I was very happy to get to take part in a conference call interview with Willie Garson, one of the stars of the new drama White Collar. You may also remember him as Stanford from Sex in the City.
He is a very warm, friendly man with a fun and lively conversational style. I’m sure it comes through in the conversation:
Q: What was it about this particular show or about the script that drew you back to TV?
W. Garson: Well, I found the script to be very interesting and very timely. Certainly, we all have been reading about a lot of people figuring out ways to scam and get money for doing nothing, other than figuring out a way to get over on hard working people. So I thought that was a really interesting time for a show like this.
Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
W. Garson: That’s an interesting question. The most challenging aspect was for me, my characters have always been very showy. This character kind of operates under the radar and that was an interesting difference in many of the characters I’ve played, certainly from Stanford and certainly from NYPD Blue, certainly a little more behind the scenes kind of guy.
Q: I love the show and I like your character. He’s very interesting and even though you call him under the radar, he kind of has a real dynamic, interesting attitude. How much of that character was your invention?
W. Garson: Well, certainly, the reality is when you buy me, you get what you get, so that’s kind of what they’re trapped with is that I’m a little bit of a hambone. But I find that he’s really only quirky and interesting more so when he’s alone with Neal Caffrey played by Matt Bomer. They have a very strong and deep partnership. So I like to say that he’s more the people person and I’m more the quiet, I should be able to fade into the background if there’s anyone else around. That was interesting for me to try to play.
Q: How would you like to see Mozzie develop as a character on the series?
W. Garson: Well, I think what’s happening now is as the scripts are developing, what’s great is that I’m getting the opportunity to fade into any situation. So whether that means hiding behind the caper or pretending to be someone else kind of a lawyer, a cop, a driver or something that someone would just walk by and then the camera knows that I’m actually deeply involved. But the person that we’re dealing with has no idea that I would be an operative in the caper.
Q: Will we be finding out more of the character’s back story and how you originally came to be friends with Neal?
W. Garson: Oh, God, I hope so. I think we’re slowly coming to terms with how we hooked up and all the absolute crimes we have committed in the past that have brought us to this point.
Q: In Sex in the City, New York City itself was as any other character on the show. So do you expect that the White Collar script will treat the city in the same sort of Manhattan centric kind of way?
W. Garson: Well, I do feel already right out of the gate, that’s what I’m hearing from people, certainly, is that we are shooting the city. Which is, I find a lot of shows shoot in New York and they might as well be shooting on a sound stage. Our show if I’m talking in a scene, we really make a strong effort to have basically like the Empire State Building sticking out of my head. There’s such an energy and there’s much architecture and people and vibe on the street, that we try to grab all of that as much as we possibly can. It does provide an energy and just kind of a sea of humanity that really helps us in terms of telling the stories. We so far already just so early on, we’ve shot right at the Central Park fountain. We shot in Grand Central Station, like crazy massive backdrops that really inform how big it is behind all of us.
Q: Speaking of New York, you’ve recently relocated to the city to shoot both White Collar and your new movie, Sex in the City, to which I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I’m really excited about that. So tell me, are you excited about your cross country move and what do you like about living in New York City or dislike about living in New York City?
W. Garson: Well, I will burst that bubble and tell you that it’s actually was erroneously reported. I don’t live here. I am from here and I just commute back and forth. So for some reason, I live in Los Angeles and have lived there for quite a while. However, for some reason, nothing I shoot ever shoots there. So people just assume that I live in New York and that I’ve moved back to New York. I actually live in seat 2A in the airplane that I travel on.
So it’s a wonderful place. I think it’s a hard city to live in and it’s hard city to raise a child in, so I have decided to stay in Los Angeles, but that’s also a lie, because I’m here every five minutes, so I love it here. I love it here. I love the energy and the food and the culture and so I’ll always be a New Yorker, but for right now, I actually still live in Los Angeles.
Q: Being on a TV show, any TV show, you’re often closely associated with your character. Is that a blessing or a curse from your experience with Sex in the City and then also with your new role?
W. Garson: It’s mostly a blessing. I kind of try and dive in head first. What’s great about television is it gives you over the course of seasons, it gives you such an opportunity to explore everything about a person from top to bottom, which you don’t often get in movies because you only have two hours to tell a story. In this case, certainly in this first season, we have 15 hours to tell a story. So each episode, you try and add one more facet of the person. This character definitely shares a lot of my fear of big business and big government and my kind of cynical outlook. In Sex in the City, I definitely share the kind of snarky wit and style of Stanford. Each of them you find things inside of yourself that hopefully have something to do to form the character that has been created for you. In this case, the wonderful Jeff Easton created this guy and it’s our job to service it and bring what we can to it, so that’s what I’m trying to do here with this guy.
Q: Is there anything you can tell any of us about the Sex in the City movie, what Stanford is up to in the movie?
W. Garson: Stanford is still a male. That’s all I can tell you.
Q: What are the differences and the similarities between you and your character?
W. Garson: Certainly, as I said, the cynicism and figuring out how people try to get away with things. Also, what we’re going to find out is the thrill of just being involved in something bigger than themselves. We have an episode where we talk about why we do what we do and we talk about it, that it doesn’t matter if we’re committing some crime for personal gain or if we’re helping solve a crime. It’s the excitement of living the adventure; it is the enticement. So I definitely feel that myself, the adventure of living is something that I have certainly chosen. So that’s exciting to me.
The differences I think that myself, Willie Garson, is much more conservative in terms of where am I living, where’s my next meal coming from, all of those kinds of things. I’m more of a businessman than Mozzie probably is. So I get a chance with Mozzie to—Mozzie just goes with God and Willie doesn’t.
Q: Does Mozzie know more about Kate than he’s telling Neal?
W. Garson: Stay tuned, I have no idea. That’s up to our lovely writers’ room.
Q: How did you actually first hear about and became involved with White Collar?
W. Garson: It’s actually kind of an interesting story. Fox International Television Productions was making an off-market TV show for the international market called Mental, which was shooting in Bogota, Columbia. They asked me to go down and do an episode and I went and did one because I’d never been to Bogota, Colombia.
When I got back, I got a call from them and they said you were wonderful. You saved the show. It’s amazing, amazing. Would you like a series? I said yes, I was actually looking for one. I like the stability and the new scripts every week. I love that, so I said sure and they sent over the script and it was fantastic.
As you all write about television, you’re aware those good scripts are few and far between right now. It was just a wonderful, fresh and energetic setting for a show that Jeff Easton created. Fox had teamed up already with USA on Burn Notice and done very well. And this was their next partnership with them and instead of just doing like a spin-off of Burn Notice or Burn Notice II, they came up with a fresh, unique twist and so I love the script. It always ends up being the script, always, so that attracted me immediately.
Q: What do you think you would tell someone who is thinking about watching White Collar, but hasn’t actually tuned in yet, what would you tell them the show is all about and what would draw them in?
W. Garson: I think it’s interesting take on what people will do to try and scam people, so people can know that there are smart people looking out for all of us and trying to bring these people down. I said this before. It’s amazing to me. I worked as a dishwasher for $4 an hour and I know in these times, there are people who have worked really hard and watched their whole life’s savings go away. I think it’s a great twist on seeing how there are people out there with good intentions trying to make sure that everyone kind of takes care of each other and does the right thing.
I think that’s a really good message for right now. And the show is really energetic and fun and fast paced. It’s really unfortunate how horrifying the people are on the show to look at. Tiffani Theissen is just so hideous and Matt Bomer is so unfortunately unattractive, so I think people once they tune in, they’re hooked once you give it a shot.
Q: When you were on Sex in the City, you worked with mostly a female cast and now you’ve gone to working with a big male cast. I wanted to know what the differences were and which do you prefer.
W. Garson: That’s a funky question. You know, it’s a different energy, but actors are strange animals. We all try and take care of each other the same way. I think it’s no secret that women in the entertainment business certainly who have pursued for years a career in acting and theatre are no shrinking violets. So they’re not like the obvious stereotype of a quiet girl, so there’s really not that much difference. Also the men working in theatre are not kind of macho, macho guys. We have to be really in touch with our emotions and very sensitive, sometimes almost in a softer way we have to be able to tap into our emotions as well, so the same for men. So I find actors to be wonderful, interesting, worldly people, whether they’re male or female. So it really doesn’t make that much of a difference to me.
Q: When I spoke with you in New York, you mentioned that you were in the process of finalizing your adoption. As soon as that was finalized, you’d be able to show us your lovely son. Have you been able to finalize that yet?
W. Garson: Not yet, but we’re inching closer, hopefully by the end of the year, so a bunch of things happened last week. And we’re getting closer and closer and then it will be done. I will be done with the adoption process, which I highly recommend to everyone who’s thinking about it. I say just jump right in and do it. There’s a lot of kids who need a home.
Q: You’ve been in show business for a long time. So what is your perspective of how or what advice you would give to young people that want to start out in show business, how to go about it.
W. Garson: I would say think of anything else that you could do for a living. And then if you have truly exhausted every possibility, then try it. It’s a very hard thing right now for people. We’re not living in a climate that really supports it. Although, I personally feel now in difficult times, I feel like we need it more than ever before. I approach the business side of it much like a businessman. Be better prepared. Be better at what you do and work really, really hard and just worry about the work, rather than in our current culture of easy reality fame and all of that. I think if you concentrate on your work, eventually someone is going to notice.
Q: What is it that you enjoy most about being an actor?
W. Garson: What I really enjoy about being an actor is certainly the freedom. I like having a Tuesday off. I like that there’s a new script all the time, so it’s not like, oh, I’m selling another house today or whatever. It’s always different. Every script, every page, every scene has new challenges. The joy of getting to try out different things, try to be different people, try to make writers’ words work. Figuring out, it’s a very cerebral, mental process and I love the activity of it. It’s a wonderful blessing that I get to do this.
Q: Your character, like you said, is very below the radar and very mysterious, actually. I was wondering how much of the season’s storylines were you privy to before you could create your character. Do you know any secrets that we don’t know that helped you make him what he is?
W. Garson: Not yet. I know things will come out in episodes that we shot that haven’t aired yet, but we get the scripts as they roll out. We don’t even have next week’s script yet. So it’s always an interesting surprise to open it up and see where we’re going. As far as the way TV works unless it’s from my understanding, like a show like Lost or something, that they had it all mapped out when they started the show. I think most shows, the writers are following what happens in their minds as they’re writing and seeing where do we go next. I think that’s what’s happening with our show for sure.
Q: In the first episode, you actually tried to meet up with Neal and be very sneaky about it, the whole cigarette scene. The FBI immediately outed you as his contact. I’m curious to know if Neal’s big skill is being sneaky and not being caught, what do you think yours is if you were outed basically immediately?
W. Garson: I think mine is how hidden he is. Let them think that I’m no big deal and don’t worry about me. I’m just an idiot. I think that’s the way we’re playing it with my relationship with the FBI. It’s like, don’t worry about him. He’s just some freak. I think as time goes on, we’ll see how my partnership with the FBI develops and how much they’re allowed to deal with me, certainly legally, how they are allowed to work with this kind of questionably legal operative.
Q: As we know, Mozzie is a career criminal and I would just like to know what is the worst crime that you’ve ever committed?
W. Garson: Oh, wow! Well, okay, I stole $50 million, no—let’s see, the worst crime I’ve ever committed. I used to definitely borrow things, like I would say, cash from bars where I worked as a bartender. I don’t think that’s any secret. Bartenders give away drinks, etc., to get some extra tips. Certainly, at a bar I worked at in London, they were on to every bartender trick. So they would measure the bottles every night and I certainly have put water into a liquor bottle to top it off to the level that would make sense with what was keyed into the register at the end of the night. It’s a pretty good scam.
Q: That’s certainly not the worst thing that you could have done.
W. Garson: I can’t think of anything more horrible. I grew up well taken care of with a strong work ethic. I’m not really a criminal guy myself.
Remember to tune in to new episodes of USA Network’s White Collar airing Fridays at 10:00/9:00 central.
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