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White Collar

The USA network has built a surprisingly successful stable of shows led by Burn Notice, a series that’s still the top rated basic cable TV show. Close behind is the hit series White Collar. In that series an FBI agent and a con artist work with a bevy of unsavory types to solve cases and continue their own long running story arcs most notably the mystery of a music box. One of those gray area characters that are a series favorite is Mozzie played by Willie Garson. Garson has played a bevy of unique characters from his near iconic role on Sex in the City to smaller yet scene stealing roles in the X-Files, Stargate SG-1, and There’s Something About Mary. Garson sat down to chat about the upcoming season of White Collar and what we can expect from his character.

The last season of White Collar ended with Mozzie being shot. It turns out that Garson had no fear of his gig on the show coming to an end: “Oddly enough I was not in fear for my job.  I thought it was going to be very exciting.  I knew it was going to be really exciting for the fans and that’s, again, I said this before, that is who we make it for.  I knew it was going to be a big deal.  Luckily, Mozzie has become a very beloved popular character and I knew that was going to really freak our audience out, which is great and it really did.  I mean certain things that I don’t understand like trending, Twitter and things happen so fast after the New York airing of that episode that it was very satisfying to us.  It was like, “This is great that people enough about these characters.”  So it was great.  Anything that can throw them for a loop, obviously, if something—in certain shows you see like the lead character’s really in danger, but you know the lead character is not going away.  I think there is always the possibility that a supporting character, like Mozzie, could go away to the audience and we have a lot of fun with it.” Willie also shares his experience with keeping his status on the show after his character’s shooting a secret: “Well this one was really hard.  Also, we got a little ridiculous because obviously they were thousands of pictures on the Internet of me shooting scenes after it had been shot.  So it got a little silly after a while.  Also, the reality is that there’s not many of us on the show so it probably was not going to happen that they were going to get rid of the character of Mozzie. So, in general, when I’m shooting I’m kind of used to it from other jobs.  Obviously, Sex and The City had very strong gag orders as to what we could say and not say.  So I’m used to that.  You play a little kind of cheeky game with the audience about what they know.  It’s very hard now with the Internet.  I mean everyone knows everything all the time.  So it’s very hard to get away with.  So if people were really paying attention they would have known that obviously I survived. “

While Garson had no fear of his character actually dying shooting the near death scenes were interesting to him: “It was very interesting.  I have died a couple of times before on film but this one’s really interesting.  I love the way—Kevin Bray was the director of the shooting and I love the way he shot that … what looked like my death was shot so beautifully.  Then coming back was interesting mostly because those days my son was there on set.  So it was very interesting.  He kept on asking me who he’s going to live with now that I’m dead, which I … was fantastic.  So, it was good fun and I love those days too because you get to be lying down a lot.  So I’m all for being shot all the time.”

It turns out that the upcoming episode of White Collar is a flashback episode that will offer more information about Mozzie’s history and how he met Neal (the con artist in the series if you didn’t know). “In the upcoming episode, we do find out how we all actually meet each other.  Most exciting to me, an earlier partner of mine, we will find, is actually my real life son, Nathan.” Garson explains “What’s great about the writing on the show, so far, is that they just give out little tidbits, slowly but surely.  We found out last season just in the line that Mozzie was a foster child.  So slowly, things will come up as we go along, as usual. “Garson goes on to share his thoughts on Mozzie and Neal’s relationship and what we can expect to see in the upcoming episode: “We’ll see in this upcoming episode how we meet and what bonds us, what brings us together.  Then we can just assume as our closeness and certainly through the shooting and everything that we really, really need each other.  So I think, as far as we evolve, we’ve been doing crimes together for as long as we’ve been doing them.  We just now are doing them for the good guys.  It’s not really that different.  So I think we’re just lifelong partners, crime partners from the day we met, and we’ll see how that develops at the beginning in this upcoming episode.” It’s also now apparent how far back Mozzie and Neal’s relationship goes. Garson had felt like the relationship went back much further: I actually did, but then—when I—if I thought it out, logically, I just think everything’s farther because of my advanced age.  I’m in my mid-70s now, so I … assume that I would have known Matt for a long time, but the reality is that Matt is a young man.  So, eight years is about right.  That puts Matt at about 24 or so, which is when he wanted to step up ….“

Garson also explains why he’s enjoying this particular character over others that he has played: “I said this before, and it’s become more true, what’s great about me playing Mozzie, for me, is that it’s the closest to myself that I’ve ever played.  His world views and his wry sense of humor are very in tuned with my own.  So that’s been really just a treat to play.  And the collaborative effort of the show where they let us bring a lot of ourselves to our characters makes it really fun and very personal to us when we’re playing it.  So it has a little more depth for us when we’re playing it.  It’s not just this other guy.  It actually comes from inside our hearts and that’s what I’m finding is great to play Mozzie.”

Garson also confirms that there will be more Mozzie centric episodes of the show: “Mozzie has turned out to be a very popular character with the audience and also with the world of the show.  There’s something about Mozzie that Peter responds to as well.  So, I think Peter’s going to find ways to use Mozzie more and certainly the show writers are going to find ways to center things around Mozzie and possibly where Mozzie will need some help again.  I think those ideas work really well in the world of the show and we’re certainly very aware of it,”

Mozzie is a Jack of All trades type of character. If there’s a caper coming up he probably has some sort of talent or bit of knowledge that will make the plan possible. Some actors are very method in that they must literally learn the trade that they will be portraying on screen. It turns out that White Collar’s production schedule doesn’t leave time for Willie to get that deep into this aspect of his character. “What I do is I look at it and then I immediately walk over to the properties department and have a conversation about how is this going to work.  Garson explains. The problem with the things that Mozzie does is that a lot of them are very prop heavy and so it’s like, “Really?  How did this work?  How am I going to do this?”  They just kind of show me.  The thing about television is that it moves so fast that the more important thing about learning how to do something is actually learning how to release the knowledge of doing it because you’re right on to the next scene right away.  So, while we have specialists who come in and, obviously, this is there specialty and they want to work really hard and you have to be a master of this.  It’s like, ” Just tell me what I need to know to do the shot because I have another six to eight scene right after this and it has nothing to do with this.”  So, for me it’s about I want to fake it.  I want to do a really good job, make it completely believable and then move on.  So, they just keep doing throwing them at us and hopefully it can fall off of me, quicker than it would be learning everything about it.”

In comedy series the actors often get the opportunity to adlib or tweak their performance in some way to personalize their character. I asked Willie if he is able to make the same sort of impression on Mozzie:  “Without getting in too much trouble, I would say every third or fourth line comes directly from my demented head.”

White Collar Willie Garson

We’re all obviously sci-fi fans here at CineGeek so it was great to hear Garson discuss some of his favorite sci-fi roles: “Those shows are great.  I love science fiction because of the fans.  The fans are passionate and anytime fans are passionate, it makes our job much more delightful to do, which is the situation we have with White CollarThe X-Files was an absolute delight.  I was friends with David.  We worked together before and then I’m actually, for real fans, I’m actually the only person who guest starred on two episodes of X-Files as different characters, which was a big deal to the fans.”

“Then Stargate was just pure fun.  I love Richard Dean Anderson a lot and we had a great time.  Then they kept bringing me back every five years to bring the character back.  And I thought that was great.  Those episodes end up being fan favorites, which is very satisfying to me.”

Garson is one of those great character actors who just sort of pops in a wide variety of shows. He considers what shows he’d like to guest star on that’s currently on television:  “Well it’s ending now but I love Friday Night Lights, but I think that ship has sailed for me.  I would love to do Modern Family.  I have a lot of friends on the show.  And I’d love to do so many other USA shows.  My dear friends show just got picked up yesterday by USA called Necessary Roughness.  I’d love to see some kind cross over with Burn Notice.  We’re very close to the guys on Psych.  I’m very friendly with … McCormick ….  So, I’d love to do some cross over if we can find any way to do that.  And I’d certainly love to go out to the Hamptons with Mark.  So, who knows?  I’m a big fan of television.  So, I like stories.  I love characters.  And we’re in a good place now.  There’s a lot of good shows coming up.”

Many actors have desire to move from one side of the camera to the other and it turns out that Garson not only has that desire he is already working behind the scenes: “I actually developed shows with my—I have two partners and we developed and sell—we’ve sold a couple of reality shows and we have some scripted stuff that we’re working on.  And I also am starting to explore directing, maybe in the future in the world of White Collar.  So that is something that is talked about all the time and because I have a personal investment in White Collar I think it would be a good place for me to get my feet wet directing.  So it’s something we’re talking about right now.  As we speak it is being discussed.”

We’ll close with Willie’s thoughts on what should draw new viewers to the show “I would say that they’re really, really stupid for missing it.  No, to draw them in, I’d say, “It’s fun, fun characters, real characters, solving really interesting capers that are not keen on television anymore.”  We’ve all talked about this, the entire cast, it was about episode 5 or 6 of season 1 when we realized that we could be solving a caper of the missing tape dispenser and it would be interesting because they’ve written these characters so strong.  I think anyone could jump in.  Obviously, it’s a new caper pretty much every week.  So while there is an on-going story line we don’t’ hit the audience over the head with it.  Each episode has a standalone really, really great, deep caper, a la Colombo, or Mission Impossible and then you could easily catch up with the rest of the on-going story line.  And I just think the writing is fantastic especially considering what else is on TV right now.”

Check out White Collar on Tuesday nights at 8:00 Central