HOT UNDER THE COLLAR. Con men don’t come much slicker than Neal Caffrey, the character played by Matt Bomer on the hit TV show White Collar. Bomer’s loyal fanbase knows the actor, once declared “TV’s Sexiest Guy,” has a few moves of his own. He talked to DA MAN about staying sane in Hollywood, fatherhood and when his fans have made him cry. By Shannon Hart.
The Texas-born son of a Dallas Cowboys football player, Matt Bomer also chose to pursue a career in front of spectators, but as an actor. Soon after graduating from college, he got his first TV gig on the soap-opera All My Children. After stints on shows including Tru Calling and Chuck, he landed the role he is best known for, conman turned good guy Neal Caffrey on the hit show White Collar. Despite being the overwhelming Internet fan favorite to play Christian Grey in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, Bomer kept his lips sealed on the subject. He did, however, have plenty to tell us plenty about his career, the nature of fatherhood and his devoted fans.
shirt and tie by Neil Barrett
DA MAN: Congratulations on White Collar being renewed for a fifth season. What is it like inhabiting the same character for that long?
Matt Bomer: I’m incredibly grateful that we’re still getting the chance to tell our stories. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be on a show that would last this long, and still enjoy doing it, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It feels like it’s only been a year or two. The most important thing for me is whether or not you still have fun doing it, and thanks to the writers and co-stars, there’s not a day at work where I’m not having a great time.
DA MAN: Will we get to see you direct an episode or two? We know your co-star, Tim DeKay, did. Is that something you might want to pursue in the future?
Matt Bomer: Tim has done an incredible job directing. He’s really stepped up to the plate in so many ways, and I admire him even more for it, which I didn’t think was possible given my level of respect for him. For me, it’s a matter of time. I rarely get time off on the show, so the likelihood of me having the time to do the proper preparations for an episode is pretty much nonexistent. The last thing I’d want to do is lean on everyone else to do the hard work just so I could say I directed an episode of White Collar. If and when I get the chance to do it, I want to do it right.
DA MAN: Can you give us a bit of insight into what we can expect when White Collar returns next season?
Matt Bomer: One of the reasons I love this job so much is that it’s not terribly formulaic. Sure, you have your case of the week — but the mythology is always changing. Neal’s struggle has gone from a more external one (where is Kate/who killed Kate), to a much more internal one. Am I essentially good or bad? Is it nature or nurture? Which side of the law do I belong on? The more internal conflicts have been fun to explore as the show has gone on.
DA MAN: We see you challenge yourself every week with Neal having to act as different characters for every con. How hard is it to go in and out of these different ‘roles’?
Matt Bomer: Neal’s level of confidence and intelligence are both so high that it was really intimidating at first. When we first started shooting, there were a lot of things I had to affect, and a certain amount of his character that I had to maintain on set just to stay in that zone. I’m not someone who wants all eyes on me when I walk into a room, so I had to muster up a lot of courage in the beginning. I’m sure my co-stars found this really obnoxious. As time has gone on, the distance between Neal and I has narrowed a bit, and I find it a lot easier to slip into his skin.
DA MAN: What has been the most challenging con to pull off so far?
Matt Bomer: The most challenging cons typically involve sleight of hand (pickpocketing, lock picking, etc.) that I sometimes only have the time to learn right before we shoot them. But as hard as they are, they’re still really fun. And we’ve had lots of happy accidents. A few times I’ve actually picked a lock during a take.
DA MAN: You showed off your singing chops when you appeared on Glee. Have you ever seen yourself as a recording artist? Would you like to continue doing musicals in the future?
Matt Bomer: I feel like singing is something that you really have to commit to in terms of practice if you ever want to really do it well. I love singing. I sing around the house, and on set all the time. I loved recording as well. If I ever do it again, I’ll make sure that I’ve given the practice necessary to make it as fun as it could possibly be. I started writing songs when I was 8 years old, and have been doing it ever since. But I’m not sure they’ll ever see the light of day. Maybe they were just a form of therapy for me. A way to make sense of the world around me.
DA MAN: We saw a lot of videos and projects that fans created for your birthday last October. What crosses your mind when you see those videos?
Matt Bomer: I don’t cry a lot, but I’m not gonna lie, I cried when I saw the fan video from my birthday last year. I’m so blown away by the fans, and so grateful. They’ve stuck by me through thick and thin, and that means more to me than I could ever express in words. At times I feel like they believe in me more than I believe in myself, and that’s bolstered me through lots of stormy weather. When you’ve been doing a job for four years, a lot of times you have to dig deep to stay as motivated as you want to. The fans are always there as that motivation for me. No matter how tired or stressed I am, I will always give my best for them.
DA MAN: What is your personal secret to staying sane in Hollywood?
Matt Bomer: Having a life outside of the business that grounds you. For me, it’s my family. They always come first, and always will. But it doesn’t have to be exclusive to family. There are lots of things that keep the business in perspective. We’re very blessed to be able to tell stories. It’s an essential way for humankind to understand itself: who we are, where we come from, where we could be going, what we’re capable of. But at the end of the day, if you’re not living a life outside of the business, you’re going to run out of things to bring to the table.
Outfit by J. Crew
DA MAN: You’ve played everything from an exotic dancer to a 105-year-old guy. It seems like you’ve tackled a lot of difficult roles already. Are there any particular kinds of roles you’re looking for now in order to challenge yourself as an actor?
Matt Bomer: The larger concern for me is always the story. Not ‘will this make me a star?’ or ‘will I be good in this?’ Because, if you’re not telling a story that’s interesting and relevant and well done, your performance isn’t really going to matter. So director and story trump all as far as I’m concerned. Also, if I’m a little scared by the prospect of something, it’s usually a good thing. It means I’m not going to be working in my comfort zone- that I’m going to have to stretch a bit, and it’s going to involve some risk. So if I’m scared sh#tless by a role, I usually say yes. Getting to be a part of The Normal Heart on HBO is a dream come true for me. I can’t think of a more beautiful, challenging role to get to play.
DA MAN: If you could choose any movie from the past to remake what would it be and what role would you play?
Matt Bomer: I’d love to play The Sundance Kid in a remake of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, but why mess with a masterpiece? I’d also love to do Purple Noon, or the Talented Mr. Ripley, or Le Samourai, or American Gigolo, but again, why mess with a great film? I guess I’d prefer to do a stage play. To take on a great role of Shakespeare’s, or Arthur Miller’s, or Tennessee Williams’.
DA MAN: Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now?
Matt Bomer: I just finished a small part in a film called Winter’s Tale. It’s a magical realism piece that centers around the love story between Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay. It also stars Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, and Will Smith. Earlier this fall, I worked on a film called Space Station 76, with Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson. When I put down the script, I thought ‘I’ve never read or seen anything like this before. It defies genre.’ And it also felt completely relatable and human. It’s like a humorous John Cheever short story set in a 1970’s version of outer space. It’s about a lot of people who are stuck in a life that they don’t want, and are trying their best to find a way out of it. In April, I go back to season 5 of White Collar. And then I film The Normal Heart, which is about the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York, and the people who were brave enough to risk their lives and careers to bring much needed attention to it. It’s a testament to passion and unconditional love.
DA MAN: How are you preparing yourself for those roles?
Matt Bomer: The process is so different and personal for each that I’d feel silly laying it out for you. All I can tell you is that I’m obsessive. It’s probably unhealthy. But when I’m working on something, it’s all I can think about. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night wondering how the character might walk down the street.
Jacket and shirt by Jack Spade
DA MAN: You mentioned that Steven Soderbergh, who you did Magic Mike with, was on your bucket list to work with. Who else is on that list?
Matt Bomer: Oh, there are so many, and I know I won’t remember them all right now, but here are a few off the top of my head: Alexander Payne, Ang Lee, The Coen Brothers, Rian Johnson, Lisa Cholodenko, Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, Steven Spielberg, Juan Antonio Bayona, Stephen Frears, Jeff Nichols, Christopher Guest, Martin Scorsese, the list goes on and on.
DA MAN: With so many projects in the pipeline, you’re away a lot. How hard is that for your family to live with?
Matt Bomer: You have to focus on qualitative time over quantitative time, and put in the work to commute. Lots of frequent flyer miles.
Shirt and tie by Emporio Armani
DA MAN: How has being a father changed your life and your view on things?
Matt Bomer: Fatherhood put everything in perspective for me. All paradigms shifted. Having a family his hands down the best thing that ever has or will ever happen to me.
DA MAN: What are some of things you learned from your parents that you’ve imparted in your role as a father?
Matt Bomer: That would take up this whole interview.
Outfit by J. Crew
DA MAN: You’re quite actively involved in charities and in fact received a humanitarian award earlier this year. What are some of the charities that are closest to your heart right now? Why those particular causes?
Matt Bomer: Project ALS is a big one because we have lost a loved one to this disease, and I know that there will be a cure or effective treatment in my lifetime. The Art of Elysium, for all the amazing work they do with kids. And GLSEN, because of all the amazing work they do with encouraging respect, communication, and alliance between GLBTQ and straight young men and women.
DA MAN: Let’s fast-forward 30 years from now. Where will you be, personally and professionally?
Matt Bomer: I always try and have a one, three, and five year plan laid out for myself. But it’s personal. You talk about it and it loses its sacredness. I’m much more concerned with how I’ll have fared as a partner and a parent, and hopefully even a grandparent by then.
Shirt by Jack Spade
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
This feature spread, which contains 22 pages of photos and interview, appears in the February/March 2013 edition of DA MAN. To see all of the full high-resolution images and the entire interview, pick up a copy of the magazine or subscribe to get it delivered to your door.