Matthew Bomer talks WHITE COLLAR

Source: My Take On TV
Date: October 23, 2009

A few weeks ago, I had the fantastic opportunity to join some of our favorite bloggers on a trip to the shooting location of USA’s latest dramatic-comedy, WHITE COLLAR. There we had the chance to chat with the stars of the show (Tim DeKay, Matthew Bomer, Tiffani Thiessen, and Willie Garson), as well as the costume designer for the show.

WHITE COLLAR is the story of a career White Collar criminal played by the lovely and wonderful and beautiful Matt Bomer. The character, Neal Caffrey, escapes his White Collar prison only to be captured for the second time by his favorite FBI agent the lovely and wonderful and awesome Tim DeKay as Peter Burke. In a stroke of genius, because Neal has secret insight that other people might not have, the two team up to solve other crimes that are being committed on a trial basis. If it works out, they will have a long term crime-fighting relationship, and thus the basis for an incredible series is created! Tiffani Thiessen plays Peter’s wife Elizabeth and Willie Garson plays Neal’s informant friend Mozzie. Diahann Carroll also stars. Follow the jump for part one of our very long chat with Matt Bomer (Tim joins us for part two), as he talks about his character, about his cast mates, and about this fantastic show that I think you’re all going to love!

Thank you, thank you guys for coming and doing this and helping us out. [Totally]. You tell me what to do, should I just monologue? It was great. We shot right in the middle of Columbus Circle. So, it was completely surreal and amazing and one of those moments where you feel like you’re kind of in a dream. It’s like, I never thought that I’d be filming in the plaza of Columbus Circle.

Is it exciting to be able to film in New York, so you’re actually filming in the locations that you’re pretending to be at? As opposed to, you know, here at a side street in Toronto and pretend that, you know—

Yeah, no, New York can’t be replicated. The energy of it, the architecture, the cabs honking and cursing you out right before they call “action.” It just can’t be replicated anywhere else and I think it’s so inherently a character in any film or TV show that takes place there. So, it’s just an unbelievable blessing to get to work here and feed off that energy. It just informs the show so much and the characters so much and the rhythm so much.

What did you think of the character when you initially read the pilot episode? Like, did you like the person that you were about to play? What were your questions? What did you think about your character initially?

Well, what I loved about him from the get go, was that he was flawed. He wasn’t—I mean, he had this—he has this veneer of the charming, hyper-intelligent, eloquent, sly mastermind, but underneath, he was really a kind of diehard romantic who would go to any lengths to find the love of his life. Not only was that his motivating force, but it was also kind of his Achilles heel, because then it ends up getting him caught and—but I liked the fact that, even though the fun he puts on is so suave and debonair, underneath there’s somebody who is also—has a hard time—has always really relied on himself and doesn’t really trust a lot of people.

Panel: Are there elements of that, that you would say match up with your own personality? I mean, what of him is already in you? [laughter]

I don’t want to say zero, because I mean, I like—I guess we all like to think of ourselves as romantics. But, I like to think of myself as romantic and I guess I understood that part of him and that’s—that to me, has always been the driving force. I mean, his compliance with the FBI and all that stuff, ultimately is really so he can get closer to Kate and find her. So, to me, that’s the core of the character and that’s the part that I relate to the most. The suave and debonair stuff is, you know, really fun to get to play, but I would say that I fall short of the Neal Caffrey bar in terms of that. But—I’m trying to think if there’s anything else I want to say about that.

Neal, lies with ease and sort of breezes through life without—what do you think, besides romanticism, is his—are his redeeming qualities? Because he seems like kind of a—[laughs] you know, my beautiful house and my beautiful lady…

Well, good, I mean, I want people to—I don’t want people to think he’s the perfect guy. I want his flaws to come out, because that’s what it means to be a human being. Human beings are good, they have shadow, every single one of us has redeeming qualities and every single one of us has qualities that people can hold against us. That’s what makes us human.

I’m not interested in playing characters who are perfect or who are, you know—I think the fact that he does try to create that life for himself, is what makes him human and is his redeeming quality. Because he’s trying to cover up for ultimately a life before that that was really, as a kid, probably really unfulfilling. And, he—that’s his way of controlling and controlling his environment, controlling his life, having some sense of control. And, you know, I think he’s some—but he—I don’t think he’s somebody, he is somebody who wants to have fun in any given circumstances.

So, if he has the option of $700 a month getting him a flat in the ghetto, or an amazing house with Diahann Carroll as my landlady, that’s what I’m going to choose. He finds that. He has—he—I mean, he just puts that in his circle, that’s what he finds, he finds a way to live life to the fullest on whatever he’s given. Because I think when he was younger, he did not have any of those things. I think he’s somebody who from a very early age, had to fend for himself. And, he does with lie with ease. He’s a social engineer, that’s his job.

So, what do you—like, you seem to have all this whole back story, like, are we going to see, as the season goes on, more of his back story? Like, where did he learn it all and how did he go from a guy who’s, you know, just trying to make his girlfriend happy…

You know, I hope, honestly, that that can come out in certain moments through my performance. I want the character to maintain mystery. I want him to—if I had my way, I would hope that by the end of—if we were blessed enough that by the end of the last episode of the seventh season, you still wouldn’t know everything about Neal Caffrey and you still wouldn’t know if he was playing you or if he was telling you the truth. But, you know, his profession, I don’t like to think of it as a con artist, I think of it as a social engineer. He’s—I think he’s kind of—I’ll tell you this, I think he’s probably somebody who from a very early age, had to get his—had to find out a way to get himself to school and probably first learned how to lie to people as a kid, to get his bus fare, you know, and it only grew from there.

Now as far as his role, you know, as a criminal mastermind, what type of real life research did you do? I mean, are you hanging out in a prison? Are you—[laughs]—

Well, I don’t want to give away all of the secrets of the research I did, but what I can tell you is I read a lot of books. Everything from, you know, obviously Frank Avengale’s memoir, Catch Me If You Can, to a lot of just books about social engineering. Most of them written by people who were in the same circumstances. A guy named Kevin Mitnick, who wrote a book called The Art of Deception that was very informative to me and he was a social engineer who them became—he, you know, does some kind of high tec computer software engineering. Because from a very early age, he had to fend for himself and he learned how to break into all the computers before they had any kind of security that could defend against it. So now he develops that kind of software.

But I read a lot of books, and then I also tried to get some inspiration from films of the same ilk and the same genre. Everything from, you know, Danny Ocean in Oceans 11, to Cary Grant’s character in To Catch a Thief, with even a little bit of Ferris Bueller thrown in there.

So, you’re kind of thinking of that and channeling that when you were kind of getting into that lock and getting into that character, you’re putting all of that together with that background?

Yeah, I mean, I think there are different elements that you use for different scenes. Like, you know, the other day I was trying to milk a little extra sympathy out of Elizabeth, Tiffani Thiessen’s character, where she’s helping me after I’ve, you know, hurt myself. And, I think that was more like Ferris Bueller. Whereas when I go underground to bust the Chinese gambling ring, it’s more Danny Ocean. So, it just depends on what the given circumstances are.

No brushes with the law, yourself?

No, right.

So in your opinion, what are some elements of White Collar that help it stand apart from other crime dramas that we see on TV?

Well, I think—I always say I think before I say—please cut that out. [laughs] Because it’s just—I should just say it. The signature of USA Network is, characters welcome. So, first and foremost, you’re gong to get all the great procedural stuff. It’s really intelligently written. We’re—I’m no fool, I know this is a writer’s medium. You can put the biggest stars on the TV screen, but if the writing’s not there, the shows aren’t going to last and we’re so blessed to have Jeff Easton at the helm. Because these scripts are really smart and fun and unique. The White Collar world is unique, hasn’t really been completely explored yet and so you’re going to get all the fun procedural stuff, but at the same time, there’s going to be a lot of character elements that come into play as well. That keep it light and fun and sometimes serious. So, you do get more back story elements and a lot of interplay, fun interplay between characters that you might not get on a show that’s straight procedural.

They plan to keep a lot of that humor and to break up the [drama].

Yeah, oh my gosh, yeah. I mean, it varies from episode to episode, but there are always—there’s always moments of levi—there are always moments of levity in every episode, yeah.

I think your character is really likeable, especially for the ladies. [laughs] I mean, he is a thief and a con man, so do you think he’s a good guy? Do you think he should be liked? I mean, do you want him to be liked?

As an actor, you can never judge the character you’re playing. I think—I just said I think. I want, like, an electric shock that goes up my [indiscernible]. If you approach a character from a place of judgment, you’re really digging yourself a hole as an actor. So, what I try to focus on is who he is and what motivates him and play the truth of it. I really can’t concern myself whether people like him or don’t like him or think he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I can only play what’s written in the given circumstances.

So, even if you’re playing a serial killer, you don’t think of—to go in from a place of judgment, you might not agree morally with who they are or what they do, but to play them truthfully, you have to try to get in their world and under their skin and look through their eyes. So, I tried to mine out some qualities with Jeff from the get go, that I thought were more redeeming. You know, I think there’s a really quixotic quality about the character and ultimately, underneath it all, he’s kind of a three-year-old. I mean, he doesn’t have a lot of impulse control. He doesn’t even understand the concept of no. There’s always a way to get into things and he’s always testing his boundaries.

So, there’s a certain part of that, that I hope will come across as interesting and fun and unique and not something you’re used to seeing from a criminal mastermind. But, you know, you just try to go as deep as you can and play the truth and good, bad, nice, evil, whatever is going to play itself out.

Now I just want to talk a little bit about when you first got involved with the show. Because I know just—I wanted to know how much you knew about the character when you were first approached or, you know, when you first auditioned or how much it was and how much you kind of drew in. What were your expectations when you were first getting involved in this?

Well, a lot of my research actually indicated the contrary, in terms of white collar crimes. Yeah, corporate is different. Yeah, no, this is somebody who’s been doing—who probably started out as a grifter and moved more into—one of—he—I think he didn’t have those things. I think he didn’t have all the things that would be associated with white collar, so he wanted to build that life for himself and he intentionally cultured himself and familiarized himself with art and that whole world and everything that—everything you think high society would mean.

But, all I really had to go on was the pilot script, which is what I read, which changed drastically by the time we shot it. But, I fortunately had a good deal of time before we started to kind of really think a little bit deeper and talk to Jeff about certain things and go with my own impulses as well. For me, the more interesting choice was always somebody who didn’t have it and wanted to create that for himself.

I found it interesting, because I did think it was going to be more of a corporate kind of Wall Street type, you know, thing when I was first hearing about the show. So—and especially since that’s in the news right now and so I really like how they kind of went in a different direction.

Which I think is so interesting. Immediately I thought, once we got picked up, I was, like, all right, when’s the Bernie Madoff coming in.

That’s what I was just thinking.

But, what makes Jeff such a great writer is he completely went the opposite way, into more interesting things in that world that we don’t know about. So, you know, we’re seven episodes in, I don’t know if that script’s going to come in one day, but he is such a talented writer, he sort of went the opposite way, which I thought was interesting.

Can you tell us a little about how you became involved with the project and your audition process and how that all went?

I just had—I mean, I’m sure they had probably a pretty big list of actors. I came in and did the initial read and then I tested once, they still weren’t sure if they wanted me for the part and then I tested again and then got the part. And then—is it okay for me to say all that stuff? [laughs] Somebody might get mad at me in the network. But, what’s great about the network, is they really take their time to find the people they really believe in and you really got to win them over. And, that was really, ultimately, a very rewarding process for me.

At what process did you and Tim test together?

I had had the part for a little bit and then we went to find Peter and from the minute Tim stepped in the room and the first word that came out of his mouth, I was, like, I said, this is our guy, you know, he’s amazing. Tim’s such a wonderful actor and such an amazing human being and a real blessing to get to work with every day. He has this Midwestern quality about him, this sort of wholesome quality that you can’t teach anybody. You can’t—you either have it or you don’t and it plays so intrinsically into the character, because as gruff as he is and as hard as he is, you also believe that his heart is soft enough that he would ultimately empathize with somebody like Neal.

So, I think that’s what I recognized right away and just his playfulness and he got what was funny about the character. He got what was interesting about the character. He got what made their interplay interesting and I’m just—I feel really lucky to get to work with him.

Now speaking of the interplay, I know, like, your character works more from instinct and impulse and then, you know, Burke is definitely more analytical and, you know, deliberate with everything that he does. And, that really make the characters playful and work together in the story. How do you think that translates to real life? I mean, do you feel like you’re more on the deliberate side? Or are you more on the–?

Am I more on the deliberate side or am I more—

More impulsive.

Am I more impulsive? I would like to say that I’m not impulsive, but I’m still pretty impulsive. I think—

You’re not making lists at the grocery store—

No, no, I think—especially on the work schedule I’m on right now, I think I’m taking it moment to moment. But, maybe that wanes with age, I don’t know, I hope I always stay pretty impulsive, but I’m not really—yeah, I like to just go moment by moment.

So, would you say, between the two of you, like, each of your personalities, you actually do have an element to that in your real life, of him being a little bit more of that [way].

Yes, I would say so. Tim will always be out there waiting when the van is ready to pick him up. I might be five or ten late.

How did you guys, you know, once you knew all the cast members were in place, did you guys have—like, how did you and Tim bond? Or how did you, like—because you have such a different social dynamic with each person, like you said, social engineering, you know, how did you kind of network with these people off camera, in order to build what you have on camera?

Gosh, I don’t—I never really even thought of it like that. I just tried to get to know everybody and see what their process was and see what their—what they wanted to bring to the table. We had a table early on, very fortunately, so we kind of got a sense of what everybody was going to bring to the table. I mean, I did look at them in terms of—in certain terms, of a social engineer, but I tried to let all that stuff come out in terms of just the scene working, which is ultimately, there’s always some kind of agenda behind Neal’s actions. Whether he’s charming you or wooing you or, you know, confiding in you, whatever it is, there’s something else to be gained usually. So, I guess I just kind of thought about what that would be with each character. But, in terms of our personal relationships, I just tried to have fun with everybody and be playful with everybody and let them know it was a safe environment to do that, on and off camera.

What’s something about you that we won’t find on, like, an IMBd page or your bio?

I always try to answer this question and I always sound like an asshole.

No, you don’t have to be, like, snappy, just something—like, I don’t know how people answer that question, be, like, I really—like, reruns of the Golden Girls. Like, just something about you that we’re not going to know if we, like, read your bio online.

I don’t know, I mean, I’m pretty—I’m a pretty chill person. I’m kind of a homebody and I like to just hang out with friends and have dinner. I’m not, you know—I’m definitely not Neal Caffrey in the sense that I’m not, you know, drinking a $500 bottle of wine at a nightclub. I’m just—I’m pretty chill.

What’s on your DVR?

30 Rock, it’s very eclectic. 30 Rock, college football…

Which team, we have to know.

Well, I would love to say my alma mater, which is CMU, but they’re division three, so that’s, like, basically the same as my high school. But, my sister went to UT, University of Texas, so I got to say I hook ‘em.

You can’t watch a game on DVR though, like, how do you now know who won if you wait?

Well, that’s the thing, well, believe me, with the hours I’m working right now, I have no clue. But, you know, a lot of times the game is white noise, I’m not going to lie, but I’ll have that, if it’s an important game I want to see. Or, I also like—I really like—I wonder if this is our competition. [laughs] What’s—I can’t even think of it, my brain is so full of lines and monologues right now. What’s the show—Dateline, is that our competition? No? Good, Dateline— Maybe I’m super morbid, I don’t know, I never got into it till this year, but Keith Morrison, is hysterical there—

He could be, like, [Keith Morrison voice] she didn’t know. [laughs] little did he know, she was weaving a web he could never escape from. [/end Keith Morrison voice]. But, he’s so sardonic, he’s so—I’m, like, you are so cold. How could he be so sardonic about this? I saw it, oh my, genius, I can’t believe that it’s not more appreciated.

Do you watch Dollhouse?

I—you know, I watch it whenever I can to support Eliza, yeah, but she’s fantastic on it. Gorgeous and hot and all the stuff she should be on that show. It’s really cool, I mean, I think Joss is obviously an amazing mind. So, the stuff they’re kind of unfolding on that show has been really interesting and cool.

Are you having fun wearing all the different costumes with, like, you know, prison and then you wear these really hot, like, suits?

Well, you know—

You look really hot—[laughter]

I have to say, I think the wardrobe really informs the character greatly. I mean, you know, when I put on one of those suits, like, you feel like one of the Rat Pack guys, you feel that kind of—yeah, and the fedora especially, when you get it down over one eye and you feel like maybe you can trust me, maybe you can’t. There’s something about that that really helped me kind of get into the skin of the character.

What about the hats—what—did you already know how to do that? Or is that something you had to practice for, like, a month?

No, I had to practice, yeah. I—that was something that Jeff had told me I was going to have to do and had kind of given me, like, a two second tutorial and then, like, good luck. So, I did it on my own, but then of course when we got to filming, I got the wardrobe, maybe the day of or maybe the day before. So, I think I stayed up for a good while the night before, because every hat has a different weight and balance to it. So, I was definitely spending some time trying to familiarize myself with that one, so we could get it. But, I think we ended up getting it on the first take.