Matt Bomer plays haunted whiz kid in ‘The Last Tycoon’

Frazier Moore
The Associated Press

When he landed the lead in Amazon Prime’s “The Last Tycoon,” Matt Bomer had never read the timeless F. Scott Fitzgerald novella on which the series is based. But by chance, he had just finished another celebrated novel set in 1930s Hollywood, Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust.”

“I was contemplating the themes both books deal with: How do you maintain your artistry in such a commercial industry as the movies — and can you? And I was thinking about how much Hollywood has changed since that time period. And how little has really changed.”

Before long, Bomer would be poring over Fitzgerald’s prose to prepare for his “Tycoon” role.

To be released Friday, “The Last Tycoon” tells of Monroe Stahr (Bomer), a whiz-kid film producer with a sure eye, but a broken heart — a congenital heart defect that means he is living on borrowed time while he mourns the recent death of his wife (and the studio’s biggest star). Consumed with making a perfect motion picture that can stand as his legacy, he clashes with his studio boss and father figure, Pat Brady, played by Kelsey Grammer.

The role fits Bomer as comfortably as the rakish double-breasted suits in which Stahr presides as the studio’s golden boy. (Or maybe even more comfortably: “Those suits were so snugly tailored that sometimes I had a hard time breathing,” Bomer says with a laugh.)

It’s only the latest ambitious turn by the 39-year-old actor, who’s best known from his six seasons as transformed con artist Neal Caffrey on “White Collar,” but who has also starred in “Magic Mike” and its sequel, the TV film “The Normal Heart” alongside Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons, and on “American Horror Story: Hotel.”

This “Last Tycoon” follows in the footsteps of the 1976 feature film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Robert De Niro and Robert Mitchum.

“Kazan and De Niro? We’re not trying to replicate the movie!” exclaims Bomer. “But with our series we can take the essence of the original story and fan it out. A lot was going on then.”

A lot is going on with the series’ lavish production values and the dazzling Tinseltown style it revives.

“To recreate the 1930s in Hollywood is irresistible,” says executive producer Christopher Keyser, speaking for himself, as well as the audience: “It’s like this amazing toy that you want to play with.”

But at the same time, the Depression is literally at Brady American’s studio gates: a Hooverville of homeless people is encamped beside the lot. Meanwhile, the Nazi threat is bearing down on the free world — and on Stahr as he fights to stay true to his artistic vision against political and commercial pressures.

Series creator Billy Ray says that, while there was a bit of a leap of faith in selecting Bomer for the role — a character different from any he had played before — “one day into pre-production, we knew we had the guy.”

‘The Last Tycoon’

Starts streaming Friday