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In Daring Film Role, Matt Bomer Connects with 'Papi Chulo'

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 11, 2019

Name a gorgeous, out queer actor who seamlessly slides from one leading role to the next in film (indie and big budget), television and on stage? There is only one. Matt Bomer.

For the last decade, since his splash on TV in "White Collar" in 2009, he's managed an impressive list of credits and, even after coming out in 2012, is still kicking ass playing gay and straight. And giving us many memorable turns including his powerful Golden Globe winning and Emmy nominated performance as Felix in Ryan Murphy's "The Normal Heart" for HBO.

On the small screen, he's proved his comic chops in "Will and Grace," and flexed his dramatic muscle in "American Horror Story: Hotel" and the incredibly underrated Amazon series, "The Last Tycoon," to name just a few.

This past year, Bomer returned to the stage (where he actually had his start), making his Broadway debut in the celebrated revival of Mart Crowley's "Boys in the Band," directed by Joe Mantello and starring an all-out cast that included Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Andrew Rannells. The play is being adapted into a movie for Netflix with the same cast.

Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patino in "Papi Chulo"

On the big screen, Bomer made his film debut in 2005 in "Flightplan," opposite Jodie Foster, and has gone on to star in Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" and the sequel "Magic Mike XXL," in 2015 as well as "The Nice Guys" with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe and the remake of "The Magnificent Seven."

And he's become something of an indie film darling (a Parker Posey for our time), appearing in films as diverse as "Walking Out," "Anything," "Jonathan," and his most recent queer-themed movie, "Papi Chulo."

In "Chulo," John Butler's compelling dramedy, Bomer delivers a go-for-broke portrayal of an affluent white male broken by tragedy. Initially (and deceptively), the film appears to be a comedy about a sad and lonely weatherman, then turns into a bizarre and hilarious buddy movie as Bomer's character attempts to bond with a Latino migrant worker (Alejandro Patino). It's only in the final third that the film (and Bomer's performance) emerges as something much deeper, more relevant, and pretty daring.

Matt Bomer in "Papi Chulo"

EDGE had the pleasure of speaking with the incredibly humble, sweet, and gifted actor.

EDGE: You give a fearless performance in "Papi Chulo." What made you want to do the role?

Matt Bomer: I thought there was an inherently comedic and tragic contradiction in the character of Sean, somebody who was experiencing such pain but at the same time was trying to put on this brave front. And I had a personal experience that I felt was a close connection to the character. I understood him from the first time I read the script... It was written before Trump was elected, but became more politically relevant. I felt that, in the whole country, there was this sense of division and people wanting to put up walls between each other. So the idea of these two men, who come from different worlds, being able to connect and form a real, authentic friendship was something that I found meaningful.

Alejandro Patino and Matt Bomer in "Papi Chulo"

EDGE: You and Alejandro Patino had such great chemistry.

Matt Bomer: Alejandro is a wonderful actor who he can do more with a look than most actors can do with a monologue. He gives you so much to work off of. He has a great sense of humor. He takes the work seriously, but he doesn't take himself seriously... we rehearsed for two or three days before we started filming.... we were able to shoot most of the film sequentially, so that our relationship was able to grow. Our real relationship was growing and evolving at the same time as our characters.

EDGE: I appreciated your accomplishing this mean trick of satirizing affluent, gay, white, male privilege, and then delving deeper into the soul of this shattered man. How did you find that balance?

Matt Bomer: I think the entry into the relationship is that he feels this guilt about being a middle class white guy. And then it's not until he really starts to engage with Ernesto that all these subconscious feelings he's not been dealing with from his last breakup start to bubble to the surface.

EDGE: Do you work from the inside out, or are you able to just turn on?

Matt Bomer: I definitely start from the inside... In this particular instance I really wanted to start with his emotional life and the trauma because I think that everything else that Sean does is either an effort to avoid that or subdue that or act out on it in ways... And then everything else, his physical life, his walk, his mannerisms, his inability to sit still just manifested itself from there. I was with my family on weekends, but I moved out Monday to Friday. We shot this in, like, four weeks. I tried to really isolate myself. So much of what this character is going through is about isolation and loneliness and not being able to sit still with himself, so I wanted to stay as close to that experience as I could while we were filming.

Matt Bomer and Channing Tatum in "Magic Mike II"

EDGE: You are one of the few actors, if not the only leading man in film, TV and on stage that is openly gay but allowed to play roles of any sexual identity. What is your secret?

Matt Bomer: Oh my gosh! I don't know that I have one. I've been really fortunate to work with people like Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti and John Butler and Alexander Smith and, coming up, Derek Simonds on "The Sinner." People who have just believed in me and trusted me and given me the opportunity to play all kinds of multi-faceted roles. I feel like it's only recently that I've even have the opportunity to play LGBTQ roles or gay roles that are three-dimensional and have real substance and nuance outside of what we've seen before or what might be considered a stereotype or a trope.

EDGE: I wanted to speak about "Boys in the Band," which I saw twice on Broadway. You took the role of Donald, who is good on the page but not super
interesting, and you turned him into one of the most fascinating characters.

Matt Bomer: That's so nice of you to say... I think that's one of those times in your career that you're really grateful that you're in the hands of an incredible director, and Joe Mantello is as good as it gets. He is an extraordinary artist to be in the room with. His notes are insightful. He is able to understand the trajectory and the journey that every character is on during the course of the piece... it was just a really fun collaboration. It is a subtle role in a piece that is often about big emotions from some of the other characters so to get to play him as the observer, watching all these things transpire for a good piece of the show was a really unique point of view to get to take, and Joe was certainly instrumental in that.

Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer in "The Boys in the Band"

EDGE: What was it like performing each night with that audience energy, which was palpable...?

Matt Bomer: Sometimes I think the audiences didn't quite know what they were in for. (Laughs) Is this going to be like an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" mixed with Spock and the guy from "White Collar" and the guy from "Girls?" And then it really takes a sharp turn in the middle. But they were there for it. I think that's what I'll miss most when we're doing the film, that energy, that support we felt in the theater every night. Going into it, I didn't know what to expect. I knew a lot of the guys. The others I'd met through the readings we did. So I know we had a solid crew together. I wasn't sure we'd all become friends. And we really did. We formed an ensemble because everybody came to work and supported each other... I honestly didn't know if people were going to come and see the show. I was so excited to be on Broadway... I wasn't even really thinking about it. And then when I heard how the sales were doing, and it broke the weekly record at the Booth Theatre, I thought, I can't believe 50 years after this play was written I'm in this time where a play with all openly gay actors can [have] this kind of box office success.

EDGE: "The Normal Heart" seems like it was a turning point in your career. Looking back, how important was the role of Felix and being a part of that project?

Matt Bomer: Oh my gosh, I would have played a waiter in the background of a restaurant scene in that piece. I've been such a fan of it for so long, the fact that I got to play Felix—I'm still pinching myself... And with those players and with Ryan Murphy. To get to meet and work with Larry Kramer, who's been one of my heroes since I was a kid. It was one of those jobs that is so creatively and spiritually fulfilling that you almost want to retire after it's over... Those (parts] come along a few times in a career, if you're lucky. It was a turning point for me. I see some guys win Golden Globes and go on and do James Bond franchises or Marvel movies... and that definitely wasn't my experience, but I think it definitely was an incredible gift from Ryan Murphy and helped me out in innumerable ways, because it gave me a chance to really dive in a little deeper as an actor.

Matt Bomer in "The Last Tycoon"

EDGE: Is anything happening with Monty Clift project for HBO?

Matt Bomer: At the moment it's in turnaround at HBO. But I'm not holding my breath. I've got some other things I'm taking the reigns on myself. I think if that project is meant to be—I'm not somebody who's going to try and force the issue with something if it's not ready, particularly if it's based on a real person, someone so widely regarded and esteemed. We couldn't quite get the vision right for everybody involved. If it ever does manifest itself in a really great way that feels right and timely, I think we'd do it.

EDGE: Your coming out in 2012 was so important to so many queer people out there. Are you happy you did it when you did?

Matt Bomer: Yeah. It certainly wasn't a safe time for me to do it. I was playing a romantic straight lead on a successful television series. I got to be a part of my first film franchise, "Magic Mike," which was geared almost exclusively toward women. And gay men. I definitely didn't pick the safest time to do it, but I'm really glad that I did. I think the peace of mind I have with my family and the waves it created in terms of it effecting other people in my life who I needed to come closer to who I don't think I could have until that happened. If it meant something to one person I would have been worth it, and the number of people who I've had come up to me over the years who said, 'Hey, thank you so much. You coming out. You being part of a family. You speaking your truth.' That in and of itself has been worth it to me.

"Papi Chulo" is in release.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy.


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