PLATTE CITY, MO. When he steps out from behind his Airstream trailer, Matthew McConaughey looks nothing like the smooth-talking Knicks fan women adored in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." This McConaughey, clad in a backward hat, Wranglers and a few days worth of stubble, appears surprisingly at home at Missouri's Basswood Country Inn and RV Resort.
The Texas-born actor has taken a six-week hiatus from Hollywood and the red carpet, choosing instead to travel the country promoting his new movie, "Sahara," an adaptation of a Clive Cussler novel. McConaughey claims he woke up at 3 a.m. one morning after having a vision of the whole trailer theme and called Paramount the next morning to tell them about his idea.
"I said, 'Hey, I have an idea. I've gotta get out on the road and we're not sure where we're going to start, but I want the Airstream wrapped in the Sahara billboard,' and they laughed," McConaughey says. "I had to call them the next day and remind them that I was serious."
McConaughey says the decision to promote the film like a cross-country trip was an easy one. He took a 40-day jaunt from Los Angeles to Florida and back last year and was eager to do some camping on his own.
"It's merging how I'm making a living with my lifestyle and my lifestyle with how I'm making a living," he says.
Legwork for the project began more than seven years ago, when McConaughey went to Cussler to lobby for the part of Dirk Pitt, the film's lead character. McConaughey's production company, j.k. livin, is involved in the film and he also plays the role of executive producer. He took the responsibility of getting Cussler's approval, then finding the director and the rest of the cast -- an integral process for a feature he wants to turn into a franchise.
McConaughey reveals the major issues he addressed as an executive producer were the tone and humor of the film.
"Is it an action-adventure and a comedy or is it an action-comedy and an adventure? Well, it's an action-adventure with comedy. ... It's a buddy picture, so what's the humor, where's it come from? Is it sitcom episodic events, jokes in each scene? Or is it meet some real interesting characters and actually the humor comes from the ironies and the way they maybe react similarly to completely different situations? We said it's the latter."
His preproduction involvement is one of the main reasons McConaughey has worked so hard to promote the film.
"Would I be out here selling this if I was just the actor? Maybe, maybe not," he says. "I definitely wanted to do as much as I could being the executive producer. And anything with the j.k. livin signature on it -- I am finishing the job."
McConaughey explains it was important to convey a certain continuity to the project, especially if there were more films to follow. The audience needs to understand that this isn't a film with a beginning and an end, but rather a small piece of the greater whole.
"Whether you've read the book or not, you need to have the feeling that you're a fly on the wall getting to watch this adventure that we're on. Not that we met for the first time, and we're saying goodbye at the end of the film, but we've been on 20 or so before this and we'll be on 20 or so after this," he says.
The 35-year-old actor is joined by Steve Zahn and William H. Macy, who portray first mate Al Giordino and Admiral Sandecker, the other two characters who return in each novel. Penelope Cruz plays Eva Rojas, a doctor looking for the cause of a fatal disease striking the people of Mali, Africa.
So will there be more Cussler novels hitting the big screen?
"I don't want to coup de grÃ¢ce it, but if people go see this one ..." he pauses. "This is what's so wild and funny about this whole business, is how we've been sitting here and talking about how I've been working on this for seven years and a lot of people here have. By midnight, Friday night, April 8, basically we will know if we're making another one."