Was anyone having a better time than Matthew McConaughey at the turn of the century?
The frequently shirtless actor, so memorable in Dazed and Confused and A Time to Kill, dived into the '00s head first, launching a lucrative rom-com run with The Wedding Planner, running on the beach, and making light of his 1999 arrest for marijuana possession that involved him playing bongos while naked.
"What's wrong with beating on your drums in your birthday suit? I have no regrets about the way I got there," he later told Playboy. "But what's the lesson? Shut the window that has the beautiful scent of jasmine blowing in because it's two in the morning and you might wake a neighbor."
He sometimes called a tricked-out Airstream trailer home. His ghosts of girlfriends past included Ashley Judd and Sandra Bullock, and he hit it off with his Sahara co-star Penélope Cruz. Then 2005 wound to a close with People naming him Sexiest Man Alive.
McConaughey's one rule, he told the magazine: "Whether that's going for a run, whether that's dancing, whether that's loving—just break a sweat a day."
A sample voicemail message from the heartthrob on his 36th birthday: "Hey, this is McConaughey, Nov. 4, 2005, 36 times. Just keep livin' along the way. Talk to you later."
So, the big plan was always to just keep livin'.
It's just that he seemingly planned on doing that livin' on his own time, centered on his own priorities and, for the foreseeable future, on his own. A simple failure to launch?
By the spring of 2006 he was single, the tabloids reporting that he and Cruz had split up and McConaughey was perfectly happy living that bachelor life.
Yet, later that same year, he met Camila Alves.
As the actor has told it, he was "not a club guy." Yet on this night, he was out with Lance Armstrong and some other buddies at Hyde on Sunset Boulevard, "single men, having a good time," he recalled to People editor Jess Cagle in 2017. "We were playing hard and staying in shape, I was getting along with my family fine, my friends were all doing good. It was one of those good summers."
He was mixing margaritas at the table when he spotted Alves out of the corner of his eye, and the first words out of his mouth were, "What is that?"
"'That' went and sat down and I tried to get 'That's' attention," the True Detective star recalled. "And as I was trying to get 'That's' attention across the room, it went in my head, I was like, 'This isn't the kind of woman you call over across the room, McConaughey, get your ass out of the chair and go get her.' Which I did."
So he sauntered over, invited her group to have a drink with his group, which he considered a sneakily good way to get her to come over on her own, which she did. The Brazilian model spoke Portuguese, which he insists he managed to understand better that night than he ever would in the years since. The Spanish he spoke "was close enough that night to be the international language of love."
Of course, there are two sides to every story.
"We had two interactions at the bar," Alves recalled to People years later. "The first interaction, I did not know who he was. At the time he had a really long beard, and he had this rasta hat. He was all covered up, and I didn't really realize who he was." Then "Lance came to talk to me. You knew they were always together, so I'm like, OK, I'm outta here. I'm going to the other side of the room!"
As fate would have it, Alves didn't have her car, so he invited her back with him and his friends to his lofty perch in the Hollywood Hills. "I kidnapped her for our first date," he quipped to Howard Stern in 2017.
When Alves said she was going to call a cab and go, McConaughey offered his guest bedroom for the night.
"I did sneak down to the guest bedroom twice that night and got booted out," he told Stern. "Here's the cool moment that I went 'wow.'"
When he woke up at around 10:30 a.m. the next day, McConaughey was heading toward the kitchen and could hear laughter, "the kind of laughter of people that hang out a lot. And I walk in and there sits this woman in the same green turquoise dress she had on last night, holding court with my buddies and our housekeeper, eating breakfast, like they'd been buddies for 10 years."
"That's a woman who knows herself," he concluded. "That's a woman who's comfortable."
Even better, McConaughey then drove her 45 minutes to pick up her car and they listened to music the whole time without saying a word. And they continued to be perfectly comfortable, "no nervous tension."
He would've seen her again the night after they met, but she was busy because it was her dad's birthday—another plus in his book. So for their first official date, three nights later, McConaughey cooked dinner for two. He couldn't remember if he grilled rib-eyes or made pasta, but he did remember eating out on the porch with her at his little one-bedroom pad on the beach in Malibu.
He told Collider a few years later that an ideal date "has to do with food. And I'm cooking it. My date's cooking it. And we're trying to make it last as long as possible because then we can have another glass of wine plus the later it comes on, the better it tastes because you're really hungry. No, it is good...
"Maybe a trip down to the store for something fresh on the meat side," he continued, "but other than that, we want to basically may clean out of the fridge. And, we may bake something—we may also use the grill—and then we may end up with everything in the same pot by the time it's time to eat."
Asked how he knew she was The One, McConaughey told Cagle, it's "got to be the right person, but it has to be the right time. You could meet—I could've met her 15 years ago and it wouldn't have [worked out]—maybe not. Wouldn't have been. You know, how many people in your past have you met where you go, 'Oh, I would've actually been hanging out with them, [if] at the time I was ready, would they have been...? I don't know, the answer is we don't know the answer to those questions."
So, "it was the right time for me. I was not looking, I was very happily single—and healthily single. So I was not looking," he assured Cagle. "I was sleeping well, I was spiritually sound, I was good with hangin' with me. But, we met and the self-respect she had for herself, the way I understood her and her relationship with family, her own family...the way she respected me but never took anything for granted, the way, you know...not putting on airs, no airs whatsoever
"And you know where you catch the airs, you catch 'em in the silent moments, when they're not talking, not in what they say. There was none of that."
On that first date, "I knew then. I said the next night after that, I want to go out on another date. The next night after that, I wanted to go another date. And I've been wanting to go on a date with her for the last nine years. And not with anybody else."
Not that it was entirely easy for McConaughey to just start livin' as one-half of a partnership. He was used to it being the other way, but what separates the men from the boys is the willingness to try.
He explained to Esquire in 2011 the thought process behind moving to Malibu together, into a custom-built house with lots of outdoor entertainment space, a hot tub, and a path leading straight to the beach. "Before this," he said, "I had a super home in the Hollywood Hills that I did by myself—landscaping, detailing pretty much everything. But that house was mine. And yeah, we coulda gone in there right away. Camila would have said, 'Fine, don't change a thing.'
"But I thought, I found the woman I wanna do it with, the woman I wanna make a family with, hopefully live our life out together. She needs to have 50 percent of that. I mean, it's a lot easier for me to be at 100 percent. I'd always been 100 percent. It's braver for me at 50 percent."
Meanwhile, for all his flirtatious, sleepy-eyed charm, McConaughey, who lost his own father before Dazed and Confused came out (the elder McConaughey died mid-coitus with Matthew's mom, an anecdote their son obviously relishes sharing), really wanted to be a dad.
And so, he announced with utmost pride in January 2008 that he and Alves "made a baby together."
Writing on WhoSay (remember that?!), he revealed, "It's 3 months growin in her womb and all looks healthy and lively so far. We are stoked and wowed by this miracle of creation and this gift from God, and so excited for the adventure that will come in raising this child, being mother and a father, and shepherding him or her through this life."
Even his mom, Kay, weighed in, writing on her website, "Matthew and Camila have a very loving relationship. I knew he wanted to be a father, and Camila is the first lady I've seen him with that I knew if it were ever going to happen, it would happen with her."
Their first child, son Levi, was born that July.
"Camila and I were side by side the entire time," the new father said in a statement. "We are both tired and elated, and are so happy to have created the greatest miracle in the world—having a child and making a family. Now comes the greatest adventure—raising one, together."
McConaughey later told GQ that being a dad is "the one thing I've always wanted to be. I knew when I was 8 years old. I mean, I wanted to be things like the Washington Redskins running back and all that stuff, but the one thing I knew I wanted to be was a father. I understood that was why my dad was making me say 'Yes, sir' and 'Yes, ma'am' to elders. You know, 'I'm not on par with the adults yet. There's places to go.'" (And yes, he and Camila were raising their kids to be that level of polite.)
"You ever felt more clean, clear and masculine than the birth of your first child?" he reminisced fondly with Howard Stern in 2017, explaining how meeting Camila and then having a child helped steer him away from the rom-com track he had enjoyed while it lasted but was beginning to tired of. "And when you have it, a man should double down on anything he's thinking about in his life, in those months following right when they have a kid."
"I just said, wow, look how exciting my life is," McConaughey continued. "I have more joy, I laugh louder, I have more pain, I have more sadness—but man, it's dynamic. And I'm like going, 'My work is not challenging, it's not near as exciting as my life!' And I said, rather be that way than the other way. But, let's take some time out to maybe find some work that scares me or turns me on as much as my life's turning me on."
And so he started saying "no" to most of the offers coming his way.
"We hunkered down, had our first child—that sure helped me get through the days!" he told Stern. "That's a lot to work on. And then I'd say, in that time, I un-branded."
Making way for the McConaissance, of course, though he didn't know it then.
Meanwhile, though McConaughey had settled down for the long haul with Alves, coming from parents he described as "outlaws," the actor was in no rush to do anything too traditional.
"Am I getting married in the future? Not today. Honestly, not today. I don't have any plans for it," the actor told Collider in 2009 while out promoting Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, in which he played a commitmentphobe who reunited with his ex at his brother's wedding and realizes she's The One. "I was asked this earlier. It's not an institution I'm against at all. I'm actually for it, believe in it and have seen it actually be very, very healthy for many relationships. Some people go through it some great ways.
"It's just not something I plan on doing right now and that I feel like I need to do right now, but I'm not against it at all."
McConaughey was happy to be an open, not always easily decipherable book, but with a long-term girlfriend and two kids, some details were just off-limits.
"Am I a fun-loving guy, man?" he asked Esquire rhetorically in 2011. "Who likes running around in the summer with his shirt off, man? Am I a guy who likes to hang out with his friends, and party and go to concerts and football games with his friends? Well, yeah! Yes, I am. Always have been. Always hopefully will be. You know?"
As for questions such as "'Why didn't Camila and I get married?'" he said, quoting a list of written questions. "Nobody's business."
Of course, by then, maybe he just didn't want to blow the surprise.
Because, that December, he popped the question.
"Just asked Camila to marry me, Merry Christmas," McConaughey shared on Dec. 24.
They got married on June 9, 2012, at their home in Austin, a signature fun-food-and-friends-packed, island-beach-meets-Texas affair. John Mellencamp sang for a group that included Reese Witherspoon, Woody Harrelson and Richard Linklater, as well as ring bearer Levi, flower girl Vida, and other family members, and they reportedly whispered their vows into each other's ears in order to keep them extra-private.
And, as it turned out, baby no. 3 got to partake too: son Livingston was born that December.
Asked what made him finally decide to get married, McConaughey told GQ in 2014, "I had to get to the point where I saw it as more than just the thing to do. I wanted to really want to. You know, I didn't want it to be a destination; the fun is that we're on the adventure together. So I spent a lot of time with her. We talked about it spiritually. We did a lot of reading and talked to a lot of people that had been divorced, a lot of people that had been happily married. We talked to our pastor. In the end, our understanding was, Let's go make a covenant, with you, me, and God. And let's understand that this is not a destination, this is the beginning of an adventure that we're taking together.
"Once that clicked with me and I didn't have to intellectualize my way into it, I started to feel the excitement. I was having my own definition of the freedom I wanted thrown right back at me, in possibly a much greater way."
So, in case anyone was under the impression that it was a decision he undertook lightly, they'd be sorely mistaken. And, of course, there was the fact that Alves did want to get married.
"It took her going, 'C'mon, Big Boy, Mr. Easygoing-We'll-Get-to-It-When-We-Get-to-It. Either shit or get off the pot,'" McConaughey acknowledged.
Of course, that's not exactly how Alves remembered it. She told Access Hollywood after the wedding, "I think it's something we evolved to. I was never the girl that grew up saying I want to get married. I actually told my parents to not expect me to get married." Once they were married, Alves continued, "the main thing for me is to make sure our home is peaceful, that it's healthy, that the kids are good. I didn't know how important [getting married] was, and how really truly special it was, until I went through the ceremony."
Regardless, neither Mr. nor Mrs. McConaughey has ever looked back.
Talking to E! News in June 2013, Alves said she had barely just started exercising again, but breastfeeding Livingston and avoiding dairy was helping her slim down.
McConaughey, however, has remained perennially stunned by her, telling us, when asked what he found sexiest about his wife, "There are ways she is sexy as a woman. There are ways she is sexy as a human. There are ways she is sexy as a mother. There's many angles. I will say that."
Speaking of weight loss, meanwhile, 2013 was a pivotal time for the Dallas Buyers Club star in more ways than one, as the newlywed father of three had also lost 40 pounds to play Ron Woodroof, a real-life activist who after being diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-'80s didn't accept "there's nothing we can do and this pill might kill you" as an answer and started a whole black market business smuggling medications into the U.S. from Mexico. McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto won Oscars.
"It changed his sense of humor, but in a good way. He started to cook more for us and that was more fun," Alves cracked to Esquire about what it was like living with her husband while he was essentially starving himself.
But of course her moral support meant the world, both during the weight-loss process and in bringing the film, Dallas Buyers Club, to fruition at all. When he was scooping up one award after another leading up to the Oscars in 2014, tales invoking Camila (as well as his signature "alright, alright, alright") became commonplace.
"My wife, Camila, who's not only put up with me for all this time in our seven years, and this last three years...she kicked my ass out the door and said, 'Go get it Mcconaughey, go get it, my man, my king,'" he recalled at the Golden Globes as his wife out in the audience smiled and shook her head with good-natured exasperation. "'Yes, ma'am, yes ma'am!' Kids: Levi, Vida, Mr. Stone. Love you all!"
After a fabulously convoluted acceptance speech at the SAG Awards, the family took off for Rome to unwind a bit amid all the award season madness. As it turned out, McConaughey would need the energy.
"To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you've given me every day I go out the door is unparalleled," he said, accepting his Oscar in March, as Camila's eyes welled with tears. "You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you." Having already thanked God, his late father and his mother, who was also in the audience, his voice got husky and his eyes filled with tears, too.
"If anything, the more secure I feel at home, the more I feel like I'm able to fly," McConaughey told GQ, explaining how marriage and having a family had turned out to be a better mix with his work than he could have ever imagined.
The happily married dad quipped to Playboy in 2016, "I have been very faithful with my wife, very selfishly. I like being under her spell. I don't want to break that spell."
And so a tight-knit family of five has continued enjoying the adventure that is every day spent together.
"The main thing is that my wife and I, Camila, we have a similar moral bottom line," McConaughey said on Today in 2018. "And as you learn, if you have kids, every day they get older, you realize how much more it's really DNA. We can nudge 'em and shepherd 'em, et cetera et cetera, but they are who they are. And right now, I'm just happy to say we have three healthy ones and they're very much individuals."
Nowadays, they're just the kind of old Hollywood couple that runs a foundation (called Just Keep Livin, of course) that aids at-risk teens, goes on group vacations with Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and enjoys family days out at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Having conquered movies and prestige TV, McConaughy reinvented your standard Lincoln commercial and published a memoir, Greenlights, while his domestic-goddess wife has been overseeing her various endeavors, including her Women of Today community, and keeping the family ship on course. Alves added children's book author to her resume in 2022 with the healthy-eating-themed Just One Bite.
Camila's Instagram had always been FOMO-inducing mix of family photos sprinkled among epic vacation snaps, food, fashion, business, volunteer work and advocacy for causes that are important to her, such as sensible gun control.
McConaughey, a regular at University of Texas football games who also acquired a minority stake in the soccer team Austin FC last year, joined Instagram in 2019 in honor of his 50th birthday. He explained at the time that when people come to his page, he wants them to see him. "This is my first venture into sharing myself and my views with the world," he explained in his inaugural video, "and I'm a little bit nervous about it."
While he may have been reluctant at first to delve into political issues, his live-and-let-live persona serving him well for so long in the public eye, the 53-year-old actor has become increasingly outspoken in recent years—though still in a middle-of-the-road, man-of-the-people kind of way—and even openly pondered a run for governor of Texas.
And last June, the need to speak out was so urgent, he and Alves left any public display of affection in honor of their 10th wedding anniversary for another time.
After the mass shooting that took the lives of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in McConaughey's hometown of Uvalde, Texas, the couple visited the city, where they set up a relief fund through their foundation, and then flew to Washington, D.C,. to speak at the White House and meet with various law-makers.
"Over 30 bi-partisan meetings in DC including important private briefings with leaders of both parties," Alves captioned a photo of them in D.C. "Hoping for a new era in American gun responsibility."
McConaughey may not be running for governor anytime soon, but he used the platform he does have to issue an impassioned plea for action in hopes that this country can finally get a grip on the increasingly out-of-control scourge of gun violence.
He and Alves strolled the corridors of power hand in hand, infinitely stronger together. Especially in times like these, it's the only way to just keep living.
(Originally published Nov. 4, 2019, at 1:48 p.m. PT)