Lester Cohen/WireImage
October 22, 2014 05:40 PM

Matthew McConaughey has plenty of devoted female admirers – but he holds an even more special place in the hearts of his Hollywood leading ladies.

The Oscar-winning actor collected the latest in his recent run of prestigious trophies when the American Cinematheque honored him at its annual award celebration Tuesday at L.A.’s Beverly Hilton Hotel, and an A-list contingent of his female costars – including Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Garner – turned out to pay tribute to (and occasional playfully roast) McConaughey.

“He’s the kind of guy who dances with your mother at your wedding,” Witherspoon told PEOPLE of her Mud costar. “He danced with my mother – everyone’s mother! That’s the kind of person that you have on your speed dial. He cares. He really cares about people, and I think that comes through in his work.”

As emcee Jimmy Kimmel introduced a succession of the women the actor had wooed on the big screen, McConaughey sat surrounded by his real-life leading lady, wife Camila, their two oldest children Levi, 6, and Vida, 4 (baby Livingston stayed at home), his mother Kay, stepfather C.J. Carlig, brother Rooster and mother-in-law Fatima. Their table had a special down-to-earth perk at the elite gala: Unlike the floral centerpieces that topped the other guests’ tables, the McConaugheys enjoyed an ice bucket filled with longneck beers.

Kate Hudson, who shared the screen with McConaughey in both How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Fool’s Gold, got the ball rolling with a series of fond anecdotes about her pal, punctuated by a pitch-perfect impression of McConaughey’s folksy, charming patter that cracked up the audience. She recalled a particular evening when McConaughey was visiting her at her parents Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s Canadian cabin “out in the boonies” when he suddenly went missing at night and Hudson set out into the dark to search for him.

Matthew McConaughey with wife Camila (center) and family
Lester Cohen/WireImage

“I found him standing on a rock, butt-naked, howling [at the moon],” Hudson recalled. “I was like, ‘Okay – there’s Matthew McConaughey.’ ” She also remembered a more meaningful moment while shooting Fool’s Gold on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where she was feeling down. Her divorce from rocker Chris Robinson was about to be finalized, and she was afraid of learning to scuba dive.

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“I was just staring at the water, like, ‘What’s happened in my life?’ ” Hudson said. “And out of the water pops Matthew. No shirt, full gear. And he’s like, ‘Come on, Hudson. Let’s go, baby. It’s like 1969 down there, baby. It’s Woodstock, man.’ So we can say that Matthew is fearless. And he got me in the water.”

Joining the Club

Like Hudson, Garner also collaborated with McConaughey on two films, and revealed that he worked just as intently on creating his character in their frothy rom-com Ghosts of Girlfriends Past as he did on their stint together in the much-lauded Dallas Buyers Club, for which McConaughey nabbed the 2014 Best Actor Oscar. But it was a personal experience on the latter film that especially touched Garner’s heart: Following the birth of her third child, she was just getting back to work for the first time and found herself struggling to keep up with the film’s breakneck shooting schedule while frequently needing to pump breast milk as a nursing mother.

“I found myself missing home and thinking about my babies and feeling like, ‘Should I be back at work?’ And having basically a moment’s crisis,” recalled Garner, who found herself uncharacteristically crying for real during a scene. “Matthew came over with his little amazing self and said, ‘What’s going on?’ And I said, ‘Well, my babies and my boobs and I’m dying!’ And he said, ‘Just a second.’ And he went and said, ‘We’re going to take a minute here.’ And I went into the bathroom and willed my boobs to go faster than they had ever gone … He took that off of my shoulders. And when he saw a certain look in my eye, he would ask to take a break for just a minute, and that break was for me.”

“Camila, you’ve done a really good job, and you have a really great man,” Garner added.

Happy Meal

On stage, Witherspoon – whose husband, Jim Toth, is McConaughey’s agent – recalled shooting Mud in a remote Arkansas location where the nearest available food within driving distance was a McDonald’s. “I’m down-to-earth, but I’m not ‘Eat McDonald’s for every single meal’ down-to-earth,” the admitted fan of breakfast biscuits explained. She worried for McConaughey, who was soon to arrive with his whole clan in tow, and so Witherspoon asked her husband to alert her costar to the limited options.

“The next day, my husband forwarded me an email from Matthew, and it was a photo of Matthew standing in front of his Airstream trailer,” Witherspoon recalled. “He was barbecuing with his beautiful wife, Camila, and all of their children and Fatima, his mother-in-law. And underneath, he had written, ‘Having the time of my life. Decided not to live in chosen locations. Choosing to live off the land.’ ”

Party People

Hathaway, who appears opposite the actor in the upcoming sci-fi film Interstellar, remembered being excited to have been invited by Alves to a surprise party for McConaughey. She and her husband, Adam Shulman, drove to the couple’s home and were surprised at the quiet as they walked to the door: The party didn’t appear to be in full swing.

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway
Lester Cohen/WireImage

“I knock on the door and Matthew answers the door, big smile on his face,” said Hathaway. “I go, ‘Surprise!’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to come in.’ ” Matthew turns around and goes, ‘Party was last night.’ ” Hathaway admitted to being mortified at the gaffe, but her new friend took it all in stride. “Matthew said, ‘Come inside. Let me pour you a glass of wine.’ And then Matthew looks at me, very deeply, and says, ‘Hey, we can be upset about this. We can be mad about this. Or we can go with it. And we can have a great story.’ And that glass of wine led to the first bottle – I stopped counting after four. And then I went with him to someone’s surprise birthday party that night that I crashed. And you know what? It was a great story and a lot of smiles because of it.”

Family Affair

Chastain, another Interstellar costar, relayed a newly-minted McConaughey memory from just one night earlier, at a screening of their new film together. “I brought my whole family and they were all shaking with excitement. My grandma was vibrating to stand next to him – she was ready to jump his bones!” she laughed. “And it was so late – it was around midnight – and he took the time to take, like, 12 pictures with her. And he flirted with her! And it was such a special moment for me to see.”

The evening was peppered with additional videotaped tributes from friends working on sets who couldn’t make the event, including his A Time to Kill costar Sandra Bullock, who penned a poem that told McConaughey and Camila she considered them family; his True Detective costar Woody Harrelson; and filmmaker and frequent collaborator Richard Linklater, who directed McConaughey in his breakthrough performance in Dazed and Confused.

After receiving his award from Interstellar director Christopher Nolan, McConaughey admitted: “Most of that, I enjoyed watching! It was like going down memory lane, thinking, ‘I remember that time. I remember those people. And I remember that experience.’ ”

He recalled a long string of his career experiences that, to him, “seems like just the other day,” including a crucial path-altering moment when “I got the courage to call my father while I was at the University of Texas and say, ‘Dad, I don’t really want to go to law school anymore. I’d like to go to film school.’ And [it] took some balls. There was [a] long pause on the other end of the phone, and I’m sweating on the line, and Dad goes, ‘Is that what you want to do?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he said, ‘Well, don’t half-ass it.’ Ah! Thank God!”

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