Sunday, January 30, 2011

White Collar - Complete Interview with Willie Garson

Preface - Over the last several days, I had the privilege of conference interviewing with Willie Garson and Andrew McCarthy to talk about the Forging Bonds episode of White Collar. (It was fantastic, so check it out if you missed it.) The Willie Garson interview is from my notes so there is more paraphrasing, but the Andrew McCarthy one is from the interview transcripts. The Andrew McCarthy interview will be posted shortly. Thanks to everyone who suggested questions for both.

Willie Garson is very personable on the phone - funny, self-deprecating, and friendly. He enjoys playing Mozzie because the character is similar to himself in his world views and wry sense of humor. "Mozzie is close to me but he's certainly not me." It allows him to bring more depth to the character, to be more collaborative, since a lot comes from his heart. If fact, he says that about every 3-4th line comes out of his head. He thinks fans find Mozzie endearing because he's well-written with a lot of heart. He likes Mozzie's vulnerability and thinks the audience is drawn to the sweetness of that. However, getting the part took some doing. He was in Bogota, Columbia on a movie when he heard about it and then worked hard for 2 months to get the role.

Garson is grateful for the fan reaction when Mozzie got shot but wasn't worried they were writing his character off. There aren't that many characters on White Collar. He appreciates how fans started a Twitter trend when Point Blank aired, but with the internet, there were pictures of him on set after the shooting so it was hardly a secret that Mozzie would live. What wasn't fun was the fake blood for the opening scene of Forging Bonds. Mozzie's first shirtless scene had him covered in very cold goo for hours. It was good to be lying down though. Garson thought the director of shooting did a great job.

About Mozzie and Neal's relationship, Garson says fans are catching up on an 8 year friendship. Their relationship is solid which allows the show to sprinkle in tidbits for fans to delight over. Both characters need each other and are life-long crime partners, as seen in Forging Bonds. Garson was surprised that Mozzie and Neal only knew each other 8 years - he thought it was longer - but since Neal is young, it makes sense. He also likes how they came together because both needed "to step up their game" as cons.

In Forging Bonds, Mozzie wears a toupee, which Garson has worn as an actor before but never in his personal life. His favorite was the bouffant, like a Christopher Guest character, but he thought the Russian Cossack hat one was "absolutely ridiculous." The most memorable toupee was the heavy metal version from Something About Mary. On White Collar, they wanted the toupees look purposely bad, which was hard on the man who supplied them. Garson has been bald for so long any hair looks foreign to him. What he really didn't understand was the goatee. Goatees are itchy, annoying, and trap food in his opinion.

Mozzie's quirks are part of why the character is so fascinating. Garson thinks the conspiracy theories are fun; the moon landing being a fabrication is his favorite. He also loves the quote, "A New Yorker that doesn’t take the subway is a New Yorker you can't trust." He totally agrees with that. The jack-of-all-trades side of Mozzie is a little harder because he is a props-heavy character. Garson heads to the props department after getting a script to get a crash course in how things work. However, the toughest part is to learn "to release the knowledge of doing something." TV moves so fast that you can't keep up with all the new skills you learn for a part. Essentially, he has to "fake it and move on."

So what is up next for Mozzie? Garson laughs because fans assume that actors have something to do with the writing but they don't. In fact, they generally don’t know much more than the fans. He foresees Peter finding more ways to use Mozzie's special skill set and thinks that Mozzie will probably need Peter's help again like in By the Book. He finds Mozzie's burgeoning insight that the FBI can be of value appealing but maintains that Mozzie is still more interested in turning the FBI evil than the other way around. What he would like to see is Mozzie dating lots of hot, hot girls but he knows that will never happen. He would love to work with Diane Farr again or possibly have Judy Greer or Jennifer Grey as a love interest. (I second any of those.) Although the show hasn't revealed a secret talent for Mozzie, like Peter's horseback riding or Neal's singing, Garson assures us that Mozzie is an excellent dancer.

In Garson's long career, he has had many great roles. Mozzie is definitely up there, but every character has its benefits. Playing Henry in NYPD Blue was a special time in his life and he loved working time with friend Sarah Jessica Parker as Stanford on Sex and the City. Playing real people is "a gift to actors," so Lee Harvey Oswald was another favorite. Also guest starring on The X-Files and Stargate was very satisfying because sci fi fans are some of the most passionate fans of all. He is friends with David Duchovny, so he enjoyed being the only guest who was on The X-Files in 2 different episodes as 2 different people. He describes Stargate as "pure fun, a great time." Garson wishes he guest starred on Friday Night Lights but "that ship has sailed." He is still hoping for a role on Modern Family though and would love to see a White Collar/Burn Notice crossover. (As would I!) On other USA Network shows, his friend's pilot just got picked up and he would love to be a part of that or to work with Mary McCormick on In Plain Sight. He's a big fan of TV acting these days because of the stories and characters he can play. His dream role though is to remake the old English musical, The Entertainer, about a man whose whole life revolved around entertaining people.

Garson's personal life has been fulfilling. In 2009, he adopted a son, Nathan. He was very excited because Nathan's acting debut was in Forging Bonds last week. He was the kid at the park whom Mozzie sent to tail Neal back to his apartment. Garson suggested the role because he felt something was missing from the park scene and the powers that be agreed it was a good idea. He liked that Nathan could see what his dad did for a living and understand acting as a discipline. Nathan fit right in, joking about where he would live during Mozzie's "death" scene. Still, Nathan would rather be a cop or baseball player right now and that's fine with Garson.

Professionally, Garson has been developing TV shows with 2 partners and have sold a couple of reality programs. (Say it isn’t so.) He also wants to direct and is in talks "as we speak" to direct an episode of White Collar. He figures that is a good place to start since he is personally invested in the show. However, he's not looking to pursue 2 acting jobs at the same time though. Shooting White Collar during the day and the Sex and the City movie at night almost killed him. He also teaches an acting class. His advice to actors - "bring yourself to the role" instead of doing it like someone else would. He just read Michael Caine's biography and really admires how each of his characters had a life of its own. Currently, he sheepishly admitted that he is reading the bootlegged copy of O. J. Simpson's If I Did It. He got is for Christmas (yikes) but is not very impressed by the first 50 pages.

When asked why people should watch White Collar, Garson says that it has "fun, fun characters" which are the heart of the story combined with interesting capers that are more like a throwback to Columbo or Mission Impossible. Because many of the episodes are standalone, new viewers can jump in at any time without feeling overwhelmed. They can then easily catch up on the season-long story. He's especially impressed by the writing in White Collar. I completely agree. If you aren't watching White Collar on USA Network, Tuesdays at 10/9 central, give it a try. It is a lot of fun.

Garson ended by saying that many fans would either be surprised by how athletic he is (he's a boxer) or by the fact that he eats like a pig 24 hours a day. He thanked all the fans who keep White Collar in the news by blogging, Twittering, and talking about it constantly. He knows how valuable and important the fans are and wants everyone to know that he and the rest of the cast and crew of White Collar "appreciate it beyond words."

Screencaps by BuddyTV, TV, and
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