White Collar Season 4 Interview: Tim DeKay Discusses Empire City

White Collar‘s upcoming episode, “Empire City,” will boast not only great guest stars like Diahann Caroll, Bill Bellamy, Keith Robinson, Joe Forbrich, Eliyas Qureshi and Haneefah Wood, but it’s also directed by Tim DeKay, who plays Peter Burke on the show. TV Equals was happy to be a part of the conference call to learn more about “Empire City” and what it was like for DeKay to direct his co-stars.

DeKay directing DeKay

One might think it was tough for DeKay to direct himself, but according to DeKay, it was easy.

“No, it’s not too difficult to be honest with you, because we’ve got…the writer, Channing Powell, who wrote the episode. She was there the whole time. And also, I look to my DP a few times,” he said. “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 percent of the time I’ll know whether or not my – the moment is right for me as far as acting. So, it…wasn’t too difficult, no.”

Beating the clock

DeKay said that one of this biggest directing challenges is getting as much material in within a limited amount of time.

“[T]he writers always write a wonderful big episode, so it seems, and you always want to be able to have a lot of coverage. You want to – you think of all these cool shots, but there just isn’t enough time in the day,” he said. “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.”

DeKay’s favorite moment

One of DeKay’s favorite moment from “Empire City” involved Caroll.

“[O]ne 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,” he said. “…[I]t 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.”

DeKay’s White Collar directorial goal

Last season, DeKay debut as a director included shooting in Yankee Stadium and, as stated above, “Empire City” has a portion that takes place in the Cotton Club. DeKay said he has a place he’d love to film when he gets the chance to direct another White Collar episode.

“I don’t know, some other iconic place in New York, maybe Madison Square Garden,” he said. “There you go, that’s my aim for next season…”

What’s surprising about Peter Burke

Even though DeKay has played Peter for several years now, he is still surprised by aspects of his character.

“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,” he said. “The writers have been able to continue to have Peter walk on that…line of being a friend to Neal, and yet having to answer to his job as an FBI agent.”

Peter’s backstory

“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,” said DeKay about the possibility of revealing more of Peter’s backstory. “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 I would – how we would delve into Peter’s backstory would only be so that we could keep the story moving forward.”

Directing the cast

DeKay had nothing but kind words to say about directing his cast mates.

“[I]t’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,” he said. “And…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…’Let’s put Peter in a hospital [from the car accident] so Tim can go out and scout certain locations.’”

“But,” he said, “I also like these kinds of episodes 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 just – it’s great fun when everybody on the show has a clever moment, at least a clever moment.”

White Collar‘s episode “Empire City” airs Tuesday, February 5 at 10/9c on USA.