Another White Collar cast member sat down to answer questions about the show is Andrew McCarthy. He’s on the show playing Victor Adler and he had quite a bit to say about how he came to play the role, about what it’s like to work on on the show and what he likes to do when he’s not working.
Be sure to tune in to see all new episodes of White Collar when it airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on USA. Here’s how our conversation went:
Q: So how did you get involved with White Collar?
Andrew McCarthy: That was pretty easy. They just called up and asked if I would like to jump in and I thought the part was fun. I’d seen the show. I like the show. I thought it was good fun and elegantly shot. Yes, it was pretty simple. They just called and asked if I wanted to jump in and I thought it was nice, a nice part, so I did.
Q: Actually, [we know] it’s not the first USA show you’ve done, either. So what was the most challenging part of playing this character?
A. McCarthy: Yes, that I was the old mentor. I’m suddenly the old mentor and I’m like, huh, I used to play your part it seemed like five years ago and now I’m the old mentor. You know I hate to say this, but it fit me like a glove this sort of part. I eventually turned into being a bit of a bad guy as it were. But, you try and find some things that are charming and likable about these people. I didn’t find anything hard about them. I thought it was just good fun and well written.
Q: How much research did you do for this role? Knowing that you’re the guy behind the events of basically the whole series as we know it, how much did you have to prepare for this?
A. McCarthy: Yes, once you start knocking down the dominos, it’s like, okay, so I know this, but wait. I set into motion that and, oh, well, then I’m responsible for her, have that happening to her. So, and then, I know that and then I know that. So, yes, you’re right. It becomes sort of how long is a piece of string. I started because I’d seen the show a number of times, but I didn’t know everything about the show. And so I’m asking questions. I go, wait, wait, how do I know this and then that would lead to another question, and another and another.
So I got quite an education quite quickly as to how fraught my history was. And it was fun because it just added a lot to every sort of little innuendo that I said it all had a history and a meaning that made it fun and playful, so there’s a bit of a twinkle behind a lot of things, because there’s clues along the way. So that part, that was fun.
Q: What’s it like for you playing the villain, because aside from like that one movie you did with Becker Howard, you don’t really play the bad guy often.
A. McCarthy: I don’t know if there’s any difference between the bad guy, except the bad guy is more fun and gets better lines. And just finding something that’s—because no bad guy thinks they’re a bad guy. It’s all completely justified and makes absolute sense. And this is the only way that one could behave to serve one’s needs. So I think there’s great freedom in playing the bad guy. You don’t have the obligation to do all the morally right things. It’s easy and fun.
Q: So many guys like Adler have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Can you talk about who or what you used as reference to understand the character?
A. McCarthy: God! Yes, just the headlines of the Post are all you need, like you said. I just think greed is a pretty universal concept and people want power. Everybody wants power and wants to be in control. People feel justified in doing—you can justify things. All of us can. And people like this are funny because they know that sociopathic quality where the rules that apply to you don’t apply to me, and there’s great freedom in that. I know people like that in my life and we’ve all read about them time and again and it’s sort of, we’re shocked by it. But it’s not that far from who we are.
They’re just doing things that we don’t do because we have a bit of conscience, and it’s not that much. It’s one or two little decisions and then that leads to another few that’s little decisions and then that leads to another few more. And suddenly you’re way down the road. But I don’t ever think these people are that far from who we are.
I was walking down the street the other day and some guy was mumbling to himself and screaming in the middle of the street, walking down the street. And I’m like this guy is crazy. And then I realized I just been talking to myself walking down the street. It wasn’t that far from who I was, just a few bad choices and there you are. I think it’s similar, but especially in power, power gets to people and all that. It’s too much of an aphrodisiac.
Q: Given all the great roles you’ve had in film, how do you think the perception of television has changed in terms of better options for actors?
A. McCarthy: Well, from when I started acting 100 years ago in the early ‘80s, you only did the television show if your movie career was over. Now I’d say most of the best writing is on television. And movies are a different beast entirely, there’s the big blockbusters and then occasionally, there’s some little interesting movies that come along that somehow get made and 12 people are in them.
But I think now television, there are all sorts of amazing roles for people on television and like I said, the best writing, I think, is on television, and there’s tons of it. I mean I think it’s a real golden age for television for sure.
Q: Fans of the show have been dying to know about Neil’s mentor and everything knowing this. Was there any certain way that you approached the role of Victor Adler?
A. McCarthy: Yes, knowing they couldn’t be anything but disappointed when someone actually shows up. No, it’s one of the great, one of the best when you’re acting is to be in a part that’s been talked about for a long time or alluded to for a long time, because 90% of your work is already done and people projected all sorts of things onto you. And so when you show up, it’s like, ah, ha! It’s like that last piece of the puzzle. And so it’s always great to be in a role where people have—it’s great to show up late in the movie. It’s great to show up late in the game in a TV show because you’re the last piece of the puzzle and people want to see it and they want to know what it is. And it’s like you said, they’ve done a lot of the work already. And so you don’t have to do all the exposition and all the leg work. You come in and just put the cherry on top and it’s a great luxury.
Q: Can you speak about any other upcoming projects that you might have going on right now?
A. McCarthy: I just finished acting in a film called Forbidden Love, an independent movie that was fairly interesting. I just finished that last week. This Friday, I guess Friday, I start directing Gossip Girl, an episode of Gossip Girl. I do that fairly regularly. I have an episode of that that I directed on I think February 7th. I’ll direct another episode of this at the end of this week. That’s a show I like to do. It’s just fun. I like directing. I’m going to actually direct an episode of White Collar next season, so that will be nice. And I’m actually out here right now, I’m in Nevada. I’m in the Ruby Mountain in the Nevada. In my other life, I’m a travel writer, so I’m out here doing a travel story about heli-skiing out in the mountains, so that’s why I’m out here.
Q: hat do you like about playing the character of Victor? Is there anything you particularly like about playing him?
A. McCarthy: Yes, like I said before, you just get to do whatever you want. Your rules don’t apply to me. I don’t have to be polite to you. I have absolute power in this relationship. And if I choose to be nice to you, that’s fantastic. If I don’t, it’s no skin off my back. So there’s great freedom and playful—the more playfulness you can find with people that are sort of nasty, the more fun it is. So that you can kind of go, wait, is he charming or is he an asshole?
So it’s trying to walk that fine line, it’s like are those guys really charming and charismatic. I see how he’s gotten everyone to do exactly what he wants. But, oh, wait a minute, don’t trust him. It’s like a knife blade will come swiping onto you. So all of that is kind of good fun. I think it’s much sort of twinkle and enjoyment of—because I find people—a lot of these people who earn great power or wielding or manipulating are really enjoying it. They get really high on it. I mean, that’s how they get high.
Q: On the flip side, what do you dislike about playing him, if anything?
A. McCarthy: I just enjoy it.
Q: Is there a role that you regret doing or, and is there a role that you would not play in your career?
A. McCarthy: Yes, I’m sure there are tons of them. Yes, there are some bad movies I wished I didn’t do. I think there must have been roles I regret. You know, they did a Mannekin 2 and they asked me to do it and I didn’t do it and I think I probably should have done it because it was nice fun, that movie. It was a long time ago.
But I probably shouldn’t have done A Weekend at Bernie’s 2. The first one was very funny. The second one was whatever it was. I’m sure there are but I don’t really look back in that way or have much nostalgia either way for any aspect of my life, really. So I don’t have a good answer. I don’t have a juicy answer for that one.
Q: What are the main differences between doing a movie role and a TV role from your viewpoint?
A. McCarthy: TV is faster, period, and sometimes that’s a good thing. TV usually uses two cameras, so you will do, you can often do, which is from an acting point of view, great, because you can do the over the shoulder and the close-up at the same time. So you don’t go, ah, I was better when we were maybe over the shoulder and the close-up is not as good. So it’s faster from just with your time because in TV you have to shoot eight pages a day. On movies, you can shoot from anywhere from two to four or five, depending on the budget.
I have to say, personally, I like just run and go, let’s shoot. I enjoy the TV pace, like you’re always under the clock, but that’s not the actor’s problem. It’s a director’s problem. So there’s no real difference. The acting is the acting, and certain aspects of it, sometimes in TV, you have to shoot more standard obvious coverage.
Okay, now we have to do the master and over the shoulder. Now we have to get the close-up where in movies, you don’t have to do that sometimes. You can just leave it in one. Whereas in television, you’re very rarely allowed just do one wide take. You have to cut to the close-up in television. It’s just the way, the nature of the beast. So sometimes the imagination of shots that you’re allowed in film I miss sometimes.
But White Collar has a really interesting visual look. And that’s one of the few shows that go really, really wide. And they shoot New York sort of in all its glory and the camera is usually low and always moving. And so it has a real dynamic. And that’s one of the things I liked about the show that I wanted to be involved with because I thought it didn’t just punch to the close-up, you know.
Very rarely do they go to the close-up. In fact, when they do, it means something. It’s like a movie in that way. So they have a very spacious, sort of ethic look about it, which I think is really interesting and unique for television. I liked that, but the acting is the same, you’re acting.
Q: You’ve played so many incredible characters. Can you talk about a couple that have meant the most to you?
A. McCarthy: I was in a film that was directed by Claude Chabrol, he’s a Frenchman that I played Henry Miller in a film called Quiet Days in Clichy a long time ago that I liked quite a lot. I thought Heaven Help Us, that part I played and that was just a movie I did very early on in the mid ‘80s is my favorite movie I did of that period of time with all those, sort off, all those Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire, and all that, I thought that movie was actually the one that was the most interesting to me. Although I thought the part in St. Elmo’s Fire was a terrific part for me at that time. It was a perfect match of me and part.
I’ve done some parts in the theatre that I really enjoyed doing. Those probably stay with me longer because plays just live whereas movies are done. You do it and it’s done. They live with the viewer for a long time. People come up and quote movies to me. “Dude, that line changed my life!” And I’m like, yes, I don’t remember saying that.
So people quote movies to me all the time and not a day goes by when a truck at a red light doesn’t scream out a line from Weekend at Bernie’s to me. They go, “Hey, where’s Bernie?” .I loved doing Weekend at Bernie’s. I thought that that was quite fun and stupid and that kind of comedy I really enjoy doing. I was surprised no one asked me to do more of it afterwards, but maybe not if they saw it.
I liked a lot of the parts that I’ve played. It’s the next one is your favorite one. But that’s not always true. I thought this part was quite fun. It was just delicious and juicy and without any sort of responsibility, like I said before, setting the table. I didn’t have to set the table. I just came in and ate dessert, you know, so that was nice. I don’t know if that’s an answer at all.
Q: This is now a couple of shows you’ve done for USA. So is there something special about the USA shows or the network in general that appeal to you as an actor?
A. McCarthy: They’re just very wise and asked me to work for them. Yes, I think, actually, the USA shows are interesting. They have an interesting formula that they work with. I don’t know how to answer that, except that they’re just appealing to me in a certain way. They’re playful. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They usually have a very interesting visual style, which I’m attracted to. I think the tone of them is just of interest to me. I like the tone that they have.
When you work with anyone, you just build a relationship with people and they go, hey, let’s—you’re on somebody’s mind, you’re on somebody’s mind. And they go, hey, let’s do that. Oh, yea, okay, they were nice to work with. Yes, let’s work with them again. And, oh, he was fine. Let’s get him back, , that kind of thing.
I think that accounts for more of people’s jobs than people actually realize. You know, it’s a bit out of sight, out of mind or, yea, he was fine and they were great and let’s—that worked out fine. Let’s do it again. I think Hollywood works that way hugely and there isn’t as great a plan at work with many people would think. People would just go, yes, that works. Let’s do it again.
Q: You mentioned your travel writing. Do you have a favorite place in the world that you’ve visited?
A. McCarthy: Wow, I get to go to some pretty cool places. I think I’m doing heli-skiing right now and these mountains are just unbelievable. I’ve just had one the most fun and exciting days. I’m sure I had a much more fun and exciting day than any of you guys did unfortunately. I was just in the mountains skiing all day in this helicopter getting dropped at the top of a mountain and skiing down. It’s fantastic.
But you know, I love living in New York. I love New York. I’ll always go to Hawaii any day of the week for any reason. Usually the next place I’m going is my favorite. I’m going down to Patagonia for a story for a magazine in a couple of weeks. I’ve always wanted to go to Patagonia. I think that will be very interesting. I’m going up to Vienna for another story. That will be interesting. I’m game to go anywhere. I find the planet a pretty interesting place. So I like going. I like finding and that what it is about each place that’s unique. I don’t have particularly one favorite spot. Although I’d have to say I guess at the end of the day, I’m an American. I like coming back here. I’ve lived in some other places and stuff, but then I come back here. I have a home in Dublin. I go there quite a lot. I love Ireland. I think Ireland is a very interesting place.
Q: You spend a lot of time behind the camera now. Do you find that your directing experience has added another dimension to your performance in front of the camera now?
A. McCarthy: I’m a much easier actor to work with now. It’s absolutely true. If a director wants me to go stand in the corner and stand on my head and face the other way, I’ll be, yes, that’s fine. I can do that. I understand particularly in television, where television is like, wham, we got to do this now. I understand you want to stand by the window, but I really need you to stand over here because of time. And so, yes, frankly, I’m justa much more pliable actor, and I understand.
I got interested in directing because I like the whole aspect of it and I like this, the whole story. I’ve gotten a little tired of just worrying what my hair looked it. I like the whole picture and I enjoy that aspect of it and I enjoy the camera and the different shots and the angles and that kind of thing.
I mean, I love acting when I’m doing a good part. But I love doing, thinking about the next thing, what we’re doing next, what we’re doing next. And, okay, you’re doing that, so we’re going to go over here and we’re going to shoot over here and then we’re going to do that. So I find that aspect of it very engaging and I really enjoy it. Sometimes it’s great to just act where you just like, okay, that was easy.
Although acting is a very funny little thing because it’s just an artificial thing, making a movie. There’s a long time for all these people milling around and doing everything. And then everything stops. It’s all about that one tiny little thing that happened in front of the camera for 14 seconds right now. And so trying to get very precise with it and trying to actually achieve what you want to achieve in that little instant is, when you actually do it, instead of just being fine, it’s quite satisfying. Most of the time, we’re fine and you go through it. No, yes, that was good. It’s very workman like and it was fine.
But I find the directing is expansive in a way. Whereas the acting is more precision and it’s the exact opposite sort of use of energy. So if that makes any sense, so I enjoy them both. One sort of influences the other.
I certainly am a better director because I’ve been an actor because I certainly understand every actor’s dilemma and resistance because I have them all. And different difficulties actors have and why they don’t want to do things and that actors usually don’t know why they don’t want to do something. But I kind of always go, well, why wouldn’t I want to do that. Oh, that’s why, okay. You know what? You’re right. Why don’t we go over here and do this?
It’s often they don’t know their lines. That’s usually the primary reason why they’ll get resistance from an actor just because they don’t know their lines. And they don’t want to cop to that to themselves or anyone else. So when you acknowledge that, you go, you know what? I’m just going to do the first two lines from this angle. It’s like, oh, great, do you want me over here? Fine, no problem.
That’s a very obvious sort of thing, but there are other resistances and sort of difficulties that actors have that I just have them all. I’m such a defensive, resistant actor at times, that I know. I always just go why would I behave like that? Oh, I know what to do for that. What would I want someone to do? So I’m certainly a better director because I’ve been an actor. And like I said, I’m a more pliable actor because I’ve had to deal with actors from a director’s side.
Q: Do you have a really memorable moment from appearing as an actor on the show so far.?
A. McCarthy: This is the thing you need to do when you act on these shows. You have to remember this instant and go, okay, this is my anecdote when they ask me, and I don’t. Well, I can try and think of one, but I don’t. You know like I was just sort of talking about, there’s a scene with Matt where he comes in and sits down with me at a table. There’s nothing interesting or about it, except that it we settled into sync and sort of captured it nicely, as opposed to just—so there’s no clever anecdote about it. It was just one moment where we kind of had one take, that it was just like, ah. And we both looked at each other after and we went, yes, yes.
So it was just a nice moment, because when you act, if you do a movie and say you have maybe two good days. You have two really bad days. And you have about 20 days that are just going to work and you just sort of do it. And so when you actually have those instants where it’s—and that’s fine. It’s like playing—movie making and TV making is like making the donuts. You know, and it’s a great donut factory job. It’s a great job, but you’re making the donuts.
And so when you actually have those instants where there’s no reason why it happens you can point to and go, why did that just happen? You know, but you are starting to recognize and appreciate it when it does. And usually, it’s no good for camera and they have to do it again, so you’re like, ah, all right and then you don’t have it. The moment is over and you’ve lost it. But that’s movie making.
Q: You also mentioned how special the USA network is with a lot of the wonderful shows. And you’ve appeared on Royal Pains, as well as now White Collar. Are there any other USA shows that you’re wanting to be a part of? Of course, I know Psych has a love of all things ‘80s and pop culture.
A. McCarthy: Covert Affairs. A friend of mine, Kari Matchett is on that and I like that show. I think it’s quite nice.
Q: With all the activities and cool things that you’ve been doing, you seem to be completely enjoying your life. If someone offered you a series regular role, would you take it?
A. McCarthy: Yes, I do get to do at the moment in the last several days, I built my life to do as I have other interests that I really enjoy the directing and I enjoy very much the travel writing and. So I like having different outlets for my advice, but, yeah, I guess the simple answer would be yes, absolutely. If I found the right thing and there’s good people involved and preferably in New York because I live in New York and my kids are in school and all that stuff, but yea, sure. Because I think nowadays you can really create something over a period of time in television that I would find interesting.
I was on Lipstick Jungle for a couple of years while that was on, and I really enjoyed doing that. I just enjoyed the character. I always thought you’d get sort of bored with a character, but I found that very, I liked that character a lot. And if you have the right part and with the right people, I think it could be a really nice way to spend several years, yes, for sure.
Q: Just in general, what’s your advice to actors?
A. McCarthy: I don’t know. I’m not the one to give advice. I wouldn’t give advice to people. If people act because they have to act, you know, and I acted when I was a kid because it was what I found that made me feel most like the way I wanted to feel. So it was a way out or a way in for me and so, it saved my life in certain ways and changed my life, certainly, and gave a form and structure to my life.
Acting is a funny racket and it’s been very good for me in certain ways and then heartbreaking in other ways. And it’s a long road to sort of trudge in any, any when you’re at it for a while. But I don’t really have advice. I mean, if you have to act, then you act. If you don’t, you can do something else you can do that you really enjoy doing, go for it.
Q: How has your extensive travel and experiences with other cultures influenced you as an actor?
A. McCarthy: Well, now you get me on my soapbox. I mean, I can give you a short answer. But what I’ve learned as an actor, as a human being, Mark Twain had that great line, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, period.” And that’s it. Americans, what, is it 28% of Americans have passports and half of those have used them. I mean, it’s appalling. America and consequently the world would be a hugely different place if Americans travel. America is such an amazing country, so we don’t need to go. Here I am whisking down these mountains here, so I don’t need to go to Switzerland to do it. But Americans are so fearful of the world, so consequently when people are fearful, they judge it and judge it negatively and push it away. And so I think that’s a shame and that’s a blanket statement and gross generalization, but I think it’s pretty darn accurate, frankly. And so for me for how has it affected my acting, it’s just made me a better person and more open person to some degree. So that can’t help but affect my acting, I would hope. And all our experiences by osmosis influence who we become and who we are.
I can’t point to certain ways, oh, I saw this girl and I was Laos and reminded me of that, you know. I don’t have—although there are certain things. Like I saw some sculpture by Rodin when I was in Paris at the museum. I imitated the, that shape as sort of a psychological gesture for some movie I was doing once and I thought it was wonderfully effective. So, I can’t point to a literal way how it’s affected my acting aspect of my life in a positive way. It’s given me some joy and so when I find joy in acting, I’m a better actor.
You know when people act and they’re miserable, you can tell. Dude, just stop if you’re so miserable.
Q: What was it like working with the cast [of White Collar]. We talked with Willie Garson earlier and he said that he didn’t have any scenes with you, but it was fun to have you on set. What was it like working with this cast?
A. McCarthy: It’s always best to not have scenes with me, and then you can—that was great. Yes, that’s right. No, the cast is great you know, because I have been working in television on, you know, girl’s shows, frankly. I’ve been working on Lipstick Jungle and then I’ve been directing a lot of Gossip Girls, so they’re all sort of female focused and female driven largely.
And so the pace of the show is different and it’s about slightly different things. These guys are like, okay, let’s shoot. The ladies are like, wait, wait a minute. Now can we get make-up in. It’s a different energy and a different vibe.
And so the guys are just, they’re great. They’re relaxed. They’re happy to be there. They love doing the show. They know the show is good. They know they’re good on the show. So it’s nice when people are in the moment of success and enjoying success and not being miserable over it, because you see it all the time. These people that are so lucky to be doing what they’re doing and they just for some reason adopt this posture of misery about it.
And you say, why are you doing that and that’s not the case on this show. The guys, like I said, the guys-everybody on that show when I’m there has been very happy to be there. They do the work and sometimes the days are long, whatever. That’s the work. That’s what you do.
But, no, it’s a joy to be around. There’s just this easy, straight ahead. There wasn’t a lot of neurotic complications on the set, which is always nice. It’s not always the case. So it was quite refreshing and nice and I think it shows on the show. The show has a sort of real twinkle about it and I think that’s one of the things that’s most attractive about the show and the people, even if they can’t point to it in the show why they like it, I think that’s one of the reasons. It has a little sense of delight and mischief about it that’s nice.
Q: Is there someone specific you’d like to work with?
A. McCarthy: Yes, I always liked watching Al Pacino. I always thought Al Pacino was great.
Q: What’s something fans would be surprised to know about you?
A. McCarthy: People seem always surprised that I do all this travel writing stuff and I’m like, oh, yea, I do that.
Q: How did you get started with your travel writing?
A. McCarthy: I used to travel a lot a great deal before I had kids and I found travel changed my life. And so I met the editor of a magazine, National Geographic Traveler, at a party. I said you ought to let me write for your magazine. Most travel articles kind of suck and he said, “Can you write?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know, you’ll tell me, but I can tell a story. That’s what I do for a living.” And he gave me an assignment for an article and then I did that and it just went well and then it just sort of expanded and grew out of that. So that’s how it’s started.
It was a passion of mine, it was something that I wanted to do. I enjoy good travel literature. I think it’s a maligned form. I think of Paul Theroux and Joe Aaron, these kind of people who are interesting writers and really write about some interesting things in their travel.
So I was interested in it and I find it taps into sort of the same kind of creativity that when I’m acting well in an interesting project, it’s the same thing to me. It’s like I don’t see any difference between the two, frankly. I’ve been traveling throughout my whole adult life. You know and walking into situations without knowing anything and then beginning overall the time. So it’s a similar dynamic and I certainly find it’s fuels my acting in a certain way.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not acting or writing besides traveling?
A. McCarthy: I hang out with my kids really. The kids have taken up ice skating this year, so I’m dragged around to ice skating now. I mean if I’m not working, that’s what I do, which I find gives me great satisfaction, particularly if I know if I have a job coming up. But unlimited space with the family because the horizon can be daunting. But, yes, I hang out with my family when I’m not doing stuff.
Q: Have you ever considered doing travel film?
A. McCarthy: Well, I think, yes is the short answer to that. And I’ve been talking to some people about doing a travel show and when they get that off the ground. Find the interesting angle on these things because you don’t want to just do a travel log where you just go and you go here and you eat here and this is a cool place. You have to find something that’s actually quite interesting about it and interesting that you can tell about it and sort of tell a story. So, it’s of interest. I think there’s a big world out there, so I think it’s something that I’m working on at the moment.
[Photo: © 2011 NBC Universal, Inc.]