With the end of his hit show, White Collar, in sight, the 36-year-old actor was looking to take risks, challenge himself, and change how he's seen. He succeeded on all counts playing an AIDS-afflicted writer in HBO's adaptation of The Normal Heart. The grueling role took a huge emotional and physical toll, but Bomer wouldn't have it any other way.
The psychic has to be able to tell us," jokes Matt Bomer, cupping his hands around his eyes, pressing his nose to the glass of Maddam Grace's Los Angeles storefront. In black shorts and a well-worn gray T-shirt bearing the tiger mascot of his dad's alma mater, the University of Memphis, Bomer yanks at a locked door. "Nobody's here," he says, undeterred, a weathered sign promising glimpses into the past, present, and future hanging above his head.
"Don't worry," Bomer says, turning back toward his car, a black Mercedes station wagon. "We'll figure it out. We'll find our way."
At 36, Bomer has sharpened his Hollywood-navigation skills. For the moment, he's using them to find an elusive taco truck. "It's supposed to be here," he says. "In this lot. With this psychic." But in a broader sense, Bomer has used what amounts to a finely tuned inner compass to strengthen his profile while driving toward commercial, and now critical, success.
For the past five years, Bomer has played Neal Caffrey, an ex-con turned FBI ringer, on USA Network's White Collar, a tentpole drama for basic cable's highest-rated channel, now about to shoot its sixth and final season. Bomer describes Caffrey as "part Cary Grant, part Ferris Bueller, with a little Axel Foley thrown in." And while the character doesn't exactly punch at the premium-cable weight of a Walter White or a Don Draper, Caffrey has earned Bomer a large, loyal, and, rarest of all, inter-gender fan base that has suits swooning over his long-term potential. "There are guys men gravitate to and guys women gravitate to. Rarely do we get both sides of the audience gravitating equally," says Bonnie Hammer, the chairwoman of NBCUniversal's Cable Entertainment operation and the executive who green-lit White Collar for USA. "With Matt you get both. Everybody sees him as the perfect leading man. That's rare reports Rare."