Con man Neal Caffrey was a (charming) bad boy last year, keeping secrets from his partner and pal, FBI Agent Peter Burke. But his naughty behavior is our reward as USA Network’s White Collar resumes Season 3 this Tuesday at 10/9c with a tense winter opener. TVLine chatted with Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer about the new run of episodes, the latest obstacle that threatens their onscreen relationship, diva antics on the set (we kid!) and the stories they’d pitch for each other’s characters.
TVLINE | Can you describe the winter season in one sentence?
MATT BOMER | Fast, furious, fraught with tension and suspenseful.
TIM DEKAY | Period.
BOMER | Ellipses.
DEKAY | [Laughs] It’s true. It is fast. Buckle your seat belts! We start off right from where we left off at the end of the midseason [finale] and then at the end of the episode, there’s another cliffhanger. It’s not as if we’re, “OK, see you at the desk tomorrow.” No, it’s, “What?!” So it’s fast. [Snaps fingers] It never stops. It’s relentless.
TVLINE | Neal stole this treasure, lied about it and inadvertently got Elizabeth kidnapped. How will that affect Peter and Neal’s relationship?
BOMER | That would be the “fraught with tension” portion in my description. Their relationship is definitely as strained as it’s ever been and actually comes to a physical confrontation at one point. But Peter also knows he needs Neal to help him out, and Neal cares a great deal about Elizabeth, so he’s going to do everything he can to help her, as well. So as dark and deep as they go, I think they always… They’re going to come back to good at some point.
TVLINE | Just how angry is Peter at Neal?
DEKAY | He’s so angry. … Peter is just simply scared and livid that his wife has been kidnapped and that she’ll die. He’s mad at Neal because Neal is there and he’s part of it. And if you look at it in an even deeper way, he’s upset with Neal and wants to say, “Yeah, it’s cool to steal the painting. It’s a fun life. But eventually, somebody’s life — that now you care for deeply — is in grave danger. This is what happens.”
TVLINE | You touched a bit on the cliffhanger at the of the first new episode. Can you speak to where it’s going and how it affects them the rest of the season?
DEKAY | It comes to the place, as Matt has said before, [of] flight-or-fight for Neal. And Peter is aware of that.
BOMER | [Series creator] Jeff Eastin and the writers did an amazing job, and they do it every year. They completely stay on theme throughout the series, regardless of what the week-to-week case may be. And for Neal this year that was, “Do I stay or do I go?” So every element that comes into it either amplifies or takes away from that.
TVLINE | Can you see Neal’s life without Peter?
BOMER | No. No, I can’t. Not [at least] on some level. I don’t know if it’s prison bars between them and they talk on the phone. Or if they’re, like, having a martini at a country club. Or if it’s on a burner phone from Paris, and he’s at the FBI office. I hope we never know, you know what I mean? I hope the show ends with us never knowing.
TVLINE | Are there any episodes that you’re really fond of from the new season?
DEKAY | I’m fond of them all. I can’t really name one.
BOMER | Well…
DEKAY | Oh, yeah.
TVLINE | The one you directed?
DEKAY | That was fun, to get to shoot at Yankee Stadium. But I enjoy certain moments. The end of the first episode back, I thought, was just such a cool moment. And it was so fun to do. There were little synapses of memories of seeing you [Turns to Matt] on the patio during the pilot and all these things. Milestones make you look back.
TVLINE | Was Matt well-behaved during the episode you directed?
DEKAY | Not at all. [Smiles] In fact there were times –
BOMER | I was seven-and-a-half hours late one day, but I’m telling you –
DEKAY | “Where is my star?!”
BOMER | I was sick as a dog.
DEKAY | “Mr. DeKay, Mr. Caffrey won’t come out of his trailer until you go to him.”
TVLINE | Let’s talk about love lives. What’s going on with Neal and Sara these days?
BOMER | They did a really good job when they do bring her back, sort of integrating her into the last few episodes in a really meaningful way and not just sort of a sidebar type of way. I think they also have a really grown-up relationship. He obviously finds her very attractive, and they have an innate understanding of each other’s lives given the fact that they’re both fast-paced. But she’s this self-sufficient, intelligent, sexy woman. They sort of are like, “Let’s see what happens. I just came out of a very compulsive relationship where the love of my life exploded on a plane in front of me, so maybe we don’t need to move into together right this second.”
TVLINE | Tim, do you ever wish that they would shake up Peter and Elizabeth’s marriage?
DEKAY | I like that they’re rock steady. I also think — and I said this to the writers — a great way to show that a relationship is rock steady is to show that relationship not in jeopardy, but at odds. And so if they can find some disagreement, I think it’ll be great to see how those two work it out.
TVLINE | If there was one storyline that you could suggest for the other character, what would it be?
BOMER | I would love if there were some really hot, powerful FBI woman who came into the office and was, like, trying to pull some power plays and maybe get a little flirty-flirty with Peter — and he’s having to really deal with that.
DEKAY | [To Matt] Does he like her?
BOMER | Oh, he totally is attracted to her, but he’s going to stick to his values. But [there's] definitely going to be some serious conflict going on. And it might even get to the point – What was the Demi Moore movie where she sexually harasses Michael Douglas…/ Anyway, that could be fun for him, to really put some tension in that relationship and have Elizabeth come in and be like, “Hold up, get away from my man!”
TVLINE | And for Neal?
DEKAY | My fantasy is that there is an episode – we touched on it [when] he had played “Peter Burke” – where Neal really has to be Peter and sell it in a domestic way. We see him in the house with Elizabeth and that really has to be sold.
BOMER | Oh my God. Awesome. And Neal would totally be having a ball with it, of course! He’d be like, “Listen, this is just what we have to do. We’ve got to commit to these characters, and we’re going to sell it.”
DEKAY | Maybe something happens? I’m not saying that Elizabeth cheats, but there’s a moment where they both…. It just takes them by surprise.
BOMER | Hands will wander!
DEKAY | And, of course, my [other] fantasy is where Peter gets stuck in an elevator.
BOMER | Yes! We have to have the episode where it’s just literally the two-hander the entire episode, where they’re kidnapped or stuck or something, and it’s like they’re working some s–t out because there’s tension going on.
DEKAY | And all they have with them is an old game board, like a game of Clue.