Even out here in La-La Land, when the Airstream is parked in his driveway, he sometimes sleeps in it. His attachment to the trailer is so strong that after a while you start to see it as a metaphor for his life, and especially his life as an actor: It’s fun, random, sometimes shitty, most often not, and the women get quite a kick out of it. “My life is the road, man. I need to keep moving,” he says, eyes a little glazed now, and he’s so goofily sincere that it’s tough not to take him at face value. Then again, two hours or so have dissolved, he’s just topped off two glasses of tequila, and things are getting fuzzy.

Before we keel over and black out, let’s take a few steps back and trace the road so far. His career began in a bar in Austin in 1992, when Matthew McConaughey, a University of Texas frat boy, met Don Phillips, who was casting a movie called Dazed and Confused. They got along, got drunk, got kicked out of the bar, and soon McConaughey had a small role as Wooderson, the dude who hangs around high-school kids long after graduation, delivering well-quoted slacker koans. (“That’s what I love about these high-school girls, man—I get older, they stay the same age.”) It was one of those iconic roles in an iconic film, and it earned McConaughey permanent respect from anyone who’s ever fancied himself a cannabis connoisseur. Then came 1996, when McConaughey found himself playing the lead in A Time to Kill—a part that was almost Harrelson’s, as it happens. “That was sort of an introduction to that celebrity-movie-star status,” he says, and here his tone is more resigned than enthusiastic.

Because suddenly McConaughey was no longer an actor but, for a fleeting moment, the actor. Names like Brando and Newman were bandied about. Vanity Fair deified him on the cover. The dubious expression It Boy was deployed repeatedly, which, while thrilling, comes with devilish strings attached: You can only be It for so long. “It was wild,” McConaughey says of that time, during which he briefly dated Ashley Judd and seriously dated Sandra Bullock, neither of whom he much wants to discuss. “Some of the time I didn’t know what I was doing. I was enjoying it, but I wasn’t completely conscious of what was going on. Some of what I was doing only caught up to me three years ago while I was working in my garden. You put yourself somewhere quiet, where your body clock gets right, and all of a sudden memories come floating by and you say, ‘Holy shit! That’s what was happening that week.’”

Such as?

“Well, hmmm. Lemme think. You know, I don’t know, really. Just stuff. Moments. I don’t know . . .”

The guy can be a little opaque. When McConaughey gets going, sipping and dipping and waxing Lone Star poetic, he becomes a master of the art of the near-indecipherable metaphor. Here he is, for instance, on the random gamble of choosing roles in Hollywood: “Sometimes you do [a movie] that’s on the feeder road and it can become the Autobahn. You can also do the one that’s straight down the pipe on the Autobahn and it ends up on the feeder.” On friendship: “My buddies, we’re all pretty relaxed. We all have pretty good bass lines, you know? People with too much treble make me nervous. There’s a lot of treble around. You gotta say, ‘Easy, take a breath here partner—stick your nose in the air and get some of that oh-two.’”