BWW Interviews: Treat Williams Talks Guest Starring on USA's WHITE COLLAR
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by TV News Desk
Prolific character actor Treat Williams began acting on stage and made his Broadway debut in 'Grease' (1976), in which he eventually took over the leading role of Danny Zuko. His later Broadway credits included the musicals 'Over Here' and 'Pirates of Penzance'
His big screen credits include the film adaptation of Terrence McNally's play, "The Ritz" (1976) and the lead role of 'Berger' in 1979's "Hair" from director Milos Foreman. His other film credits include "Prince of the City", and "Once Upon a Time in America"
On TV, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor has starred as lawyer "Eddie Dodd" (1991) in the ABC legal drama series of the same name, and acted opposite Shelley Long in CBS' sitcom "Good Advice". From 2002 to 2006, he starred as neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew 'Andy' Brown in the popular WB primetime TV drama "Everwood" and in 2007, he headed the cast of the short-lived TNT medical drama "Heartland." He currently stars as Sam Phelps in USA Network's White Collar.
While battling a bad case of the flu, the busy actor spoke by phone about the complicated and mysterious character Sam Phelps, who first appears in tonight's mid-season premiere of 'White Collar' on USA Network.
"If I sound a little phlegmy I just came down with the flu, and I feel like a small gremlin got into my room last night and dinged me with a baseball bat," apologized the actor. "But I'm very happy to be here and thrilled that I can talk about the show!"
In what ways would you say you are most like and least like your character Sam?
You know, I watched the episode last night again and I think that, you know, one of the things that's very different between he and I is that he is troubled in the sense that he's spending time with this kid who is this love of his life though he was 5-years-old and was torn away from him by circumstances that he started.
But nonetheless - and I can see. It was interesting. I said, "This guy's in a lot of pain. This guy's having to keep it a secret that this is his long-lost son. But on the other hand he gets to be with him."
But I think that's the greatest difference between us, is that not too much bothers me.
What keeps challenging you about playing this character?
Eight-page monologues explaining my entire history with him. There's a lot of long walks on country roads in Vermont let me tell you! That was challenging. But I think that was about it. I mean, I - having played Prince of the City and to me it was like coming full circle.
You know, you have this cop who had been - done a bad thing and wanted to find his way home and realized he couldn't. He couldn't get out. Once you're in you can't get out.
And that really was - parallels Prince of the City to a great degree. And I was 30 when I shot that. So it's been - it was really kind of lovely to revisit that kind of character again 30 years later.
Will we see you on more than just the season opener and if so, could you tell us how many episodes.
You will see me on more than the season opener. I cannot remember how many I was on. But I signed on for six. And I honestly don't remember how many have been shown and I think there are at least two more before the season ends -- pretty sure.
As you filmed each episode were you aware of what was in store for your character's story line?
No I was not. And I finally - it was frustrating at first and I finally after reading the first deal I said, "Look these guys are such good writers I'm just going to go with the flow on this."
And, you know, I was as excited as anybody to get the next script and find out. I didn't even know until two or three episodes in whether I was going to end up being villainous or a good guy or, you know.
So it was fun. It was fun to kind of just get a script and go, "Oh okay. This is where we're going this week."
So that was actually - you know, once I let go of trying to control it, you know, I - actors really want to know what their background is and where they're heading and what the character's going to do. And I finally just said, "I'm just going to let Jeff write these wonderful scripts and launch as soon as I get them."
So many of your fans know you from your TV background. But you also have a strong background in musical theater. And I was wondering if you have any plans to return to your Broadway roots.
Very much so. I've actually sort of started the process. I moved back East, living in Vermont now. And this summer I'm going to be doing the Lion in Winter with the (Recher Theatre) Group. So I'm already sort of starting the process of working my way back into theater.
After four years when the show [Everwood] ended we just wanted to continue with our kids [on the West Coast]. They were right in the midst of grade school, middle school. And my daughter was, you know, in Kindergarten. We just thought it was a good idea to stay and we liked it there. And, you know, our kids were really settled in school.
But now that we're back I'm much more - I've been talking to people and going back and forth in New York starting to think about what I want to do. And this is the first - the first play I will do is Lion in Winter. So I'm very excited about that.
What would you still like to achieve in your career?
That's a very good question. You know, somebody asked me last year in an interview if I would ever retire. And I said, "You know, I would really like to retire eventually from working for money."
And I think that the goal is to really do those things that excite you and you're passionate about. And, you know, there's a period in time when your kids are in school and, you know, the bills need to be paid.
But I'd like to get to the point where - and I'm heading much more and more in that direction, where the work I do is the work I do because out of a great passion for it. And that's where it seems to be heading with this play in the summer.
What initially drew you to the role of Sam Phelps?
TWhen I saw the show I loved it. I thought the show had such a beautiful look. And being a New Yorker for 33 years, you know, there's a quality that Jeff Eastin seems to love Woody Allen - love New York like Woody Allen does. It's just - there's so much of the city as a character.
But I also - you know, those - there - it was a variety of things. Tim DeKay and I are old friends. Tim starred with me on Everwood the first season. I thought Matt was astonishingly good in the show. I loved, you know, the quality of the work in it.
And I don't think it's too often you get to play a character who is mysterious. And no one seems to know who he is or what's his next move. And that's always fun too. He's not just the dad. He's - we don't even know if he's the dad which is fun.
So I think it's mostly the mystery and the quality of the show. And I'm - I haven't played a cop in a long time since Prince of the City. And I thought that would be a lot of fun to kind of come full circle.
What's it like having Matt [Bomer] play your son?
Easy. I mean, I adore him. He has - he's a lot of fun on set. He takes the work very seriously and himself not so seriously.
He is (honorable) and humble and funny and a lot of the attributes that my son has. And I would be proud if he were my son. I just - it's just one of those things where he just - it was very, very easy. You know, I just adore him. I can't speak enough about him.
And whatever success he gets during the show and afterwards he deserves whole-heartedly. I don't know an actor who works as hard as Matt does.
You're one of the busiest and hardest-working actors around. What drives you so much to - you know, at this point in your career you probably could work a bit less and do other things.
But as I get older the parts, you know, are less and less dense. So I mean dense in terms of time. So I might do four days here and, you know, six days there. And I get bored, you know.
And so I would assume I average about 15 days a month. You know, half of my time is off still even though it looks like I'm doing a lot. So most Americans work all year long and get two weeks' vacation. So I feel like I'm one of the lucky ones!
ABOUT WHITE COLLAR:
In the mid-season premiere of USA network's White Collar entitled "Family Business", Peter and Neal attempt to find the truth behind Neal's father's crime. In doing so, Neal must go undercover into the world of counterfeit whiskey to take down a high level member of the Irish Mob. The episode airs Tuesday, January 22nd - 10/9c.
ABOUT Treat Williams:
Prolific character actor Treat Williams began acting on stage and made his Broadway debut in 'Grease' (1976), in which he eventually took over the leading role of Danny Zuko. His later Broadway credits included the musicals 'Over Here' and 'Pirates of Penzance' and the reader's-theatre exercise 'Love Letters.'
He starred on the big screen in the mid 1970s with a role in the film adaptation of Terrence McNally's play, "The Ritz" (1976). He has since played major roles in such films as "Hair" (1979), "Prince of the City" (1981), "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), "Smooth Talk" (1985), "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" (1995), "Mulholland Falls" (1996), "The Phantom" (1996), "The Devil's Own" (1997), "Deep Rising" (1998), "The Deep End of the Ocean" (1999), "Hollywood Ending" (2002), and "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous" (2005).
On TV, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor has starred in the TV movies "Dempsey" (1983), "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1984), "J. Edgar Hoover" (1987), "Echoes in the Darkness" (1987), "The Late Shift" (1996), "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1999), and "Guilty Hearts" (2002). He also portrayed mercenary-turned-teacher Karl Thomasson in the sequels "The Substitute 2: School's Out" (1998), "The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All" (1999), and "The Substitute: Failure Is Not an Option" (2001; V). Additionally, he made his directorial debut with "Texan" (1994), an acclaimed 26-minute short film written by David Mamet.
He starred as lawyer "Eddie Dodd" (1991) in the ABC legal drama series of the same name, and acted opposite Shelley Long in CBS' sitcom "Good Advice" (1993-1994), playing divorce attorney Jack Harold. From 2002 to 2006, he starred as neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew 'Andy' Brown in the popular WB primetime TV drama "Everwood" and in 2007, he headed the cast of the short-lived TNT medical drama "Heartland," playing heart surgeon Dr. Nathaniel 'Nate' Grant. He currently stars as Sam Phelps in USA Network's White Collar.
Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network