Willie Garson Discusses the Second Season of White Collar
What can you tell us about where Mozzie is going in Season Two, what happens with his character, moving forward?
Willie Garson: One of the biggest challenges that the show had was - we saw the ... in Season One - how much the FBI was allowed to be aware of Mozzie and what Mozzie, and the way he operates, within and about the law, is available for use by the FBI. They solved that early on that this is Peter's party, and he can run it as he likes. What we find at the beginning of Season Two is that now Peter can actually use Mozzie in moderation, more at his discretion as to how much he can get away with using him. So, we'll be playing a lot more with that and how much I can be involved actually with the FBI.
What, as an actor, excites you the most about playing the character like Mozzie? How does he differentiate from some of the characters you've played in the past?
Willie Garson: I love that he gets to play act all the time. So, Mozzie gets to play around as being different people, different characters, which is awesome. Probably, with his- I don't want to say "intelligence," because that sounds egotistical, but I mean, he definitely has a lot of my cynicism. He's very well read, which I like to do. He definitely has his strong opinions, which is probably one of the closest roles to myself that I've played.
Initially, how did you actually get involved with this particular show and playing this character?
Willie Garson: Actually, it's very bizarre. Fox Studios, which produces the show, asked me to do an episode of a show they were shooting in Bogotá, Colombia, called, Mental. I read it. I enjoyed it. I went down. I thought, "When am I going to get down to Bogotá, Colombia, ever?" So, I went down there. I shot it. I got back. They had called me and said, "You were great. We loved working with you. Would you like a ... series?" I said, "Of course. I'm looking for a new series. I love to be on television." I love doing weekly television more so than movies actually. I read the script. Then, the process started ... for it. Never an easy process at all. Then, I fought for it and worked hard and tried to get it. It took about a month or two to get the part. That was it.
Mozzie's look is just fantastic on the show obviously. Do you have any input, any say into how the character is done on the show?
Willie Garson: We definitely talk about wardrobe a lot. Stephanie's amazing. She got what we were going for. She had her ideas; I had my ideas. We did have to fight the issue that it is me playing it. And me playing it is loaded with some baggage. So, people do expect me to be dressed. That's a thing that just- Whatever. I have some kind of fashion, iconography - so, I can't be just some shlumpy guy. So, while Mozzie is definitely interesting and studied and can never look homeless, we call it homeless chic. His stuff- He could have found it in a dumpster or he could have bought it-for $5000 shirt. So, we do work very carefully and closely to the other. She picks out items. I generally know what looks best on me. We do it together, but she's wonderful. She's ... done a great job. So, I'm always amazed that another shirt, she comes up with. Then, for her, sadly, because she then has to take everything that Mozzie wears and then has to be washed about 700 hundred times to get it look like that homeless chic look that we're going for.
Will we see more of Neal and Mozzie's past in Season Two?
Willie Garson: Our show doesn't do a lot of flashback situations, but we definitely, in these scripts that we're shooting now, are getting more information about past things in their lives and individually also: where they come from, how they got to be this way, and also, very deeply, what's important to them, which is a great thing. So, it's not that this show is especially about that. It is truly the glory of a show having some level of success. It just gets to go on longer. As time goes on, it's like peeling the levels of an onion. You're just getting more and more information as you get to know these characters for a longer amount of time. So, we got lucky. So now, we get to see more.
What's the most interesting thing you've learned about con men or criminals?
Willie Garson: It's interesting. I can't say for all criminals, but for these criminals, what is interesting to me is how much they do it for the act of doing it rather than, "Oh, I love her new car," or "Boy, I wish I had some more jewels lying around." It doesn't really matter. I mean, we've addressed that a couple of times on the show that it doesn't matter what the crime is. It's actually the act of doing it is what's exciting to them. That is interesting. I guess it makes sense. I guess you could say that about captains of industry and whatever. It's an ongoing discussion I have with my brother. If I had $10 million in the bank, good luck remaking the second $10 million because ... people that - just like, "Oh, that's what turns them on, is just doing it." So, that's what I'm learning about these kind of criminals.
Now, how do you feel Mozzie will develop as the series continues? Will he be even more involved this season?
Willie Garson: So far, he certainly is in what we've shot so far. We'll see. We get the scripts, not very long in advance of shooting them. So, I always feel like, whatever they write, there's a reason. We're all working for the common good. So, it's never about, "Oh, you have more this episode. You don't have anything this episode." It's never about that, but Mozzie is now able to work a little closer with the FBI. So, yes, we'll be seeing him working more intrinsically with the cases. We also have all the stuff with Kate to deal with - how we ended last season. So, there'll be plenty of Mozzie this year.
Well, that's good. Now, what do you like the most about White Collar and working with Jeff Eastin?
Willie Garson: I have to say, one of my favorite things about the show is that it doesn't assume that the audience is stupid. While that sounds like a big statement, it does make a difference. The show really is as smart as the audience is. That's a great thing. I don't like to knock other things on television, but it's a rarer thing on television than it used to be. So, for that, I am forever grateful for Jeff, for just not assuming that the audience is stupid.
We were wondering, now that Mozzie and Elizabeth know each other and seem to click, will they be spending more time together this season?
Willie Garson: Well, we're dating. No. Yes, there's actually some stuff in the script that we're doing right now where Mozzie and Elizabeth work quite closely together. So yes, there is some stuff. It's great. I've been friends with Tiffani for a long time. So, this is fun that we get to do this together. So yes, absolutely.
Matt and Tim have such great chemistry. We're wondering what it's like working in a scene with them.
Willie Garson: With Tim, it's terrible. They're hammy; they're horrible people; no, it's always great. I have become very close, obviously, to Matt. We do most of our stuff together. I've been friends with Tim for 20 years, so we have an awful lot of fun on this show. We're very musical. A lot of singing on this show, which I'm sure people would be shocked. We're doing a crime version of Glee, but you're not going to see all that on screen.
That's a shame. I would love to see that on screen.
Willie Garson: It is a shame, for us, not for you. But it's a shame for us.
We saw the Season Two premiere during our set visit. The scene that I loved in the season finale last year was the going away, the goodbye, between Mozzie and Neal because Mozzie seemed to understand Neal's desire to want to get away with Kate. Now, you see, in the season premiere, this time around, how closely Mozzie is working with Peter. In your mind, does Mozzie still understand Neal's desire to walk that line between black and white, or is he more wanting to see him keep him away from that life of crime?
Willie Garson: I don't think it matters. It's more about he doesn't want him to have to go away. So, he would love for us to continue to work together. So, whatever that takes. It doesn't matter to Mozzie if we're doing good or evil. All that matters to Mozzie is that we get to keep doing capers. So, that would have to be up to the interpreter. I mean, if doing good means that we're going to get to do more, then yes. If we can do better capers and not get caught and still continue, then that would also be great. So, it's a double answer.
Jeff Eastin mentioned, last year, that he might be writing more this season about the characters Mozzie is connected to in his other life, off screen. Are we going to get to see more of that this year?
Willie Garson: We are. We're slowly seeing every episode, a little bit more of what Mozzie's about, what makes him tick, how he got this way. We're going to see where he even stays in this episode that we're shooting right now, which is very intriguing, so yes.
If you could envision a secret that Mozzie's been withholding from everyone, and it has yet to be revealed, what would it be?
Willie Garson: Well, I can't really tell you that, can I?
You can make one up.
Willie Garson: I could make one up, but ... Mozzie is actually married with four kids and living in Long Island.
Well, can you describe a little bit of the place ... where he's going to be living?
Willie Garson: I cannot, but it is very interesting. I will tell you this, Mozzie doesn't live in one place.
Mozzie and Neal have such a different kind of relationship. They're such different people. I was wondering, what's the glue in their friendship? Why do you think it works so well?
Willie Garson: There is that thing about how opposites attract. Both of the characters give each other street cred in a way. Obviously, socially, Neal gives Mozzie a lot of street .... He's not really a people person. Mozzie has a very, very good, criminal mind. He is an amazing technician in terms of getting things done. Neal really appreciates that about him. So, it ends up being a perfect partnership. There's definitely certain dirty work that Mozzie takes care of that Neal would not even go near. So, that's important to his character. So, it ends up being a nearly perfect arrangement between the two of them.
I've heard that Diane Farr is going to be guest-starring as a romantic ... for Mozzie. What was that like? Have you done it yet? Is it just for the one episode?
Willie Garson: Well, it was only one episode so far, which is odd because her name is Diane Farr, but we've shot already. I don't know if there will be more, but it was great. I've known her for a while. We did a pilot together many years ago. So, we are friends. It was great. We had a great time. She was fabulous in it; she is a great actress. So, it was lovely to have her.
You've mentioned before that you'd like to try to directing. Is that something you'll do for White Collar?
Willie Garson: It is something I would like to do. We'll see. There's nothing contract things. We don't have it in the contract yet, but maybe in the next one, we will. We'll see how things progress. They are aware that it is something I'm interested in. So, we'll see how it goes. It's a hard thing because you decide, "Is that really something that I am dying to do as opposed to acting?" It is not. So, I have to figure it out. I have a good take on the show. I would like to explore maybe getting behind the camera for one ....
I'm not sure if the word "operation" is the correct word in this question, but we'll see. If Mozzie could lead an operation, what would he do? How would he go about doing that?
Willie Garson: If he would lead a caper?
Yes, a caper. That's a better word. Yes, a caper.
Willie Garson: It's a great word. Oh, who knows? What we're finding out this season is that it would probably have to do with wine. So, there'd be wine involved. It would be more elegant than you would think Mozzie would be. So, Mozzie considers himself to be more of a dandy than maybe the audience considers him to be. So, it's be a higher end caper, definitely.
Mozzie seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, like anything you'll ask him to do, he does it and finds a way to do it. Is there anything Mozzie cannot do? Is there a weakness that he has?
Willie Garson: We don't really know yet. We don't know. We will have to find out. I don't know.
Sounds like some character exploration.
Willie Garson: That's up to Jeff Eastin.
You mentioned that there's a lot of yourself in Mozzie. Is he also based on anyone else, or primarily yourself?
Willie Garson: He's definitely not based on anyone else. I would say I am a lame enough actor that I generally work from the outside in. My initial thoughts about Mozzie was those guys like playing chess in Tompkins Square Park. They look like they're homeless, but they're obviously not homeless. They're obviously wildly intelligent because chess is a difficult game. They must live somewhere. They must have some source of income. So, that's how I started the character. Then, I fill it in myself on the inside.
You talked earlier about the characters being peeled back, like an onion, over the course of the series. Would you like to see Mozzie have some more serious moments, or do you prefer the fact that he is just this light character?
Willie Garson: Well, the thing is, I love both. In your saying that, you just have paid me a wonderful compliment because there are very serious moments in Season One. What's great is that we get the chance to bop back and forth seamlessly. The whole point is that Mozzie does have a lust for life. He's a fun guy. However, he can very easily be serious when things need to be serious. So, he's not an idiot. That is important to the scripts and how they're structured. So, I like to be both. Luckily, I guess I am somewhat of a funny guy, so it comes easy, but comedy can be hard. Drama, for me, comes actually easier. So, I love what I felt about the show is that it can switch gears. Obviously, we don't shoot the show in order, but we shoot the locations in order. So, we can be doing a very funny scene, completely written around a joke. Then, the next scene, we shoot five minutes later is a very serious scene. We get to shift gears all the time. That's glorious. That's what I love doing. So, this show gives us that opportunity.
You can watch Willie Garson and the rest of the White Collar cast when the series premieres its second season on Tuesday, July 13th, at 9 PM ET on the USA Network.