‘Fellow Travelers’ Creator Ron Nyswaner at IndieWire Honors: Matt Bomer Is ‘One of Our Greatest Living Actors’

Ron Nyswaner, the writer behind such iconic queer stories as “Philadelphia,” was effusive about his star of “Fellow Travelers,” Matt Bomer, at the IndieWire Honors ceremony on Thursday, June 6.

Nyswaner called Bomer “one of our greatest living actors,” and upon jointly accepting the IndieWire Honors Wavelength Award with his lead, he acknowledged that he and Bomer really do share a special wavelength. Bomer was also an executive producer on “Fellow Travelers,” and he said Bomer was an “EP in every way.”

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“Because I had Matt’s trust, I could pitch things in the writers’ room,” Nyswaner said. He proceeded to map out Episode 7 of “Fellow Travelers,” in which he would ask Bomer to be largely naked on an island while on a lot of drugs and having a threesome where they “really go at it and screw really hard” and then try and kill one of the guys while suffering a nervous breakdown. (He held back from telling a story about a prosthetic penis used on the show).

“I knew I wouldn’t have to sit down with Matt and say, OK, let me walk you through this. It’s a little scary. Because Matt was all in,” he said. “That’s the most personal to me. Not because of the threesome, although…”

The showrunner added that “not once” did Bomer ask him if his character Hawk was going to be likable to the audience or “relatable,” which he said is his “least favorite word in the English language,” and he commended him for following the show wherever he wanted it to go.

“Fellow Travelers” is a period drama spread across decades about the Lavender Scare of the 1950s, following two men leading a secret love. It was hardly an easy show to get made, but Nyswaner thanked Showtime in his acceptance speech for pushing him to make the show “more provocative,” not less, and that in this age of industry contraction, he’s glad to see the network not going more conservative.

The support that Nyswaner felt from Bomer was mutual. Bomer acknowledged Showtime and the other producers’ dedication to “stick their neck out for us” in getting “Fellow Travelers” made. But he also said Nyswaner had such “love and dedication” to the story that it got them through any obstacles that stood in their way.

Matt Bomer at the IndieWire Honors at Citizen News on June 6, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Matt Bomer at the IndieWire Honors at Citizen News on June 6, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.John Salangsang for IndieWire

“I did 96 out of 100 days on this shoot, and Ron was there for every single take, every single scene I did. And none of those days were ever shorter than 12-14 hours, so I’ve never experienced that kind of commitment and dedication from anyone in my career,” Bomer told him. “I love your wavelength, and I hope we can do it again some time.”

In speaking with IndieWire ahead of receiving the award, Bomer said he took on numerous other jobs to motivate Showtime to greenlight the show, hoping to make them realize he could drop out of “Fellow Travelers” if they didn’t move fast enough.

But it was the pair’s collaboration that led to “Fellow Travelers” becoming one of the great queer love stories on television. Nyswaner knew Thomas Mallon’s book, first published in 2007, had to be updated to fill in the blanks to consider how 2023 audiences look at the stories of queer people of color in telling the story of the Lavender Scare of the 1950s. That meant spreading the story out across decades and examining themes of racism, AIDS, the Vietnam War, and more.

“They had both been caused, one by our government’s active persecution of gay people and one by our government’s indifference to us,” Nyswaner said. “So that just seemed natural. And then you had to fill it in. Like, I can’t wait 30-plus years for them to see each other. I gotta figure out some other ways. So it was very practical, actually.”

Bomer’s co-star on “Fellow Travelers,” Jonathan Bailey, wrote in a guest post for IndieWire that both Bomer and Nyswaner are “warriors” in the same way that the series’ characters Tim and Hawk are, and that we “should always be grateful to them” for bringing the story to the screen.

“Ron’s writing has always been so significant to me because of his ability to provocatively Trojan-horse brutal truths with tender, human experiences and romances,” Bailey wrote. “And this has sculpted my understanding of how to be and how to love. Matt Bomer is someone who visibly made me understand what was possible as I grew up in a world where it seemed that being an out gay actor wasn’t going to be an easy task. There he was — brilliant and visible, a lighthouse.”

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