BWW Interviews: Treat Williams Talks Guest Starring on USA's WHITE COLLAR
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January 26, 2016
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."