"White Collar" is not your typical bumbling detective and suave con man buddy story. Both men are equally charismatic and it is still unclear if the two are truly buddies or just in the midst of one big con. Each week we are left with the burning question, which side of the law are these guys on? And after the latest episode, the rest of this season can’t come soon enough for us.
We got a chance to speak with "White Collar" stars Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay about stealing cars, wearing fedoras, and the similarities between acting and being a con man.
Q: What did you like about that last scene in the mid-season finale, and what can you tell us about the ramifications as we move into the second half of the first season here?
TIM: Jeff Eastin approached me with that last scene a couple weeks before he was going to put it on the script. I said, “You’re the writer; this sounds exciting, let’s go for it.” I love the scene and I love the continuation of the scene as well. I think it’s some great writing and some great storytelling and very exciting and it’s a perfect cliffhanger.
Q: With the mid-season cliffhanger, is there going to be any sort of disruption with the supporting cast as far as their reaction to what happened, like Mozzie or Elizabeth? Will they be caught up in it?
TIM: They will become part of that. They will become part of, let me say, not to get any spoilers out there, but they’ll become part of answering that cliffhanger, yes. Everybody gets involved. It becomes a big family affair. You’ll see, all four characters - Neal, Peter, Mozzie and Elizabeth – as the season progresses you see all four of them mingling together in a certain way. It’s great. I think it’s one of the reasons why the show’s so special; it’s about the characters. The writers always write some very smart procedural, but really, it’s about how these characters are going to solve that crime. Not so much about you want to see the crime solved; you want to see how they’re going to solve it.
Q: Over the first half of the season, Neal has been developing a trust in Peter and Peter has become protective of Neal. Could you tell us about the characters' sense of trust and protectiveness?
MATT: In terms of trust I think that Peter is the first person in Neal’s life that he’s really been able to have that with, but I also think it’s an interesting dynamic that’s always kind of liquid between the two of them given their history and given the fact that Neal’s not really ready to jump over to the other side of the moral spectrum immediately. It’s something that he’s struggling with and it’s kind of his journey on the second half of the first season to figure out if he's going to buckle down and be with the FBI or going to do whatever he has to do, legal or not, to find Kate. I think the trust thing is sort of everything in the relationship, but as opposed to normal relationships where it can be a little bit more black and white, in this particular relationship, it can be more liquid. He has more trust for Peter than he’s ever had for anybody else.
TIM: At first, Peter’s protection of Neal was a bit self-centered. He’s protecting himself because he made that decision to take this guy out. But as time has gone on he’s gotten to know Neal in a different way and is now protecting him because he sees a great potential in this guy. He’s protecting him on more than just a professional level.
Q: Neal is so far a likable bad guy. What do you each think personally about the character of Neal?
MATT: I think you always have to be your character’s defense attorney. As an actor you have to find what’s likable about them and you have to empathize with them enough that you understand why they do what they do. I never really judge anything he did, but what I like about the character was that he wasn’t a goody-two-shoes and he didn’t just jump over to the other side of the law and become a good guy. I like the fact that he struggles with it and that he’s human and that he has real Achilles’ heel in terms of his sloppy romantic life. That’s where he makes bad decisions. For me those are the really fun parts of the character to get to play.
TIM: I’ve always liked Neal. I think Peter has always liked Neal. I’m looking through Peter’s glasses as well. I’m sometimes jealous of Neal. Peter can get jealous of that kind of life and sometimes doesn’t understand it. Not jealous that he breaks the law, but jealous that he has that carefree attitude that he can walk in a place with his hat on and be free about that. There’s something that Peter can’t quite, that’s just not in him. He wishes he had it. Peter likes Neal a lot and I think that’s a big part of what keeps Peter rooting for Neal when maybe he shouldn’t on the surface.
Q: As actors could you explain how script can inspire your performance?
MATT: I think your text is everything; it’s what informs you. It’s what gives you the given circumstances. Then you take that and you add your own creativity and your own spin on things and you make it personal. That’s what makes that character and that text unique to you, when you personalize it. I think that’s where your job as an actor comes in. The text is everything especially in TV, which is really a writer’s medium.
TIM: I agree. The text and the words simply have to inspire you. If they don’t it’s an awful, awful battle that is not fun. If they inspire you it’s great, you fly. If they don’t you spend much of your time justifying what has been written for you. Fortunately that’s not the case here. The words are great; we get to fly off of them.
Q: Both Neal and Peter seem to toe the line between right and wrong on the show. What types of real life shenanigans have you gotten yourselves into that you can draw inspiration from?
TIM: I know we only have a little under an hour so I won’t be able to go through all of my real-life shenanigans.
MATT: I snuck my brother’s car out of the driveway in the middle of the night and was trying to run over trashcans with it. I was 16 and I got a flat tire and literally tried to go to the gas station to put air back into it. It was nothing but shredded rubber and the rim… By the time I got home the rubber from the tire was literally slapping on the concrete so loud the entire neighborhood [heard it]. My dad was waiting for me at the door and my license was revoked for quite some time. I wouldn’t say that I have the same kind of criminal savvy that Neal does.
TIM: Is that a shenanigan?
MATT: If that’s not a shenanigan I don’t know what is.
TIM: That’s an excellent shenanigan. I can’t top that one.
Q: Matt, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far in the world of con men?
MATT: I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned is… just like a good actor does his research on a role and does all the homework, [a con man] needs to do to know a character inside and out, the amount of work that goes into a skilled con artist’s game — the amount of research, the knowledge of the mark, and the amount of confidence it takes to pull it off — are all really fascinating to me. The similarities to the craft of acting are actually fascinating.
Q: Why do you think you guys have such great onscreen chemistry?
MATT: We always have fun and I can’t remember a day we have not been laughing and having a good time. I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for both of us and say that we both have been in the business long enough to appreciate what we’ve got going on this show and the fact that we like to work with each other so much and the fact that we have a network behind us… we’re grateful for every day we get to work together. That’s certainly how I feel. It’s just been easy and fun from day one for me. Tim is just a great guy, the kind of actor you feel really safe working with because he just sort of says yes to whatever you bring to the table and then goes with it.
TIM: That’s the way I feel about Matt, to be honest with you. I really do. It is true. But even more importantly, Matt told me that I’m a good singer. I haven’t heard that in a long time. Matt complimented me. He said that I can hold onto the melody while he harmonizes, which I never knew was a difficult thing to do. Now I feel like I’ve got that in my back pocket.
MATT: It’s true.
TIM: Here’s the thing… In order to be able to work with somebody in acting, it’s going to sound judgmental and I hope it doesn’t, but you’ve first got to think that person’s a good actor before you can enjoy working with them. I guess that goes with the trust. I like this person, the way they work. I think they’re a good actor. Great, that is done now we can just go from there and see what happens and listen and play together.
Q: How does the fashion style of your respective characters suit what you actually dress in real life?
TIM: My immediate reaction to this question is the fact that I love wearing a suit because I hardly ever wear a suit in real life. And every time I put on a suit I think I should wear this more often… It heightens wherever I’m headed to. That’s why I love putting on a suit for Peter because it puts me in a different world than my own. I used to dress up. My dad teases me. He says this show’s haunting me because when I was five years old, I wanted to buy a suit and a fedora. There’s a picture of me somewhere like that. I’m leaning up against the coffee table, but kind of in a cool way with my legs crossed and I’ve got the fedora on. I’m about ready to walk up the street and ask Julie Buchanan if she wanted to take a walk around the block. This all just came back to me right now. That’s where it all began, enjoying wearing a suit. Even then I was kind of playing this guy who was certainly not me at five.
MATT: I’m definitely more of a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. For me, I’ve learned a lot from Neal’s wardrobe. The fun part for me is just that it helps me get into the character. When you dress a certain way especially something as specific as Neal’s fascination with the Rat Pack, sort of the Marcello Mastroianni nicely cut suits with the thin ties. It just helps me feel like I’m kind of slipping into the skin of the character and forms the way he moves. I always like to try to make an effort if I have to dress up nice, but I’ve definitely learned that you get treated a little bit differently when you’re wearing a suit.
Q: What we can expect out of the rest of the season?
MATT: Even more car accidents, lots of violence.
TIM: A lot of death scenes. I think the Martians come back.
MATT: They do. I think the intelligent procedurals continue, what I like to think of as intelligent procedurals as well as a lot of character development. In terms of my character, a lot of the stuff is coming to fruition that happened in the cliffhanger gets ironed out between me and Peter. Then my character really starts having to make the decision, is he going to operate for the law or is he going to do whatever it takes, against the law, operating outside of the legal system, to find Kate. That’s his struggle in the second half. He starts to push those boundaries a little bit more.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment from shooting the upcoming episodes?
TIM: There are so many favorite moments. The scene that I did with Kate was exciting because it just was very different for Peter. I think there are some really fun, on the set and with the writers, we call them Peter/Neal moments where it’s just the two of them. Those are the ones I enjoy greatly. You’ll see Peter go undercover a couple times, a few times, I think, in the second half of the season. He’s good at it; not as good as Neal.
Q: How do you think the series would change if roles were reversed, if Matt played the agent and Tim played the con man?
TIM: When we shot the pilot, friends of mine would ask me what I was doing. I would say I’m shooting a pilot about this con artist who helps out this FBI agent solve crimes. Most of my friends would say, “You’re playing the con artist, right?” It would be interesting. That would be fun. You just may have given us an idea for an episode where Neal has to play the FBI agent and Peter has to wear the fedora and be the cool ex con artist. Who knows.
Honestly I think parts of the show would be very much the same. It would still be Matt and me working together. One of the reasons I couldn’t imagine that is because I feel that the two of us, the roles fit us, I believe. We certainly enjoy playing these roles.
Written by Amy & Nancy Harrington