Clothes make the con man on ‘White Collar’

Source: Star-Telegram
Date: June 7, 2011

There’s a touch of larceny in all of us.

Matt Bomer, star of USA’s White Collar, thinks that’s the key to his show’s appeal.

“Anyone who has ever been a 4-year-old or a teenager wanting something from his parents innately has what it takes to be a con artist,” says Bomer, who plays a con man turned crime consultant for the FBI.

The it-takes-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief series begins its third season of capers at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

In the twist-filled return, Bomer’s character, the always impeccably dressed Neal Caffrey, finds himself pulled in two directions. As the season progresses, we’ll find out which impulse, the desire to be a good guy or to return to his criminal ways, is stronger.

We chatted with Bomer, a native Texan (born and raised in Spring), about the new season:

There’s a famous Laurence Olivier quote: “What is acting but lying and what is good acting but convincing lying?” As an actor who plays a con artist, do you agree?

“It is strikingly similar in many ways, between acting and a good con. You have to know who you’re personifying. You have to know who your mark is and what you want from them. You have to do a lot of homework and research to make it as specific as possible to be able to pull it off. Of course, I don’t think I have the chutzpah to pull off the high-stake cons that Neal does!”

Any clues as to who Neal ultimately will listen to this season: the angel whispering in one ear or the devil whispering in the other?

“That’s a big part of what this season’s about: Neal trying to straddle both worlds of collaborating with the FBI and also a side project with Mozzie (Neal’s criminal buddy, played by Willie Garson). His struggle is figuring out which step he’s going to take. Something smart that I think the writers did this season was that they really remind the audience that he’s a criminal. Is he stuck being the person he thinks he was born to be? Or can his relationship with Peter [his FBI partner, played by Tim DeKay] change his path and his life?”

Is that why Neal’s electronic monitoring anklet is so prominent in the season premiere? To remind viewers that Peter still sees Neal as a criminal and a prisoner?

“I would say so. The anklet’s sort of a constant ball and chain. Neal has always reminded me of when you’re a kid and you’ve caught some kind of critter and you try to put it in a little shoebox and cut holes in the top, but you realize it’s so innately wild [that] you should just let it go. That’s kind of how I’ve always felt about Neal. The anklet is the leash that’s keeping him from being who he wants to become.”

What do you think Neal’s stylish Rat Pack-inspired wardrobe says about him?

“It’s a huge part of the character. The Rat Pack embodied so much of Neal’s personality — the whole Frank and Dino aspect of the Rat Pack, guys who lived the high-stakes existence but were relaxed about it and stylish and had a flair and weren’t afraid to flaunt their class. Also, when you’re maneuvering in that white collar world, which is very ritzy, it’s a uniform that tells people you should be taken seriously. So the way he moves in the clothes, the way he chooses them, is very important to the character.”

USA’s pithy tagline for this season is “Choose a side.” Has there ever been a pivotal time in your life when you had to choose a side?

“It was dodge ball in fourth grade. The outcome was I got hit with the dodge ball. I’m kidding, of course. I don’t know. I can’t think of something off the top of my head, so I’m sticking with dodge ball.”