Willie Garson took time out of his busy schedule during a recent conference call to reveal a few secrets about his character Mozzie on the red-hot USA Network series White Collar.
Portraying Neal Caffrey’s most trusted friend and co-conspirator, Mozzie, Willie said that one of the biggest challenges in the first season was how much the FBI was allowed to be aware of Mozzie and whether the way he operates, both within and around the law, is available for use by the FBI. In the second season, FBI agent Peter Burke will explore actually working with Mozzie, but in moderation. Willie shared, “We’ll be playing a lot more with that and how much I can be involved actually with the FBI. . . . we’ll be seeing him working more intrinsically with the cases. . . So, there’ll be plenty of Mozzie this year.”
Willie also loves the fact that Mozzie is called upon to pretend to be so many different characters on the show depending on the con that they set up. He is excited that in this upcoming season the audience will see a bit more into Mozzie’s life. For example, it will be revealed where Mozzie lives – or rather where he sleeps as he seems to have more than one “home.”
Willie said, “It is very interesting. I will tell you this, Mozzie doesn’t live in one place . . . Mozzie is a hidden guy. So, I don’t think it’s going to be any surprise that he lives in more than one place.”
He admitted that for him it is incredible to play a character whose past and identity has remained such a mystery. He shared that “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.” He further explained that, “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.”
Using just three words to describe Mozzie, Willie described him as: complicated, trustworthy, and educated — and what really motivates him is “the chance for a new experience, always, and possibly a good meal. A good meal and a glass of wine … lust for life which is a great thing.” In fact, if Mozzie were to plan a caper, Willie thought it would have to involve wine since it is elegant and because Mozzie considers himself to be a bit of a dandy. Thus, for him, it would definitely have to be a high-end caper. He also speculated that if Mozzie was harboring a secret it was probably that he was married with four kids and living on Long Island.
Willie really enjoys the full range of emotions he gets to play portraying Mozzie. He said, “What’s great is that [I] 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, [what] I love . . . about the show is that it can switch gears . . . 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.”
When asked what character traits he shares with Mozzie, Willie admitted that they shared a certain level of intelligence and cynicism, that they are both very well read, and that they both have strong opinions. Thus, he laughingly said that this role is probably one of the closest roles he has played to himself!
Willie also appreciates the varied and distinct wardrobe he wears on the show. He said, “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 [he] can never look homeless — we call it homeless chic.” Accordingly, he works very closely with the set costumer and credits her with helping create and maintain the specific look for Mozzie. He described that in trying to figure out how to portray Mozzie, “He’s definitely not based on anyone else. . . . 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.”
Willie shared that one of his favorite things about White Collar is that it does not assume the audience is stupid, which is a rare thing on television — and for that he is grateful to Jeff Eastin. He never made that assumption and the show is richer and more entertaining for it.
For Willie, it has been fascinating discovering that what motivates the criminals portrayed on the show is that they do not just want to acquire or steal something. For most, it is the love of the game. He explained, “it doesn’t matter what the crime is. It’s actually the act of doing it is what’s exciting to them.” Just like in real life, it is not the end result that matters to Mozzie, but more that Mozzie just loves the game and the chance to play it with Neal. Mozzie does not seem to care that Neal is now working with the FBI because to him it is still just a game and he relishes the chance to keep playing it. Willie admitted, “It doesn’t matter to Mozzie if we’re doing good or evil. All that matters to Mozzie is that [he gets] to keep doing capers.”
Willie also explained that Mozzie’s friendship with Neal derives from how opposites attract and that “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. . [and] it ends up being a nearly perfect arrangement between the two of them.”
However, with the next season about to launch, Mozzie is no longer limited to simply working with Neal. He will become more involved in working with Peter and Peter’s wife, Elizabeth. Throwing a bone to the fans, Willie cheekily mentioned that Mozzie and Elizabeth are now so close that they are dating. Before anyone could take him seriously, he amended that answer to share that “there’s actually some stuff in the script that we’re doing right now where Mozzie and Elizabeth work quite closely together. . . It’s great. I’ve been friends with Tiffani for a long time. So, this is fun that we get to do this together.”
He also loves working with Tim DeKay who has been a friend for over 20 years and revealed that because of their shared background in musical theater, he, Tim and Matt are quick to whip out the show tunes on set. He said, “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.”
Then as one last final spoiler tidbit, Willie mentioned that Diane Farr would be guest-starring as a romantic interest for Mozzie, but lamented that it was limited to one episode so far. He shared that “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.”
So besides being blessed to work with so many familiar and friendly faces, Willie is getting to play the role of a lifetime.
White Collar returns for its second season on Tuesday, July 13 at 10/9c on USA Network.