Matt Bomer on the Surprising Relevancy of Amazon’s Drama ‘The Last Tycoon’
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.
One of my favorite relationships on the series is the one between Monroe and Celia, which we just don’t get to see enough of.
BOMER: Yeah, I felt the same way.
If the series comes back for another season, would you like to get to play with that more?
BOMER: Well, I did love that a man in 1936/37 was able to see a young girl and go from looking at her as a little sister to seeing her as a respected peer. I think that’s pretty progressive, in and of itself. I think Lily [Collins] is such a phenomenal talent. She is such a pro. With what she brings to the table, her work ethic and her process, she makes it so easy. I would love to get to work with her again.
There’s also something so electrifying about watching you and Kelsey Grammer acting together. Are those scenes fun to play?
BOMER: Kelsey could read a phone book and entertain all of us. He’s just one of those rare really gifted actors who can do anything. How can you not have preconceived notions and expectations of who Kelsey Grammer is gonna be? He’s been in my living room since my TV was on. And he exceeded them all, somehow. He’s such a beautiful and open-hearted collaborator and mentor, and such a great family man. I was just lucky to get to work with him and learn from him.
There are some big questions left, at the end of this season, both in what’s next for this movie studio, but also with your character, specifically. Have you had any conversations with Billy Ray about whether he hopes to continue telling this story and, if so, where he’d like to take it next?
BOMER: No, we haven’t had any of those conversations. As is, it could really be a close-ended story, truly. It would be the saddest story, ever, but it could absolutely be, and if that’s the vision for it, I’m totally cool with that. I’ve been doing episodic for almost 20 years, so I don’t have crazy expectations about things. I just try to go and do the work and help Billy with his vision for the character and the piece, and the rest of the cards will fall where they may. If that means it’s a close-ended story, that’s what it means. If it goes forward, than great. You have to be very zen about it.
In the meantime, where does your focus go next? Do you know what the next project is going to be?
BOMER: I do, yeah. I’d like to just say my family. I’d to take a year off, be a parent, and just enjoy our kids at these great ages that they’re at right now. I plan to do a lot of that, and to be picky about what I do next, if I’m provided that luxury. And I’m directing in a couple of weeks. I’m excited about that challenge. And then, next year, I’ll probably come to the stage in New York, at some point.
What are you directing?
BOMER: I’m directing an episode of American Crime Story: Versace. It’s terrifying and exciting, and I’m going to get my ass handed to me. I know that, going into it. But, I’m really excited. I haven’t been this excited about this medium, in a really long time. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Is that something you feel you’ve been building up to for awhile, but you were just looking for the right thing?
BOMER: More or less. I’d been asked to direct, but it was always projects that I was in. There are people who can do that. I just felt like, for me, to try to be in every scene of something and also direct it, you’re never going to be able to prep properly and you’re going to have to lean on your director of photography half the time. My first go, I didn’t want to do a half-ass job. I wanted to have the real experience. I wanted to be able to prep properly, set up the shots I wanted, put a shot list together, and really be able to get into the trenches with the actors, objectively and not in a story that I’m a part of.
Not that you spend time sitting around and thinking about your career up until now, but when you reflect back on where you started and where you thought this acting thing might take you, how do you feel about the projects you’ve done along the way?
BOMER: That’s a 20-year question with a really long answer. Holistically, I think it’s all a process and a learning experience. Only recently have I been granted the luxury of any kind of choice, so a lot of it has been going where the business took me. I think I’ve done my share of favors for friends and projects that I thought I should do, and I’m ready to settle in and really wait for the next one to hit me. I’m so grateful to be born in the times I live in and to be provided the opportunities I’ve been given. I’d be wrong to complain. I try not to do the same thing. I really do. Obviously, when you finish something like White Collar, there are so many opportunities to just do something similar because people want that kind of thing, and I really have tried to stretch myself out, for better or for worse. I hope that I’m able to get to continue to do that, as an artist, and I’m not the guy who shows up to be charming.
Anne Rice has made it to secret that, if The Vampire Chronicles TV series ever gets off the ground, she’d love you to play Louis. Is that something you’d be interested in or up for?
BOMER: Absolutely! I love Anne. She’s been such a huge supporter of mine, and I’m so grateful to her. I’m a huge fan of The Vampire Chronicles, both the Neil Jordan film and the books, themselves. That would be an honor. There would be a discussion to have, in terms of how it’s all going to be put together, but that would be great.
Where are things at with the Montgomery Clift film that you’ve been developing? Are you still hoping to make that happen, at some point? Is that one of those projects that’s always going to be in the back of your mind until you get it done?
BOMER: I never wanted it to be some Sisyphean task, and it was never something where I was like, “We have to do this now!” To me, it always just seemed like, if it was the right story, the right people wanted to do it, and it came together right, than yeah, let’s do it. If it’s a story that people think Monty would appreciate, than yeah. It’s interesting, sometimes it’s dead in the water, and then, all of a sudden, it takes on a whole new life. And it may take on a whole new life, but we’ll have to just wait and see. It’s not something that I lose sleep over at night. It would be nice to happen. I’d love for it to. I just hope that it is able to happen in the right way.
The Last Tycoon is available to stream at Amazon Prime.