We’ve seen Matt Bomer play straight roles in the past. White Collar con man Neal Caffrey launched the actor into fame, and though Bomer was bearing all some years later alongside Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, his character was also straight.
But Bomer’s latest career move raises the question: Is it a revolutionary idea that in 2016 an out actor could play a romantic, straight, leading man role?
In The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished last novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, Bomer plays studio executive Monroe Stahr during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Stahr is passionate about his work and continues to find himself in altercations with the studio head (Kelsey Grammar). All the while, Stahr is nursing a broken heart from the death of his wife. The pilot is written and directed by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass).
Bomer in The Last Tycoon
The first episode of The Last Tycoon is available to watch for free now on Amazon Prime, and as the streaming network has done in years past with shows like The Man in the High Castle, the pilots with the most votes will be made into series. (In other words, after reading this interview, go watch and vote!)
We talked to Bomer about whether he sees his leading man role as a groundbreaking career choice. And of course, we also got an update on Bomer’s highly anticipated Montgomery Clift film project.
Out: What is your take on Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon? How do you connect to him as an actor?
Matt Bomer: Well, not to bifurcate the answer but it is two fold. I did a lot of research on Irving Thalberg, who Monroe Stahr was loosely based on. F. Scott Fitzgerald worked for him as a writer for a period of time at MGM. I was reading a lot of his biographies and getting in touch with the politics of the studio system at the time and what kind of movies were being made and why. There’s a great podcast called You Must Remember This that has a whole 10-part series dedicated to MGM during this time so that was really informative to me.
And then creating his physical reality. He was a very slight fellow and he’s described as an acidic, hyper-disciplined man who looks like he might be on the borderline of being incredibly ill but you’re not really sure. Should we be fortunate enough to be picked up to series, I don’t know that I’ll perpetuate trying to look 25-pounds lighter than I normally am, but it certainly helped with the three-piece suits in creating that reality.
The other side of the equation is that this is Billy Ray’s baby and he’s a brilliant writer/director. I’ve been a fan of his for some time, since Shattered Glass, and when you are the avatar for a writer/director and he’s directing the piece and it’s his baby, as much work and homework as I did and the many ideas and takes that I had on the character, which he was always open to, I was going to sink or swim with him because it was his baby.
The show displays a dark side of Hollywood. Is this a realistic view or is it more cynical?
I think Fitzgerald was never appreciated in his time the way we appreciate him now and I think his experience in Hollywood as a writer was probably a frustrating one in some regards. I don’t feel that. I feel it’s more realism, to be honest with you, and what’s shocking to me is how little has changed in some regards. What goes into the decision to cast a certain person or to make a certain movie or not make a certain movie because of what’s going on in society or politics and which markets you need to appeal to, those things are really relevant even today. I’ve seen them. I’ve been blessed by them and I’ve been a victim of them. To me, I don’t think it’s cynical. At the end of the day it’s called show business and people are going to look after that bottom line to cover their ass.
I feel like you’re casting a new mold as a leading man: you’re out and this is a straight role. How do you feel about that?
Look, first of all, I’m so grateful and inspired by people like Billy Ray and Amazon and Sony who are willing to choose the person they feel best suits the role regardless of what their personal life might be. They choose the artist they want to work with and those are the kinds of people in the business that I want to work with.
I try not to think about it, but you can’t help to not consider it and you can’t help but have it in the back of your head. For me, I tend to be so hard on myself as it is I put so much pressure on myself because I’m always thinking about the next generation and doing a job that will be suitable enough to make sure I’m not the last person who gets this great benefit of the times that we’re living in. Part of my job is just letting go of that and just focusing on the work and doing the best I can and not thinking of myself as anything different or other, just thinking of myself as an actor doing my job.
Bomer in The Last Tycoon
Do you think the role is groundbreaking at all?
I don’t think anyone who has ever been groundbreaking can ever call themselves that. I don’t think it’s a moniker you can give yourself. I think it’s something that will either be handed to you by the zeitgeist or it won’t. I just try to do my job, ya know? I just try to keep moving forward.
The fashion in the show is fantastic. What’s the upside of some of your outfits? Any downsides?
The upside is that you get to work with the brilliant Janie Bryant, who I really think is a genius and who redefined menswear across the board when she did Mad Men. Everything she pulled for me was just phenomenal. It was incredible. I think just getting to work with her is a real joy and she’s from the South, so we have that kinship.
I think the only downside is you’ve gotta be pretty slim to fit into those two-piece double breasted suits. They’re tailored pretty much to your ribcage so you gotta make sure it’s only one cheat day a week or you’re going to be in trouble.
It's June, so I have to ask: What does Pride mean to you? Does it feel different this year?
In light of the horrific events that happened this year, I guess what I am proud of in our community is that we chose to come together in love and strength. Frank Langella gave a beautiful speech on the Tony’s and he basically listed three things that tragedy can do to you. It can either define you, it can destroy you, or it can strengthen you, and I’m so inspired and proud to be a part of community to mourn those we lost properly. Obviously there is no justice but we came together in love and support for each other and I think that made this particular year special for me.
Last week on James Corden, you told a story about your son. Maybe it was because of Orlando, but I couldn’t help thinking how it’s as important as ever that LGBTQ+ people stay visible, even with a simple anecdote like that.
I just try to treat it as my life and my experience. I know James on a friendly basis. It’s never really been a special or delicate thing to talk about. He has kids so we talk about our lives when I see him and I think in terms of being who you are, it’s obviously a highly subjective matter. A lot of times people want other people to be out and marching in the parade, but sometimes there are things going on in people’s personal lives or interpersonal relationships with their immediate family that make those things very difficult. I think it is important to live your truth but it’s not my place to judge anybody for where they are in terms of finding that truth.
What’s the update on the Montgomery Clift project?
If the Montgomery Clift story were easy to tell I think it would have been told awhile back—but it’s not. You have to really pick your point of view on the story and why it’s important now and for a younger generation, whose eyes I see glaze over when I talk to them about Montgomery Clift. So getting that story right is obviously a really delicate and tricky thing and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.
We’re on a new draft now that I think will be finished in September, that’s what I’m being told. I think when that right draft comes through it will be an ‘all systems go’ situation. What I didn’t want to do was just to suddenly say, "I want to make a Montgomery Clift project and whatever the first script is we’re just going to go for it." I don’t think that would honor him. The benefit for me over this period of time has been writing drafts and discussing him. I’ve gotten to read more and more biographies and refamiliarize myself with his work. It’s given me time to brush up on my homework, as well.
Watch Bomer in The Last Tycoon pilot on Amazon Prime for free.