NEW YORK – Matthew McConaughey (search) is in the driver's seat. During a recent interview, the actor is literally sitting behind the wheel of the Ford pickup that's pulling his Airstream trailer across the country during a six-week promo trip for his new action flick, "Sahara." (search)Crashing in trailer parks, swinging by Atlanta Braves spring training or parked in Manhattan, McConaughey is going all out for the movie he stars in, produced, and hopes will build him a new "Indiana Jones" style franchise.
It's now been a dozen years since the 35-year-old actor debuted in the last-day-of-school cult classic "Dazed and Confused." Since then he's piled up a varied filmography ("A Time to Kill," "The Wedding Planner," "Frailty"), but never quite broken through to the superstar status for which he seemed destined.
During a recent pit stop, McConaughey both checked the rearview mirror and pondered the road ahead.
AP: Why this cross-country tour?
McConaughey: What's better than a road trip? People said I couldn't do this, and I said, "Why not?" So we got my Airstream and we painted the outside. They said, "You don't want the whole thing painted do you?" And I said, "Absolutely." This has nothing to do with being subtle. It's going to draw attention. We've had a few barbecues, camped out on the Daytona 500 infield, gave out some T-shirts. It's a grass roots "Sahara" road trip. Stop in one place. Camp out. Meet some people. Move on. Grass roots rock 'n' roll campaign!
AP: What are the three things you have to have for a road trip?
McConaughey: One: a good atlas. Two: good music — a lot of reggae. Three: Bongos.
AP: Do you take drums wherever you go?
McConaughey: Yeah. We've had some good jam sessions on the road. It's nice. A good way to get the day started with the right rhythm.
AP: A lot of celebrities would be uncomfortable being so out in the open. Does the publicity — for instance, the coverage of you and girlfriend Penelope Cruz (search) (who co-stars in "Sahara") — ever bother you?
McConaughey: When your mom calls you and says, "Did you get engaged?" And I'm like, "Mom, come on. Of course I didn't. I would let you know that before that." That pinches a hair. ... But I woke up about two or three years ago and I was like, "What is it everyone runs from?" Cameras aren't guns. They can't really hurt you.
AP: Do you ever get tired of "Dazed and Confused" fans quoting your lines?
McConaughey: The "Dazed" fans are the best, man! "Dazed" fans never even want an autograph or nothin'. "Dazed" fans like to walk by and say, "Say man, gotta joint?" and not even look, going past me. And I don't even look, and I'll go, "Be a lot cooler if you did." And then they laugh and I laugh and we go our separate ways. That's the "Dazed" fans. They just start a line and want me to finish it. I hardly ever see the faces — they just cruise by.
AP: If someone made a film of you in high school, like David Wooderson in "Dazed and Confused," what would your character be like?
McConaughey: I wasn't necessary Wooderson. That was more an image of who I thought my brother was. It wasn't who he really was, but when I was 12 and you have an older brother who is 17 and they're six foot but they look seven foot and they're your hero ... he was my James Dean. Me in high school? I was a little bit of everything. I had to make grades in my family. ... I was the guy who, yeah, I was on student council, but I had a best buddy in the smoking section and got in a couple of fights taking up for the dork, the geek who was getting his --- kicked by another guy on the football team.
AP: But at one point you thought you were going to be a lawyer, didn't you?
McConaughey: It initially started just because you're 15 growing up in a family and your mother says, "Geez, you argue about everything." Then it starts up, "Hey, go be a lawyer." Then I got interested in the justice system. If I was, I'd probably be a defense lawyer. I was headed that way, but luckily changed my track to film school.
AP: You have six more movies in development. Do you feel like you're entering a new, more active phase in your career?
McConaughey: Definitely evolving. Been doing it 12 years, had a production company for eight — J.K. Livin (named after one of his catch phrases from "Dazed and Confused:" "just keep livin'"). ... The hardest part is going from idea to paper.
AP: In "Sahara" you play a scientist searching for a river in Africa. Your screenplay is about a fisherman. To quote a line from "Chinatown," it sounds like you've got water on the brain.
McConaughey: I do, man! "Tishomingo Blues" (a movie in pre-production) is water! The next film I plan on doing, if we get the script right, "Failure to Launch," boat salesman! Sailor! This lady I work with, my coach, keeps reminding me, "You water baby!" ... There's a fluidity. Water's never clumsy. The fourth dimension is where you wanna go — you got the moon, the womb and the H20. You know?