WHITE COLLAR: Sneak Peek and Q&A with Willie Garson
White Collar returns for a fourth season tonight at 9/8c on USA. Make sure to tune in for the continuation of last season’s crazy cliffhanger. Neal and Mozzie are on the run … now what? The season four opener was shot on location in Puerto Rico, which makes for stunning vistas. (Said vistas may or may not include Matt Bomer in a bathing suit. Ahem.) Guest stars for the premiere include Mia Maestro, Mekhi Phifer, and Gregg Henry. To better prepare you for tonight, check out the video below for a recap of what went down last season, and peek at what’s to come:
Yesterday, I took part in a press call with Willie Garson (Mozzie), in which he discussed his character and the upcoming season. I took the opportunity to ask him about Mozzie’s friendship with Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), since that is one of my very favorite relationships on the show. I asked if we could look forward to any scenes between those two this season, and what he thought about those two characters’ friendship. Garson replied:
You know, it’s interesting because you’re not the first person to ask about that. And I guess those scenes are very popular. We do [...] we did shoot a number of scenes already this season that are just me and Tiffani which is great fun. You know, it’s great. It’s like this is someone who not–I mean both of them are someone who the other one would never be friends with other than because of this situation. And they actually have a mutual like of each other. I think Elizabeth feels kind of protective towards Mozzie.
And Mozzie while finding The Suit, you know, Agent Burke to be kind of boorish, he finds Mrs. Suit to be a little elegant and knows about fine wine and art and literature. And so he, I think, really appreciates her. So I think it’s a great relationship. And we do explore it more and I hope we get to continue to.
Hurrah! I would watch an entire season of those two gossiping and drinking wine, and maybe starting a book club. There were a lot of other great questions from the other bloggers and journalists on the call, and I have excerpted parts of the transcript below. I have put the questions in bold, with corresponding responses by Garson below.
So can you talk about some of the guest stars we’re going to get to see this season?
Do they really matter besides me. No, I’m kidding. You know, we have—well right out of the gate we have Mekhi Phifer who’s really amazing. And who we’re working with right now is Treat Williams which is very exciting.
I’m trying to think who’s in this episode. Titus Welliver is in the episode we’re shooting right now. We always have such an embarrassment of riches on this show with our guest stars. Certainly the people we’ve had in the past too like, you know, Beau Bridges and Griffin Dunne, Aidan Quinn. Andrew McCarthy, I mean it goes on and on. We just […] really good people want to do the show and that’s a real compliment to us. Certainly not so much to the show but certainly to the actors because that’s –I know myself, when I’m asked to guest on a show it’s always about well what are the actors on the show that I want to work with. So it’s really—it’s quite a compliment when they come and play with us.
Okay, great. And is there something specific this season that you’re looking forward to fans seeing that you can kind of talk about without spoiling it too much?
Well, you know, to be honest we don’t watch any of the episodes until they air. So I can tell you that starting tomorrow I personally am wildly excited to see the first two episodes that are shot outside of New York because the show is going to look really different and weird and be a part of this whole new world which will be really fascinating.
There’s also the emotional stuff that’s coming on later in the season with Neal finding out about his past and his family has been really fun to shoot and really interesting. And I think the fans and we’re fans of the show too, are going to freak out watching on screen.
What have you discovered about Mozzie now that you really didn’t know about him in season one?
I think I discovered more about the character in terms of how important his connection to people would become. Mozzie seems like someone who didn’t need anyone around or to need to be with people. And Neal has really brought him out of his shell in New York. And now Mozzie actually has relationships that are actually important to him. And that’s something that I certainly didn’t see on the page when I started the show so that’s been really interesting. And even more so this year, how much when we’re out of the country and then what brings us back to New York, how important things, you know, human relationships are to Mozzie. So that’s going to be interesting to watch.
Also, is Mozzie ever going to get a love interest this season, maybe a new or an old flame returning?
You know, I have no idea. I wish. I’ve had two so far on the show and I’ve liked both of them. So and I thought they were really fun episodes and I think Mozzie in a relationship is a lovely thing. I haven’t see any scripts yet that has Mozzie, you know, getting any action.
Well since Neal and Mozzie are in hiding, does Mozzie see it as a good ending point for Neal or a new beginning?
Interesting. I think Mozzie sees it as the life that he’s always dreamed to have. So I guess an ending but a very comfortable ending. So we’re going to find out—it’s almost that old saying, you know, be careful what you wish for. That maybe being more involved in life is a better choice than dropping out of life.
Well is the pressure harder on Neal to be on the run or on Mozzie to keep him there?
I never feel like there’s any real pressure on Mozzie. I feel like the pressure is really on Neal to decide what to do. I think Mozzie can find a way to make wherever he is totally doable. And so I think that’s what we find is that what is the—Mozzie’s pressure more comes about how to stay with Neal rather than any pressure of, you know, making him stay there. It’s just where are we going to be?
How hard was it to stay in character in such a beautiful location?
Well this is not the hardest character I have to say, for me to play mainly because he’s the closest to myself with my, you know, my same kind of wit and feelings about a lot of things but also because the writing is so perfectly geared to our characters. So there’s not a lot of heavy lifting once we actually get there saying it. It was actually just really fun.
You know, this show—the characters are structured so well that on this show we found in the first season, I think it was about episode five where we all called each other up after it aired and we were like you know what? These characters are so well drawn and so perfectly complementary to each other, we could be solving the case of the missing Scotch tape on the North Pole and we’d be fine. And that’s really—that really came through when we, you know, left the mainland to go shoot this. It’s like we could shoot anywhere. It doesn’t matter. As long as we are in character talking to each other it’s like it all seems perfectly natural because the characters are so well drawn.
You mentioned a little bit about how Neal’s drawn Mozzie out and has more human relationships. Can you talk a little bit about Mozzie’s relationship with Peter or The Suit as he likes to call him? And does he—is his connection with him just Neal or has there become a grudging admiration and he kind of actually likes the guy?
Well I think grudging admiration is a great phrase because it’s almost like they actually need to hate each other. And in that hatred of each other they actually love each other a lot. It gives Peter a sense of action and danger and it gives Mozzie a sense of safety that this actual government agent who he totally mistrusts everything about, is actually watching over him and that he’s really not going to be in that much trouble.
I guarantee you that if we had a scene of Mozzie sitting alone at a bar drunk he’d be bragging to his friends that he is very good friends with an FBI—a high ranking FBI official. So, you know, I think it’s almost at the point where they kind of need each other. They need this tension between them and I think they both enjoy it.
Well hopefully it’ll be seasons away, but when the end comes how would you like Neal and Mozzie to wind up?
Well I’d like it—I would like it to be seasons in. I’d like Mozzie to end up very, very wealthy. Oh no, that’s the actor. Okay, what I would, you know, I’d like Mozzie to end up happy, you know, whatever that means we have to figure out and I think we will in the coming seasons figure out what actually Mozzie wants.
We’re actually joking a lot this episode about Mozzie’s fake baby that he has—that maybe Mozzie wants to have a baby and maybe Mozzie wants to fall in love or, you know, I mean you never know what’s going to happen. But I leave […] those kinds of things always to really talented writers. And I believe when shows end well they should end with characters getting whatever they need to get and that’s really a writer’s decision.
The relationship between Neal and Mozzie has obviously been very stressed lately. Do you think there’s a breaking point or do you think that the relationship can pretty much withstand anything?
Well I do believe that. I do believe that the relationship can withstand anything even though, you know, because it is a TV show we have to tease every once in a while that, you know, this is it, I’m never talking to you again. But I think we’ve established now after three seasons that there’s going to be a way for these two guys to always keep an eye on each other and take care of each other.
It comes up again right at the start of Season 4 which you’ll see tomorrow that it’s like well what’s going to happen? I mean are they really this is it? This is it? They’re really going to walk away from each other again? But I think the audience is going to start figuring out that they probably aren’t at least … for a while. At least for three or four more seasons.
So when he’s not hatching schemes with Neal or drinking Neal’s wine, what do you think Mozzie does with all his time?
I think he probably hustles old ladies at chess games like in Washington Square Park. I think he explores a lot of art and I think just because we never see him getting all the information that he has my guess is that Mozzie spends a lot of time in the New York Public Library in the reading room. So he, I mean, he has an awful lot of information and he has to get it from somewhere.
If you could write a detail in for Mozzie’s character or an event in for Season 4, what would you want Mozzie to do or what would you want to have happen to him in Season 4?
You know, because we spend so much of Season 3 with Mozzie like kind of unhappy and dying, to get out of here I think I’d like to see Season 4, I’d like to see Mozzie happy with his circumstances and where he is. I don’t know if that’s going to happen by the end of Season 4 but that’s what I would like to happen for him.
Do you like the twists that his character has taken? I mean he’s been shot, he took out a contract on a guy, he gave his best friend an ultimatum last season. Do you like the twists he’s taken or …?
Well I always like it when it’s interesting. You know? I never can guess what’s going to happen. And we don’t get our scripts until like, you know, two days before we start shooting each episode so we never know. And that’s what I like. I like that I don’t know. A lot of actors like to know so far in advance but, you know, I’m—maybe I’m not that good of an actor or it’s just my style of acting. In life we don’t know what’s coming so I’d like to not know what’s coming. It keeps it interesting for me.
A couple of weeks ago, Jeff, he tweeted a heavily redacted photo of you pranking Matt on set the day Magic Mike […] came out. And he said he’s got a video clip of it but he wasn’t going to publish it until he’s got permission from you. So can you please give permission to Jeff now and so we can all watch it?
Willie Garson: I will not. But yeah, I will think about it. And there’s … there’s a little too much of me in that clip, certain areas of me that do not need to be on the internet.
Willie, you’ve now played two fan favorite characters on two different shows: Mozzie on White Collar and Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City. Are there any traits of Stanford that you wish Mozzie had?
And what, Henry on NYPD Blue was chopped liver? No. I would say I wish, you know, I became such a stylish person playing Stanford. I wish Mozzie had a little more style. Even though I like Mozzie’s style there are sometimes I wish he was dressed a little better. But that’s about it. I mean Mozzie’s drinking—he’s drinking as much as Stanford and he gets to go to fancy things like Stanford. I just wish he, you know, wore sometimes a little more expensive clothing.
And as a follow up, how do you think Mozzie compares to you personally?
Mozzie has a lot of my sense of humor, some of my world views … he basically talks a lot in my speech patterns. I would say out of all of the characters I’ve played over the past, you know, whatever, 25 years I would say that Mozzie is the closest to myself other than the international conman part; although that might be a con in and of itself, me saying that. But, you know, I guess Mozzie is very close to me in a lot of ways so it’s a real joy to play him.
Anyway, my question for you is if you had a crossover with any TV show on air or off air now which one would you like to see White Collar crossover with?
Oh man. I mean personally I would like it to be Friday Night Lights but I can’t imagine that episode. But right now for me it would be Sons of Anarchy, which I guess we could find a way to work some kind of caper with that, with them in mind. So those would be my two favorites right now.
My other question for you is if you had to bring back any of the people that you’ve worked with in the past from any other show who would you want to bring back and why, character wise?
Jimmy Smits. Favorite actor, favorite guy. Him and Sarah Jessica are the two people who taught me how to act on camera. And I think he’d be great on our show. I would love to have Jimmy Smits. That’s my choice.
What do you think is the most intriguing bromance on the show?
I would say the most intriguing bromance is probably Mozzie and Peter because it’s the most unexpected. […] I mean Mozzie and Neal is kind of expected, Neal and Peter is kind of expected. So I think Mozzie and Peter—although in the episode we’re shooting right now we have a very funny situation going on with Mozzie and Jones played by Sharif Atkins and that’s really fun too. So I think it’s a constant—I think it’s the writers’ room constantly trying to play with different combinations to see what can happen.
So you mentioned how, you know, you’re filming out of New York. Can you talk about filming in Puerto Rico and just kind of about the experience?
Yeah. I mean it was really hard. I’ll tell you the hardest thing about it was that Puerto Rico is a nighttime culture. And the reason we were shooting there is to get as much sunlight and daylight as possible. So we were working, you know, like 6:00 am every day to get the sunlight. And then they don’t eat dinner and stuff until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. So that was really hard. So we were basically in a coma the whole time of tiredness. But, you know, it was fantastic. The local crew was amazing that came and that worked with our crew.
And all the people were—that we came across were great and very accommodating and, you know, it’s amazing that every time I’m in Puerto Rico I’m amazed that it’s part of the US. It’s so amazing and, you know, it’s a beautiful Caribbean destination.
I was wondering what you think it is about White Collar that really makes it such a fan favorite show.
Well I think it all comes from Jeff Eastin. There’s a kind of believable vulnerability about the characters. These characters are not perfect. They’re not superhuman. You know, Peter Burke isn’t the – he isn’t the most heroic FBI agent. Matt is charming and handsome but has a lot of vulnerability too because of his past and his family. I think these things are very relatable to people rather than like, you know, on a lot of shows like this is the best cop that’s ever existed or, you know, this is the baddest criminal on the planet, you know. I just think that people can relate to vulnerability and all of these characters have it on some level.
Would you ever be interested in working behind the scenes on the show like writing or directing or something?
I would. And I will be directing if we get to go on next season. If we’re fortunate enough to get picked up, I will be directing next year. So that’s something … we’ve been talking about for a long time. And I’ve been preparing so I think I’m ready after—after almost 30 years I think I’m ready to give it a shot.
Now I’ve got to ask since we all know you’re going to be directing next season because there will be a number 5, what do you bring to the director’s table as an actor?
Liquor. No, what do I bring? You know, I bring 25 years of standing on sets and story and acting stuff. Our crew is so advanced that the camera stuff, I’m not going to—I’m certainly not going to change the wheel. But I am going to bring a lot of humanity into the scenes, which is something that I know how to do like no problem. So that’s my angle is what I’m going to bring in: performances and humanity.
Now is there anything that you feel might challenge you or bring a little bit of trepidation to taking on the reins of directing White Collar or do you think that no, you’ve got this, you can handle it?
You know, camera and angles and time. You know, we shoot a full episode in seven days and that can be very quick. Some of our scripts are close to 80 pages long. So we’re talking about 11 pages a day so the time is the only thing I’m afraid of because I don’t know much about technical stuff. But I’m learning it rapidly about camera. It’s just in terms of, can I get everything I need to get in the amount of time I have?
Okay. And the last thing that I want to say is, you mentioned Jimmy Smits and you mentioned Sons of Anarchy. What an amazing thing would be if you were to bring your directorial [chops?] over to the cast, direct Jimmy and Sons of Anarchy and beyond there. Have you thought about giving that a shot?
If you can make that happen I will happily give it a shot.
I think with the social media this might happen.
All right. Well you get a hold of Kurt Sutter and you get on that right away.
My last question for you is if you had to write your own undercover story for you and Neal, where would you go? What would be your aliases and why?
Really? Well I, you know, I’d be mistaken if I said we wouldn’t go undercover at a male strip club and Matt would be Hot Cider and I would be Dry Aged Beef. No. I don’t know where we’d go. I mean we’d go, you know, we could go anywhere.
So we choose to go to New York and our aliases, you know, I always like to play that game of like what would be your porno name and it’s your first pet and the street you grew up on. So I would go with Heidi Harrison and I don’t know what Matt’s—I think the funnier the alias the better.
So, there you have it. I look forward to the adventures of Hot Cider and Dry Aged Beef someday. Enjoy tonight’s premiere. It’s a really fun episode, and the start to a very promising season.