By Michelle Tauber
Updated November 28, 2005 12:00 PM

Mysterious brooders will always have their place among the sexy. But for sheer mood-lifting powers, nothing beats a guy with a twinkle in his eye. Blissfully, this year’s Sexiest Man Alive, Matthew McConaughey, is a one-man endorphin rush. Here’s a Hollywood star who’s happiest grilling steaks outside his Airstream camper with a can of Miller Lite in one hand, dirt beneath his toes and his girl (actress Penélope Cruz) by his side. But don’t let the hot-buttered Texas toast drawl or good-time-lovin’ rep fool you: McConaughey is fluent in Spanish, cites the dictionary as his favorite book (“I love to look up words”) and calls his mom, Kay, every Sunday. He also reveals a sly sense of humor. Case in point: His bathrobe is monogrammed with 5’11¾”, his exact height.

Loyal to his friends and friends with his exes, he celebrated his 36th birthday on Nov. 4 with a surprise party at L.A.’s Dolce eatery thrown by Cruz, 31, his girlfriend of one year. “I had told her I wanted good food, good drink and for every single face to make me smile,” says this year’s cover boy. “And each one did.”

It’s been a good year for the low-key leading man, whose personal motto is Just Keep Livin’: He was oasis-cool in the summer action hit Sahara—snagging his costar Cruz along the way—and most recently held his own opposite one of his screen heroes, Al Pacino, in the drama Two for the Money. On this, the 20th anniversary of PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive title, McConaughey earns our top spot for combining a heaping helping of Texas’s finest southern charm with the best of all the heartthrobs who’ve come before him. So now, let us turn the floor over to McConaughey, who offers some surprising answers on our first-ever SAT (Sexy Aptitude Test).

Section I: Matt Chooses One

Friends first or just lovers?


PDA or behind closed doors?

“I’m not much for [PDA]. I’ll hold my girl. If I feel like giving her a kiss, I’ll give her a kiss. But I don’t care to tongue-down in public for the masses. I’ll pass. That’s not for everyone’s display. I wasn’t like that when I was 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20 either. I never had that need, ‘Hey, I’m going to show everyone this is my girl’ It’s like, ‘What’s the advertising about?’ It’s the same way when you’re at a party, your girl goes off, talks to someone else. If it’s going to go wrong then, it was going to go wrong somewhere down the line. You can have your back turned. Actually I think it’s essential to a good relationship that you have to be able to shut that kitchen door and trust that everything’s cool on the other side of it.”

Jealous or play it cool?

“Sure, I can get a little bit jealous. The good part about jealousy is that it comes from passion. It’s also the dangerous part and it’s an ugly emotion that hurts. But if s natural, sure.”

Break up by phone or in person?

“Always in person. I’ve been fortunate; I’ve had a lot of great women in my life and I haven’t had relationships that were frivolous. It’s degrading to do it by phone. Going for the straight shot, that sucks, but you don’t have to look over your shoulder anymore. And if you run into that person, you don’t have to sneak out the back door.”

Stay friends or stay away?

“I still remain friends with every woman that I’ve ever really cared about. I just don’t know how to put Wite-Out over that period in my life. No one was lying during that time, it just didn’t work out. So hopefully you’re going to be inviting me to your wedding and I’m going to be inviting you to mine.”

Roses or chocolate?

“Neither. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten chocolates. But I’ve always gotten the type of flower that I know they appreciate or that represents the two of us. My mom likes a big bouquet and she always gets flowers on Valentine’s Day. For Penélope, I’m not going to throw it out there, but I know what it is. I’ve got it down to where if that flower’s there, I don’t even have to put a card with it. She knows exactly who it’s from, no card necessary.”

Valentine’s Day or any day?

“For me, one of the toughest things about Valentine’s Day is that it gets geared up as the day to profess your love. See, T-E-S-T—that’s a bad word that doesn’t go with L-O-V-E. Now, if I find a gift that goes, ‘Ooh, that’s her’ or That’s my woman,’ I’m going to get it and I’m not going to hold onto it. I don’t know how to save it. I’ll give it to you on Tuesday. The tough thing is that some of my best gifts can be Tuesday in November and then come Christmas and birthday I’m going, ‘I’ve painted myself in a corner! How am I going to get out? I can’t top the last one that I gave “just because”!’ ”

Electric razor or manual?

“Electric. I haven’t used a real razor with shaving cream in probably four years. I like a little bit of texture on my face. If I shave too close, I feel like all my pores close up and my face doesn’t breathe too well. If I want a clean shave, my face has better texture if I shave it with an electric razor, turned down to a millimeter. I really do spend time on these things.”

Wax or no wax?

“Absolutely not. No, no, no, never.”

Take out or cook in?

“I like to cook. I make a real good pasta with red sauce. All my plates are oversized. I’ll put cold salad on the bottom and put hot pasta over it. Corn will be in the marinara. Usually just a spaghetti. Garlic, that’s the first thing, and then bring down the yellow onions and fresh tomatoes, and just a shot of Prego out of the bottle helps with the viscosity. It’s very important, you want it to stick to the noodle. And then Italian sausage.”

Beer or champagne?

“Beer. I like Miller Lite or Coors Light. I would rather receive a case of beer than a bottle of 1987 Dom Perignon. Actually out of a can is my favorite. I usually drink my beer on ice, that way you get hydrated on the way. Like me and my brothers [Michael (Rooster), 51, and Patrick (Pat), 42] say, ‘We like to drink, we don’t like to get drunk.’ ”

Jeans or tux?

“Well, I like a good pair of jeans but I also like putting on a nice tux. I’d rather go around in a good pair of jeans that you don’t wash every day, because they get more and more comfortable. I’ve got a good pair of Levi’s, 33/34s. But a good tux feels great and looks sharp. I’ve got a 1994 deep olive-green Armani suit. When you find a good suit, it doesn’t ever go out of style.”

Airstream or car?

Airstream. It has a few necessities: (1) A customized barbecue pit on the back. (2) A generator “if I’m not at an RV park.” (3) A satellite dish. “I can get DirecTV and online wireless within 20 yards.” (4) Fresh coffee. “I have this little percolator that makes the best coffee in the world. It’s better than a French press, better than Starbucks.” (5) A Bose stereo system. “It plays off my iTunes.” (6) A custom-made bed with organic cotton-silk sheets.

Section II: Being Matthew McConaughey

On his iPod?

“2,956 great tunes. Everything from Augustus Pablo to Gomez to old Zeppelin to an old Nugent tune to James McMurtry to Mischka.”

In his fridge?

“I love tuna fish. I add sweet corn Niblets. Do you know how good it tastes? Mini dill pickles, Heinz Ketchup, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, low-fat milk and cans of Miller Lite.”

In his closet?

“A Just Keep Livin’ T-shirt with a picture of my dad [Jim] on it, which is where Just Keep Livin’ came from. Eight days after he passed away [in ’92], I was trying to figure it all out. You’ve got to just keep living. That stuck with me.”

In his driveway?

“My housekeeper Adriana’s Pathfinder truck and my 2002 Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle.”

On his TiVo?

“l don’t have TiVo. I watch sports and I watch some films. During the week I watch Discovery or History [channels] or Outdoor Life Network. I like to get in bed and watch a movie.”

On his nightstand?

“A book called The Greatest Salesman in the World—motivation, self-improvement, those are my favorite books to read. No clock or lamp, but there’s some face and eye cream. And I always have bottles of water.”

Bookmarked on his computer?

“ The Houston Astros is my team. Cooking schools and the country of Mali.”

On his answering machine?

“I just changed it on my birthday. It goes, ‘Hey, this is McConaughey, Nov. 4, 2005, 36 times. Just keep livin’ along the way Talk to you. Later.’ ”

In his shower?

“Cetaphyl soap. I have Sonicare toothbrushes because I always brush my teeth in the shower. Then I have shampoo, conditioner and tea tree hair oil, just to give it some texture. I’ve been using Regenix, stuff for healthy hair to keep this hair strong, because in the year 2000 some of this hair was falling out. ‘Not yet, baby!’ ”

Michelle Tauber. Elizabeth Leonard and Julie Jordan in Los Angeles

Section III: Matt Fills In the Blanks…

If I weren’t an actor, I’d be

“a football coach. College first, but I’d be moving my way to pro.”

My favorite nightcap is

“a glass of cabernet.”

My favorite drink in the morning is

“coffee. I take a tablespoon of brown sugar and low-fat milk.”

My girlfriends always try to change

“you know, I guess that’s why I’m not their boyfriend anymore.”

A man should smell like

“a man. I haven’t worn deodorant in 20 years.”

I sleep in

“my bed. I’m not a pajama guy. I’m not much of a boxer guy either.” So, naked? “Yes.”

My worst habit is…”the Skoal [chewing tobacco] is not a great habit. Nicotine. I’ll have a cigarette.”

People are always surprised when I

“make my own face and body creams.”

Women can’t say no when I

“really mean yes.”

If I were lost in the woods with nothing but an army knife, I could make a

“life for myself. I’d need to find fresh water. I’ve got no trouble making a tree house.”

At a party I can’t wait to

“have a cocktail.”

With cocktail in hand, I

“look forward to how good the music is because I will be the first to find the groove. I mix some salsa moves in. No lessons; all freestyle.”

I feel most comfortable when

“I’m on the road, behind the wheel. And you can have the best sound system in your house, but I’ll grab a beer and go out and sit in my car in the driveway and just jam. Sometimes the sunroof is open.”

The movie that makes me cry is

“King Kong with Jessica Lange. I remember crying at how much he loved her but he was an ape, he was the outcast. He didn’t know.”

The last time I cried was

“Three weeks ago, I was watching something on the Discovery channel. This guy had gotten out of prison and was talking about rehabilitation. He was so honest about it, and that made me cry.”

[My father always taught me]…

“Don’t say ‘can’t’ and don’t lie. Always say ‘Yes ma’am’ and ‘No sir.’ My first whupping was when I told my brother Pat I hated him. My dad said, ‘You never hate anything.’ I haven’t hated anything since.”

My mother [Kay, 73] always told me…

“If you woke up and you were in a bad mood, she’d make breakfast and say, ‘You come in here when you’re ready to see the rose in the vase and not the dust on the table.’ ”

I feel sexiest when

“I’m my own best friend. When I have nothing to prove.”

Every guy should

“know how to say what he can do and do what he says.”

When I look in the mirror, I see

“my mom and my dad. I’ll see lines and say, ‘Those are good smilers, man.’ But most of the time, I see my best friend.”

My hero is

“me in 10 years.”

My buddies always tease me about

“I have my own vocabulary. I love linguistics. That surprises people.”

I’ll get married when

“I’m with the right woman and it’s the right time. Have I met the right woman already? Maybe. Has it been the right time? Obviously not.”

When I do, I see my wedding as

“a union. I question marriage altogether: What does it really mean? The same thing that is beautiful is also what’s scary. It institutionalizes it, but we want the ritual. Hey, this is our communion, in front of our loved ones. I’ll say this: I may have some women lined up as my best men!”

As for kids

“Yeah, I see family. I love kids. When it happens, I know I’ll be a good dad. I look forward to it.”

A perfect night with Penélope is

“She loves to eat good food too. We get online or talk about some place we dream of traveling somewhere. And she loves to play blackjack. I dealt blackjack the other night. I walked away with her money. She owes me.”

Chivalry is

“never out of style. Part of a real Texan likes a woman who respects and appreciates that.”

The sexiest smell is

“yourself. The way my woman smells when she wakes up in the morning, no perfume on. But I also love honeysuckle. You walk by and it hits you and you just look for the bees.”

I get turned on by

“grace. When a woman is graceful, you can tell by the way she moves. Grace comes from comfort.”

Penélope can get me out of a bad mood

“by laughing at me. She’s like, ‘Ah ha ha ha ha!’ and I’ll say, ‘Stop it!’ And she says, ‘I’m not scared of you.’ She’s very smart that way. She loves to talk about both sides and have opinions.”

Upon hearing that you’d been selected as the Sexiest Man Alive

“I like the ‘Alive’ part. Now I’ve made it. Wait until you see the roles I could take after this. You’re going to see my gut hanging over, plus 22 [lbs]. It’ll be a whole new kind of sexy!”