Matt Bomer talks about his new ‘White Collar’ gig

Source: USA Weekend
Date: October 21, 2009

Matt Bomer says his stint on NBC’s Chuck as super-spy Bryce Larkin directly led to his starring role as ace con artist Neal Caffrey on the new series White Collar, premiering Friday night on the USA Network (check out a clip below). “Bryce is how I learned to play cool under pressure,” says the 32-year-old Houston native. “What’s fun about both those characters is they’re sort of on the fringe – they don’t really subscribe to a standard set of rules. They like to operate on their own and be self-sufficient, and there’s something about that that’s probably hard for other characters to trust.” One of those “other characters” in White Collar is FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) who is teamed with Neal, his old enemy, to bust elusive bad guys. Our Brian Truitt talked with Bomer for a piece in my Who’s News column running next month. But you can read below now for the actor’s take on his new character, growing up in Texas and what he misses out on being a series regular.

What drew you to Neal? Was it to play both the criminal angle and the law-and-order angle?

He’s a complicated guy. He wasn’t just a smooth, suave, hyper-intelligent criminal mastermind. He also has a lot of flaws about him, and those are always fun to bring out and play in characters as well because that’s what makes us all human beings: We have a lot of positive aspects and we have things we need to work on. One of the really fun things I get to play with this character is that in a lot of ways, he’s like a 3-year-old. He doesn’t understand the concept of no, he’s always testing his boundaries with Peter, and he doesn’t have a lot of impulse control. He goes with his instincts, and as an actor, that sort of mercurial aspect of a character is always really fun to play because you get to make fun choices you may not normally get to play.

If Neal can be a 3-year-old at times, is that relationship with Peter more brotherly or is there sometimes a father-son thing?

It could be a big brother thing, it could be a father-son thing. I don’t believe Neal had a lot of that in his life, especially his early life, so in a way it’s foreign to him to have someone who can also help steer his moral compass a little bit. It’s uncomfortable but it’s also alluring in a way. It’s like a big brother who’s trying to set him straight.

Growing up in Texas, were there personality traits instilled in you that remain to this day?

Fortunately, I had parents who wanted us to play outside a lot. Growing up outside of Houston, in a rural area where we had a lot of open fields and creeks and things like that to play in, it really helped me to cultivate my imagination from a young age. My parents always taught me a lot about discipline and morals, and that’s definitely helped me out along the way. I also had this great theater program in my high school. I was exposed to a lot of different stuff, and toward the end of my time in high school, I quit football to start working at the Alley Theater and that’s what helped me transition into the real world.

Your dad was a Dallas Cowboy. How did he react to you trading the gridiron for the stage?

Football is religion in Texas – there’s really no other social option on Friday night. He always encouraged me to go into athletics, which I’m very grateful for because I don’t think I could play parts like Bryce Larkin if I hadn’t had that background. But they were very understanding. I believe when I was 16 or 17, I sat my parents down at the kitchen table and I said I want to be an actor and this was my game plan. I was very fortunate to have parents who really listened to me when I did that and understood that and supported it, even if it was foreign to them.

What position did you play?

I played receiver and defensive back. And I was good, but the Dallas Cowboys weren’t calling me. [Laughs] I had to weigh my options there. I want to make a correction: I’m going to say I was OK. I’m not going to go so far as to say I was good.

Some years back, you were director Brett Ratner’s top choice to play Superman on the big screen. Are you looking to do more movie gigs?

I have a couple things cooking, which is always great. A lot of it right now is getting the show up and running. I mean, I don’t even have time to eat lunch at work right now I’m so swamped.

I heard you also play guitar.

I do. I’m no maestro. And I certainly haven’t had time to play it much lately. But I play that and sing.

Are there certain things you miss out on now being a series regular on a TV show?

How about “eat lunch”? [Laughs] As an actor, when I’m working, I’m always just so grateful I’m getting to do it, so there are a lot of things during the season I’m not going to get to do, but they’ll be waiting for me when I’m done.