From writer/director John Butler, the indie dramedy Papi Chulo follows a newly single and very lonely TV weatherman named Sean (Matt Bomer), who is given an extended vacation after having an on-air meltdown. With his newfound free time, he decides to do a little home improvement, but when it turns out to be a bigger job than he can handle, he hires a middle-aged Latino day laborer named Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), and even though the two men have seemingly nothing in common, they develop an unexpected and unlikely friendship that changes both of them.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down 1-on-1 with actor Matt Bomer to talk about why he was attracted to this project, how things evolved as they improvised, wanting to make sure his character’s breakdown was authentic, and what he enjoyed about exploring the dynamic with co-star Alejandro Patiño. He also talked about joining Season 3 of the USA Network series The Sinner, doing the movie adaptation for his recent Broadway production of The Boys in the Band, how much it’s meant to him to be a part of the DC Universe streaming series Doom Patrol, and his goal of not being typecast as any one thing.
Collider: I loved this because it’s such an interesting and different buddy dynamic.
MATT BOMER: Yeah, it was definitely something new for me, and I connected with it right away.
There’s a real emotionality to it, that you don’t really necessarily know is going be there, at the beginning.
BOMER: Yeah, and that’s what I love. It creates that sense of catharsis that he’s going through, and everything else comes out of there, and then you try to put the mask on top of that. I felt like, if I didn’t get the sadness and loneliness that he was experiencing, the film wasn’t going to work. But I do love that comedic tension in the character. He’s trying to put on this brave face for the world, but he’s just dying inside. That was fun for me. So was getting to do comedy and work with a great comedic actor like Alejandro Patiño. It’s a friendship that transcends a language barrier and cultural barrier. These are two people who you wouldn’t normally see getting to interact together. Certainly, in this day and age, when people are encouraging people to build walls and separate communities, to have a friendship like this felt really nice to convey because it can happen, so it was nice to get to put that onscreen.
A lot of times, scripts for smaller films change, evolve and develop a lot, from the time you first read them. Is what we see now fairly close to what you first read, or did it evolve quite a bit?
BOMER: Oh, gosh, it’s been almost two years now, since I read the script, and it was written before Trump was even in office, so I don’t think it was ever intended to be a political manifesto. It was just about this friendship, and it was based on experiences that the director, John Butler, had. John was incredibly collaborative and really open to improvisation. And so, I wouldn’t say that a whole lot changed, other than just improvised moments, like the stuff with us just trying to connect in the car, where I’m trying to speak the remedial Spanish that I know. That was largely improvised. The moment when I couldn’t get the seatbelt to go down was improvised. Sometimes writer/directors can be so specific about every period, and I respect that process, as well, because it’s their baby, but I have to give John credit because he’s so open to collaboration and input, and whatever happens in the moment. A lot of directors would’ve just cut, but he was willing to let me see what I would do, as Sean, in that circumstance.
I’ve often wondered why more weathermen don’t just break down, having to always stand in front of a blank screen to deliver the weather, which takes more skill than many people realize.
BOMER: And there are examples of that, that we drew from, that you can find online. It certainly wasn’t a schadenfreude type of situation. I was literally just looking for research to understand what happens when broadcast journalists do have breakdowns, and it does happen. It’s a lot to be on camera, every day, and to have to put up a persona that is neutral, but also friendly.
And we forget that everybody has a bad day at work.
BOMER: Everybody does, but you can’t because you have to be on camera, for however long you have to be on the screen. There’s something about the labor-intensive aspect of that, that also feeds into Sean’s breakdown, when it happens. He’s really tried to just pour himself into work, in an effort to deny what’s going on with himself, emotionally. So, it really is one of those things that completely sneaks up on him. He doesn’t even really know what’s happening, when it happens. But we also really didn’t want to make that a slapstick moment. We wanted to make that as real as we could given the circumstances.
What was it like to find and explore the dynamic with your co-star Alejandro Patiño? Was that a really natural, easy chemistry?
BOMER: We did a chemistry read first, with a few different actors, and when Alejandro came in, we just knew, from the get-go, that he was the guy. He’s so amazing at conveying so much in a subtle manner, and he also has such a great sense of humor. He’s so present in a scene. There were times when he improvised things, and I don’t normally do this, but I fell out and just started laughing so hard that I was crying, and we had to cut. He’s just so lovely and open. And we shot a lot of it sequentially, so we got to know each other, as the shoot when on. We rehearsed for a few days, before we started, because we knew it was an indie schedule and we were going to be in and out, with a couple of takes, and then moving on. There’s a moment when our characters sing the Madonna song “Borderline,” in the back of a Lyft, when they’re both drunk. By the time we got to that scene, we were really caught up to what our characters were, so it got to happen in a really natural way. I’ve been pretty blessed, over the years, I have to say. I know that there can be a situation where it feels forced, but everything in this movie hung on our relationship, and it never felt like it was something that we had to force or pump up. We just brought all of ourselves to the table, and we let it gel in the way it was going to gel.
You’re doing Season 3 of The Sinner, which is such a great show and has been such a really interesting showcase for the actors that have been on each season.
BOMER: Yeah, and it’s so different every season. This season is so different.
Had you seen the other seasons, with Jessica Biel and Carrie Coon?
BOMER: Yeah, I had seen both. I was a huge fan. I was with Jessica Biel on a talk show when she was promoting the first season, and I saw the clip and was like, “Oh, I’m in!,” and I’ve watched it ever since. I think Derek Simonds is a brilliant writer, and he collaborates in a really intimate way that I’ve never experienced in the medium of TV before, so I’m so excited to get to do that with him. This character is very different from anything they’ve done before. I think they do a great job, each season, of reinventing the wheel.
With a show like The Sinner, you have to reinvent the wheel with each season, otherwise, it would be too easy to see where things are going.
BOMER: Or it could just turn into a procedural. It’s so much of a whydunit instead of a whodunit, and it’s so character-driven and not procedure-driven.
And it seems to also really allow its cast to do things that they don’t normally get to do, as actors.
BOMER: It’s definitely something I’ve never gotten to do before, and it’s challenging, scary, exciting and thrilling. I know the layout of the character for the season, and I feel very lucky that I get to be a part of the show. This character could not be more different, as well. It’s just darker than a lot of the stuff I’ve gotten to do before.
Except for maybe American Horror Story, but that’s a little campier sometimes.
BOMER: American Horror Story was dark, and Donovan (on AHS: Hotel) had his other aspects, too. He was also a vampire, who was 50 years old, or whatever. [The Sinner] is really grounded in reality. They’re both great to get to do, but overall, this is a darker tone than even what I got to do on American Horror Story.
And getting to do a movie version of The Boys in the Band, which you did the Broadway stage show for, is one of those things that doesn’t happen very often.
BOMER: Oh, my gosh, and with the same cast. I was like, “I’m only doing it with the same cast and the same director,” and thankfully, that’s what happened. I can’t ever think of another time where I’ve gotten to work with the exact same group of creatives in a different medium, and just seeing how that plays out. I have no idea what that’s gonna be like, but I know that the work experience with those guys, in the first go ‘round, was phenomenal. Everybody just brings so much great work to the table that it’s gonna be fun.
Did you have any idea that was going to go hand-in-hand?
BOMER: No clue. Honestly, working with Ryan Murphy has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve gotten to experience, in my career. So, I knew to trust him implicitly. And obviously, Joe Mantello is as good as it gets, in terms of theater directing, worldwide. He’s just an A+ level director, so I knew I was in good hands, but I didn’t know if there would be an audience for it. I knew that there were aspects, culturally and historically, that were important to bring back, 50 years later, and I knew how important this work was to (writer) Mart [Crowley]. The fact that he was finally getting a chance to have it on Broadway, for the first time in 50 years, was a big deal and that was exciting. But, I didn’t know if people were going to come. I didn’t really expect it, either. It was my first Broadway show, so I was just so excited to be on stage. I was like, “Is this gonna last two weeks, or is this gonna last five days? I don’t know.” And then, when it sold out and went on to set the box office record at the Booth, which is a hundred-year-old theater, I was just floored that that many people, from all walks of life and from around the world, would want to come see out gay actors, telling this 50-year-old story about our culture. That moved me to tears.
Since I didn’t get to New York to see it, I’m glad that at least we’ll get a movie now.
BOMER: Yeah. I think it will be different. I think it’s an amazing show to have in a theatrical space because pretty much the whole cast, but particularly my character and Jim Parson’s character are on stage, the entire time. It’s almost like this master shot, where there’s nuance and detail going on, throughout the stage, for the entire play. And then, there are little duets that happen, off to the side. Being trapped in that space, for that hour and a half, as the tension builds in the story, is something really unique to theater, and seeing how Joe interprets that for film is going to be really interesting.
And I have to say that Doom Patrol has really been the surprise of the season, as far as TV shows go.
BOMER: Oh, my gosh, I just want more people to see it. I am so in love with the show. (Executive producers) Jeremy Carver and Greg Berlanti, who are both so brilliant, called me to do that and I just thought, “This is definitely the superhero show that I wanna do.” They called me and said, “Listen, we have this character. He’s one-part Montgomery Clift, one-part the Elephant Man. He’s got this in his backstory. This is his journey, over the first season.” It was so obviously character-driven and well mapped out. And then, I read the script, and it was phenomenal and hilarious. I was dying laughing that Alan Tudyk’s character has the narration, and how well drawn all of the characters are. I knew that my character was gonna be a slow burn that we got to know, over the course of the season. He doesn’t come on full force, from the get-go. And I knew that there would be creatively challenging aspects of it because I couldn’t always be there. I’d be there in person, and then I’d have prosthetics on me, or I’d be recording things when I couldn’t see the physical life, which I’d then have to try to patch together. I knew that was gonna be challenging, but I think it all came together really nicely.
That cast has just blown me away, at every turn. I think what April Bowlby is doing as Rita Farr is so hard to do and so amazing. What Diane [Guerrero] is doing with all of her characters and how distinct they are is amazing to me. Brendan [Fraser] just kills me, every episode, with his wit and humanity. Alan [Tudyk] is phenomenal. Joivan [Wade] is great. Timothy Dalton is phenomenal. And the physical actors who embody our characters when we’re not there, Matthew [Zuk] and Riley [Shanahan], inspires me when I see it. The whole cast has just blown me away. It’s one of those disparate shoots because sometimes our storylines are off in their own little worlds, so I look forward to the day that we’re all in the same room together. But it’s really a testament to Jeremy Carver, that he’s brought so much humanity and depth to it, and been able to bring it all together, as a whole. And I wanna say that the crew in Atlanta is the hardest working crew I’ve ever been around, in my life. They worked from sunrise on Monday until sunrise on Saturday morning, every week, almost. They were as in it as the cast was, and they were as dedicated and committed to the story, even my stuff. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m in Georgia shooting gay love scenes. It’s gonna get awkward.” But they were hugging me after takes, and they were so amazing, through and through. I’m really grateful to them.
When you’re doing so many cool projects, and playing so many interesting and varied characters, are you ever worried about finding, or not finding, the next one?
BOMER: Of course! Yeah, of course you do. One of the exciting things about getting to work in indie film is that there’s interesting little things that come up, from time to time. I feel really grateful that I’ve gotten to play a vast array of characters in the past year, from The Boys in the Band, to Will & Grace, to Doom Patrol, to Papi Chulo, but there’s always that fear of, “Oh, my gosh, is this it?!” Especially when it’s an indie like this, you have the really Sisyphean task of rolling a boulder uphill to get people into a theater to see it. That part is tough, especially when you love the piece and the character. But, I’m very grateful. I remind myself to be very grateful, every morning, whether I’m feeling it or not. Who knows what’s next? I’m always going, “Well, maybe this is it, or maybe I’ll just get typecast as this now, and that’s going to be that.”
If you were to look at your career, even for just the last few years, it seems as though it would be impossible to typecast you as any one thing.
BOMER: That’s the goal. I think that’s why I became an artist. I never wanted to play myself. I never wanted to just be me. I went to theater school, and I only ever thought that I was gonna do theater because I thought I’d be playing all of these very different characters. Even back then, people were like, “Just be the leading man.” And I was like, “I don’t know how to just do that. I just wanna do different things.” So, I hope that I get to continue to have the chance to do that.
Papi Chulo is in theaters and on-demand.