Matthew McConaughey was bouncing on his toes, waving one hand above his head, and laughing with great zeal and abandon. Shocking, I know. Five feet away stood two comely young women, utterly charmed and giggling along with him. Another weird twist.
A few more details: They were assembled in the reception area of the Venice Beach office of McConaughey’s production company, j. k. livin, the space recently redone to befit an actor who reportedly makes $8 million per film. With dark hardwood floors and exposed brick, the glassed-in offices looked down on an open lobby. The walls held framed script pages and large posters from McConaughey’s favorite movies—Dino De Laurentiis’s King Kong, S. R. Bindler’s Hands on a Hard Body, his own Sahara. A twenty-foot-tall screen on one side of the room showed a Cubs game.
Outside on the famous Venice Beach boardwalk, the daily circus boogied in high gear. Homeless guys squatting in front of toe-ring shops flirted with bikini girls on skateboards, begging for money specifically for pot. The craftsmen who’ll carve your name on a grain of rice yelled to be heard over deejays scratching old vinyl records and a guy playing Tom Waits songs on an upright piano parked on the edge of the sidewalk. There were professional sand-castle builders, break-dancers, jugglers, and drunks, not one of them eliciting so much as a “Honey, look at that man” from the tourists who’d come in search of exactly that scene. The tourists, by the way, were identifiable by the fact that they wore socks.
Inside, McConaughey had just shown up for work, at three o’clock sharp. The first order of business was for the two young women, j. k. livin employees Leslie and Diana, to show him a metal contraption shaped like half a cantaloupe. It had a handprint on top, and Leslie said it was a lie detector. Ever game, McConaughey took it for a test-drive. He put one of his oversized hands on the machine and said, “My name is Matthew.” Nothing. He looked up at Diana, cocked his head, and grinned. Then the machine sent a sharp jolt of electrical current through him that had him hopping around the room. So begin workdays at j. k. livin.
Oh, and his office attire? Flip-flops, cargo shorts, and a T-shirt, that last tidbit being one that might actually surprise a few people.
It was a Wednesday in mid-July, and the world of j. k. livin was particularly cheery. New son Levi had just turned 2 weeks old, and the 38-year-old McConaughey still wore a hospital admission bracelet on his left wrist. OK! magazine had paid $3 million for the exclusive first photos of son, father, and mother, Brazilian model Camila Alves. The pictures had hit the Internet that morning, and all the money went to his nonprofit, the j. k. livin foundation. But more immediately gratifying, the day was relatively paparazzi-free. The Discovery Channel, as he refers to the tabloid photographers who hound him, was on hiatus. “There’ve been, like, six cars camped outside my house for the past three weeks waiting to get that first shot of the baby,” he said as he settled down. “But this morning, after these came out on the information superhighway, there was nobody outside. We busted the bubble.”
The movie business was booming too. Entrenched as Hollywood’s favorite male lead in romantic comedies, he was now bringing in enough money to help fund his own films, and his nine-person staff was finishing preparations for the September premiere of the first such project, Surfer, Dude, back in Austin. That extra cash (and cachet) had also enabled him to get going in earnest on a long-considered project: a lifestyle brand built on his personal philosophy, called—you guessed it—j. k. livin.
The brand and philosophy were our topics for the day, and on the climb up the stairwell to his office, he assumed the role of tastemaker and empire builder. And what does that look like? In a small, sunlit room with just a coffee table and four low-slung leather chairs, he sat down, politely crossed his legs like the corporate titans do … and opened a cold beer.
“A flip-flop,” he began, “has gotta be malleable and form to your feet. But it can’t be too thick. Too much cushion takes away the beauty of the flip-flop. The whole point is that it’s not a shoe.
“No headbands. It’s got to be a bandanna. So you can mix it up. Sometimes I like to roll it thin, do like an Indian thing with it. Other times I wear it wider, or even flat on my head like a do-rag, Geronimo- or Tupac-style, with that ‘j. k. livin’ logo showing across the front.”
He moved quickly from the product to the path. His buddy Lance Armstrong refers to him as a “redneck Buddha,” presumably because of ruminations like these. “We can talk about j. k. livin a lot of different ways. It’s a decision-making paradigm, not a rule book. It has structure, but it doesn’t put life in a box. It’s not all aphorisms. You take your own counsel with yourself on what it is. It’s a lyric, a philosophy, a bumper sticker. It’s a rap, a rhythm, a bass line. It’s not about treble, ’cause we got a lot of that out there. Let’s keep to our bass line.”
He sounded equal parts shaman and salesman, exactly the way he does when he goes on talk shows to promote new films, pronouncing ideas of varying depths that are plainly well mulled. The shouts of bums quarreling outside floated through a window, but McConaughey was oblivious. He’d scoot to the edge of his chair and slap the table for emphasis or give a quick whistle. Lots of gesticulating and a periodic stroll around the room.
“It’s a ‘conservative early, liberal late’ approach. First you determine your weather. For me that’s making sure that I’m working with friends. That