Season four of White Collar (USA Network, Summer Finale Tonight, 9/8C) has found Neal trying to learn about his father, and working with a mysterious man named Sam. This evening’s episode brings things to a boil, metaphorically, with the show’s quietest, yet most emotionally explosive cliffhanger yet
Series creator Jeff Eastin (Pictured with Matt Bomer, above) spoke with a group of bloggers/journalists late last week to tease the summer finale, set up the rest of the season and to give us a bit of a look at his new Show, Graceland – about a beach house that serves as home to a group of young agents for various government agents (Customs, DEA, FBI…), and will be darker and more action-orientated than White Collar.
Hi, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you.
Jeff Eastin: Hi, you too.
I was wondering, how much darker is Graceland going to be than White Collar?
Eastin: I can say a fair amount. You know, USA has really been pushing the boundaries a little bit lately. I mean, considerably darker than White Collar, and I would say we’re probably about the same – you know the same distance away from (Susan), you know in even darker directions. So, you know it’s – we just keep kind of pushing that boundary a little bit.
At the same time, trying to keep the blue sky motif that USA has really popularized, and you know I think it’ll be real interesting to see if, you know the same people that like White Collar will like Graceland. I mean, from the testing it looks like they will.
That’s a very intriguing answer. Is there any chance for Gloria Votsis and Treat Williams to return next season?
Eastin: Yes, I think there’s definitely a chance for that.
Finally, what do you think it is about White Collar that continues to make it such a fan favorite show?
Eastin: Oh, I don’t know. I think, you know, since the beginning we’ve tried something a little different. I mean, you know we’re, you know one of the few shows that kind of on a regular basis talk about, you know Dega paintings and, you know quote liberally from, you know famous people throughout history and play chess, and people will still tune in and watch. I think we’ve tried to kind of keep the show smart that way.
And at the same time, I think just that and the chemistry between, you know, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay and Willie Garson probably keeps people coming back.
I would be remiss if I didn’t start by saying thank you on behalf of all the (unintelligible) fans out there who have been joining me, the shirtless Peter campaigns (unintelligible)…
…so, finally you have given us what we’ve asked for.
Eastin: There you go. We’ve been trying to for a couple seasons actually.
Yes, we noticed when – (in with the lead at) (unintelligible). So…
…thank you very much anyway.
So, we’re seeing a few reminders of Season 1 in the last two episodes leading to next week’s season finale. When you were breaking the story, then – and the Season 4 mythology at the start of the year, did you always plan for this mid-season finale to involve an element of nostalgia between Neal and Peter before the cliffhanger?
Eastin: Yeah, you know that we kind of planned on. You know, the tough part of about this show a lot of times is really, you know trying to keep things fresh between Neal and Peter. You know, it’s the easiest thing. And the thing that I see on Twitter a lot are people saying, “Oh, just – you know just make them happy. Just let them be friends. Take away Neal’s (angles).” And, you know it’s like as easy as that would be I think then we’d just end up with another, you know police procedural show where the – you know two pretty guys banter solving crimes.
And, you know we try to keep it a little more on edge that, and you know I find the show probably works the best when, you know Neal and Peter are talking together and we think everything is fine, but you know as Neal leaves the room Peter’s eyes kind of narrow and we realize he thinks he’s up to something. To me, that’s when the show works the best, and that’s been really the hard thing, especially, you know going into the middle of our fourth season to try to maintain that – you know maintain that sort of suspicion between the two guys in a way that, you know it just doesn’t anger, you know the majority of the fans.
So far, I’ve only seen a few fans angry about it, but you know for the most part I think it’s that kind of stuff that keeps it intriguing.
Yeah. What’s the craziest theory you’ve seen or heard regarding Neal’s father? There have been a lot of people who’ve been, you know coming up with theories, and some of them are true and have been avoiding telling them whether they’re right or not having seen…
…the (unintelligible). But, what’s the craziest one you’ve seen or heard for that?
Eastin: Boy, let’s see, probably I’ve heard the one that, you know that Tim turned out to be his father. You know, that Tim’s his father, which you know is pretty cool. I’m exposing it in a metaphorical way is probably the most accurate. But, you know that was pretty crazy. I like the ones that say George Clooney is his father. I haven’t quite been able to pull that off and why we would have liked to, but – so those are probably the two that I find the most interesting.
Will we ever find out what happened to Neal’s mother?
Eastin: Yeah, hopefully we have a few seasons left to go and we may…
…so not this season, but – yeah…
…so not this season, but maybe in the future?
Eastin: Yep. It’s possible.
First, before I say anything about the episode, I have to thank you and congratulate you for the truly awful pun for the summer finale’s title, Vested Interest. That – yeah, that just works. Now, the big question for me is White Collar has consistently come up with wonderful cliffhangers – mid-season, season finale. I mean, you’ve Mozzie shot and you’ve Elizabeth kidnapped, you’ve found treasure, you had Neal go on the run, what was it about this season’s arc that made you want to go that still, quiet place that you went to for this one?
Eastin: I take it you’ve seen it then?
Eastin: Okay. I think really, you know probably my favorite finale we’ve had was last year for Season 3 when Neal’s on the airplane and we just pulled on his face for about a solid minute. And, you know the reaction to that was actually very good. And I think anytime we can do that without, you know kind of resorting to – I shouldn’t say resorting to, but without having to so far as to shoot somebody or something like that works for me, because it means it’s working on an emotional level, and that was part of it.
And, you know the other part was just, you know in the arc of telling the story, this is where we wanted to end up, and that’s sort of what seemed to be the best reaction to it. So, I think that – I think the answer was probably a little bit, you know less thought out. We wanted to end with something kind of still and more than just – it seemed the circumstances called for it.
Cool. And the Peter/Neal case this week is set in an FBI convention, how did that idea come about?
Eastin: Oh, that was something we, again, wanted to do for a while. Those are always tough to pull off because, you know on a cable budget trying to do a – like a big convention is always a tough thing, because you know in our minds we pictured hundreds of people and, you know hundreds of FBI guys wandering around, and of course we can’t afford hundreds of guys wandering around. So we end up with, you know about 30, 40 extras and you try to move them around.
So we’d had, you know I think – we’d had that one on the back burner for a while. We just sort of like the idea of a FBI conference where Peter would get to be the star. Where, you know Neal would be sort of held up a little bit as a – you know was the sideshow attraction, and Peter would be the star, and then we’d throw some kind of caper on top of it. And I think, you know just as we’re going through the (bore) that one kind of landed naturally, and we kind of liked it, so that was pretty much it.
It was interesting to watch what was going on in – when Matt and Tim were in the scene with the – doing the panel for the FBI, and you could – the bromance there was so – while they talked about it a lot it wasn’t really there. And you wonder how far this relationship, based on what’s happened, has deteriorated on the – you know on the part of Matt’s character, because he’s obviously not feeling the love.
And I – given that I haven’t finished that whole episode yet, where – how far will Tim take this, in terms of where it pushes the show to the edge of where people are wondering can this relationship continue?
Eastin: Well, they may wonder that. And, you know we’re not under any – we don’t have any plans to break it up completely, you know? It’s like – it’s – as I told somebody once, it’s like TV, there’s going to be ebbs and flows in it and, you know as much as we’d like to just settle down, and like I said, just let them – you know let them relax and be buddies, it’s not really something that we’re prepared to do yet.
So, you know they’re going to have some problems, and in this case, you know it definitely, you know pushes – pushed the relationship a little, but you know we’ve pushed it pretty far before. And in this case, you know things get – they get worse before they get better, how about that? But, I’ll just say that, you know when you come back – in Season 4-1/2 they definitely get better.
Okay. And then Graceland, what – how did that really come about? I mean, how did – what made you sit down and think, ‘I’ve got to create this.’
Eastin: You know, I’d – CAA, my agent, said – had hooked me up with a guy who had really – he was a real guy who’d run one of these houses and, you know it is a true story. And, you know it’s like there were these seized drug lord beach houses and they decided, you know it’s hard to get kids to – or, I’m sorry, it’s very hard to get kids to L.A. because, you know if you want fun and sun and you’re a new undercover agent just out of any of the Federal Agencies, they usually go to Florida because it’s cheaper.
So, what they did is they said, ‘Well, let’s take some of these, you know drug mansions and we’ll make them sort of a big flop house for these new undercover agents.’ And one of the guys who’d been in charge in one of the first ones had brought that story to CAA and they introduced me to them. This guy named (John Marcello). And I met with him and, you know he kind of explained how the real house worked. And from there I just said, ‘This story’s too good not to tell.’
Got it. Got it. And do you – is – it’s already cast and being filmed?
Eastin: Oh, yeah. We already shot the pilot and, you know now we’re into the series. We start shooting in about eight weeks. And yeah, it will air sometime next summer.
Super. Can you tell us who’s in it?
Eastin: Yeah, Daniel Sunjata from Rescue Me, Aaron Tveit, who was last seen playing Frank Abagnale, Jr. on Broadway. He has very limited TV, but, you know really fantastic actor. Vanessa Ferlito, who’s done a lot features, including, you know Tarantino’s (Dead Even) – no, what was her movie she did for Tarantino? Oh, Death Proof, sorry. Manny Montana, who had a smaller part in Chicago Code. And Brandon Jay McLaren, who is a Canadian actor and he’s done a few things recently. I’m trying to think of the last one he did. I’m trying to think, it was Harper’s Island.
Man: The Killing.
Eastin: The Killing. Thank you. Sorry. And, you know Joe and Jay Stern from The Shield, and that pretty much rounds out our cast there. And yeah, I mean it came together really amazingly. I mean, Daniel was sort of surprised too. I mean, he wasn’t at all like what I was picturing, but you know he’s the lead character in there and just really, you know just blew us all away in the lead.
I – you came to a TCA session the first – before you started the series…
Eastin: Oh, yeah.
…and you told us that this is after Catch Me If You Can story, but after he…
Jeff Eastin: Right.
…gets caught. And is – I know that was your vision, and is this going where you want it to go, or has it changed because of other organic things that you didn’t expect?
Eastin: Oh, a little bit of both. I mean, I think, you know for the most part I’d never dreamed of Season 4, so you know let alone Season 5, so I hadn’t really thought through that far. But, you know just in terms of, you know how we got here and taken the characters in the direction that just sort of feel right, you know I’m very happy with that.
I think, you know, some of the things were a little bit surprising. Like, I didn’t know Mozzie would breakout quite the way he did, and that’s changed a few things. You know, you hope for some of these things, but you just can’t ever tell. You know, that’s changed things a little bit. You know, Matt Bomer’s breakout has really changed things also a little bit.
So, a couple of those things have changed things, not necessarily in major ways, but like, you know with Bomer it’s a lot about trying to accommodate his future film schedule sometimes…
Eastin: …which means cutting him down, you know here and there in a couple of the episodes; things like that. But, you know overall, just in terms of the direction of the show and things like that, I’m very happy with it.
Well, we are happy with it too. I mean, I can’t get enough of it, and this is the big show in Japan too, and so thank you for this wonderful show. This is amazing.
Eastin: You know, I had no idea, I’d like to know why it’s big in Japan, but we – I’ve heard it is.
Well, I mean, hey, you can’t go wrong with Matt Bomer, right? And we love Mozzie too, so you know this is a wonderful show. Do you have any idea how you want to take this?
Do you already have an arc in how you’re going to want to end it?
Eastin: Yeah, actually I know right now how I want it. I do have – I do know, I mean…
Oh, no, I’m not asking for it, but yes.
Eastin: …I do know how I want to end the series. I can’t tell you that, but…
Oh, I’m sure. I know. I’m not asking for it, but I just wanted to figure out if you have that already in mind.
Eastin: Yeah, I would say I have it. I’ll tease it and just say it all involves a flip of a coin, how about that?
Eastin: There you go.
I wanted to say that you’re fortunately very busy right now, so I just thought I’d ask how different is your life now that you’re writing for two series instead of just one, and how are you managing that schedule?
Eastin: It’s been very, very busy. Let’s see, I’m not – I don’t – how do I want to say? It’s like originally we’d overlapped the shows about two weeks. I sort of started Graceland writer’s room, you know during the finale of White Collar, which was kind of crazy, and – it’s something I hope to never have to experience again. But, now that White Collar is wrapped up I’m just working on Graceland. It’s eased back quite a bit.
So, you know other than just, you know really not taking a break, it’s been pretty easy. You know, I’m – I’ll see what happens, you know next year if we have to overlap on the backside of things, but so far so good. You know, I realize if Graceland is successful, you know I may never have a break for at least probably the next three or four years. And, you know that’s a little intimidating.
I absolutely love White Collar, and this season has been a real treat because Treat Williams is joining the show. How many episodes do you think he’ll back on for next year?
Eastin: Well, if we’re talking – you know because there’s second Season 4.5, I can tell you exactly, because he’s, I believe, in three. So yes, that’s about all I know at the moment.
How hard was it casting Neal’s dad?
Eastin: Well, assuming we have cast his dad, I would say it’s a difficult challenge.
Oh, so you’re saying something might happen after the season finale big reveal?
Eastin: It’s possible. Anything’s possible.
Oh, no. And what can we expect in 4.5?
Eastin: Well, let’s see, we can expect – oh, let’s see, we can expect Neal to – you know Neal and Peter repair their relationship. And then, you know since it’s really – we end up meeting sort of our big bad for the half – the next – you know for Season 4.5, and in that we also – Neal and Peter are going for… And that takes up the bulk of the remaining episodes, you know the Season.
And, you know I think the cliffhanger, you know at the end of Season 4.5 is pretty awesome. You know, I think, again, it’s really – really sort of refocuses on Peter’s relationship with Neal, and really how in a lot of ways, you know Peter is sort of father that Neal never had.
You are the king of cliffhangers, which would be your favorite so far for White Collar?
Eastin: Probably last year, the one with Neal in the airplane where we hold on his face for about seven minutes solid. You know, I really liked that one. You know, there’s been some other ones that were pretty good, but that one just kind of sticks in mind. It’s – that – it was one – that was probably, you know other than the pilot that was probably my favorite episode. And just, as far as an ending goes, just – you know ending on Matt’s face, you know and the series of emotions he goes through on the plane is kind of tough to beat.
Has there ever been a case that you’ve wanted to do on the show that you haven’t been able to do yet?
Eastin: Oh yeah, there’s several that we still have on our – you know our to-do board that we just can’t do for – usually it’s budgetary reasons or it’s just we haven’t filmed the right – you know the right guest cast to do it, and things like that. You know, I’m trying to think of a specific one that we haven’t done. They’re usually just the bigger ones.
Like you know one we’d love to is, that we’ve had on the board, is this idea that – it’s Tim’s father, that Peter’s father is (unintelligible), and that he’s given Peter this really, you know cherried out, I don’t know what it would be, cherried out convertible Mustang or something like that. And, you know afraid he’s going to lose his dad if Peter decides to drive it out to him, and takes Neal along for the ride. So, it would just be our two guys in a car just driving. I mean, he already did a similar episode with Clooney and, you know Dr. Green.
And, you know I particularly love that episode in the ER and I always thought we should do one like that, but that’s a tough one. I mean, it’s our two guys in a car driving cross country is – you know our production crew isn’t really geared up to do something like that, but it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.
That would be cool. And talking about guest cast, who will be coming up in 4.5?
Eastin: Yeah, let me pull up my list here. Let’s see, we have Emily Procter coming up who I always – have loved since her days at — oh gosh, I’m totally forgetting my favorite show — at West Wing. And let’s see, who else do we have here? And let’s see, we have, you know Treat obviously is coming back, Sprague Grayden, who I love. And actually, Scott Evans, who does a great little arc for us. He plays (Dennis Flan), and he’s really fantastic. Let’s see, who else do we have here?
We have Titus Welliver, who plays our big bad through the season. We’ve got Bill Bellamy coming up in our Episode 4.13, which is sort of a big jazz episode featuring, you know Diahann Carroll singing quite a bit, which will be fun. And then, let’s see who else we have, we have – oh, we have Jackson Rathbone coming up in 4 – in 4 – in Episode 4.14, and that’s sort of our Bonnie and Clyde episode, which came out really well. And then, Emily Procter, and let’s see who else we have, we have – that’s about it.
We have Titus and Emily in our big finale, which also takes place at the Empire State Building, which is was really a good gig for us, and we were very excited to be able to shoot there.
Sorry, last question because I know other people are on this call. You guys have shot at a lot of New York iconic locations, have you ever had any issues or how have the people in New York taken to you all?
Eastin: Strangely enough it’s like, you know this season, you know, every season we go it gets nicer. I mean, people now recognize the show. So, you know if anything now a lot of times we’ll lose a take here and there from people driving by and screaming Matt’s name or screaming White Collar, which is – you know which is kind of cool. I think there’s a few tour buses where people they’ll be driving by and they will point us out on the side of the road, and that’s ruined a couple of the takes, but that’s made the Blooper Reel.
With Graceland, since the network wanted to go darker with the series, while also appealing to a younger generation, what do you think that says about what audiences are willing to accept on TV these days?
Eastin: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know if it says they’ll accept more things. White Collar, in a weird way, became a family show without – really without my wanting it to be a family show. I mean, I started it out just, you know I wanted to try to do something that was smart and, you know we tried to kind of, you know keep the dialogue and, you know keep the subject matter, you know again smart. You know, going after, you know paintings and quoting famous people; that kind of thing.
And we haven’t really changed that, and I was surprised how many people came and said, ‘You know, I love your show. I love to watch it with the kids.’ And, you know we’ve done, you know fairly well in the demos these days, but you know I think just in terms of USA’s pursuit, you know the younger demo, you know you take things, I don’t even know if I’d call it a darker direction, it’s much – I think it’s maybe a more provocative direction.
I mean, the fact that, you know the guys on suits will smoke pot I think probably just appeals a little bit more to a younger demo. And it’s things like that that we sort of push Graceland in that direction, not necessarily that they’re (unintelligible) or smoking pot, but just the fact that, you know we deal with some issues that, you know maybe you wouldn’t want your, you know, 12-year old kid watching.
And, you know I think that’s probably always been the case. I think, you know if you went back to the 70s, if you went back, you know to the 80s and 90s you’d find that, you know younger people are watch – you know will watch stuff that’s a little more provocative than more wholesome. So, I don’t know if says much about changing patterns or anything like that, more than just the fact that, you know kids – you know young people like things a little more titillating.
Well, when researching the various agencies did you find there was a natural rivalry between the DEA, FBI, and Customs, or are they receptive to working together?
Eastin: Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve seen anything on the – I don’t think they really said anything on the pilot yet, but yeah, in reality, you know definitely there’s quite a bit of a rivalry. And I think what really appealed to me about this story was this is a case, again, a real house where they took undercovers from Customs, DEA, FBI and, you know shoved them all into one house. And they started to, you know almost emerge together into one like hybrid agency, and all these people were undercover.
So, what you ended up with is a situation where, you know had this house and the only place these people could be themselves was inside the house, because you were with people of your own kind, because if you stepped out the door they were lying to their neighbors, they were, you know telling people they were ski instructors or trust fund kids and, you know they stepped inside those walls of that house and they could be themselves. They stepped outside they were living a lie.
And it’s the pressure – you know sort of the pressure (unintelligible) environment that that created is really what, you know drew me to the piece. And unlike, you know other agencies who you might have a rivalry between, you know, let’s say DEA and Customs, it didn’t really exist within the house because it was one of those where, you know it’d be – you know on Saturday somebody’s like, ‘Hey, I’m going to go do a buy/bust at the airport. Anybody want to go?’ And one of the FBI guys is like, ‘Yeah, sure. I’ve got nothing to do. I’ll go.’
So, it was probably the one place you didn’t have those rivalries exist, but what you had in place of that is you had these real human rivalries where you get pissed off because, you know it’s like it was your turn to clean the bathrooms today and you didn’t do it. So, that really took precedence over it and you had a lot of people – you know the house was good idea and it’s – there’s still a lot of it that still exists, but it’s like, you know just the pressure there to exist in such a tight confine with people in real high pressure jobs. You know, a lot of – there was a lot of burnout. You know, the people lasted about two years on average there just because they couldn’t take the pressure of really, you know having no real life outside of the, you know eight folks inside the house.
You touched on this a bit, but you know Peter and Neal have been going through some serious trust issues last season and this season. How do they tackle the trust issue in the summer finale, and will Peter and Neal ever really be able to trust each other completely?
Eastin: Yeah, I think – look, there’s something they say in the finale when they said, “You know we – even if we don’t have trust we have faith.” And, you know that was something that we had talked about. It’s like a certain point these guys, you know have been through so much, and Peter especially has put up with so much from Neal. And, you know the one thing he sort of discovers is, you know there’ll never be a time when Neal betrays him.
You know, Neal is sort of like a petulant child sometimes, and he may lie about where’s he going and what he’s doing, but when, you know the shit hits the fan he’s going to be there for Peter no matter what. And I think Peter knows that, and I think he just takes some solace from that that, you know if Neal says, you know he’s going to June’s party – you know June’s party he may actually be sneaking off with Mozzie to do something. But, if it ever came down to protecting Peter, you know it’s one of those things where there’s going to be no question that – whose side he’s going to fall on.
Cool. Can you talk about Sprague Grayden, because her scene in Gloves Off ended up being like a really emotional moment. It was amazing. How hard was it to cast a young Ellen, Judith Ivey?
Eastin: It was probably not has hard as I thought it would be. Jeff King, who tend to handles all our casting out there in New York, really does a good job with that stuff and he kind of knows everybody. Like, he’ll just be throwing off names and I’ll have to be sitting there IMDb-ing them trying to figure out who he’s talking about.
But, you know Sprague is really fantastic and, you know really surprised me just by how good she was. And actually, she’ll be back in Episode – you know in the mid-season return episode she’s back and we actually get to see a lot of the flashbacks, you know Neal’s father dealing with her. And, you know she impressed me enough that I’m actually considering trying to find a spot for her in Graceland in – for the new show as playing a cop.
Awesome. And finally, is Sara and Neal’s story over? What…
Eastin: No, no, not by a long…
…do you think about them as a couple?
Eastin: No, not necessarily. I mean, we just finished our – we just finished up the finale, finale for Season 4-1/2 and she’s in it pretty heavily, so I don’t think they’re over yet.
Jeff. You know, I’m actually fascinated by what goes on in the writer’s room. Who comes up with the craziest scenes, because I know you’ve mentioned before that a lot of the story lines start with an idea you have about with a particular scene, and then you just develop the rest of the episode around that. But, who comes up with some of the best and funniest, or craziest scenes?
Eastin: Oh, well, that’s a tough one. I mean, sort of everybody does. I mean, I probably take the credit for the most craziest, but I don’t know if there’s anybody in particular. I’m trying to think who may be the like – it might be a tie between Channing Powell, Joe Henderson, and Jim Campolongno just for the, you know sheer insanity would probably go to one of those three. But, I’m pretty good at coming up with stuff that – well, I should say that just because I’m the boss. You know, you no matter how crazy mine are, I usually get to do them, so the ones that get the biggest eye rolls make up (unintelligible).
Okay. And I’ve been asked to ask you, is there any significance to Neal’s birthday being March 21?
Eastin: Yeah, that’s my dad’s birthday.
Oh, excellent. One last one, where has Satchmo been this season?
Eastin: Satchmo has really been – actually that’s a good question. I think he’s in quite a bit of the second half of the season, so it never really occurred to me that we were Satchmo-light in the first half. So, he’s still there. He’s still around.
Yeah, we haven’t seen him so far, so we were just wondering what’s been happing to him, but…
Eastin: Well, there you go. He’s around.
Q: …okay, so we’ll look out for him the rest of the season.
Eastin: Thank you.
Has there been any talk about learning more on Sara’s search for her long lost sister?
Eastin: Yeah. As a matter of fact we deal with that a little bit in the second half of the season, which actually leads up to a bit of the of crescendo with their – with – yep. And then, I can just say that, you know I personally love Hilarie Burton, and you know even when – oh, when this – with Season 4 ends, I don’t think Neal and Sara’s relationship is completely over. And we will definitely deal with Hilarie’s sister in some of those later episodes – or some of those later seasons.
Great. And what have you learned from your work on White Collar that you’ll bring with you to Graceland, or that you’ll leave behind?
Eastin: Oh, it’s an interesting question. I think, you know what I’ve done that I think has been really helpful since, you know we’re – you know this is really our – the first big week we’ve had working – or actually our second big week working on Graceland since, like I said, I was overlapping with White Collar and I couldn’t do a great deal of work of Graceland on those days when I was trying to finish the finale of White Collar.
I held over a few of my White Collar writers with me, Joe Henderson and Dan Shattuck and Matt Negrete and Jim Campolongno came over with me to Graceland. They’re coming over for various times. You know, some guys are coming over for just a few weeks, some are coming for, you know like over a month and a half, but the idea that I really wanted was I wanted to start in a room where – you know where they knew me, knew what I did. Stuff like that, and that’s really helped because, you know in addition to them we’ve got, you know about seven new writers who I’ve never worked with. And so far the mix has really helped and really worked well.
You know, probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned to take over with me is – what do I want to say? Sometimes I’m like too nice of a guy and when the room’s working on an idea that I don’t particularly like, I think I’ve learned to just, you know ignore people’s feelings and just say, ‘No, it’s not. You guys, look, we either need to start over or fix it,’ which at the end of the day I think the writers actually appreciate. So, they’re not – they feel – I think at this point they feel pretty good that if I say I like it, I really liked it. That’s probably been the biggest thing.
But in terms of, you know just the practicality of production, is probably the thing – biggest thing I brought with me, and that’s just, you know these things where in White Collar we’ll bite off a lot sometimes and, you know like we’ve learned pretty quickly in White Collar, for example. You know, with the budget we have we don’t do action particularly well. Like, you know we traded action for New York really.
I mean, if you look at Burn Notice that show does action very well. You know, they’re shooting down in Florida, which works great for them, but if we’d had wanted to really make White Collar an action show we would have probably shot in Toronto and – which is – would be a lot cheaper than shooting in New York.
We chose New York, which means we don’t – we – the money we put on screen is, you know for those beautiful vistas you get in New York, and that means we have a lot less money to blow things up, et cetera, which means we don’t – you know if we say we’re going to blow something up it – you know I’ll just say that I don’t think our action sequences, you know despite maybe last week’s Renny Harlin episode of the boxing, I think a lot of our action sequences have fallen short.
So, I think it’s just bringing that sort of budgetary awareness into Graceland that’s been the most helpful, which is Graceland we know we want to do some heavy action. So knowing that, you know we’ve put resources there, but it means you just have to pull them out some place out. It means, you know we’re probably not going to be doing a lot of helicopter beauty shots. We do a little bit of surfing in the pilot and we probably, you know won’t do a great deal of surfing during the series on Graceland, because we’d rather spend the money, you know in that case, you know shooting things and doing things like that.
So, you know, I think just being aware of what your budget is and not trying to do, you know like a Michael Bay car chase when you – you know when you got the budget of like a, you know a Toyota commercial. So, that’s one of the things that I think that, you know hopefully will be appreciated on screen.
Congratulations on the always delicious White Collar, and best wishes on the upcoming Graceland. I have to ask you, was Matt what you envisioned when you created the character of Neal, or did he take the character and make it on his own?
Eastin: A little bit of both now. When I first pictured Neal he was a very young Cary Grant, so I guess I wasn’t too far off. You know, so he was pretty close. In terms of just his charm and, you know in terms of his ability to sort of, you know play these various emotions and stuff like that, I think he’s far exceeded what I could have hoped for.
You know, it’s sort of the same way with Tim. They both were – they both sort of took the prototypes that I had on paper and really just, you know dialed it up to an 11 really, and both of them just, you know have – you know when you say they made the character their own, that’s a tough one for me. I would say if anybody’s made the character their own it’s probably Willie Garson.
I think Matt and Tim have really taken what I did and styled it way up. Willie’s the one that had started off as something different, and Willie Garson really did make it his own, in terms of, you know he was always supposed to be a little off, but a little – but off in a darker way. Willie came in and just sort of did what Willie Garson does, and that’s – you know he’s very funny, but you know he’s not a particularly – he’s not particularly dark, and that was probably the biggest change, you know from the character I wrote in the pilot.
If anybody goes back and looks at the pilot, you know he starts off and, you know he’s, you know badly quoting, you know Ginsberg’s Howl, and you know that was sort of the character. If anybody saw the show Dirt with Courtney Cox, there was a – she had a photographer who was really nuts who would talk to cats and things. And that was sort of my prototype for Mozzie, somebody who was really kind of crazy.
And Willie brought it to a point where he’s sort of crazy like a fox. And, you know I think that was – that character’s probably the one that I would look at and say – you know I look to Willie to figure out how to write my Mozzie. I still write – you know I still write Neal and I still write Peter with the same voice that I wrote in the pilot, and I just know that Matt and Tim will – you know will just dial it up to 11. With Willie, I do, I kind of go back and look at episodes and say, ‘What did he do there,’ and figure it out.
Willie is absolutely amazing. Now, Jeff, what HS been the most intuitive (unintelligible) you’ve learned about yourself since launching White Collar, and creating Graceland?
Eastin: Probably, let’s see, about myself, huh? Probably the fact that – you know I can probably – I’m a little shocked that I can, I guess sort of do as much as I can. You know, coming into this I was very worried that I would just, you know break down. My other big worry was that I couldn’t separate the two stories in my head.
There’s the famous story about James Cameron. I don’t know if it’s true or not. It’s one of those things that sounds true where he’d been hired to write Terminator and Aliens at the same time. And, you know for anybody that’s tried to do two things at once like that as a writer, it’s a tough task. And, you know the myth says that he set up two computers, one on one side of the house, one on the other side of the house and he’d work half the day on, you know Aliens, and then he’d literally go to the other side of the house with the other computer and work the rest of the day on Terminator.
And, you know like I said, even if it’s not true it probably should be true, because that’s sort of where I fell down to like, you know at the end of White Collar we’re thinking in that White Collar mode, which in a lot of ways is sort of the opposite of the Graceland mode. I mean, White Collar is, you know we try to, you know sort of be, you know a very high end show, very white collared show, and I think Graceland is more of a blue collared show. It’s more – you know it’s probably edgier. It exists probably in a – White Collar exists in a little bit of a hyper-reality, and I think Graceland is more grounded.
And trying to kind of keep those two things going at the same time is probably the biggest worry I had. It’s like would I be able to write, you know, Briggs character, the – Daniel Sunjata’s character, would I be able to write him, and not turn him into a version of Peter or Neal? And so far so good on that, so that’s probably the thing that I’ve learned the most is that I’ve got ability to at least keep those things separated.
What do you want viewers to take away from the pilot of Graceland and describe Graceland in three words?
Eastin: I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?
Yes, please, I’m sorry. What do you want viewers to take away from the pilot of Graceland and describe Graceland in three words.
Eastin: Oh, this is – well, let’s see, take away from the pilot, I would say, you know I’m hoping they take away a sense that, you know it’s a really fun world, you know it’s a very unique world, and it’s really, you know kind of looking at, you know sort of the cop genre in a really kind of a totally different way.
Three words, boy that would be hard. I would say – you know I would say, you know exciting, fun, and intriguing.
I’m following some things on Twitter here and I’m glad you had a chance you to talk about Willie and Mozzie’s character. He was feeling, I think, a little left out.
I Tweeted apparently Jeff’s show is about Neal and Peter, good to know.
Eastin: (Unintelligible) – as we speak.
But anyhow, so I wanted to speak a little bit about like Graceland and the characters. It seems like White Collar they have, you know a big backstory and I would think that Graceland, from reading about it, it seems that there could be a lot of elements where there’s quite the backstory of how all those – the different agents got to where they were at, thrown into the house.
But especially the main character, so how much will we see of that in like the first season?
Eastin: For Briggs, quite a bit. I mean, it really is sort of the, you know what happened in Briggs, why Mike is there investigating him. I guess I’m not really giving away anything here, but that really becomes the thrust in Season 1. It’s just those details.
And one of the characters is described as like kind of into the pranks and stuff that – so will there be – there will be like a comedic element to the stories?
Eastin: Especially, you know again, it was like the role as written was really – I designed it more for sort of a Patrick Swayze-type. I mean, there was a definite nod towards Point Break there. And, you know Daniel Sunjata had called me early saying he was interested in the role, and the truth was I couldn’t really picture him there.
You know, he’s sort of the antitheses of a young Patrick Swayze, you know that – he’s a very good actor, but you know just his look and demeanor and stuff was not kind of the – that – (zindou) surfer guy that I was wanting. And then, he came into the network test and really just blew everybody away. I mean, it’s like honestly he did it and he walked out. And Jeff Wachtel, you know the Head of USA came – just turned to me, I turned to the whole group and just said, ‘Well, I guess that was easy.’ And, you know that was pretty much it.
So, one of the things I did is I had to go back and really, you know re-write the pilot a little bit for Daniel’s voice. He’s much more charming, much funnier than I would have ever expected, and that was a really nice, you know unexpected twist. And again, you know in these testing things, you know from what I’ve been told from USA they have, you know two shows that have tested the highest, one of – the top one being White Collar, and then a point below that was – you know was Graceland. And as far as the characters goes it was – the top character was Neal Caffrey and the second (unintelligible) was Paul Briggs, played by Daniel.
So, you know he just really kind of – just kind of brought this amazing charm and gravitas and just – you know just everything that I can imagine to this character, which is really dimensionalized Briggs, you know well-beyond what I had in the script.
And then, you know we had Manny Montana who, you know just as a human being is just an amazingly cool kid. He’s just really good. Again, he’d – he had a smaller part in Chicago Code, so you know him and – you know taking him and Jay Stern, I realized I just kind of keep pilfering Shawn Ryan’s old shows. But, considering how much I liked him, I guess that’s fair.
But yeah, I – Manny’s character, he plays Johnny Turturro, and he’s kind of the jokester in the bunch anyway. But, I think between Briggs and Turturro, yeah, there’s quite a bit of practical joking and quite a bit of a laughing, you know quite a bit of hazing that goes on in the pilot that is pretty good stuff, I think.
Jeff, I have to ask you, why do you think you have illustrated (unintelligible) about White Collar that no one else has done with a series like this?
Eastin: I don’t know. I mean, it may be the bromance between Peter and Neal, it may be the fact that, you know we’ve really shied away from the – you know any kind of blood and gore. And again, it may be the fact that we – you know we, you know paint, you know the guy and plays chess on a regular basis.
I’m not sure, but you know I do think sort of the chemistry between, you know Tim DeKay, and everybody Tweet this, the major chemistry between Willie Garson, Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer, I think has – goes a long way to explaining the popularity of the show in probably a lot of what, you know has what really made the show unique, especially Willie Garson.
You know what’s funny, Jeff, I see that when you named all three I had flash of the male version of Charlie’s Angels. So, thank you. That was really a good picture. I’m going to take that home. Again, good luck.
Eastin: Thank you very much.
Photos by David giesbrecht, Eric Leibowitz, Eric Ogden and Jamie Ogden/Courtesy of USA Network