This feature was originally written for the January/February 2016 issue of Men's Fitness.
There’s a canyon at the end of a dusty lane off the I-5 freeway, down some lonely roads built to access landfills and water treatment plants, where Greater Los Angeles ends and America begins. Here, through some iron gates and down a hill lined with hedges, is a portal to a land of pickups and full-brimmed caps, where old men wearing tan vests stuffed with ammunition openly carry shotguns, where not one but two giant stuffed grizzly bears greet visitors in a dark lobby, and where the sounds of live fire echo off the sandstone walls. This would be a terrible place to steal a car stereo. Or wear a Bernie Sanders shirt. And into this scene arrives a man in a black luxury station wagon, wearing very stylish jeans, a snug green Henley, and a 49ers cap that is well cared for.
“Aren’t you on TV?” asks a clerk inside the pro shop of the Oak Tree Gun Club, in Newhall, CA, from behind a counter where visitors can purchase or rent various firearms. Matt Bomer nods and smiles. “I am,” he says. Celebrity sightings do not seem to be a regular occurrence at Oak Tree; unlike basically everywhere else in Greater Los Angeles, there’s no wall of fame of signed head shots, at least that I can see.
“I hate to ask you this,” the clerk replies, “but my wife and I love your show, and she would kill me if I don’t get a picture.” He gives his phone to a colleague, hunches in close to the star of the megahit American Horror Story: Hotel—as well as the films Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL—and then gives us a very quick instructional on safe handling of a .22 Ruger pistol, which Bomer selected by name from a wall of handguns. “It’s the assassin’s choice,” he tells me. “You’ll see why when you fire it.”
Bomer, it turns out, has some experience with firearms. “I’ve been handling guns since I was a kid,” he says, out on the trap range a little later, popping a shell into a 12-gauge Dickinson shotgun. “I got a .30-30 for Christmas in the seventh grade. It wasn’t what I asked for, by the way. And it wasn’t my only present.” It was a gift from his father, a conservative Christian and avid hunter who “clears the decks for deer season.”
Bomer was born outside St. Louis but spent his formative years in Texas. He reckons he was “somewhere around 8” when his father first introduced him to guns. As a kid, he hunted birds and ducks but hasn’t shot at anything live in years. “It’s nothing that I’ve elected to do in my adult life,” he says. “In Texas, it’s a way for men to bond together. I was down with that when I lived there, and I haven’t really done it since.”
He’s not sure when he first handled a firearm on a set. It could have been on Guiding Light, the soap he starred on for a little more than a year in the early 2000s. “I know I killed several people on that show,” he says, but decides that most, if not all, of those murders occurred offscreen. Probably, then, it was the 2006 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, in which he is murdered by Leatherface in extravagant style—“He strung me up for a while, and then he knocked me out and carried me to the basement, strapped me up, partially skinned me alive, then gutted me with a chain saw.” This gratuitous death wasn’t without purpose. “Leatherface becomes Leatherface with my face.”
Bomer aims the gun over the top of the wooden trap and yells, “Pull!” causing a neon-yellow clay target to shoot across the range. He fires. It shatters. For someone who hasn’t shot at a bird, real or fake, in eons, he’s pretty good, hitting four out of five clays in his first round. “City boys out in the country!” he hollers. When one shot of mine barely nicks a target, he gives me encouragement. “If you hit it at all, you’ve killed the bird.” Bomer takes the gun and pats me on the back. “If that were the case, we’d be going home with some dinner.”
When the ammo is exhausted, we go in search of lunch, but in Oak Tree’s café, the air is heavy with fryer oil. I suggest we try elsewhere.
“Probably a good idea,” Bomer says, looking around. “I have to be naked on camera at 9 a.m. for a love scene with Lady Gaga. So maybe it’s not a good time for, like, french fries.”
It should be stated that Matt Bomer is preposterously handsome in person. It is simply a fact, as inarguable as noting that he has dark hair. Upon hearing that I was going to be interviewing him, my cousin, a happily married mother of two, who for many years ran a celebrity photo agency, said, “I think he might be the most handsome man on earth.” A friend who writes about Hollywood described him as “supernaturally attractive.” And his Magic Mike co-star Channing Tatum once said that “Matt Bomer is one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen in my life.”
This is hardly news to the legions of women and gay men who’ve been lusting after the now 38-year-old Bomer for years, ever since he broke out as the dashing con artist turned FBI informant at the center of USA Network’s hit drama White Collar in 2009. The show aired for six seasons, ending in 2014, by which time he’d burnished his legend by co-starring with Tatum and his buddy Joe Manganiello, whom he met at the prestigious acting school at Carnegie Mellon, in the stripper dramedy Magic Mike. (“Cast as strippers with all these years of classical theater training behind us,” Manganiello recalls. “We thought it was hilarious, that all of that led to this.”) By then Bomer had also completed his role in the HBO lm The Normal Heart, which won him a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination and proved he could act and not just star. Prior to those roles, Bomer worked in TV and movies for nearly a decade, primarily in small parts, but White Collar was the point at which he ascended from Handsome Guy Who Shows Up Periodically in Things to Handsome Guy Who Can Carry a Series or Picture.“That was the first time I could relax a little bit and start to think about the career I wanted to craft as opposed to doing whateverthey give me,” Bomer says, sitting down to lunch at a nearby health restaurant.
Bomer has always been fit. In high school he was an athlete, the first-string wide receiver and defensive back on his football team in Texas, which played at the state’s highest level, 6A. But he loved acting even more than catching footballs, so when he landed a place in the company at Houston’s Alley Theater in the fall of his senior year, Bomer quit a team that went on to play in the state semifinals and had zero regrets. He’s never looked back. After college he moved to New York, where he scored small Broadway roles and worked as a bellman at Ian Schrager’s Hudson Hotel. He was waiting tables when a casting director offered him a spot on the CBS soap Guiding Light. A few years later, in 2008, at age 30, he landed White Collar. By that time, Bomer had been with his partner (now husband), the publicist Simon Halls, for several years, and they had three young boys, including 4-month-old twins. (A surrogate was used for all the children.) He was never secret about the relationship, though many fans didn’t realize Bomer was gay until 2012, when he thanked his husband as he accepted the Steve Chase Humanitarian award for his work in the fight against AIDS.
As a gay actor in Hollywood, Bomer is somewhat unique. It’s quite normal for straight actors to play gay men—for instance, Mark Ruffalo played opposite Bomer in The Normal Heart—but the reverse is far rarer. Unless you’re Matt Bomer. His upcoming films include a remake of the classic Western The Magnificent Seven and the gritty crime thriller The Nice Guys.
“I try not to take the time to stop and think about all these zeitgeist-dependent circumstances that I really have no control over and just try and focus on the work,” he says when I ask him about it. “Maybe I was just lucky to be born at the right time. I’m really grateful for it, and I hope that people will always think of me as an actor. It took a lot for me to be at this table right now.”
At lunch, Bomer orders light: chicken soup, salad, and a turkey burger without the bun. He contends that diet is “80%” of how he maintains his body, and he views all his meals with a calculating eye. In other words, food is fuel, not pleasure—at least for now.
His approach to diet revolves around the philosophy of food combining. “It’s basically all about the enzymes your body uses to break down food and the transit time from when you eat to when you’re done with it,” he explains. “If you mix a protein and a starch, it’s going to significantly increase the time it takes for your body to break it down, which can be a good thing in some situations.” Proper food combining means a protein and a vegetable, or a vegetable and a starch. Fruit is eaten alone, he says, ideally 30 minutes before a meal or an hour and a half after.
“I try to eat protein from whole food sources, like chicken or sardines, as opposed to downing whey shakes—though those work if you’re trying to get big,” Bomer says. “I eat about a hand- size portion of protein before my workout and another within an hour after finishing. The biggest adaptation [I make] is the amount of protein. If I’m playing a slender character, I eat significantly less protein than I would on a film like Magic Mike.”
It turns out he’s been studying nutrition for more than 10 years. “When I was 27, I felt old. I didn’t feel right,” he says. “I didn’t feel healthy. I just wasn’t taking care of my body, and I had a body that wanted me to take care of it.” He read books, met with nutritionists, and went on a fasting retreat, emerging as a healthier, younger-feeling guy who was obsessive about his food intake. “In the end, someone is depending on me to show up on their set looking a specific way,” he says, “whether that’s 40 pounds overweight or 40 pounds underweight, or looking like a stripper.”
The most challenging physical transformation of his formation of his career, without question, was the one Bomer made from White Collar—and the first Magic Mike movie—to The Normal Heart, in which he plays a New York Times reporter who contracts HIV and then, during the film’s excruciating final act, wastes away in front of our eyes. Production shut down for 21⁄2 months so Bomer could transform himself into a malnourished waif. He dropped more than 40 pounds by consuming only the bare minimum calories his body needed to survive. He took the process very seriously because it was. “It’s obviously something constructed by a medical professional,” he explains. When I ask him to take me through a day of that diet, Bomer shakes his head. “I don’t want to, because I think it’s actually dangerous to perpetuate,” he explains. “You can die. When I finished, my testosterone levels were the same as a female’s.”
When Bomer had a craving, he drank tea or sucked on a sugar-free cough drop. He says that Transcendental Meditation helped him, too. And in his weakest moments, he fantasized about a future in which this wasn’t his reality. “In my free time I would sit and think about all the things I was going to eat when I could eat again.” But when the lm wrapped, Bomer couldn’t actually feast the way he’d imagined. Even moderate-size meals would cause him to vomit. “My stomach was the size of a walnut, and all of a sudden I was wanting to eat pizza. My stomach literally just didn’t have the room.” Slowly, his doctor and Halls coaxed him back to health, and by the next summer he was shooting Magic Mike XXL. We all know how that turned out.
American Horror Story: Hotel, the fifth season of Ryan Murphy’s anthology series,is set in a creepy Los Angeles hotel haunted by a serial killer and a variety of horrible entities that torment and torture guests in all sorts of graphic ways. “I got the first script and thought to myself, ‘Holy shit, what the fuck is this? This is crazy!’ ” Bomer says. “I put it down a few times and took a deep breath and went, ‘OK. We’re just going to have to
commit to this world.’ ”
He plays a recovered junkie reborn as a vampire whose lover is Lady Gaga, a 115-year-old vampire sexpot known as the Countess. Though Bomer’s used to packing on muscle—he hired the same trainer for both Magic Mike films (for his get-big stripper workout, turn to page 108)—AHS has posed a new physical challenge. The story ashes between present and past, so that he might be a lean but ripped vampire in one scene and a strung-out heroin addict the next. “I had to be lean enough to convey that, plus also be able to disrobe if need be.”
This winter he’ll endure a whole new bodily transformation when he travels to Montana to shoot the indie lm Walking Out, based on a short story by David Quammen about a guy and his son who leave Chicago for rural Montana and challenge their definition of what it means to be a man. Bomer’s character is t but doesn’t necessarily have shredded abs. “I’m doing much more of what an outdoors man would do,” he says, “which is deadlifts, lifting things, pulling up, pushups.”
One nice thing about Walking Out, he says, is that it’s something his kids can watch before they reach voting age, unlike much of his recent oeuvre, which is decidedly unfit for immature eyeballs. “At a certain age, hopefully 18, they’re going to dip into my work and go, ‘What the fuck?’ ” he says, laughing. “I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do.” I mention the blood-soaked foursome with Lady Gaga in AHS, the series’ most outrageous scene so far. He laughs. “They’ll always have White Collar.”