It’s not easy managing a work-life balance in Hollywood, but Matt Bomer makes it look effortless. The Texas-born actor is easily one of Hollywood and Broadway's brightest stars, and history will show him to be one of the first modern gay actors to challenge the norms of what out LGBTQ performers can play on-screen. Since launching to fame in USA Network’s White Collar, Bomer has played a stripper in Magic Mike, a closeted writer in the TV adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, a 105-year-old man in the Justin Timberlake-led science fiction thriller In Time, and recently Larry Trainor/Negative Man in Doom Patrol, based on the DC Comics title. He’s managed, with surprising ease, to transition from queer roles to straight ones, with virtually no backlash from conservative audiences. That in itself is new territory for an out gay actor.
He’s also a happily married man with three children who is in the public eye, raising visibility for hundreds of other LGBTQ families. He’s a staunch activist, a fact evident in the roles he chooses. In his latest film, Papi Chulo, he plays Sean, a gay 30-something widowed weatherman who starts a friendship with a middle-aged Mexican migrant laborer after an on-camera meltdown in the aftermath of his partner’s death. Now alone in the home he used to share with his partner, Sean hires Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) to work around the property, and the unlikely duo end up forging a bond despite cultural differences. For Bomer, the story couldn’t be more poignant.
Above: Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño in Papi Chulo.
“There was no way to read a script like this and not comprehend that — in a time where people are speaking of building walls — this was a movie about breaking them down,” he says.
Growing up mere hours from the border in Spring, Texas, Bomer saw how Mexican workers were often treated. Being a closeted gay kid in suburban Texas, he could empathize with those who were ridiculed or despised for being different. It’s that empathy that has helped make him the staunch activist he is today.
“There’s a need to humanize people we might not understand, and there’s a need to break down walls and relationships to see how similar we all ultimately are,” he says. “You can’t not be political as an artist on some level. Anything, any decision you make is going to be political if you like it or not. I think as artists, we’re constantly informed by society and what’s going on and where we want to be and what we hope to be.”
Bomer went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he says he was still reading his Bible every night during his freshman year. “It was the first time I’d been around people who were openly gay,” he remembers. “And so I thought, Wait, you can exist in the world safely being a gay person?” It was a far cry from the world he once knew, working on the gas pipeline with his brother and wondering if he would ever achieve his dreams.
A self-described introvert, Bomer admits that while the quick success of LGBTQ visibility on-screen and off has been incredible, it also comes with a bit of responsibility.
Above: Doom Patrol
“We live in really exponential times, and it’s happening so fast that you can almost lose perspective on it all if you’re not careful,” he says. “I try to remind myself to be grateful, not only for the people in the industry who are changing it and the people around the world who are supporting the industry, but also for the people who came before us who worked so hard and stuck their neck out at a time when it wasn’t safe to do so.”
There is also an inherent pressure, Bomer says, as one of so few out actors to not “mess it up for anybody who’s coming behind you.”
His advice to LGBTQ youth during this Pride season? “Don’t ever stop dreaming, don’t ever stop hoping, don’t ever feel that you are less than anyone else. Know who your true friends are, find a path, a safe path to becoming the person you want to be. And we’re in a great time where there are so many outlets and resources and people for you to talk to and find that path in a really safe way… Use those and connect and find a way to be the person you want to be.”