November 13th, 2009
White Collar is USA Network’s newest hit show that centers around an interesting partnership between an FBI Agent (Peter Burke) and a con-man (Neal Caffrey). The parternship was suggested by Caffrey, who when caught by Burke, came up with an alternative plan to going back to jail. The show is full of intrigue, mysteries, and atypical cases. The acting is phenomenal, and I find myself constantly looking forward to the next new episode. I think what sets White Collar apart from other law dramas on TV is the premise. There really is nothing like it on TV. I recently had the chance to chat with Tim DeKay, who plays Peter Burke, about his character, shooting in New York City, and his idea of a perfect crime. He was gracious enough to take time out of his busy filming schedule, and we also had the chance to talk about Ithaca (his hometown and my college town).
What originally drew you to the role of Peter?
Really two things. One, I’ve always loved a good mystery story. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the character was so interesting. It wasn’t your typical FBI Agent. And certainly, the relationship that he has with Neil, was not your typical FBI Agent slash bad guy con-artist relationship. It seemed like the heart of it, underlying all of what you see between these two guys, they like each other.
Are you anything like Peter? Or are you anything like Neal?
(laughs) Am I anything like Peter? I guess so. I think I am to a degree in that I love the chase. I love figuring out the crime, solving it. And I enjoy the chase in anything in life. Once the goal is achieved, it’s wonderful but I’d rather the game continue. And I think to a degree, that’s what Peter wants as well.
The partnership between Peter and Neal is obviously a very unique one. Why do you think their relationship works so well?
Two reasons. I think it’s because Jeff Eastin [the creator] writes very clear characters that are not two dimensional. And the other part that I think works well is that I’m fortunate enough to work across from Matt Bomer. And the two of us really feed off each other well. And the chemistry that is between us, that energy that is between us, is just as important as each of our individual energies. We just seem to — from the first time we auditioned — we got along really well, and it’s fun to act with him.
Did you happen to talk to any FBI agents as research to prepare for your role?
I did. You know what was interesting — I talked to an FBI Agent who is since retired, but now does White Collar security for a large [cosmetic firm]. He gave me this great bit of information. He said that yes, you have one case that you’re working on, and that you seem to be focused on this, but even when that one is finished, there are always four or five others that are still out there. And he said he always felt like he was chasing ghosts. Which is kind of cool.
Yeah, isn’t it? Just when you lay your head down on the pillow and think okay, I’m done with that case. It’s like oh yeah there are those two other guys that I still haven’t caught.
And were you a fan of, or did you watch any buddy cop shows? It’s different than that, but White Collar centers around a crime-solving team.
Yeah. There was a movie that I loved that there’s certainly part of the essence that these two people had — called “Midnight Run” with Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro. It’s a movie where the two of them from the beginning — you would think that they would not be a likely pair. But throughout the movie you realize Oh, they kind of like each other. And when that happens, when you see that those two kinds of people like each other, then you’re okay as an audience member, you’re okay if one of them does something to annoy the other.
I think White Collar is incredibly unique. But what do you think makes it stand out from other crime-solving television shows?
Well, one of the reasons is the way our Director of Photography Russell Fine is shooting it, it’s just so beautiful. And most of the crime dramas that you see are certainly intentionally filmed in such a way where it’s grittier. And usually a death has occurred on a stoop or a back alley. But here, crimes are being committed in glamorous, beautiful places. I’ve gotten to arrest people at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, at Columbus Circle, you know all these really glamorous, kind of high end places. And Russell, and the show, doesn’t shy away from that. And I’ve said this before, New York City is another character on the show. It’s an homage to that. And also I think that this show — we go home with Peter Burke, we see what his home life is like. We see what Neal’s home life is like, which is not as typical [compared to] other crimes dramas. Also, not every episode do we draw a gun. And not every episode do you ever — there might be one or two — but most of our episodes, you don’t even see a murder happen. You might see the murder victim after the fact, but you never see a murder happen which is — as cliche or corny as it may sound — parents can sit kids and watch this show.
You were saying that New York City is an integral part of the show. What has it been like filming there? Have you had any interesting experiences filming all over the city?
There hasn’t been one location where we’ve shot where I haven’t walked in and gone “Oh my goodness, this is gorgeous. I didn’t even know this building existed.” It’s fascinating. And New Yorkers are so honest. So if you’re shooting, they’re excited to watch you shoot. But if you’re in their way, like a cabbie’s got to get through an intersection, forget it. He doesn’t care what you’re shooting, he’s got to get through that intersection.
In a recent episode, you filmed on a private rooftop garden at Rockefeller center. Was that just amazing?
Oh it was. What was cool was that the day before we shot, we were up in this gorgeous penthouse apartment that overlooked the gardens. So Betty Gordon, our director, went up to the window — and we were up on the 49th floor — and she said “look down there, you see that green garden at Rockefeller Center, that’s where we’ll be shooting there tomorrow.”
Wow. That’s great.
It’s just incredible. So many of the places that I’m shooting, I realize “Oh I couldn’t afford to get into this place.” Thankfully I’m shooting here, because I couldn’t get in here on my own.
Right. And what is it like joining a USA Network show? The network has put out some really big hits lately. Do you see any common threads between your show and other USA shows that are out there?
Yes. I think it ties in with their logo: Character’s Welcome. I mean Bonnie Hammer and everybody at USA has done just an incredible job. They truly respect and know that a character is interesting. Yes, certainly a story is interesting, but this is a show — this is a network where you’re going to get to know these people, in ways that you would not get to know them on other television shows. And as an actor, I love that and appreciate it.
What is your idea of the perfect crime?
Oh, someone asked me that and I gave some corny cheese ball answer that had to do with food. For me, there is something about stealing food that would be a perfect crime. You know, I could get very philosophical on one hand look like I’m this great guy by saying “Oh the perfect crime would be to steal the I don’t know — the anecdote to cancer or something,” which would be wonderful, yes. That would be the perfect crime, but that’s impossible. The perfect crime is where nobody would get hurt — either physically or emotionally or financially — and I could benefit from it. And somehow, I go to food, when I think of that. Like stealing a pie from a window sill, or something like that.
That sounds pretty good to me.
Oh good, I’m glad you agree.
I do definitely. Can you give us a little preview of what’s coming up this season?
What I can say, is that the Kate anthology–that has to do with Neal looking for Kate, is very interesting. Who is involved with Kate, and and how that plays out. That’s very fun and very exciting. But you know, just look for more glamorous locations where I’ll be arresting people.
Be sure to tune in tonight for an all new episode of White Collar on USA at 10 pm.