From writer/director Billy Ray and adapted from the last work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Amazon drama series The Last Tycoon follows Hollywood golden boy Monroe Stahr (played to perfection by Matt Bomer), as he tries to navigate the movie studio system in the 1930s. Among the growing international influence of Hitler’s Germany, Monroe’s passion and ambition keeps him fighting to maintain his voice in doing what he loves. The series also stars Kelsey Grammer, Lily Collins, Dominique McElligott, Rosemarie DeWitt and Jennifer Beals.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Matt Bomer talked about the draw of The Last Tycoon, how surprised he was about just how relevant the material still is today, the challenges of playing this character, getting to explore the character dynamics, and whether he’d like to explore this character for a possible Season 2. He also talked about what lead to him directing an episode of the Ryan Murphy series American Crime Story: Versace, whether he’d be game to play Louis in a TV series for Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, and what’s going on with the long-gestating Montgomery Clift biopic.
Collider: What was the biggest draw of this project for you? Was it the fact that it’s an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, was it the old Hollywood glamour, was it the time period, was it the specific character, or was it everything together?
MATT BOMER: I guess it was everything together. It just seemed to be a lot of serendipity involved. I had recently read Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, which deals with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, in an earlier time period. I was having my yearly existential crisis about art versus commerce, can I balance them, and will I get a chance to be a part of either one of them. Billy [Ray] reached out to me, at that time, when I was weighing all of those things, and he’s someone who I’ve loved for a long time. He wrote the first movie I was in, called Flightplan, which actually shot on the same stage that we shot this show. We sat down and had a great talk, and he’s such a talented and persuasive person and was so on fire about this project that it seemed to have legs. I certainly wasn’t looking to jump right back into being #1 on an episodic, but I’ve always had a fascination with F. Scott [Fitzgerald]. I went through my whole A Moveable Feast phase, with all of those artists. It just seemed fortuitous that it happened at the time that I was thinking about all of those things, and it was a world that I’d always wanted to get to be a part of with people I’d always wanted to work with. So, I didn’t think I could say no.
Does it become more nerve-wracking when you make the pilot, and then you have to wait to find out if you can continue?
BOMER: Yes and no. I guess it gives you a chance to regroup and asses, and look things over and analyze it. Sometimes you do a pilot, it’s picked up and you’re already seven episodes in before it goes to air, or maybe you’ve done the whole thing. We had the luxury of the public viewing of the pilot to reassess some things. When I did the pilot, I almost came straight from a film set. I had the chance to really sit down with Billy and get clear on the vision he had for the character and the story.
As the series progressed, were you surprised at just how relevant this story still is?
BOMER: Yeah, and it was more revelatory as we went. It was shocking to me that these conversations we’re having about immigration, sexism, agism and foreign markets felt like they could be happening today, in 2017. It’s sad. They were able to really sink in some social commentary that’s as pertinent now that it was then.
When it comes to playing Monroe, what comes with the greatest ease, and what are the biggest challenges?
BOMER: Well, the character is a huge challenge. First of all, you’re talking about a character who’s in almost every scene, but is also supposed to remain very mysterious. That’s challenging, in and of itself. It’s also someone who we should think is at the height of success and happiness and joy, but he’s really somewhat empty inside. A theme throughout Fitzgerald’s work is, at what cost the American dream? One of my favorite scenes are when we see the phone call he has with his mom, where we see all the relationships he’s sacrificed to go from being Milton Sternberg to Monroe Stahr. There’s a wake of destruction that’s left behind him, in order to achieve his American dream.
Did you enjoy getting to play all of the really interesting character dynamics in this?
BOMER: Yeah. I especially like it when you get a really human pay-off in certain moments, like that phone call with the mom. That’s something I would probably push more for, were the series to continue forward. Otherwise, it feels like constantly being a mystery is cheating the audience. As long as it has a really human pay-off, I love it. He’s somebody who, from the day he was born with a congenital heart defect, has been reminded of his impermanence. His whole M.O. is trying to achieve some legacy and permanence and immortality. The attention to detail and the specifics are all about that legacy.