Matt Bomer Apologizes for Playing Trans but Stands Behind “Papi Chulo”

In his latest movie, the actor stars as a gay L.A. weatherman who befriends a straight Latino migrant worker.

Matt Bomer’s latest film, Papi Chulo, is partly cloudy with a 100% chance of the actor in full meltdown mode. The Magic Mike and The Boys in the Band star plays Sean, a newly single gay Los Angeles weatherman whose loneliness is eased by the comforting camaraderie of a Latino migrant worker named Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), whom he’s hired to repaint his deck. Written and directed by openly gay Irish director John Butler (Handsome Devil), the dramedy premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and is now opening in New York and L.A. before expanding into other markets in the coming weeks.

Bomer recently spoke with NewNowNext about the “cynical” critiques of the movie’s core relationship, why he’s sorry for playing a trans woman in 2017’s Anything, and what he hopes Ryan Murphy’s forthcoming film adaptation of The Boys in the Band will achieve.

What about Papi Chulo’s treatment of Sean’s sexuality appealed to you?

He’s such a multidimensional character. You could list 10 adjectives about Sean before you even mention his sexuality. It was written before Trump was elected, I believe, and it certainly became more politically relevant as time went on.

At work, Sean has to try to mask his grief. As a public figure, can you relate?

Yes, though I don’t think I’m on the same level as Sean. I’ve definitely had experiences in my life I tried to draw from, but I would probably say on a smaller scale. [Laughs] But there are times, certainly, when I’ve been out and about and maybe not had the best morning and someone wants to take a selfie. Whatever it is, you have to paint that smile on and remember that you’re lucky to have people like that.

So do you take the selfie or politely decline?

If I’m working really hard and I only get two hours of quality time with my kids that day, I’m gonna be really focused on them. They don’t always want you dealing with the public and having a 15-minute conversation with somebody about Episode 4 of Season 6 of White Collar.

Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño in Papi Chulo.
Blue Fox Entertainment
Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño in Papi Chulo.

Papi Chulo subverts some people’s idea of what a relationship between a straight older Mexican man and a younger white gay man can look like. How did that aspect of the film resonate with you?

I have friends who are immigrants who are straight, so I guess that wasn’t a huge leap for me. Hopefully people leave this—the people who need to see this film, to be honest—and say, “Oh, wow, that put a face on somebody I just drive by in a parking lot of Home Depot every day.” Even if it encourages somebody to say hi to somebody they might not normally say hi to and see them as a human being and not some kind of a threat, I think that was a big part of the MO.

Some critics have noted what they see as a problematic dynamic between a privileged white man and a migrant-worker savior character who helps him with his problems. Have you heard this critique? Is it fair?

This movie actually premiered at the same film festival as Green Book, so umm… [Laughs] Like I said, it was written before Trump was even in office, but for me, Sean’s entry into their friendship comes from a place of feeling guilt about being a white middle-class male. If all you take from the fact that these two people become real, true friends is that it’s problematic because they’re a different race or from different classes, then I think that’s an incredibly cynical point of view. It certainly was not the intention.

Last year, your role as a trans woman in Anything sparked controversy and had exec producer Mark Ruffalo apologizing for casting a cis man in the role rather than a trans woman. How did the conversations around that role affect you?

I think it was a huge awakening for me. You know, I became involved with that movie in 2014, before the show Transparent had even come out, and the years between when we finished it and when it did come out, there was just a sea change of incredible progress for the better. The sad reality was that in 2014, a tiny indie like Anything wasn’t going to get financed any other way. But I certainly apologize to anyone who it hurt or offended. I have many times in the past. I don’t know if anyone’s ever printed it because it’s not quite as interesting as controversy, but it was never my intention. I have been on the end of not being given opportunities because of who I am, and I would never wish that on anyone else.

Do you feel Hollywood still favors straight actors for LGBTQ roles?

Yeah, they do. I mean, look: I think what people sometimes forget—especially people who just wanna be an armchair critic or judge things from the sidelines—is that it’s ultimately a business. People cast actors they believe are gonna be bankable. So I think it’s incredible what a show like Pose is doing, giving incredible exposure to the trans community, and what people like [showrunners] Ryan Murphy and Greg Berlanti are doing, giving gay actors opportunities to play real, three-dimensional roles. Hopefully that can be part of a sea change that will infiltrate the rest of the industry. But in the meantime we’re kind of in this catch-22, where if you’re not given the opportunity then you can’t show that you’re worthy of the opportunity. Having said that, I can’t complain. [Laughs] I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve had wonderful mentors over the years.

Alejandro Patiño and Matt Bomer in Papi Chulo.
Blue Fox Entertainment
Alejandro Patiño and Matt Bomer in Papi Chulo.

Should an actor’s sexual orientation align with that of their character?

I’m not someone who believes only gay actors should play gay roles or only straight actors should play straight roles. I honestly believe everybody should get to play all kinds of roles. Having said that, I think there are repercussions if it’s only one way and not everyone is being given the opportunity to play the roles they should get the opportunity to play.

In 2020, you’ll portray Donald again in Murphy’s Netflix film version of The Boys in the Band alongside Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, Jim Parsons, Charlie Carver, and Michael Benjamin Washington, who starred with you in the 50th anniversary Broadway revival last year. Have you started shooting yet?

I just got the script yesterday and we start working on it in a few weeks. Very excited about that. Very excited to be reunited with those guys.

Is it going to be similar to William Friedkin’s 1970 original film?

I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say about that, but hopefully it will be a nice hybrid of the Friedkin version and what we did on stage, and hopefully we’ll encapsulate a very important part of our history for a new generation.

This month you and your husband, Simon Halls, are hosting a fundraiser for gay presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg. What party favors are you handing out to commemorate the moment?

Man, I don’t know shit! [Laughs] I actually have no idea, but I don’t think it’s gonna be an event that’s really about party favors. I think it’s hopefully the kind of event where we’ll hear his plans on policy and where he is in terms of the process. From my perspective, he’s by far the most qualified candidate we have right now, and I’m just so happy to be able to support him. It was really my husband’s idea to put the whole event together, and I’m so glad I’m gonna get to be there and hopefully get a chance to meet him and hear where he wants to take our country moving forward.

Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, is a big Beyoncé fan. So if you need music to play at this fundraiser, you might look to something like Lemonade.

It’s Pride Month, so I’ll probably mix that in with a little bit of Todrick Hall.

Papi Chulo opens June 7 in select theaters.

Detroit-ish based writer-editor, Meryl Streep stan. Thought I'd retire after Mariah Carey called me a "dahhling," but here I am.
@chrisazzopardi