InDepth InterView: Treat Williams Talks WHITE COLLAR, Broadway, Hollywood, Upcoming Projects & More
Today we are talking to a terrifically talented stage and screen performer who has appeared in dozens of film, TV and stage projects over the course of his forty-year career, the thoughtful and charming Treat Williams. In this all-encompassing conversation, Williams and I discuss the many stages of his career thus far, from his early roots co-starring alongside the likes of John Travolta and Marilu Henner in GREASE and OVER HERE! on Broadway in the 1970s, to leading the film adaptation of Terrence McNally's THE RITZ to headlining Milos Foreman's stirring film version of HAIR to starring in handful of other iconic films from his heydey at the top of the Hollywood heap - Steven Spielberg's 1941, Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and Sidney Lumet's PRINCE OF THE CITY included; all the way up to working with Woody Allen on the caustic comedy HOLLYWOOD ENDING. In addition to sharing candid and observant behind-the-scenes stories from the sets of those landmark properties, Williams also reveals his role in the STAR WARS sequel THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and reflects on his brief time in London with Carrie Fisher, George Lucas and company. Plus, Williams shares his recollections of working with many of his most memorable theatrical collaborators: with some especially intriguing anecdotes surrounding his time spent playing Buddy in the 2001 Roundabout revival of Stephen Sondheim & James Goldman's FOLLIES - including some tales involving the man behind the musical himself, as well as the ghost of David Belasco; his insights into his work with David Mamet on OLEANNA and BOBBY GOULD IN HELL and others; and, also, his collaboration with Michael Bennett on what would be the mega-director's last project, SCANDAL, which ultimately was never publicly presented. As if all of that were not enough - and most pertinent of all to our discussion - Williams gives us the 411 on his season-long arc on USA's hit nighttime drama WHITE COLLAR and imparts his enthusiasm for working with similarly multi-talented, many-format star Matt Bomer and the rest of cast and crew while also revealing some details on where his mysterious and seemingly quite dastardly character is headed, all the way into 2013 when the show picks up after the hiatus coming up in a few weeks. Also, Williams sheds some light on his spate of exciting upcoming projects - such as BAREFOOT, DEADLINE and EVE OF DESTRUCTION. All of that and much, much more!
WHITE COLLAR airs on Tuesdays at 9 PM on USA. More information is available at the show's official site here.
A Two-And-A-Half-Threat Talent
PC: Performing the last revival of FOLLIES at the Belasco must have been a really unique experience. What was it like? Did you ever see the ghost of David Belasco hanging out?
TW: Have you ever been up there, to David Belasco's office?
PC: The closest I've gotten is the balcony.
TW: Oh, you've got to go! His floor - it is just the most extraordinary space!
PC: Why so?
TW: It's like somebody has closed down a whole office! First of all, the apartment is on the front side of the theater, over the theater, with peepholes to the stage that he had installed so that he could watch the productions as they were going on.
PC: How fascinating.
TW: Oh, it is - it is. So, he has this whole, full apartment with these very high ceilings and that's on the side of the auditorium. Then, there is this entire floor of offices!
PC: A whole lost world.
TW: It's like somebody shut down the set to THE BIG SLEEP! It's like something out of a Bogart film - you know, those old-fashioned offices with the milk glass doors and everything?
PC: HIS GIRL FRIDAY.
TW: Exactly. And, don't tell anybody, but there is this old lighting fixture that was up there that I stole! [Laughs.]
PC: You had to have something to remember him by! Did you go up there alone or with other cast members or crew?
TW: No - the whole cast really wasn't as interested, I don't think. I am just such a maniac about theatre history that I kept saying to the stagehands, "C'mon, c'mon," and, so, one day, they said, "OK. We'll go up. We'll unlock it." So, they unlocked this big door and we went up - I guess it's considered unsafe up there, but I'm not sure, so they were a little leery.
PC: What is it like up there?
TW: Well, you walk across this long hallway and then up you go. There's this beautiful hallways full of offices - they must have been his offices - and then there is this apartment that you can tell has been torn out but that was done in marble, with incredible paneling. So, after dinner, I guess, whenever he felt like it, David Belasco could go into this little cubbyhole and see what was happening onstage.
PC: Did you ever feel his presence in the theater with you? Particularly doing a show about ghosts like FOLLIES, your radar must have been up.
TW: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. I mean, you can really feel the theater's energy and what that theater had been. And, me, being such a lover of all that history - especially when I was up there, I could feel the Algonquins about to come over for drinks, you know? [Laughs.]
PC: A transporting experience.
TW: And Alexander Wolcott is out in the audience, too! [Laughs.] Completely.
PC: Have you been to the Belasco since the renovation that took place after that production of FOLLIES?
TW: No, I haven't. I have been away the last couple of years - I just moved back to Vermont, actually. I am inching my way back to New York theatre as soon as I can, though.
PC: What was your experience like working one-on-one with Sondheim?
TW: Incredible. He's absolutely great to work with.
PC: Did he give you any particular insights into "Buddy's Blues" or "The Right Girl" that you could recount for us?
TW: Well, it's funny, because it was always very, very specific things with Stephen - you know, for instance, in "The Right Girl", when Buddy goes into the slower part of the song and he sings, [Sings.] "Hey, Margie / Hey, bright girl / I'm home." After I did it, he said to me, "It's not 'ahm', it's 'iym'. It's 'I'm home,' not 'Ahm home.'"
PC: An illustrative difference.
TW: Yeah, I get lazy sometimes and fall back into old rock n roll techniques. So, yeah, it was just little things mostly. The one thing that I always laugh about when remembering him was that when he would give me notes he would say, you know, "Remember, tonight, on 'The Right Girl', the 'yeah' is on the first bar of the fifth stanza and on the sixth stanza, but not the seventh," and, I would say, "Call me in the morning! I can't remember this - I am going on in five minutes!" [Laughs.]
PC: Too much to remember at that point.
TW: What I loved so much about him was how much he cared about the material. He is so, so specific about exactly what he needs. He wasn't so concerned with solving the problems of playing the part as he was concerned with lyric and diction and tempo - the more technical stuff.
PC: One leads to the other, in the end.
TW: True. One thing I have to say, though, is that I was lucky enough to see the original production of FOLLIES and it was one of the greatest events in my life of theatre - it was one of the things that made me decide I needed to do this.
PC: A formative moment.
TW: It was. It was completely overwhelming to me - it was so spectacular! [Pause. Sighs.] The original cast was perfection - Gene Nelson was Buddy and I will never forget his performance. I was just astonished at how extraordinary it was. I decided after seeing FOLLIES that that was pretty much what I wanted to do.
PC: Have you ever gotten the chance to work with Hal Prince since?
TW: No, sadly - but, oddly, in terms of theatre lore, the house I grew up in was owned by Judy Abbott, George Abbott's daughter.
PC: A small world!
TW: Yeah! It gets weirder: Hal Prince's partner, Robert Griffith, had a house up the street; Judy owned our house and right down the street lived Dick Bissell, who wrote THE PAJAMA GAME and DAMN YANKEES.
PC: That's insane.
TW: It is wild. When I was a little boy, I remember that all of that crowd would come out for summer weekends and stuff - so, my parents were actually invited to see all of these shows and they would bring home the albums for us. So, as a result, I memorized every one of those albums backwards and forwards - even the flops!
PC: What were some of the titles you loved the most?
TW: Oh, I know the words and lyrics to musicals even you might not have heard of! [Laughs.]
TW: Well, one I really liked that didn't last long - the song "Artificial Flowers" comes from it - was TENDERLOIN. It took place at the turn of the last century. It's been so long since I heard it, but the song "Artificial Flowers" has had a couple covers since then that were somewhat successful.
TW: One more thing about FOLLIES, though, before I forget: one night, in the middle of the run - it was like a Thursday night - I am making my exit after being onstage in the foursome, and I go backstage, downstairs to the front of the theater to walk Blythe Danner down. So, I am passing the musicians' restroom, where I would stop for a little break since I am onstage for most of the first act, and, there is Steve, sitting there and reading the New Yorker, of course, just, you know, relaxing and listening to the performance on the house speakers. And, so, on that night, he said to me, "Treat, do you think the tempos are a little slow tonight?" And, I said, "Yeah, they seem a little under, Steve." And, so, I walk out… [Laughs.] I'm like, "I just had a conversation about tempi with Stephen Sondheim!"
TW: Unreal and surreal. I just felt like, "Wow, I can just die and go to heaven right now."
PC: What a great memory.
TW: I loved working on that show. It was an experience I will never forget.
PC: Another legendary theatre and film figure you have collaborated with is Sidney Lumet, on PRINCE OF THE CITY. What stays with you most about your experiences working with him on that remarkable film?
TW: Well, I had a lot in common with Sidney going in because Sidney was also a child actor - and he made his bones basically directing live television and theatre before he moved into the movies. So, Sidney, really, probably more than any director I have worked with over the last forty years, was the most knowledgeable about the process of rehearsing and putting together a play - whether it is a play for television or for film or if it's for the stage.
PC: He was all about the process.
TW: He was. And, you know, these days, you show up - and I don't care if you are doing a comedy or a serious drama - and you usually meet the director, shake hands and start working. That's it.
PC: No preparation.
TW: NonE. Sidney's process - which I would love to return to but I'm sure no film company these days would go for - was a three-week rehearsal process. First, we went out and visited the locations - well I did; not all the other actors did - and we staked out every room, every table and every chair of the scenes we were doing in rehearsal. Then, we did it until Sidney was happy. So, we rehearsed it not unlike a play, and, then, we did full run-throughs the last three days of the rehearsal period. So, we rehearsed it as though we were going to be putting it up on the stage.
PC: What a fulfilling journey that must have been as an actor.
TW: What was really great about it was that everyone knew specifically what their job was - you got to hair and make-up in the morning and you were ready and your motor was already running; there was no, "So, where do I stand?" kind of stuff. So, out of hair and make-up you are in neutral and then when you get to set with Sidney you are ready to go and it would blast off - in rehearsals, when you got it the way that he thought he wanted it and you got the scene where it needed to be he would say, so beautifully in his way, "That's a print." And, so, you knew that that's what Sidney wanted and what he meant the scene to be - you know, when you are on a film as complex and huge as that film was, you needed every scene to sit in a certain way.
PC: So it could all come together - like a puzzle.
TW: Exactly. Very, very little time was ever wasted - as you know, Sidney didn't believe in ever wasting time. What isn't mentioned very often is that everybody on all of his films was always incredibly prepared, so you only needed one or two takes usually. You had already rehearsed it to the point where it was at performance level so you didn't need a lot of takes.
PC: How would you juxtapose Sidney Lumet to another iconic filmmaker, Sergio Leone, with whom you did ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA? Can they even be compared? Both were so prolific and unique and iconic in their own ways.
TW: No - you can't compare them. I've worked with quite a few European directors, so I don't ever generalize about them. I found that Sergio - and Tonino, his wonderful little screaming DP - is that there was a kind of perfectionist filmmaking in Sergio's work. The visuals in Sergio's movies always took precedence - not necessarily over the performances, but he would ask you sometimes to do ten, fifteen takes just so that he could get you relaxed and get certain nuances that he wanted; or, maybe something was not quite right with the camera or maybe the lighting didn't work. One thing I really felt in Italy, though, was that every department was a group of artists trying to make something very special - whether it was wardrobe or set design or Tonino or Sergio or who. It's a gorgeous looking film.
PC: It really is. Have you seen the new Blu-ray?
TW: No, I haven't - but, now I know I have to check it out.
PC: One more legendary director you worked with during that time is Steven Spielberg, on 1941. What was that shoot like for you, in comparison to the other two?
TW: Oh, Steven was wonderful. He gave us free reign to try stuff - especially with the comedic stuff. He was always very, very supportive and always let us explore - always. He was terrific. I mean, he was young like us, too - I think he was the same age as us if not a little older - and we were all basically just in awe of him and this gift that he had and still has.
PC: A true visionary.
TW: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that was great about Steven was that he was a guy even more interested in the new techniques of filmmaking than other directors might have been at the time - he was the first one to use a crane that wasn't on a truck on that film; it was called a loomba crane and it was a balanced crane with a camera operated by remote control. I think that that was the first time that that had ever been used, on 1941. It was certainly one of the first few times.
PC: Was he the one who got you involved with STAR WARS somehow or did that come about through another avenue?
TW: [Laughs.] No, no, no - you know, I regret very little in my life, but that STAR WARS thing is something…
PC: I had to ask!
TW: [Big Laugh.] I'll tell you the story: I went over to London and I was visiting Carrie [Fisher]. She said, "Wouldn't it be fun to run through a shot?" And, I said, "Sure. All right." And, she said, "We'll dress you up and you'll run through the soundstage a couple of times and that'll be it - it'll be fun." So, I dressed up like one of these… I don't know; what are they called?
PC: Echo Base Troopers.
TW: Thank you very much - Echo Base Troopers. [Laughs.] So, we run through the shot and then they say, "OK, we're gonna do this about twelve more times." So, I ended up being an extra - which was good for me to find out what that was like, if only for half a day - and then I didn't mention it for like fifteen years after that. Then, once I did in some interview a few years ago, all of a sudden I got more fan mail than I ever have in my entire life! I mean, people sent little dolls and little paratroopers - they still do! It's crazy. [Laughs.]
PC: The STAR WARS audience is voracious.
TW: It's unbelievable! Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. Interestingly, Alec Guinness wrote two amazing autobiographies - both of which I highly recommend - and in one of them - BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE, I think - he says, "It was as if I had no other career than playing Obi Wan." [Laughs.]
PC: And you feel somewhat the same sometimes when you get the mail about a part like that.
TW: A little bit. Another story he tells in one of those biographies is one about a woman who approached him and said, "My son has seen STAR WARS sixty-seven times," and, then, he says, "I think your son should get over it!" [Big Laugh.]
PC: That's so funny.
TW: It was all fun, though. I mean, every time I see Carrie we talk about it still. I actually found a picture online of us onset together - me dressed up in that costume and Carrie as Princess Leia. I look about 12.
PC: Is it true you also run by the screen in a walk-on - or run-on, in this case - as a jogger in John Schlesinger's MARATHON MAN?
TW: I don't even remember! I have to be honest with you, though - I think that's a mistake credited to me. I mean, maybe they had to give me credit because I was actually running that day in the park, but I do not remember doing extra work for that.
PC: Did you get to work with Schlessinger at any point before he passed away?
TW: I did, actually. He was delightful - I auditioned for a movie as a young actor that he was doing with Richard Gere. He gave me a lot of time and he was really wonderful about everything. Everyone - everyone - in Hollywood wanted to work with him after MIDNIGHT COWBOY.
PC: MIDNIGHT COWBOY pushed boundaries of the depiction of gays in film, as did THE RITZ which you did around the same time. Did you have any awareness of how progressive it was at the time that you did THE RITZ?
TW: I always tell people that it is funny to remember that the Beatles were my entire youth - guys my age, we lost all our girlfriends to them in the seventh, eigth and ninth grade. So, with Richard [Lester] having directed two of their films, to go over to Twickenham Studios and work with him in the same place that he shot those films with the Beatles was just the coolest thing to me. And, also, the play on Broadway was hysterically funny - laugh-out-loud funny - and the concept was so brilliantly simple: a straight guy hides out in a gay bathhouse. So, you know, yeah - it really was ahead of its time. I loved doing it.
PC: It had a great cast, too.
TW: Oh, yeah - getting to work with Rita Moreno and Jack Weston and F. Murray Abraham and Jerry Stiller; it was great. I mean, if anybody ever just said to me that I would be laying under a bed, in a towel, singing "Besame Mucho" with F. Murray - in falsetto - I would have just said yes immediately! "I'll do it!" [Laughs.]
PC: Given the demands of the role, did you have to audition in a towel, as well?
TW: No, I didn't have to audition in a towel - they actually took it very seriously. The original lead couldn't do it, and, so, I auditioned for the director of the Broadway show, Bobby Drivas, and he said, "OK. You're the guy. I have to take you down to read for Terrence, though." And, so, he did - we went down and met with Terrence and I auditioned with the falsetto and everything and he loved it. So, I got the part. But, it was a process - it wasn't just given to me by any means.
PC: Drivas was legendary for some of his Albee performances.
TW: Oh, yeah. I really like his work - and, you know, he really grew a lot with AIDS and everything and it brought out the best in him and inspired him to do more, I think. He was an extraordinary man.
PC: THE RITZ is a really fun time capsule of a film - a bygone era, a bygone New York.
TW: It is, it is - and I hope it gets re-released so people can take a look at it again.
PC: It is finally available on DVD.
TW: That's so great. I have to say that Jack Weston going into the doors of the steam room and then backing out again is just about one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a film.
PC: Tell me about how you got involved with the Milos Forman film adaptation of HAIR.
TW: Here's another theatre story for you: I was playing the lead in GREASE on Broadway and one night someone from the cast came in and said "Oh, I just auditioned for Milos Forman for the movie of HAIR!" Now, I had seen it when I was sixteen years old and I remember I was wearing a coat and tie and there Gerry Ragni was in the show, walking around the seats in like this Indian-style g-string thing! I remember thinking to myself, seeing him do that, "Wow, this guy is really brave. I could never do something like that…" [Pause. Laughs.]
PC: How time plays with promises!
TW: It's amazing - amazing. So, yeah, after these cast members kept coming in and saying, "Oh, I auditioned for HAIR!" - not just in GREASE, but other shows, too - it was like everyone was auditioning for HAIR. I guess Milos was searching through all the people he could see, and, so, one night he came to see the show and he was with Baryshnikov. So, I asked if I could meet with him the next day and he said I could. So, I went in.
PC: What was the audition like?
TW: He said, [Thick Accent.] "You do something that very few American actors do: you go completely overboard!" [Laughs.]
PC: How hilarious.
TW: Yeah, I wasn't sure if it was quite a compliment…
PC: It was intended that way in a way, don't you think?
TW: It was, it was. With GREASE being really free and everyone being really fun, we had a total blast and he saw us when we were just really rockin' one night. And, so, the day after that started a process of twelve auditions that lasted over a period of three or four months.
PC: That's a long audition process.
TW: Well, when you audition for a movie musical, you are auditioning for not just the director - you are auditioning for the choreographer, the composer, the producer. It was huge - and, it was very, very difficult. And, we were auditioning for the revival of the show onstage at the same time, too - they were doing a revival at the same time back then. So, it was this intense training process - it was very, very long. I remember at my final audition I said to them, you know, "There's just nothing more I can show," because I really didn't know what else I had to show them. So, I took off my clothes and did the audition stark naked.
PC: So that made an impression, yes?
TW: I think so! They had me do the Berger monologue and I just said, you know, "If you want me to show you everything, I'll show you everything - this is all I've got, guys. This is all I have."
PC: So that cinched it? Did that inspire the ultimate staging of "I Got Life" at all?
TW: Well, in that case, actually, I felt like Gerry was wavering and it was back and forth, push-pull and I got angry. After my audition, Gerry said, as he always did, "That was great." and I just lost my temper - as I did in those days - and I said to him, "You know, man, I just don't know what else to do!" I was really kind of very angry and I was blowing off some steam. I said, "How much do I have to do?" So, as I was leaving, I was very upset, and Milos quietly pulled me aside and said, "Listen, you are going to get Berger in the movie, OK? But, I can't offer you the role now - all I can say is, don't do the play," - basically saying, "Don't accept the offer on the play because you are going to be doing the film." And, that's what happened.
PC: What an arduous adventure.
TW: I always knew I would get my chance if Milos told me I would. It really was one of the greatest experiences - it was worth every audition and every amount of anxiety waiting; I hated that part of it, as most actors do. And, that year was so much fun and filled with so much joy.
PC: Has there ever been a part you turned down that you regret not doing?
TW: Not really. I've turned down a couple of plays recently that I wanted to do, but my daughter was in school so I didn't want to be away from her at the time. Recently, I was committed to WHITE COLLAR, so I had to turn down a play, too. So, that's really where it gets painful - not that WHITE COLLAR hasn't been absolutely wonderful - but the theatre thing is still so important to me and I am just getting back into it. I just can't wait to get back completely.
PC: A return to your roots.
TW: I am getting my foot back in the door, though - I did a reading of Athol Fugard's play THE TRAIN DRIVER in North Carolina recently; I did a wonderful monologue called HALF-TIME at the Berkshire Playwrights' Lab, too, that was great. So, I am really hoping to get back into it now. There have been one or two movies, too, that I just couldn't do because of logistical reasons or whatever, but, basically, I would say that I have gotten to ninety-five percent of what I ever wanted to do.
PC: A great batting average.
TW: You can't worry about what's not possible, you know? You can't be thinking of that.
PC: Would you like to re-team with David Mamet sometime soon? There is a GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS revival coming up, of course.
TW: You know, Bill Macy and I are the only two actors who did OLEANNA in New York until recently. Macy said to me when I told him that, "Then you and I have done an extraordinary thing." [Laughs.]
PC: Who do you think is truly most culpable in that piece - or, are they both at fault?
TW: I don't think it's possible to pass judgment - you are looking at two perspectives on the same event. To me, it was like a two-person version of RASHOMAN - RASHOMAN is four people observing the same event from completely different perspectives. I got a great direction from David - it was one of the dumber actor questions that I ever asked - when I said, "Am I angry here when I say this to her?" And, David said, "I don't know how you are - I don't know what you are doing." Then, he said, "But make her understand. Make her understand your position." And, I thought, "I'm good to go. That was the greatest direction I have ever gotten."
PC: What a great insight from him.
TW: But, yeah - I think that OLEANNA is like RASHOMAN in that you are looking at an event from totally different perspectives.
PC: I am unfamiliar with BOBBY GOULD IN HELL, which is a lesser-known Mamet semi-follow-up to SPEED-THE-PLOW, I assume, given the title. What can you tell me about it, since you premiered it?
TW: Well, you know, he went though a lot - his marriage ended and I think it was possible that he was exorcising the darkness you go through when something that you have committed to ends. That's at least what I thought it was about at the time, but, you know, David might say, "Oh, he's full of sh*t. That's crazy." [Laughs.]
PC: You never know - especially with Mamet!
TW: All I know is that Bill Macy kicked it out of the park - he kicks Mamet every time when he does it. He's amazing. One of the great moments in theatre is when the elevator doors open, with the great stage direction, "Enter The Devil, dressed in full fishing regalia." That was just such a great stage direction for Billy's entrance, you know?
PC: And he undoubtedly played it to a T.
TW: He did, he did. In the play, he says to me, "Where do you think I was going?" And, I say, "Uh, fishing?" And, he says, "Yes. I was going fishing - I am not going fishing now, but here I am." And off we go.
PC: It sounds like it was great fun.
TW: It was. We had a blast. I love working with Bill.
PC: Would you like to work on any of Mamet's newer pieces? RACE seems like a play you could excel in, for one.
TW: Anything he does, if he calls I am there. I'm sure Richard [Thomas] was great in that - I saw him the last time I was in New York, but I didn't get to see the play. I'm sure it was wonderful.
PC: What was your experience of working with Woody Allen on HOLLYWOOD ENDING? That is one of your lighter roles, but, again, working with one of the great directors.
TW: Let me set the record straight about one thing with Woody: I love him and I adore working with him and we laughed a lot - he was just easy - but I think that the problem that happens sometimes on his films is with actors who want to be told what to do; if that happens, then it can go not quite so well. That doesn't go well with Woody - Woody hires you because of what he knows you can do and he comes in and he expects you to bring what you do to the table. And, if you are not on track he will adjust it and he will take you and turn you back on the track that he wants you on, but if you are doing fine he just leaves you alone. Now, remember, on that film, he was busy worrying about making his own performance work in the film, as well.
PC: He wears many hats.
TW: I loved working with him, though. I mean, you are not going to talk shop! You are not going to talk about a lot of anything, but the process itself in working with him is just delightful.
PC: That film is filled with so many funny scenes.
TW: Oh, that scene where he is blind and I don't realize it - it was just hilarious watching him do that. He was so easy. We shot down at a café downtown - a big, big French place - and all the extras and everything was set up and he said, [Woody Impression.] "OK, you guys - Treat, you walk in and say, 'We're two for dinner,' and then you walk down here and I say, you know, 'We're two for dinner,' and then you walk over and sit there and I'll finish the scene with George. [Pause.] So, you guys want to practice or you want to shoot?" And we all looked at each other and said, "Shoot!" [Laughs.]
PC: Cut, Print!
TW: Yep! We just did it and shot it and that was it. It was great.
PC: You and Tea have fabulous chemistry in that film.
TW: Oh, I loved her - I love Tea. I could talk for a million hours about Woody, though, and I have to tell you another story: he was always sort of on the other end of the pool, you know? He liked to listen to it all sometimes and not watch - he wasn't a detailed monitor type director; he trusted the camera was going to get it all. He'd often be lying on a lawn chair with headphones on when we shot scenes. [Laughs.]
PC: A quintessential Woody image!
TW: I was like, "What a strange little man!" [Laughs.] But, that film was a really, really great experience and I'd work with him again in an instant.
PC: You have recently enjoyed quite a bit of TV fame thanks to EVERWOOD and your appearances on some franchises. How did you get involved with WHITE COLLAR on USA?
TW: It was interesting - they called and they said they wanted me to do it, so they sent one episode and it was very mysterious; the character they wanted me for is very mysterious. I play a guy named Jack Dempsey and his story is kind of the B story of the show this season. So, they said he was in six episodes and this was only one and it was very mysterious, so I was like, "What do we got?" you know? And, they said, "Don't worry. Jeff Easton is going to call you," who is the creator of the show. So, he did. He said, "This is how I see this guy and this is where I think it's heading and this is what I want to see from him," and I said, "Great! I'm in!" So, we went down and started shooting and I learned about the character week by week, just like the audience is going to learn about him pretty much because I didn't know where it was going, either, really. It was really, really fun to do and I think it's going to turn out really well.
PC: Diahann Carroll did this column a while back and we spoke about her role on WHITE COLLAR. Did you two share any scenes?
TW: No, no - I love Diahann, though. As a matter of fact, harkening back to George Abbott and Judy Abbott and what we were talking about earlier, NO STRINGS was one of those musicals that my parents saw and brought us back the cast album for and I memorized every word of it. I think "The Sweetest Sounds" is one of the greatest songs in American musical history. All of her material is just wonderful in that show - "Lots of Lovely Love" and the song about money. She really kicked it - she kicked it. So, I know Diahann from that score and I particularly love that show - I think it was way, way ahead of its time in terms of race, too.
PC: I agree. So, what can we expect from you and Matt Bomer on WHITE COLLAR this year? Do you two have a big confrontation scene at some point coming up, finally?
TW: Well, it's throughout the whole season, really - this chess match that we have going on. I mean, you have a very mistrustful ex-cop dealing with a guy who's dealing with the FBI - and we both are trying to accomplish the same goal of finding out who killed the character played by the spectacular Judith Ivey.
PC: Your co-star from FOLLIES, incidentally.
TW: Of course, of course - she's a delight. But, so, because of the fact that my character is mistrustful, you have this delicious dramatic tension where we have to share information but I don't really want to share it with him because of the FBI. [Laughs.]
PC: Quite a dilemma.
TW: It's a great cat-and-mouse throughout the whole six episodes. And, to answer your question, Matt is just the most… I mean, they should teach a class on how young actors can be more like him. He is extraordinary - just the way he composes himself onset. He has such a great work ethic.
PC: You two seem kindred spirits in some ways. Did you pass onto him any sage wisdom?
TW: I wish he gave me advice when I was his age! He doesn't need any advice from me or anyone.
PC: He's got it all covered.
TW: He is going to have such a wonderful career - he's just extraordinary. You know, I think that we could very well have the next Cary Grant on our hands and his name is Matt Bomer.
PC: Wow - high praise indeed. He's a true triple-threat, too - what a great voice. Did you two duet at all onset?
TW: Oh, he never stops singing! We sang all the time together, actually - he tended to sing more modern stuff, whereas I prefer the ballads. [Laughs.]
PC: Diahann sang a bit on the show, so would you be open to singing a tune should the chance arise at some point?
TW: Oh, sure! If they come up with a good reason - sure. It could be a lot of fun. WHITE COLLAR: THE MUSICAL. Who knows? This might not be the right role, though - I don't know. He's not such a nice guy; not quite the type of guy to break out into song! [Big Laugh.]
PC: How long is your arc on this season of the show?
TW: If I'm not mistaken, I have four in the first half of the season - the first episode and then this week's and then two more - and then I have two more that I am in when we come back in January.
PC: How do you approach playing a villainous character versus a more amenable role like many know you for playing, like on EVERWOOD?
TW: I tend to play those kind of characters in the lesser known films and projects that I've done - there's this movie I did called SMOOTH TALK, with Laura Dern, and in it I play a very, very dark character. It's a great little movie - it won Sundance; Best Film.
PC: How did you get involved with that project?
TW: It's based on a Joyce Carol Oates story about a guy, who is about 30, who seduces a girl who is 17. He goes with her on this ride in his hot car and everyone in the town wants to know what went on on this ride - what did the smooth talk lead to? So, he is basically, you know, this sexual criminal. It's a very dark role. I think that EVERWOOD is the role most people know me for these days, but I've played about fifty-fifty likable guys versus darker roles in my career - almost - I'd say.
PC: What can you tell me about MARTINO'S SUMMER, a film you recently did in Italian that won much acclaim?
TW: MARTINO'S SUMMER is a film that I am not sure will ever be released over here, unfortunately, but it's a film I shot in Italy - I've been working there for thirty years; ever since ONCE UPON A TIME. So, I guess my Italian must be pretty darn good at this point - it was a lot of work getting up to speed, though, but it was all worth it in the end.
PC: Tilda Swinton speaks Italian with a Russian accent in I AM LOVE, you know.
TW: Oh, I know - that completely blew my mind! She is just amazing. I loved that film.
PC: What can you tell me about your many upcoming projects - first up, BAREFOOT?
TW: BAREFOOT is going to be a lot of fun. I did that with Evan Rachel Wood. If I had to describe it in a sentence I would say that it is basically BEING THERE except with a young girl in place of Peter Sellers - it is about this innocent who steps out into the world for the first time. It's a love story, really. SCOTT SPEEDMAN plays her love interest and Kate Burton and I play the parents.
PC: You and Kate Burton make quite a solid parental team, clearly!
TW: You're right. We've done a couple films together now as parents - we played James Franco's parents in 127 HOURS and we did some other things, too.
PC: What else is coming up soon that we can look out for?
TW: Another film I have coming out that I think is going to be something interesting is about the poet Robert Lowell and his romance with Elizabeth Bishop, who was also a poet. I really enjoyed shooting that and I think it is going to be something special. I don't know when that will be coming out yet, though.
PC: What can you tell me about DEADFALL?
TW: That one is interesting, too - but for a different reason. I am not sure what is going on with that one right now, really - I know it got creamed by a couple of reviews at a film festival downtown, but I thought we were making something quite good; I mean, it has Kris Kristofferson, Olivia Wilde and some other great people. I don't know what happened with it - I have not seen it, so I can't tell you what I think of it myself yet. I actually loved doing it - we filmed in the cold and in the snow a lot, and, once again, I play a darker character.
PC: I was curious: did James Franco get you involved in 127 HOURS as a result of your HOWL camaraderie?
TW: Actually, he did - he was reading the script in the trailer and I looked at it and said, "Wow, this is really great!" And he said, "Well, there's a part here for his father," and so I ended up doing that in the film. It was great.
PC: In addition to WHITE COLLAR, you have another TV project, a miniseries, coming out in the next couple of months: what can you reveal about EVE OF DESTRUCTION?
TW: Yeah, I just did that shoot a little while ago. I have no idea how it is going to come out, but I had fun doing it - and, again, I play the villain! The guy that directed it was once married to Marilu Henner, who was my dancer partner in OVER HERE with the Andrews Sisters.
PC: John Travolta, too.
TW: Yeah - John was in that, too.
PC: Did you know he would become a megastar?
TW: Yeah, we knew - everyone knew with him. Everyone knows. We had already done GREASE together, so, then, when OVER HERE happened, we all did that together again - Annie Reinking, too. She's so, so special. It was great.
PC: Since you starred in his final project, SCANDAL, I have to ask what your memories are of working with Michael Bennett?
TW: I loved him. You know, we spent a lot of time together outside of the theatre, too. He was a really big fan of HAIR and I worked really hard for him on SCANDAL - we all did. [Pause.] We didn't know what was happening at the time with his health, so everybody was so high on the show and then Michael just pulled it and nobody knew why. It was a blow. We all knew he was doing something truly exquisite. This is a whole other conversation we could have about how he worked - no one worked like him; he worked in his own unique way - but I'll leave it at: he was a brilliant, brilliant guy.
PC: Apparently the show cannot be produced, so the really impressive Jimmy Webb score has languished.
TW: Oh, I have no idea. You'd have to ask Bob Avian about that, but I can tell you that Jimmy Webb's music was just extraordinary. I haven't listened to it in ages, but now that we're talking about it again it really makes me want to go back and hear it again.
PC: Was there any specific insight Michael gave you that has stayed with you through the years?
TW: Well, one thing was with the dancing, which is that I've always called myself a two-and-a-half-threat because I don't consider myself a dancer, really, and Michael said it didn't matter - "It doesn't matter how good you are, just tell the story; that's all that matters. If you tell the story the rest will follow. It's the same for singers as it is for dancers." He said that to me one day when he was teaching me some of the tricky dancing.
PC: Lastly: what was the inspiration behind your new children's book, AIR SHOW!?
TW: It's very, very simple: I love to go fly. I love it.
PC: You've had a truly one-of-a-kind career and we can't wait to see what you do next, Treat. This was phenomenal.
TW: Thank you so much, Pat - this was really fantastic. Bye bye.
More On: Treat Williams, John Travolta, Marilu Henner, Terrence McNally, Steven Spielberg, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Carrie Fisher, George Lucas, Stephen Sondheim.