Something about Walnut Creek seemed forbidding, though. He’d drive up, pull into the gravel entryway, and stare down the dimly lit road. But he could never persuade himself to drive all the way in until last October, when he plopped down $320 a month for a lot. Circles, not right angles. Ands. Not ors.

So, yes, McConaughey has a giant house in the Hollywood Hills. And, yes, he does have that 1,600-acre ranch in West Texas (the final resting place of Old Blue). But that doesn’t mean he can’t “and also” have a mobile home around the corner from an abandoned Texaco, a Peter Pan putt-putt, and the Chuy’s restaurant where first daughter Jenna was busted for underage drinking.

“Look, man, I got a housekeeper. I dig my Four Seasons,” McConaughey says. “But I like the fancy sheets more, I like that room service more, when I’ve come from a place where I’ve been sleeping in a cot and cooking for myself. I appreciate it more. That’s why I like Hollywood more now than I used to.”

By now the story is basically a requirement of Cinema Studies 101. McConaughey, the redneck from Texas, personifies one of film’s classic stoners (Woody Wooderson in Dazed and Confused), follows with a big hit (A Time to Kill), drinks the Kool-Aid of fame (something about cannabis and conga drums), knocks around with some famous actresses (Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, etc.), then falls into a briar patch of well-meaning flops (EdTV, Amistad, etc.). And for a while, everybody kind of forgets about him.

“That hurt, and it pissed me off. Because everybody’s telling the truth in Hollywood, right?” he says, laughing. “But then I went, ‘It’s not personal—get the joke.’ And six years ago I didn’t get the joke. But I learned you don’t do your business in Hollywood’s game. It’s a great town for hustlers, so you can’t get mad. You play your own game.”

McConaughey’s game was to continue plugging along, or as he puts it, to “just keep livin’.” Wooderson’s glassy-eyed battle cry is not only the name of McConaughey’s production company (j.k. livin’) but a personal mantra of sorts. “It’s a verb, man. No g at the end. No period. Sometimes you wait life out; sometimes you drive right through it.”

For once, McConaughey took his hands off the wheel. And waited. And lo and behold, with 2003’s How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, audiences discovered a new king of the romantic comedy. He followed that with Sahara, a tongue-in-cheek action-adventure with just enough box-office juice to warrant a sequel. This month McConaughey dives back into the fluffed pillows of romantic comedy with Failure to Launch, in which he plays a fisherman-slash-mama’s boy lured out of the nest by costar Sarah Jessica Parker.