The world of con man Neal Caffrey and his FBI handler, Agent Peter Burke, has been turned upside down when "White Collar" returns for its fifth season.
In last season's finale, Peter (Tim DeKay) was arrested for the murder of Sen. Pratt—a deed Neal's dad committed before fleeing. Now Peter's wearing prison orange while awaiting his trial and Neal (Matt Bomer) has to get him out.
"First of all, Tim looks great in orange. Fantastic color for him," Bomer said during a conference call last week. "And secondly, it was a trip to see him on the other side of things and see how he handles it. And of course he's such a great actor that I was just watching him planning on what I would steal in the next 10 hours."
Bomer and DeKay talked about five things fans can expect in the new season, which premieres at 8 p.m. CT Oct. 17 on USA. And if you just can't get enough of the "White Collar" gents, read excerpts from the Q&A session at the bottom of this story.
Peter's situation causes big changes for both he and Neal.
Matt Bomer: Neal can obviously relate in many ways. He has a real sense of responsibility about everything that's transpired, even though his father was largely responsible. ... And as someone who's been where Peter is, I think that resonates with him even more, and makes him dig even deeper into his bag of tricks to figure out how to fix it.
Tim DeKay: When big things like this happen, [Peter and his wife, Elizabeth] take a look at their lives and they take a look at how Peter got to that place, and they reassess and figure out what is the best way to go forward. And as Matt said, big issues come up this season with where people are headed, what people are made of, and what they want to make of with their lives.
Mark Sheppard returns as imprisoned con man Curtis Hagen, who forces Neal into a corner.
MB: It's that deal with the devil. He has Neal under his thumb, which is obviously, especially for someone like Neal, not a very comfortable place for him to be. He has him at his beck and call and basically he can have Neal do whatever illicit behavior he doesn't want to have to take responsibility for himself. Neal can't really put up that much of a fight about it.
Neal gets a new handler, Agent David Seigel (Warren Kole).
MB: Neal's initial reaction to Warren's character, Siegel, is one of trepidation because he is very by-the-books, by-the-numbers. He's an agent who's gotten to where he is because he plays by the rules. And that's obviously very threatening to Neal.
TD: Peter ... felt that he would be right for Neal because he felt that Neal needed somebody who could give some tough love, [someone] that has a distance from Neal. Peter thought somebody from outside the New York Division would be better. But there was trepidation as well on Peter's part because with handing over the reins, he no longer gets to ride. And that's something Peter was going to miss.
Neal finds a new love.
MB: There is a really incredible girl who comes in Neal's life named Rebecca Lowe, played by the gorgeous and talented Bridget Regan. ... Their relationship grows over the course of the season and I think the writers did a great job just making the character really multidimensional. Her character is sort of like an onion, every episode a new layer peels off. Neal gets to know more about her and becomes more attracted to her.
Willie Garson, who plays Mozzie, makes his directorial debut.
MB: Willie showed up to work on the first day for the first scene in full Cecil B. De Mille regalia. I'd like to put that out there. He had on the rider pants, the riding crop in his hand and the megaphone, with a beret. ... I found him to be profoundly organized ... and a real joy.
TD: He came prepared to the party. And was ready to just be there for you when you needed him as an actor. He knew what he wanted. He directed the episode where we had the great, lovely and talented Kim Dickens, who played Peter's old girlfriend. And Willie was able to add some wonderful pieces to that and give us a nice tone to that.
More from the call with reporters below.
How do you view the Neal and Peter relationship? Do you see them as brothers, as friends, as coworkers?
TD: I have this image of these two guys as very close friends. And I have this image of them playing poker together and enjoying it and realizing that nobody could really play the kinds of poker, the level of poker the other one does except with that other person. And I see them enjoying a game and having a good time with it, but never ever, ever showing each other's hands, and constantly bluffing or trying to bid differently. But again, never showing the other hand to the other person. But yet needing that game and learning from that game.
I don't know, sometimes Peter is a father to Neal, sometimes he is a friend to him, and other times he's his boss. It's layered. It's a lot of different relationships.
MB: Yes. It changes a lot. But for me, it always goes back more to the familial with Peter, whether that be fraternal or paternal or sometimes a family member you have to work with. But for me it always goes back to the more familial because, much like a family member, Peter is the one character who is a source of stability in Neal's life in a strange way because he is the only person Neal has been spending time with and there are healthy boundaries.
In regard of what happens, what transpires, he knows what the mathematical formula is with Peter. If he does X, then he will get Y. And to me that's sort of like family, because you can go out into the world and make mistakes and grow or change and you come back and family is still there with dinner on the table.
What are the most important things that Peter and Neal have learned from each other during their partnership.
TD: The most important thing that I think Peter has learned from Neal is how...
MB: How to wear a suit.
TD: ... how to wear a suit, how to wear a tie, and be able to do your cuff links on your own.
TD: Which is, yes, that's the most important. And then below that would be to look at the grey a little bit more than just the black and white all the time. And perhaps realize that the grey can get you to the black and white in a good way.
MB: That's lovely. I would say that Neal has learned to look at the black and white kind of a little bit more and not always live in the grey. And not to repeat myself too much, but I think he's learned about boundaries and responsibility, and a little tiny bit about managing impulses.
TD: There’s a part of Peter that wouldn't want Neal to manage all of his impulses because that's part of Neal that's incredibly valuable to Peter's job. I think that's what's great about this relationship, the bad line for Neal is, well, "Peter, this is why you grabbed me, because I do this kind of stuff. And if you change me completely, you lose the value that I give to this partnership."
Throughout the five seasons, both Peter and Neal have gone through so many changes. Which ones have stuck out to you and which ones have surprised you?
MB: Mine would relate mostly to I guess previous (season) when we were divided up into two seasons, the mid-season finale and the finales, because I feel like that's generally when Jeff Eastin would reach way into his bag of tricks and suddenly I was base-jumping off the top of a building or goig to some drastic extreme in terms of Neal's own physical well-being and welfare, whatever it may be. Those cliffhangers that Jeff would write that I would read and say, "Wow, OK, this is what it's all about.’ But very rarely, if ever, have I read anything I thought, "Oh, this is too far. This doesn't make sense."
There is sort of a fantastical, whimsical element to the show that you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit. Otherwise if you're looking at this as a sheer procedural or cold hard facts, you're going to bump into some walls. And so I think because we gave ourselves that permission in the first season, it's been fun for us to get to come up with ways to justify and back up why our characters do what they do.
How long do both of you guys foresee being able to do the show?
MB: I'll be honest with you, if the show were in Los Angeles and me and my family, I would do it for 25 years. I would do it until Neal was in a walker and Tim, or Peter was in a jazzy, and we're doing walk-and-talks that way down the street. Because it's not, it is a great role ...
TD: Roll and talk.
MB: ... I will be happy to play out our seven-season contract.
TD: Yes. I feel the same way. I've never been bored on this show, never. Ever. And the writers have just given us a slew of interesting and layered bad guys and a slew of different worlds to pursue those bad guys.
MB: And we have a crew that cares and it's wonderful and has invested in the story.
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