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White Collar Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Tim DeKay

This is an interview with Tim DeKay on February 1, 2013 about the show White Collar.

Question:
Was it difficult for you to direct yourself on screen during this episode?

Tim DeKay:
No, it's not too difficult to be honest with you, because we've got a - the writer, Channing Powell, who wrote the episode. She was there the whole time. And also, I look to my DP a few times. And it's open enough so that - on our set that I can talk to Channing of whether or not the moment works, I can talk through Matt Bomer or Willie or Tiffani, whomever, and say, ???Does that work? What do you guys think???? And then, the other thing is 90% of the time I'll know whether or the moment is right for me as far as acting. So, it wasn't too difficult, no.

Question:
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while directing this episode?

Tim DeKay:
I think the biggest challenge for any of these episodes is the clock. The writers always write a wonderful big episode and you always want to be able to have a lot of coverage. You think of all these cool shots, but there just isn't enough time in the day. So, the biggest challenge is a mixture that you tell the story within those seven days that are - where there is 12 hours allotted and you tell the story in the White Collar fashion, and make sure it's snappy, it's fun, it's clever, and all those other adjectives we can think of for the show.

Question:
Do you have a favorite moment from shooting the episodes for this season?

Tim DeKay:
No. But, I will tell you one of my favorite moments for the episode that I directed takes place in the Cotton Club and Diahann Carroll sang two songs at the Cotton Club, so I got to direct her to sing a couple songs.

Question:
Last season you made your directorial debut filming in Yankee Stadium, and this time you're in the Cotton Club. Where would you like to shoot it the next time around?

Tim DeKay:
I'm aiming for the White House, so we'll see if that happens. No, I'm kidding. I don't know. We'll see.

Question:
That would require you to be out of state?

Tim DeKay:
It would be. I don't know, some other iconic place in New York, maybe Madison Square Garden. There you go, that's my aim for next season Madison Square Garden.

Question:
Having played Peter Burke for four seasons now, is there anything that you've learned about Peter or anything that he has done that has most caught you by surprise?

Tim DeKay:
I'd have to say that I'm always surprised and challenged at his ability to balance doing what's right for Neal and doing what's right for the FBI. The writers have been able to continue to have Peter walk that line of being a friend to Neal, and yet having to answer to his job as an FBI agent.

Question:
This season has been very much about Neal's backstory, and the writers have convened for Season 5, but are we likely to see more of Peter's backstory? Do you think he's got some dark and seedy past that we're going to discover in Season 5?

Tim DeKay:
I've talked to some of the writers about this, and I would love to have some things uncovered about Peter that would be surprising to the audience. I think we have to be careful with any backstory as long as it keeps the action moving forward. I think that's important, so how we would delve into Peter's backstory would only be so that we could keep the story moving forward.

Question:
Could you talk about Neal who, as you pointed out, has kept things from him the entire time. Peter seems very focused on this, is the first time that Neal has lied to his face?

Tim DeKay:
Yes.

Question:
I was wondering if you could kind of explain more of what Peter means by that?

Tim DeKay:
If you go back, Neal and Peter have never lied to each other to their faces. One might argue that there's been many lies of omittance, there have been a lot of lies, in so far as not coming forth and telling the other person what's going on. But regardless, if Peter has ever asked Neal a point blank question, he has never lied to his face. But, I think in this particular instance, Neal was given the green light by Peter's wife to lie.

I think the writers did a great thing there. I would have loved to have been in the room at that moment when one of the writers, ???Well, how can Neal lie to Peter's face? What would allow us to say that was okay that he did that???? And I don't know who came up with the idea, maybe Jeff Eastin.

I think it's important, and it's great that we have it that there is always that dynamic. Peter and Neal are always on the case enjoying each other's company; although, they'll never admit it. Two dear friends, best friends, and yet there is always a secret. There's always something going on. There's a chess game going on and they're not quite revealing everything that needs to be revealed. And most of the time those reveals are not given to each other because they think it's benefiting the other person by not telling them. It seems like I've said many times as Peter, I'm not going to tell Neal about my investigating this, that, or the other thing for his own good.

I think the trust issue will always be there. It just never is 100%. It can be. Neal's a criminal. No matter how much we love him, he has stolen a lot of things from a lot of people, and Peter is an FBI agent, so that's wonderful. There is a trust issue when it comes to that. When it comes to other things they can trust each other implicitly, but when it comes to that, when it comes to those kind of dealings, they'll never trust each other implicitly.

Question:
Can you share anything that you've just enjoyed about some of the upcoming episodes? Anything you can tease? Any fun moments?

Tim DeKay:
I said it earlier, it was just such a hoot to direct Diahann Carroll at the Cotton Club. There was a wonderful moment where we had pre-recorded her singing the song so that she didn't have to sing it live the day we shot it, and I had musicians there just in case. And we started rolling for her to sing the song and she had the earpiece on and she started singing, and I looked at the sound guy and he brought down the pre-recorded version and the other musicians started playing, and she just sang that whole song live and the whole cast and crew got a mini concert. It was great.

Question:
I thought Bill Bellamy gave a really nice performance. What was it like working with him?

Tim DeKay:
It was wonderful. I've known Bill for quite some time, and his name came up. I don't remember if I brought it up first or the producer did, but either way I thought it was a great role for him. And I thought that he and Marsha Thomason-Sykes had a wonderful chemistry there on screen, and it was also fun to see Marsha in that kind of outfit with that wig, so it was great.

I didn't know they were going to do the wig, but I was just walking down the hall, and this is before we started shooting the episode, and I walk into hair and makeup and there she's got that blonde wig. And I thought, ???Oh, that's fantastic. You've got to wear it.??? So that was her idea.

Question:
You touched on working with Diahann Carroll and Marsha Thomason, but I think a lot of the supporting actors a little more play in this episode, which was nice. Was that on purpose because you were directing, because even Tiffani and Willie did too. How was it to work with them on the other side of the camera?

Tim DeKay:
Oh, it's great. I was able to do it last year with the baseball episode at Yankee Stadium. But, it's great to work with them because they're incredibly supportive. We have a very supportive cast and crew, and everybody's rooting for you, and you're rooting for them. And we're all in this together. The writers try to have it so that Peter is a little bit lighter in the episode. Usually Peter is a little bit lighter in the prior episode so that I have time to prepare, but I also like.

Question:
Was that why Peter got into the car accident?

Tim DeKay:
That was part of it, yes. Yes. Let's put Peter in a hospital so Tim can go out and scout certain locations. But, I also like these kind of episode where everybody is involved. And I think it's rather enjoyable to watch an episode, like last week's, and I think this week's coming up in Empire City where every character has at least one clever moment where they cleverly either divert the bad guy or figure out something that helps move the case along. It's great fun when everybody on the show has a clever moment, at least a clever moment.

Question:
What's interesting now is the fact that Elizabeth is involved, and that brought a whole new level to it. How long are we going to see her kind of being this third wheel with them?

Tim DeKay:
We're going to see it for a while. It plays out all the way to the end of the season. And I think it makes sense because Neal and Elizabeth - actually if you go all the way back to the pilot you can tell that those two had a connection as well, and a connection which I thought was great, but that was not sexual. I thought it would have been too easy and convenient to have that go on, and it actually would have muddied the waters too much for Peter and Neal to have that happen. But, you're going to see the force of Elizabeth and her request to Neal play out through the rest of the season.

Question:
You just revealed that part of the reason that Peter got hurt last week is because you need the time to go off and scout locations, but is that - which I think is great. But, as far as Peter having that happen to him, it's interesting that it seemed to nothing but strengthen his resolve to get these people. The fight started out being basically for Neal, but would you say that because of what's happened it's now about Peter as well?

Tim DeKay:
I think, at least for me in playing Peter, the accident angered Peter and was a pain, pardon the pun, but what really set Peter off was having Reese Hughes fired. That's what did it for him. Because it hits something that Peter is such a believer in the Bureau and what it stands for, and to have somebody in a political position have that happen and be able to do that, it unnerves Peter. To tarnish the Bureau like that just infuriates him, and personally too, he's always like Reese Hughes. So now it's personal.

Question:
Were there any particular challenges in directing the episode?

Tim DeKay:
Only the ones that I seem to face every time, and that every director faces, and that is the clock. You only have so much time to shoot so many pages, and you want to do it right. You want to serve the text as best you can. And you don't have the luxury of shooting 15 hours or extending the shoot another two weeks or something like that. No, you have seven days and 12 hours in each of those seven days. You'd better get it done.

Question:
What would happen if you found that you ran out of time? What would happen?

Tim DeKay:
What happens is then you start having to look at the script and decide, ???Okay, is this scene really needed? How can we cut this scene???? Or, ???Do we really need to see a certain scene from another angle? Do we have time to set up a camera angle from another position???? And so, really you have to prepare the week before as soon as you get the script and know your locations. Know what shots you want to take. And, you know there are many people in the production and directing department that help you with, ???Well, it looks like we should be two hours on this scene, two hours on that scene, only an hour on this one, four hours on this one,??? and you try to stick to that timeline.

You try to budget your time. It is. It is extremely helpful. But, the wrench in this is that it's a creative process, so as you're shooting a scene you think, ???Oh, it would be so cool if we put the camera up here, way up here on top of this whatever.??? And, you know then the first AP looks at you and says, ???You only 45 minutes left. There's no way you're going to get it.??? ???Yes, but it would be so great if we shot from,??? you know one of those.

Question:
New York always plays a big part of this show, but I also felt like it played an even bigger part of Empire City. Even with like the montages of the city going into different scenes, it almost seemed kind of rhythmic and especially with the way music also played a big part. Were you involved with that?

Tim DeKay:
I'm so glad you caught that. Oh, that's great. Yes, it was. And it was part of the script to a degree. It was part of the editor and part of what I saw for the episode. Just - it's funny, each episode that I've directed or short-side directed, I get a - there's like an image of something that I see for each episode. And in this particular one I just saw like a lot of people snapping their fingers for whatever reason. So, I try to get that in the cuts and the rhythm of the - you know of the transitions and seeing people on the streets.

Question:
Why do you think the show is so good?

Tim DeKay:
I think because the show is about characters, and the longer we get to know these characters, as an audience, I think whether it's conscience or unconscious, subconscious, we anticipate and we look forward to the anticipation of Peter's reaction. We'll see Neal do something and we know what Peter's going to say to this, and there's something fun about that we get to know these people.

I also think though, that the writers continue to do a great job in moving these stories forward and in keeping the stakes high, and keeping the show clever. That's the thing. There is certain cleverness to this show is of its own ilk, and I think is refreshing to see. And intelligent escapism perhaps; something like that.

Question:
In determining who's going to direct what episodes, was the decision for you to direct this purely luck of the draw, or was there something about that episode that spoke to you personally in advance or what?

Tim DeKay:
It was luck of the draw. What they try to do is help me out, which in turn obviously helps the show out in figuring out what's the best time to schedule my directing episode. Specifically, one of the producers, Jeff King, is responsible for this, and he'll figure out maybe after a hiatus when I've had a little rest, then it might be a little better for me to come back and be able to direct an episode after that. A certain number of factors, other directors' schedules, but I just got lucky. The two episodes I've directed have both been in iconic places in New York, so it was the luck of the draw.

Question:
How would you define your style? I mean, the show has a certain style you have to stay within, but each director brings something unique to it. And I was just wondering, how do you play that end of it?

Tim DeKay:
I think it's one of these things that we do as storytellers or even artists that put our vent on it or our style. It's something that we just have to trust will come out no matter what. I think if you consciously tell yourself, ???I'm going to put my mark on this,??? it's too fabricated. I think most of my episodes and the stories that I've done as a director have to do quite a bit with relationship, because as an actor that's something that we key into. But, at the time I don't think consciously, ???I'm going to put my mark here. This is going to be a Tim DeKay moment.??? No, it's just how we like to decode stories. It usually is how we like to tell them as well.

Question:
Where's the next episode going to take us?

Tim DeKay:
You'll have to watch two Tuesdays from now. As far as the mythology is concerned, by the end of the season we're going to end up where that last image of Empire City shows us. That's where we're going to end up. That's where a bit of the busy action is going to take place.

Question:
Let's talk about where Tim DeKay would like to see his character go in the next episodes and into the next season?

Tim DeKay:
Into the next season, I would love to continue to have Peter do more and more undercover work. I love getting out there and having Peter go undercover. It's fun. I also think that, you know Jeff Eastin and I have been talking quite a while about having some kind of scene where it's just Neal and Peter for nearly all or most of the episode, and I think that's going to come into play. You know, I've always said an elevator scene where we get stuck in an elevator, but Jeff's got to a different space for us, which I think might even be better.

I liked it when Neal and Peter are just simply working each the case of the week and they are constantly pursuing it in a clever, clever way, and a clever and intelligent way. I think it's interesting when they do that. I also want to see just more of Peter and Neal while they're enjoying the case at hand. There is always something underneath, something's going on where there isn't quite 100% trust between the two of them.

Question:
Do you think we'll ever see a case where it's Neal who's the straight guy, the voice of sanity, when Peter, as the one who goes a bit of the deep end?

Tim DeKay:
I think that's a possibility. I'm not quite sure. There are times where I think that'd be really interesting to see where Peter does something, maybe an act of passion where revenge or something like that, and Neal's the one to day, ???Peter, you can't do this.??? I also would love to see an episode where we got to see Neal one time get to play Peter Burke in the FBI offices. I think we got to see that. Just for a bit he was Peter Burke at the FBI offices. I think it would be great if Peter gets to be Neal in Neal's apartment. I think that would be fun.

Question:
Even when Elizabeth kidnapped, Peter somehow didn't go over the edge. What kind of event would it take to do that?

Tim DeKay:
I don't know. I think Peter's certainly lost it a couple times with Neal, but kept trying to hold it together when Elizabeth was kidnapped. But, what would put Peter over the edge? I don't know if he can go completely over the edge. I don't know if he can.

Question:
As the relationship between Peter and Elizabeth has kind of changed, but not changed, is there any thought about that?

Tim DeKay:
I think Peter and Elizabeth have a fantastic relationship, but I have talked to the writers about this. I think in order to truly show how fantastic a relationship they have, I think it would be great to see an episode or two where they are in not great conflict, but a fairly strong conflict for a couple episodes.

I think it would be interesting because Peter would have to go to Neal for help on that. And I think it would be great to see how great a relationship these people have with how they handle a conflict. That's when you truly see how good a marriage people have is how they handle a conflict.

And then the thing about the issue of the baby, that's something the writers would have to bring up. I don't know. I think I'll just hold off on that for now, because I don't know, I've got a bunch of different thoughts on that.

Peter is now a workaholic and loves his job, and I think she loves that he loves his job. But, if you have a kid you're not longer a workaholic, you can become a bad dad. So, it's tricky and would Elizabeth want to bring a child into this kind of world? Yeah, where he's not going to be around? I don't know. It's great juicy stuff. I don't know, maybe that would be like bringing that up on the seventh or eighth season, let's say that.

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