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Matthew McConaughey’s Spirit of Adventure

The Oscar-winning actor and philanthropist launches a cheeky tequila brand with wife Camila Alves McConaughey

by Bill Kearney

June 30, 2024

Matthew McConaughey / Photo: Courtesy of John Russo

Matthew McConaughey knows how to swim in the deep end. He left audiences weeping as an astronaut desperately seeking humanity’s next home in Interstellar. He dominated the nation’s Sunday nights as an emotionally shattered and philosophically dark investigator in True Detective. And he won a Best Actor Oscar playing a homophobic person with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.

In Dallas Buyers Club (2013) / Photo: Pictorial Press LTD/Alamy Stock Photo

That said, he knows how to keep it light, too. He became the go-to rom-com dude (maybe a time too often) in the aughts, and of course had his breakout role as a happy-go-lucky stoner looking for joints and girls in Dazed and Confused.

The ability to go both deep and light—as well as his charming Texas drawl—has made him one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars. He seems to slap the world on the back and say, “Hey, bud, let’s hang.” But he’s dead serious about work. His wife of 12 years, Camila Alves McConaughey, concurs. “He is chill and laid-back, but he also has a very disciplined mentality,” she told Today. “That’s how he’s been able to do the work he’s done and accomplish what he does.” That instinct of knowing when to be serious and when to be playful, and how to do both superbly, has played out in McConaughey’s first business venture with his wife, Pantalones Tequila.

Tequila was actually part of the couple’s meet-cute moment. In his 2020 memoir, Greenlights, McConaughey wrote that he was making margaritas at Hyde on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles when he spotted Alves. He halted the margarita making, walked over and introduced himself, and convinced her to come up to the bar for one of his drinks. McConaughey says that the drink was the best he’d ever made and the Spanish he rattled off to her was the best he’d ever spoken. Except she is Brazilian and speaks Portuguese. No matter—they hit it off.

Over the years, the couple had a custom of sipping high-end tequila at home. It was delicious, transportive, but the “price was proud,” says McConaughey. During one of their sipping sessions they hatched a business dream. “We were like, Dang, what if we had a more affordable tequila, and got the taste down?” he says. If they could pull off the flavor, or something close to it, they figured it would be a hit.

So they put the word out that they were interested in starting a tequila brand. Before long they met with Andrew Chrisomalis, who ran the spirits company that had partnered with Ryan Reynolds on Aviation American Gin.

Finding the flavor they wanted “took a lot longer than our partners wanted it to,” McConaughey admits. “While we liked the sip, we didn’t love the swallow as much, which is where you taste sweeter notes,” he says of early versions of Pantalones. “Forty-seven iterations and 20 months later, we came up with what’s in the bottle now.”

With Alves McConaughey at the Pantalones distillery / Photo: Courtesy of Bengy Olivares

Along the way, the team found a 7,000-acre farm in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, that grew organic blue agave. But that organic designation also means Pantalones can’t add any flavoring—a common practice in the tequila industry. All the flavor has to come from the roasted agave and aging the distillate in white-oak bourbon barrels, which tend to add caramel and vanilla notes.

Then came the experimentation with how long to “rest” Pantalones’ reposado and añejo in said barrels. The reposado sits for nine months (the legal range is two to 12), while the añejo ages for 15 months (one to three years is the legal window). More age isn’t inherently better for a tequila, as it can mask the complex notes of the agave. The art of tequila making comes into play in matching the terroir of a given agave farm with the right aging.

Division of Labor

Going into business with your spouse might sound daunting. And the couple was not without trepidation. “We talked about that before doing this. She was wonderfully concerned about it for our relationship,” he says with a pinch of self-deprecation. “And rightfully so.”

The main worry was that their working styles are so different they might have ended up butting heads. “I get momentum and I just keep going—let’s go, go, go, and keep a certain pace and speed,” says McConaughey. “I get a good start and really go with my instincts. She’s very thoughtful along the way. And even when there are deadlines to hit, she’s very poised about going, ‘Hang on a second. Let’s assess. Where are we?’”

They knew that starting a business, even with an experienced team, is inherently stressful. So they made a pact. Once they finished the detailed work of refining the “juice,” as McConaughey calls it, and getting what they wanted into the bottle, the second phase of the business, the branding and marketing, had to be fun. “We ended up saying, From now on, if the marketing and selling and traveling is not fun, we shouldn’t be doing it. If it’s not fun, we’re doing it wrong.” Though they’d been meticulous, even nitpicky about developing the right taste, they needed to mentally shift gears for the branding and marketing, where their creativity and sense of the zeitgeist—that “Hey, buddy, let’s hang” attitude—could shine.

McConaughey had been the creative director of Wild Turkey bourbon, helping to tell the family’s story, with serious nods to heritage. He also helped develop their Longbranch bourbon, refined with American oak and mesquite charcoal from McConaughey’s home state of Texas.

But they agreed they had to keep things light with Pantalones. “We’re selling tequila!” says McConaughey. “That’s why our campaign is cheeky.”

The McConaughey’s for Pantalones Tequila / Photo: Courtesy of John Russo

McConaughey says that as they were creating the brand and marketing direction for Pantalones, people were talking about tequila as if it were fine wine. “While I appreciated all those great adjectives and adverbs and sommelier talk, I was like, We’re talking about tequila. I like having fun with it. I like the conversations, I like the revelry. So we were like, Let’s go against serious.”

The result is literally cheeky. In the brand’s first video post, the couple rides vintage motorcycles through beautiful agave fields at sunrise. After a drink break, they resume riding, and the camera pulls out to reveal that they’re pantless (and pixelated). It then pulls out further to show they’re not actually driving—their motorcycles are on a trailer, and the couple bounces along as they share sly glances. Then she announces the brand: “Pantalones Orgánico,” before he mischievously chimes in, “Please do not keep yours on.” You’re in on the camaraderie.

The rest of the campaign follows the pantless theme. In another clip, husband and wife take a break from playing pickleball to give instructions on how to whip up a Pantalones Pickle Margarita. Cut to the couple resuming pickleball, but pantless. It’s just silly—a bit of a relief. And the fact that they’re married softens the naughtiness. You definitely want to party with these people.

Fewer Fires and Higher Flames

With 30 years of success in Hollywood, McConaughey has done his share of endorsements and business deals. There were some awkward moments—selling isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier if you love what you’re selling.

“It causes too much stress to not have a product you believe in,” he says. As for hawking stuff that’s not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, he’s surprisingly candid. “I’ve probably done it before. It was just a headache. You don’t want to paint a donkey and call it a Thoroughbred. You can, but it’s stressful, and it’s harder work.”

A lot of people want his time and influence. “Fortunately I’m a busy man,” he says, “but I have to watch out for overleveraging myself. I’ve said yes to a few things where I notice, Hey, you’re making a C-grade McConaughey. I just want to get into stuff where I can get A’s. It’s part of the reason I wrote my book, and one of the reasons I don’t have a production company anymore. I try to have fewer fires that have higher flames.”

The Home Front

The couple married in 2012 and have three kids—two teens and one preteen. They’ve had to hash out their division of labor on the home front, too.

“I get nine and a half hours of sleep at night. She needs six,” says McConaughey. “She says she would rather get up before me and do what needs to be done than be around me with less than nine and a half hours of sleep. I get up last, so I make the bed and clean up the bedroom. After dinner, she doesn’t like washing dishes. I don’t mind. It kinda relaxes me, so I wash dishes.”

McConaughey can’t stand spreadsheets and budgets. Alves McConaughey digs right in. “She’s like, ‘Nope, I’m on it, I got it, I like it,’” he says. I’ve got that small town in me, she’s still got that farm girl in her that really respects the value of a dollar, whether we’d miss it or not. She likes going through the monthly reports and going, ‘You know what? We’re spending too much on detergent.’”

On a film set, she’d be the production manager. “Our family is a big circus. We have three kids, we have two animals, we have kids in school. When we pick up and go, the whole family goes, and there’s a lot of preproduction to that and a lot of postproduction to that.” That’s her wheelhouse.

McConaughey understands this is no small thing. “For the most part she sacrifices more than I do. She’s chosen to do that, and I’m very privileged to have a wife who says, ‘Look, if you have an acting project that you’re convinced about doing, and you can convince me about doing it, we’ll pick up and go whenever it’s time.’ ”

Giving Back

On May 24, 2022, a gunman in the small Texas town of Uvalde killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School. McConaughey grew up in Uvalde until age nine. He has vivid memories of childhood sports and adventures there, and still has extended family in town. On the day of the shooting, he had been holed up in a recording studio in Austin. When he emerged, his phone erupted in messages about the massacre. He became hot with nausea. His knees buckled. One of the messages was from Alves McConaughey, who was in London. She’d jumped on an early flight home without even speaking to him.

“She said, ‘We have to go do something.’ And of course you sit there and you go, Yes, but what?” McConaughey says of their talk when they reunited. “We said, We don’t have to know. Let’s just go down there and be human, and see where the pain is, see where the wounds are.” They knew they didn’t want it to just be a weekend trip doling out hugs. They ended up staying the better part of a week, and launched the Greenlights Grant Initiative after the experience.

A branch of the couples’ Just Keep Livin Foundation, GGI connects schools that need mental-health funding with billions of dollars from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which McConaughey helped push in Washington, D.C. “The superintendents are already doing three jobs,” McConaughey says. “They don’t have time to write grant proposals. If money doesn’t get spent, it’ll get reallocated. So how do we make sure the bill isn’t just a symbol?”

With Alves McConaughey, Alexandria Woods, Josh and Edison at a Just Keep Livin Foundation event / Photo: Courtesy of Just Keep Livin Foundation

The larger Just Keep Livin Foundation, which the couple founded, runs after-school fitness and wellness programs in 45 inner-city high schools in 17 cities. It teaches kids about not only health, but also gratitude and giving back. “Youngsters who don’t have a team can find a team,” says McConaughey. He relays a story of an awkward kid who was being badly bullied. “He joined our program because he was so damn scared about that walk home every day.” At the program, he buddied up with a kid who played football. The bullies backed off, and the two became fast friends. The awkward teen is now in college on an academic scholarship. “When you see two people come together who would never have come together before, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” McConaughey says.

He had a similar friendship in high school, one that dovetails with the deep and light duality that has driven his career. The unlikely friendship changed his life. “One of my best friends to this day, Robb Bindler, was an intellectual. We met in the corner of art class. He had nothing to do with sports, didn’t hang out with the popular groups,” says McConaughey, who was indeed popular.

McConaughey would take Bindler to keggers on Friday nights, and Bindler insisted they explore the world of film on Saturdays. “Friday night we’d do my thing, Saturday night we’d do his thing. So I learned art, I learned movies, I started to write at that time,” McConaughey says. There was no way for him to know then how his knack for dualities, his openness to depth and light, would pay off. “I don’t know if I’d be here now with my life and career if I hadn’t met him.”