforts he still looks ill at ease yet he's prepared to grin - gleaming white ivories - and bear it. He's been scooped up and deposited to give chapter and verse about Wedding Planner, The (2001) a romantic comedy which teams him with Jennifer Lopez. McConaughey appreciated the change of pace (and female input) after being cooped up as an ambitious but compassionate officer with 15 guys for the submarine drama U-571 (2000)
Talking in a soft slow drawl and with his blonde curls tamed into some kind of submission, he says: "There was a lot of responsibility on U-571 (2000) because it was based on real events and there conflicts to overcome. Wedding Planner, The (2001) was looser and not so structured. I got to be the lover, the knight coming over the hill. Being a romantic comedy there was more room for improvisation. My character's a doctor but he's not someone who's defined by his occupation. It's more about his affairs of the heart and how couples can stay friends after they break up." And, yes, he remains on good terms with one of his former amours Sandra Bullock.
He likes the whole aura that surrounds weddings although he has no immediate plans for one himself. "When the preacher or minister asks if anyone has any objection or knows of any reason why the two people present should not be wed, I've always had this strong urge to raise my hand. I've curbed it so far. I've no idea what style of wedding I would have. And yeah first I've got to find a girl who wants to marry me ..." he says wistfully tailing off. Besides Bullock he has been linked with Ashley Judd and Patrica Arquette.
McConaughey, 31, shouldn't be typed in the way of his Wedding Planner role by what he does either, he asserts. He could happily survive without it although he labels acting as "my favourite avenue of communication." His has been a slow-burning progress which has fizzled into flame, petered out, and then been rekindled.
When first he came to attention in Richard Linklater's slacker comedy Dazed and Confused (1993) as the moustachioed character who cannot let go of his school days, he was working his way through film school in Austin. He ran into casting director Don Phillips in a hotel bar, asking him for a job as a production assistant. Innumerble vodkas later he ended up with a role instead.
Phillips helped to promote McConaughey in appropriate places, allowing him a place on his couch when he first came to Los Angeles. "Let's face it," Phillips has said, "Matthew has three things that make a star: you've got to be smart, you've got to have talent, and the girls have got to want to go to bed with you. He scores on all counts but at the same time he has a natural cool and humility about him."
McConaughey certainly is more ambivalent about his chosen vocation. "I didn't dream of being an actor. I didn't even know until I was 21 if it was a practical way to make a living. It took a while to convince myself it was possible. With that first job, however, I Had such a good time that I felt like I was kind of getting away with something I shouldn't. Still I finished my director's degree (after switching from law), headed for Hollywood, and found some production assistant work while trying acting on the side. It seemed to work out - I started being hired, and all of that was only about nine years ago."
It's not been an easy ride. At the stage of A Time to Kill, A (1996) with Bullock, Samuel L Jackson and Kevin Spacey he was being hailed as "the next big thing" with photo shoots in the glossies including Vanity Fair. He beat Woody Harrelson, Brad Pitt, and Val Kilmer to the role of rape case lawyer Jake Brigance. Director Joel Schumacher said on its release that McConaughey reminded him of a young Marlon Brando. "At any rate he's a total original. I don't know anyone like him. There's an innate integrity and, yes, elegance about Matthew. yet there's also a kind of shitkicking, dangerous side to him too."
All the attention took him unawares. In order to cope he disappeared to Peru for 15 days. "I always had dreams about it. I wanted to float up the Amazon even before I knew where it was. The first three or four days out I had to deal with my fears, and capture my demons. I learned to enjoy the ride which can be pretty wild at times," he says.
He's rather a wild spirit himself. Two years ago he was arrested while playing the bongos naked in his living room. Neighbours had complained about the loud music coming from his house. He spent the night in custody in Austin although all charges, including possession of marijuana, were dropped. "Everyone's got a sense of humour about it - Austin sure did. If I hadn't been naked, it wouldn't have been funny; I was the first one laughing. But I was also like, 'Well damn it, I don't want to be in jail. That's going to piss mom off.'"
A 50 dollar fine later for breach of the peace, and he continues to play either with or without clothes (when the curtains are discreetly drawn) to relax. "I don't know if I am any good or not but it sounds OK to my ears," he says modestly. His main abode remains in Austin although he has a house with a Pacific view at Malibu which he shares with Miss Hud, his Chow / Labrador cross.
He describes himself as "a bit of a cowboy," preferring the possibilities of leaping in his car and going on cross-country trips to the hot house atmosphere of Hollywood and its environs. He is able to live a relatively normal life. Fellow Texans respect his space. When home he hangs out in places where he's considered a "local" and therefore less likely to attract stares or unwelcome intrusions.
McConaughey is the youngest of three brothers who was brought up as a Methodist. His mother Kay, a nursery school teacher, purposefully chose a Biblical name. "When I was in kindergarten a boy came up and said: Hey Matt let's go play. My mom overheard him and told me never to answer to Matt again in my life. And I never have," he smiles, "because mom wouldn't like it." His father Jim who sold pipe and couplings in the oil business, died while he was making his first film.
His mother has said she is amazed by her youngest's career choice. "He is so honest about who he is that to go out of himself and be somebody else amazes me. When he goes into himself, you can't reach him. So I pity the poor woman who ever gets him. Those eyes can be so piercing." His elder brother Michael is 17 years older than him; his other, Pat is seven years older. "They still insist on telling me how easy I had it all," says McConaughey.
He has learned a lot about the switchback of fortune. He had high hopes for ed Tv (1999), the television satire he made with Ron Howard which evoked the themes of Truman Show, The (1998) and was eclipsed by it. He played the nobody who became the subject of a fly on the wall documentary. "That movie was backed, marketed, had all kinds of money on it, and it just bombed. I thought we had a home run," he says forlornly. " I had experienced that kind of overnight success which was not dissimilar to what Ed went through. So it was also an interesting role to play." Steven Spielberg's epic Amistad (1997) about the slave trade also dived at the box office.
"These were disappointments because we thought we had made good films. But there's nothing you can do about it, so why waste time worrying," he says. Earlier on in his progress he had luckier propositions - in John Sayles's Lone Star (1996) he played a Texas sheriff in what was a meditation on the new West and also he was in Bill Murray's road movie, Larger Than Life (1996).. Sayles has become another fan: "The guy has a strong presence. There is nothing histrionic about him. He's not easily intimidated."
In an age of wimpy heroes perhaps that's the key to McConaughey's appeal: he has a masculinity that doesn't wreak macho and a determination that is not all about vaulting ambition. "I think if you rely on Fate, it bites you in the butt. If you blow in the wind, you're going to get dropped in the gutter. But responsibility is when you create your own weather. Whether it's the people you hang out with, the places you choose to go, the things you choose to do, you have to be responsible to it, and the more responsible you are, the more Lady Luck shines on you. It's circular. It keeps coming back, and regurgitates."
McConnaughey uncoils, knocks over an ashtray, and takes his leave. Even in a sunless room he casts a giant shadow.