Together, veteran actors Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer make up the best partnership on television today, and possibly one of the best ever. (Okay, and they're good-looking too.) As FBI agent Peter Burke and "consultant" Neal Caffrey, DeKay and Bomer are the core of USA's hit series White Collar. With the show getting ready to return for the back half of season two, its two stars sat down with me on Thursday to talk about what's coming next and what they've learned during the ride so far.
Your chemistry is really what makes or breaks the show. So what's the secret to your success?
Tim DeKay: We went to therapy once a week.
Matt Bomer: Couples therapy. It’s worth it.
Tim DeKay: It is.
Matt Bomer: We meet our deductible pretty quick and from there on out it’s just a co-pay and it’s worth it.
Tim DeKay: Because we’re both in the union so that helps.
Matt Bomer: That helps. That’s good. I think Tim is inherently a generous person and very generous of spirit and, he brings a real sense of play to the work. I try to do the same. I know he lifts me up on my off days and—
Tim DeKay: Oh, and you lift me up on my off days. We have a blast. We have fun together, but in the end, we respect each other. I mean as far as the work is concerned. It’s just like any other relationship, if you don’t have that then there is no ground to it.
Matt Bomer: As much as the trust dynamic is liquid between Peter and Neal, I think Tim and I pretty much [trust] each other.
Tim DeKay: Therein lies a big difference.
The second episode back ("Forging Bonds") is the backstory episode we've been hearing about for awhile. Was there anything in your character's histories that surprised you, or didn't match up with what you'd created for yourselves?
Tim DeKay: For me, there wasn't anything that didn't match up.
Matt Bomer: I think for me, the way I met Mozzie and the way we came to become friends was pleasantly surprising. I thought for some reason that maybe we’d gone back a little bit farther than that, but it was fun. Getting to see Willie in several different toupees and facial hair arrangements was one of many highlights of that episode.
Tim DeKay: He said he brought them out from his closet and let production use his old toupees.
Matt Bomer: It was so interesting and amazing that Jeff was able to squeeze so much into one hour of TV. I think he was smart, in that it’s a lot of really nice little glimpses into the past, or enough snippets to sort of piece together where [Neal] came from and why he is who he is. The nice thing about it is it also leaves the door open for a lot more flashbacks to fill in a lot of holes.
Especially after your fantastic performance at the Kennedy Center Honors, much has been made of the fact that Matt, you finally get to sing this season alongside Diahann Carroll (in "Countermeasures," scheduled to air February 8). That must have been a really great moment on set.
Tim DeKay: Yes, it was a great moment. Matt has sung before—fun singing around the set, just being goofy—but when he and Diahann sang that song everybody on set just got quiet because we had to rehearse it. The whole crew just went into a spontaneous applause. It was just one of those moments like, “Oh, wow, that’s neat.” Then [there's] Billy Dee Williams at the piano doing an amazing job faking it.
Matt Bomer: He’s the best fake piano player I’ve ever seen in my life. He had such a look of just unconditional support when he would look up at me when I was singing and it really bolstered me. I wish that I could take him everywhere with me when I sing.
Tim DeKay: And fake the piano.
Matt Bomer: He’ll fake the piano and the real pianist will be offstage. Diahann is obviously a legend and incredible and it was a real honor to get to sing with her.
I'm guessing there's not much more you're allowed to tell us about the remainder of this season without giving too much away.
Tim DeKay: You can expect commercials every 15 to 18 minutes. I don’t know. What can you expect? Just more fun. That sounds incredibly intelligent and insightful, doesn’t it?
Matt Bomer: I think I can safely say that a lot of really big storylines that we’ve been exploring over the past couple of seasons really get brought to a head and closure on a lot of things. We get a glimpse into a lot the characters’ pasts and see why they are who they are and how they got that way.
Tim DeKay: We do and I think that Jeff and the writers came up with a fantastic, creative, exciting way to have that happen.
Matt Bomer: We get to see, as usual, sort of a liquid trust dynamic between Peter and Neal. Then obviously also we get some resolution to Mozzie’s incident relatively quickly. All I can say is that in the last episode of the season, if you locked me in a padded room for five years and made me continually guess where this season was going to end, I never would have come up with this. It was astounding and amazing and surprising and incredibly fun.
Tim DeKay: Yes, when I read the last episode I did everything I could not to call my wife, my dad [and say] "You won’t believe this. This is incredible." Yet, Jeff and the writers were able to shut the lid on the music box—no pun intended—and within one second turn around and open up this other one that just was astounding. I don’t know, maybe I’m setting the bar too high. The last episode is really boring, really boring. Let’s set it low. If we set the bar really low people will be happier.
A lot of people have asked if a situation like the one that exists between Peter and Neal is plausible. How much of what we see on screen do you think you could get away with in reality?
Tim DeKay: My technical consultant, Tom Barton, he has expressed to both Jeff Eastin and me certainly relationships like this [exist]. To the extent that the CI just comes into the house and pours a bowl of cereal, I don’t know if it goes that far, but Tom certainly has talked about how he’s received Christmas cards from people in prison that he’s worked with. That’s where Jeff’s inspiration came from. Who knows, maybe there is a relationship like that out there.
Matt Bomer: I test my boundaries quite a bit, but nowhere near the level at which Neal does. I would venture to say about five percent of what I get away with on the show.
Tim DeKay: So you only steal five percent of what Neal does?
Matt Bomer: I only pickpocket five percent of the people in Neal does. I only steal five percent of the art Neal does.
Tim DeKay: Which isn't bad.
Matt Bomer: But the great thing is I only get caught five percent of the time, which is why I’m calling from a prison phone.
Tim DeKay: Anybody have any more quarters?
Thank you to Tim and Matt for another fantastic interview! White Collar returns to USA next Tuesday at 1o PM ET/PT. Stay tuned here tomorrow for my advance review of the midseason premiere.