Long before he broke hearts as a lovably devilish ladies’ man on USA’s White Collar or shed 40 pounds for a Golden Globe–winning role as an AIDS victim in HBO’s The Normal Heart—and certainly before he gyrated alongside Channing Tatum in the Magic Mike films or played a vampire on FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel—Matt Bomer was a Texas high schooler valiantly defying any and all stereotypes of what it meant to be a man.
Was he a handsome jock or a shape-shifting thespian? A gun-toting good ol’ boy who’d been hunting since he was 8 or a gay man coming of age in one of America’s reddest states?
Well, turns out he was all of them—at least, as long as his schedule allowed it.
“Unfortunately, my senior year I left the football team because I got a play at the Alley Theater in Houston,” says the 38-year-old Bomer, who still looks back fondly on his days as a wide receiver and defensive back. “I was crazy fast,” he says. “I ran good routes, and I had good hands. I didn’t drop passes!”
These days Hollywood is his turf, and he’s more than holding his own with the biggest names in town. Last month, he took on one of his edgiest parts yet, that of an assassin hunting down a private investigator and a hired enforcer—played by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe—in Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. “Watching Ryan and Russell work was an incredible education,” says Bomer. “The comedic chemistry between them is extraordinary.”
But not even that was the highlight for this former Texan.
“It’s an added bonus that I play the angel of death,” he says. “I got to fire a Sterling submachine gun, an AK-47, a 9mm, and a .22, all in the same take. It was a fun day at the office.”
In real life, it’s fatherhood that truly thrills him. “So many of the adages are true,” says Bomer, now a dad of three (with his husband, publicist Simon Halls). “It changes all your priorities—at the end of the day, family comes first.”
High on his list as well: his work in the fight against AIDS, which won him the 2012 Steve Chase Humanitarian Award.
He’s also a big supporter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which works to eliminate bullying in schools, and the L.A. based Art of Elysium, which connects ill kids with artists and celebrities. “That’s actually the first charity I volunteered with here in L.A,” he says.” It’s one of my favorites because they offer welcome breaks to children with serious medical conditions.”
Clearly, Bomer believes magic can happen—and not just in the movies.
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