LOS ANGELES -- After years of (often shirtless) fun both on and off screen, Matthew McConaughey is donning a suit and digging back into drama.
His most recent credits include starting a family with girlfriend Camila Alves. They have a 1-year-old daughter, Vida, and 2-year-old son, Levi. Before that, McConaughey was on a comedy run, with roles in "Fool's Gold," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "Tropic Thunder." He also played the lead in a little indie called "Surfer, Dude."
Now, the 41-year-old actor is suiting up for the courtroom, playing opposite Ryan Phillippe and Marisa Tomei in the legal thriller "The Lincoln Lawyer," which opened Friday.
The role is something of a homecoming for McConaughey, whose turn as an idealistic young lawyer in 1996's "A Time to Kill" marked his big-screen breakthrough, introducing the handsome Texan to moviegoers as a new leading man. And it goes back even further -- he wanted to study law as a University of Texas student.
"That's probably instinctually why I feel comfortable jumping into these kinds of shoes," says McConaughey, his real-life size-10s up on a sofa at the Four Seasons hotel. " Ideally, I love the scale of justice, guilt and innocence and right and wrong. Realistically, I've learned to love this game they play."
McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a defense attorney who operates out of the back of his chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car. He mostly serves street-level criminals, until he's hired to defend a rich playboy accused of domestic violence.
McConaughey first found the script, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, several years ago. After some revisions, it came back around and the actor hopped on board.
"It was exactly what I was looking for at the time," he says, explaining that lately he's been drawn away from romantic comedies into dramatic roles. "It's not really a conscious decision. I'm just naturally turned on by this kind of story and this kind of character now."
It was McConaughey's performance as sleazy Hollywood agent Mickey Haller in "Tropic Thunder" that convinced Connelly the actor could take on his roadworthy attorney. "We went to that movie and I leaned over to my wife and said he would be a good Mickey Haller," Connelly says. "It was at least a year later that I heard that he was Mickey Haller."
McConaughey was ready for a meaty drama. He welcomes the intensity that dramas allow. "You can hit as hard as you want. You can love as hard as you want. You can be in as much pain and hurt as much as it really hurts," he says.
He's already wrapped filming on "Killer Joe," which he describes as "definitely a drama, but it's a riot," and "Bernie," a black comedy that co-stars Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black.
His production company, j.k. livin, is also developing a film called "The Grackle," in which he'll play a barroom brawler for hire in New Orleans' French Quarter.