As teacher and student commune, old couples pass, hand in hand, without so much as a stolen glance. The manager of Walnut Creek does laps in his golf cart, offering only a courteous nod in our direction. The only person who drops by all afternoon is a lady in a pink sweat suit who gives McConaughey her number in case he needs someone to check his mail when he leaves for Los Angeles. In short, save for the occasional grip-and-grin or an autograph for somebody’s mama, people in Walnut Creek don’t seem to care that a major cinematic heartthrob walks among them. “The unsaid rule for living in a trailer park is: If the door’s shut, don’t come a-knockin’,” McConaughey explains. “But if it’s open and you’re walkin’ by, feel free to say hello.”

Of course, shitting in someone’s yard isn’t the most neighborly way to say howdy. But even when McConaughey’s puppy, Foxy—a bite-happy tan-and-white heeler that he claims is “70 percent dingo”—dropped a deuce in a lot down the street, the reaction was low-key. “Next morning I wake up and there’s a note stuck to my door: ‘The rules around here are to pick up after your dog. Please remove.’ I thought that was cool. I mean, in Hollywood there’s all these mirrors. I’m on billboards and magazine covers, but here I’m being asked to pick up dog crap.”

Truth be told, the actor may be one of the least interesting residents of Walnut Creek. Eclectic doesn’t quite do them justice. Across the street (if you can call a hastily splashed bit of asphalt a street) lives an honest-to-God clown McConaughey met at a fish-fry benefit he put together for Austin’s Katrina refugees. “The kids loved her,” he says, eyeing her as she pulls stilts from her minivan. “She’s a clown and she talks about her real self in the third person.” Further down the lot lives “the Balloonatic,” a man with no discernible means of income besides twisting balloons into animal shapes.

“Been here 13 years and generally hasn’t left this area,” he says. “Told me he makes his living making kids smile. They’ve all pretty much got their own thing going on. It’s a laid-back, independent culture. I mean, if you live in a trailer park, odds are you probably like your own space and you want to be mobile.” He loads up his cockeyed smirk. “Ya know, if you have to get out of town quickly for whatever reason?”

And that goes for everyone. Clowns, balloonatics, retirees, and maybe most of all the blue-eyed hombre some might consider “the sexiest man alive.”

Back in 1989, McConaughey was just another undergrad at the University of Texas. On slow nights he and his pals would take Old Blue—his four-cylinder Dodge truck with the Ross Perot sticker on the bumper—out for a spin, pick up a sixer, and see what trouble they could get themselves into. Even then, his spirit of exploration, of sticking his nose into far-flung nooks and crannies just to see if he could find a way out, was strong.