Most crime shows feature heroes who are easy to trust – but not so for “White Collar,” a new USA drama that stars Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey, a brilliant convict-turned-FBI consultant whose quick wit and dashing good looks help FBI White Collar Crime Unit agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) catch the most slippery criminals.
With his vintage Rat Pack style and con artist charm, it’s a role that may find Matt competing for Jon Hamm’s Don Draper as TV’s most stylish man – and it has made him AccessHollywood.com’s latest Rising Star.
“What I liked about the character from the get-go is he has this great dichotomy,” Matt told Access. “He was this slick, suave, hyper-intelligent con artist on the surface but beneath he’s also a romantic at heart. I found it so interesting to play a character who the audience couldn’t trust – he doesn’t ever really give away everything that’s going on with him.”
On the show’s premiere, which debuts on Friday night at 10/9 Central on USA, his character escapes from jail to pursue his girlfriend, Kate, who left him after his years behind bars. After getting caught once more by Peter, he convinces the agent to let him help track down criminals as elusive as himself – and an uneasy partnership is born as his hunt for Kate continues.
”He’s looking for the love of his life,” Matt said, adding that though solving crimes is often easy for Neal, searching for his love isn’t so simple. “There [are] definitely times when he doesn’t win. One of the things that doesn’t work out for him is what he wants most – that he can’t find Kate.”
Still, that doesn’t mean Neal spends the season without romantic interests.
“He sees nothing wrong with a little flirtation,” Matt said. “His moral lines aren’t quite as sharply drawn as the typical leading man. He doesn’t have any issues with flirtation or having a good time.”
One of the ways Matt livens things up with Neal is with a wardrobe straight from Frank Sinatra’s Las Vegas heyday.
“The Rat Pack and Sinatra are so influential on who he is,” Matt said. “Putting on those suits, it’s how I slip into the character’s skin.”
But what’s a less obvious influence on the character of the master con artist? High school prankster Ferris Bueller.
“He was con artist with that boyish charm,” Matt explained, citing films such as “The Sting,” “The Hustler” and “Ocean’s 11” as other influences, as well as the books “The Art of Deception” and Frank Abagnale Jr.’s book-turned-film, “Catch Me If You Can.”
While his new role may be the star’s breakthrough part, the Spring, Texas-bred actor – who hasn’t lost his accent, despite years living in the Big Apple – has appeared in shows including “Chuck,” “Traveler” and “Tru Calling” in recent years. Matt’s first big break came during his senior year in high school, when he earned a role in a Houston production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that required more than just taking the stage. .
“I was going to school during the day and commuting all the way to downtown Houston, which is a 45-minute, hour drive, every night,” Matt said, adding that it was in school where he caught the acting bug.
“In middle school I had a teacher who taught a class called theater arts,” he said. “I kind of fell in love with it. It was a way for me to express myself and have fun, entertain myself and other people. I’ve always loved to make people laugh… it was just a natural way for me to do that.”
College and stage work in New York such as “Spring Awakening” followed before his on-screen career kicked off. At one point the star was even attached to don Superman’s tights in “Superman Returns” (before Brandon Routh finally won the role).
“If that opportunity ever presented itself again, it would definitely be something I would be interested in,” Matt said, adding he would trade in his suit for spandex. “I would love to do a comic book role.”
For now, though, he’s happy to fight crime as Neal.
“He always runs into trouble. He’s always got his back up against the wall,” Matt said. “The fun part of playing it is figuring out how he’s going to find his way out of it.”