Date: July 30, 2010
Since White Collar premiered in October 2009, this fast-paced crime caper has proven that characters are, in fact, welcome on USA. The series—now in its second season—features a memorable cast of veteran actors and up-and-coming stars, including Texas native Matt Bomer.
Matt—best known for his recurring role on NBC’s Chuck—plays Neal Caffrey, a semi-reformed con man whose disarming looks and encyclopedic intelligence help him avoid handcuffs…most of the time. After teaming up with the FBI, Neal begins using his talents for good but keeps us wondering if his bad-boy days are done.
Now, in this exclusive Q&A, Matt reveals what fans can expect from Season 2. Plus, what this Southern gentleman thinks is sexy and why he never gets away with anything.
Kari Forsee: Why do you think people are responding so favorably to USA crime dramas like White Collar?
Matt Bomer: They’re an incredible network to be in business with. As big as they are, in a lot of ways, it really does feel like a mom-and-pop shop. They’re very hands-on, but they’re also really collaborative. And, as an actor, to have the network motto be “characters welcome,” I mean, you’re never going to get more of a sense of permission than that. [You get] a view of the character with idiosyncrasies and details that maybe you don’t get as much in network procedurals because their focus is more on the story. I think what USA does so well is, first of all, they have the whole blue skies thing going on, which in this time in our society, I think that type of optimism sort of stands out. … One of my favorite things that people say to me about the show is that they watch it with their whole family, and I don’t think there are a lot of shows that you can say that about these days.
KF: What do you like most about your character, Neal Caffrey, a semi-reformed conman and thief who escapes from prison to find his lady love, Kate?
MB: I always loved the duality of this character because on the surface, he’s this hyper-intelligent, über-confident, slick, suave, charming conman, but underneath, he’s this big kid who’s a die-hard romantic. He’s always testing his boundaries. He doesn’t have a lot of impulse control, and you know, he’s always seeing what he can get away with. And when it comes to his love life, I mean, it’s just his Achilles heal. He’s completely sloppy. He makes uninformed decisions that get him into trouble, and so getting to play both sides of that…I mean, to find a role where you get to do both those things is a rarity. That, to me, is the most fun aspect of the character.
KF: What do you like least about Neal?
MB: I think when you play a role, you always have to be a defense attorney for that character. So, you know, I can’t say I like something the least about him or the most about him—I just have to try to be in his skin. One of the things, I think, if I were to step outside the character and say, “Pull it together,” [is] he’s kind of OCD, and I totally understand. … He’s even a bit delusional sometimes. There were a few times last year when I said to myself: “Neal, Kate is not into you, dude. Give it up! Give up the ghost! Give up the ghost!” But that’s what I love about the character too, because he’s not perfect. I don’t think people are perfect. I think they have flaws like that, and I think that’s what, for me, was so fun to get to play. But, you know, when they call “action,” I have to sit in those circumstances and be him and figure out why I have to be in those circumstances and understand why he is so fixated on her. This season especially, avenging her death…
KF: Yes, what a shocking first season finale—talk about going out with a bang! How do you think Kate’s death will affect Neal throughout Season 2?
MB: Well, one thing the writers did that I think is really smart is they kept the same fun, witty, quick pace about the show. The tone is still light and fun, but they also fast-forwarded three months from her death, so you’ve missed a lot of the grieving period. But Neal is a proactive guy, so he is going to take the situation into his own hands and avenge her death in the way that he thinks is just…whether or not the FBI agrees with his M.O. or not. That’s sort of the way he’s tugging the leash this season.
KF: Do you see Kate’s murder as an ongoing subplot?
MB: Well, when you’re playing a role, you have to think, “What is ultimately motivating the character?” And I think last season, a lot of it was, “Well, if I collaborate with the FBI, my leash gets extended, and I’ll be able to go find Kate.” And this season, it’s really, “Well, if I collaborate with the FBI, my leash will get extended, and on the sly, I’ll be able to figure out who killed her,” and “How I can avenge her death?” So there’s that, but the other thing is Neal’s starting to take in the positive affects of what it means to help people out by using what he does so well to help the FBI. He’s actually really positively affected a lot people’s lives. I’m not going to say he’s turned over a new leaf, but he’s definitely taking that in as well.
KF: On White Collar, Neal seems to know everything about music, literature and all types of art. Since landing this role, have you developed a greater appreciation of the arts?
MB: I was definitely a patron of the arts to begin with, especially when it came to music and even some of the galleries around New York. But the character’s definitely rubbed off on me a lot in the fact that, if I do get a day off, I’ll run over to a gallery. I’ll go to Guggenheim or the Met or somewhere and just take in some culture that way. One of my favorite places to hang out in New York now is Smalls Jazz Club because I always think of it as a place that Neal would like to haunt. It’s underground. You can smoke cigars while you’re watching—it’s very Rat Pack—and two or three acts will go on a night. You can feel the subway rumble beneath you. It’s pretty amazing. He’s definitely rubbed off on me that way.
KF: In the series, FBI agent Peter Burke forges a dynamic partnership with Neal. In your personal life, have you had any mentors who have influenced you in a similar way?
MB: I think so many actors have over the course of my career, and I would say, on this job, it’s really Tim DeKay [the actor who plays Peter Burke]. We have a relationship on the set, as well, where I lean on him a lot. He’s definitely taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes as it were. I think a lot of actors have been influential, but I think the best way to learn is to just be there and watch and live it and see how the really seasoned veterans do it…and take notes. Copious notes.
KF: When you were growing up in Spring, Texas, how did you get into acting?
MB: We had a high school teacher who was bringing the plays that were happening on Broadway and off-Broadway to our school, and we were workshopping them in class. I remember doing scenes from Angels in America when I was 15 years old in Spring, Texas, which is kind of amazing if you think about it. So he was really informative.
Then, there was an actress named Annalee Jefferies who was in the resident company at the Alley Theatre, which is the regional theater in Houston, which is about an hour away from where I lived. I started studying with her, and then I got a job doing Street Car Named Desire with her when I was 17, which I quit the football team for and started commuting down there to work with her. She was influential in helping me get into schools and get a good head on my shoulders. Coming from Spring, I mean, there was a certain naivety that came with that. That was great on one hand, but also, I needed to be a little bit more in touch with reality or the reality that exists in New York and L.A. She was very helpful with that, as well.
KF: New York City seems to have a starring role in White Collar, as well. While shooting in the city, what have been some of your favorite locations?
MB: First of all, I have to give props to our AP Russell Fine, who is fantastic. The way he shoots the city of New York is so optimistic and beautiful. It’s like a love letter to the city. We shoot up—you actually see the sky. It’s not the dark, gritty version of New York that you see portrayed in most TV shows. But, you know, the amazing thing is we’ve gotten to shoot in so many iconic places in New York that when you first get there you think, “Oh wow, Columbus Circle, Times Square, the financial district.” All of a sudden, I’m there filming a scene. It’s been completely surreal and amazing and truly a blessing to get to do that.
KF: You’ve also shot scenes inside some amazing private New York City residences.
MB: Oh, that’s the best part of the show. We get to see the parts of New York, even if you’ve lived there three years, you don’t get to see. I’m talking about multimillion-dollar penthouses with the million-dollar chandeliers that hang down eight stories from the ceiling. You’re kind of in the créme de la créme of New York’s places [with] the people who are really making the financial world shake.
KF: Neal is so slick he can get away with almost anything. Did you get away with much mischief when you were younger?
MB: No! I was the polar opposite of Neal. I pretty much got busted for everything, but I definitely stretched out my boundaries as a kid, as well. I remember taking my brother’s car out, pushing it down the driveway in neutral in the night and going out joyriding with friends and getting flat tires and getting busted. My license was revoked by my dad. So, definitely I was a kid. I was a teenage boy. I wanted to see what I could get away with, and I think there were definitely aspects of Neal that are in [me], especially when it came to me trying to get my driver’s license back from my dad. I think I used every tactic in the book. That’s where I learned all my con artistry, but the difference between me and Neal is I always get caught.
KF: People magazine has named you “the sexiest rising star.” What qualities do you think make a person sexy?
MB: I would say confidence and security and comfortability in one’s own skin. I think that’s so attractive. Truly. I think when someone knows who they are and is comfortable and confident with that, I think a lot of the typical, aesthetic things sort of fall by the wayside.
KF: For people who haven’t got on board yet, why should they watch White Collar?
MB: You should be watching White Collar because it’s a fun, intelligent procedural infused with a lot of great character writing by Jeff Eastin. I think it stands out from any other show like it on TV right now, and that’s pretty much all due to him and the writing and the witty banter and the cases that come up every week. The great thing is, if you’ve never seen it before, you can jump right in, and you’re not going to be lost. And, like I said, the writing has gotten stronger this season, and we’re all really settling into our characters. Everybody is unbelievably excited about it.