It’s good to be Neal Caffrey.
When USA Network’s White Collar returns this Tuesday at 9/8c for Season 4, the con man is living the life in a beachfront mansion on an exotic island while romancing a local beauty (played by Alias‘ Mía Maestro). But as star Matt Bomer tells TVLine, not everything is as idyllic as it seems. And once the dapper fella makes it back to New York City, he’ll be plagued by questions about his own past.
TVLINE | How is island life treating Neal?
[Laughs] You know, it’s very Dickensian for Neal. It’s kind of the best of times, and the worst of times. The good news is he’s living the dream, and the bad news is he’s living the dream in his early 30s. So while he’s enjoying this life he’s constructed for himself, it’s also a little early in the game for him to be this retired guy on an island. He misses aspects of his collaboration with Peter (Tim DeKay) and his life back in New York, the culture and the diversity there.
TVLINE | So he’s itching to get back?
Don’t get me wrong – he’s Neal Caffrey, so he’s obviously made the absolute best of the situation he’s been given. He has the nicest pad. He has an amazing morning routine, a very leisurely life. There are aspects of that he really enjoys because they are things he fantasized about for so long. He kindled a little island romance for himself, going nice and slow on island time. Then things get interrupted, and as annoying as that is – even though he won’t admit it – there’s a welcome aspect to it as well.
TVLINE | How much of a threat is Mekhi Phifer’s FBI agent to Neal?
We don’t really realize what a huge threat he is until the second episode. We hear about how dangerous he is and how renegade he is, how it’s martial law with him in a way. He sets the terms of what’s legal and what’s not. Neal and Mozzie (Willie Garson) take that with a grain of salt until they encounter him and realize, “OK, he means business.” There’s something very specific that happens in the second episode that I think will make people take his character very seriously, very quickly.
TVLINE | Obviously, Neal is going to somehow find his way back to New York. What can you share about how that comes about?
It will involve Peter and a madcap, high stakes escape in typical White Collar fashion. [Laughs] It’ll be suspenseful, and it’ll have a big cliffhanger.
TVLINE | Is it safe to say the possibility of walking free from the commutation hearing is off the table?
I’ll tell you this: In typical Neal fashion, he has to figure out the best way to get back into the FBI’s good graces so he’s not back in the clink. It all ends up cooking together in one big game plan – the return and a way for him to get back into their good graces.
TVLINE | What does this mean for Peter and Neal’s relationship?
It’s closer than ever in some ways — and they’re more at odds in some ways, too. It’s out on the table that they respect each other and they care about each other. But at the same time, their poker game this season is more high stakes than ever and ends up coming to a boiling point in Episode 9, where they really are at odds. But they figure out a way to get through it and, as usual, their unconventional pairing is what ultimately always brings them back together because each has something the other wouldn’t think of, couldn’t think of, something that they need.
TVLINE | Neal has quite a few ladies on his plate in the new season. Where do Neal and Sara (Hilarie Burton) stand then?
I think their relationship had some closure at the end of Season 3 in a really poetic and adult way. But the writers found really creative ways to bring her back into the picture in Season 4. She’s in three [episodes] of the first 10, and Hilarie is fantastic. They have some fun little sparks that happen here and there over the course of the season. [Ed. Note: Burton is booked for four episodes.]
TVLINE | Alex is also back. Is that a welcome return?
Yes, I’m so happy that Gloria Votsis is back! I missed her terribly in Season 3. She’s one of my favorite characters because she is so badass, but at the same time so vulnerable. They have a similar dynamic where no one really trusts the other person, but at the same time they really like working together and being around each other. And obviously, their relationship has benefits that Neal and Peter’s does not. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Jeff Eastin told me that Season 4 is going to be a lot about Neal’s pursuit of his family. What’s driving that search?
First of all, he met Ellen last season, which opened a lot of floodgates as to, “Who am I? Where did I come from? Am I predestined to be this person? How bad was my dad? Can I overcome it on my own? How much of being bad is genetic and how of it is learned [or] acquired?” For him to really collaborate with the FBI on the terms he wants, there are aspects of his past and blanks he needs to fill in before he can proceed. When he comes back [to New York], he’s pursuing full throttle all these answers as to who he was, who his father was, why he left. How did he leave? Was he guilty? Was he a bad person? Was he set up? Was he framed? To me, the way I play it is he has to put these things to bed and have closure on them before he can move forward as a man.
TVLINE | Jeff once said, “[Neal] wants to be good but he was born bad.” Do you think he’s inherently bad?
[Laughs] As a parent of three children, I know there are certain aspects to personalities you come into the world with. I think Neal from day one was high energy, curious, willful, questioning, independent – all the things a parent probably fears in a child on some level. But those things are also great and enabled him to survive and thrive in the world. As an actor, I’m never interested in labels like “good” and “bad.” I’m more interested in what do they do and why do they do it. I think Neal was born with a really strong lust for life, and because of his family and where he came from, that might have led him down some darker roads. If he’d grown up in Greenwich, Connecticut, with an idyllic household with two parents and a sibling and a golden retriever… I think there’s some conditioning involved there.