Eye on Emmy: Matt Bomer on the Allure of His White Collar Con Man Role and Getting Glee-ful
In addition to his leading role as con man Neal Caffrey on the dapper USA Network hit, Bomer found time during his hiatus to film a guest spot on a decidedly different show – the musical comedy Glee – giving him two shots at an Emmy nomination. Here, the actor talks to TVLine about the Emmys’ indifference to USA Network shows, his favorite moments from White Collar‘s most recent season and stretching his comedy muscles. He also reveals why big screen success won’t ever stop him from donning Neal’s impeccably stylish suits.
TVLINE | Do you see something like Magic Mike and a growing movie career as a positive or a hindrance to your Emmy chances — as well as to White Collar‘s future?
It’s always good to get your face out there, especially if you’re working with somebody like [Magic Mike director] Steven Soderbergh. I don’t think that hurts. I certainly don’t think it’ll hurt the show. The great thing about getting to do a cable series is we’re on for six months and we’re off for six months. I’ve been trying to use my hiatus to work with filmmakers like [In Time director/writer] Andrew Niccol and Steven Soderbergh that I really believe in, in smaller roles, rather than taking a lead in something big and studio and splashy – not that Magic Mike hasn’t become studio and splashy. [Laughs] But when I signed on to do it, it was a $5 million independent movie. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to go out there and challenge yourself as an actor.
TVLINE | We don’t have to worry about you leaving White Collar any time soon, right?
No, I consider White Collar my home base. I’m so lucky to get to play a character that’s very multifaceted and the writers take risks on and never get into a staid process with. They’re always challenging themselves and, thusly, me as an actor. As long as they continue to do that, I’m happy. I love my job on White Collar. I won’t be leaving it any time soon.
TVLINE | USA Network shows tend to be written off when it comes to Emmys, because they’re considered lighter fare. Do you think that’s a fair characterization?
I don’t think it’s fair because, to me, they are dramatic shows with elements of humor. As long as that doesn’t get overly quirky or too hokey, that’s the way life is to me. I don’t know anybody who walks through life all the time in the doldrums, constantly serious and morose. But that’s become what we generalize as drama. I’m really lucky to get to work on a show that has elements of humor. But when you’re comparing that to – I won’t list anything specifically – a lot of the shows that are pretty much straight drama the entire time, it runs the risk of being categorized as something else. But I don’t really think it is.
TVLINE | Neal Caffrey has to be one of the funnest characters to play.
He is. It’s so rare, especially as a younger actor, to find a role where it’s not just one-dimensional and it’s not just a stock leading man. He is smart, intelligent, slick. He has grace under fire. He’s excellent under pressure. He’s on point. He’s firing on all cylinders. But at the same time, he’s really a 4-year-old. He has terrible impulse control. He makes really irrational decisions, especially when it comes to anything romantically-inclined. He is a hopeless romantic to a fault. … It’s a real dream of a role to get to play. More and more, as I play the role over the years, I come to find so many things in my life that I thought were futile or silly at the time, that I may have studied or read about or practiced, led up to this opportunity for me.
TVLINE | Like what? Is there something specific?
Everything from dance classes at conservatory helping me memorize fight choreography to being obsessed with the Rat Pack for a period time to loving the aesthetics of the ’60s suits and European films like La Dolce Vita and [actor] Alain Delon and Le Samouraï. So many little idiosyncratic things prepared me for this part. Playing athletics, playing a lot of different sports, going to drama school…. I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything, so I ended up being pretty average at everything. But for a role like this where they’ll throw the kitchen sink at you in the 25th hour, it helps to have been kind of average, if that makes any sense. [Laughs]
TVLINE | When you put on those suits and walk the streets of New York, what goes through your head?
[Laughs] Whatever I’m playing in the scene. I spent weeks in my backyard before we shot the pilot figuring out what Neal’s walk was. Finally, I got his strut down after a while, which sometimes looks like a borderline pimp limp, I know. [Laughs] It’s one of those situations where the wardrobe completely informs the character and how they hold themselves in the world and the parts of society he maneuvers in. He’s a peacock in a way. He’s not afraid to make eye contact with any of the ladies walking by. It’s a modern updating of the swinging ’60s.
TVLINE | Looking back at Season 3, do you have a favorite Neal moment or episode?
I have a couple. One was getting to be directed by [co-star] Tim [DeKay], who stepped behind the camera for the first time [for Episode 15, "Stealing Home"]. It was a real dream collaboration to get to work with him in a different way. And I really loved the finale because it was this buildup of so many things; [creator] Jeff Eastin constructed it really well. To have that scene where Neal goes before the committee and testifies about why he should have his freedom was really fun to get to play. And then the long shot that the network very graciously let us have where he’s just sitting on the plane, and there are a thousand things running through his mind, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s just looking out the window. Scenes like that, [which] you’ve built up to for so long and then get to play very simply rather than over-explaining or having to over-act or over-talk it, are really fun to do.
TVLINE | Was that an actor’s dream? You got a monologue, basically, and then this lengthy sequence that’s just the camera on your face.
It’s intimidating. But you’ve been living in [the character's] shoes for so long that half of the job is trusting not only that you know exactly what’s going through his mind, but also that part of your job is to get out of the way and let the audience put what they want you to be thinking into your head.
TVLINE | You and Tim DeKay have some of the best chemistry on-screen and off. What’s your secret?
I compare it to two kids who just hit it off on the playground and they come over for a play date and you have to call them in five times for dinner because they don’t want to stop playing. Tim has an amazing sense of humor — he makes me laugh a lot — and he understands my sense of humor. From the first time we read together, I completely understood what he was bringing to the character of Peter Burke, and I think he understood what I was bringing to Neal. It was this yin-yang that felt really easy and not forced. For me, that was really important in terms of having a long-term dynamic.
TVLINE | You did a guest spot on Glee during your hiatus. Was it important to you to do something drastically different from White Collar?
Yeah, it was. Cooper Anderson was just such a fun role. [Co-creators] Ryan [Murphy] and Ian [Ian Brennan] and [writer] Michael Hitchcock really gave me a gift of a role. I had Eric Stoltz as a director, who’s all about getting the juice out of every scene and having the most fun possible. It was really important for me to flex different muscles and get to do comedy.
TVLINE | What was the most enjoyable part of the process: the comedy, the dancing or the singing?
My master class scene because I understood so much about this guy, who was so desperate for validation from anyone. It was fun to construct this piecemeal identity he had where he parses out the things he wants to hear and believe and then commits to them with absolute conviction. Having the commitment to teach these kids that the best way to pull off a dramatic scene is to “point as much as possible” and then make that truthful was not only challenging, but incredibly fun.