Michelle Kung
April 11, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

As Dirk Pitt, the hero of the action-adventure Sahara (based on the Clive Cussler novel), Matthew McConaughey treks across the desert via camel, Jeep, and land yacht. For the movie’s cross-country promotional tour, the actor traveled in his personal Airstream trailer and King Ranch truck. On a recent pit stop in New York, the Texan invited us aboard his mobile billboard.

Why drive across America?

I like to go camping, and one night [producing partner Gus Gustawes] said, ”What if you synergize and make your next trip a Sahara campaign?” I was like, That’s genius!

So how’s it going?

It’s been lively. We’ve had everything from barbecues in RV parks to batting practice with the Atlanta Braves in Orlando, where I did get some wood on the ball. We’ve also been flashed on the road — a couple were nice to see, a couple we could have kept the [truck] window up for.

There are 18 Dirk Pitt books. Why start with this one?

It was a great introduction for not only Dirk, but Dirk and Al (Steve Zahn), NUMA (the National Underwater and Marine Agency), and Sandecker (William H. Macy). Ironically, Dirk is an underwater marine, but since this one’s in the desert, we’re not in water much.

Still, you and Steve look pretty fit.

We did Navy SEAL training. We also boxed and picked up any kind of ball that was around. Or else we’d pick a tree two miles into the Sahara desert and say, ”Race you to it!” [Phone rings]

Nice ring tone. That is a good ring, isn’t it?

You ever notice that all cell-phone rings are trebled? They make me nervous, so I found a train [whistle]. Every time it rings, everybody looks around.

Was the desert brutal on you guys?

You had to have a gypsy spirit to be involved in this movie. The circus was leaving town, and it was setting up tent all over the Moroccan desert — not just for five days or five weeks, but for five months. We ran into things that we never planned on, like sandstorms and locusts. . .


Yeah, they swarmed in one day and just smothered everything. The Sahara reminds you that whenever she wants to run things, she’s running it.

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