He's spent the last five seasons as Mozzie, sidekick supreme to slick conman Neal (Matt Bomer), but for Thursday's White Collar (9/8c, USA), Willie Garson stepped behind the camera for the first time to fulfill a lifelong dream. "Directing is something I've always wanted to do," Garson says. "This show is so collaborative, this is where it was going to happen." The episode brings in Kim Dickens (Sons of Anarchy, Friday Night Lights) as Peter's (Tim DeKay) ex-girlfriend from his Quantico days, and sees Rebecca (Bridget Regan) getting closer to Neal.
TV Guide Magazine: Why's it taken so long for you to get in the director's chair?
Willie Garson: Not to put down my work with David Milch [on NYPD Blue] or Sex and the City, but those shows were not as collaborative. The way [executive producer] Jeff Eastin set up this show, we're very involved in the story and the script and all of it, that's just the way we do things here. Literally, we talked about an episode for three years that I was going to direct, and it had started to be written and everything, we were moving full steam ahead, and then it just couldn't happen. [Laughs] So I directed some other episode.
TV Guide Magazine: You're not the only one who's been itching to direct.
Garson: Certainly Tim DeKay blazed that trail by directing already last season, and then he does it again this season. I took his cue, it is a team effort, and we're all just trying to make the best episode we can make. It's a lot of work.
TV Guide Magazine: Did Tim give you specific pointers?
Garson: Well, we've known each other for a very long time, so we're very dear friends. And he said, "The thing that's going to surprise you the most is how much the clock is not your friend." The other thing that Tim really impressed upon me — and I knew it, obviously, I've been standing on a set for 30 years — but I was really fully aware of it here, it's not like, "Oh, I'm directing a student film, where do I go get the lights? I have to get the lights and pick up the props and costumes and all that." What you really learn to appreciate is that everyone there really does do this for a living. And they've been doing it forever. So the director of photography is fantastic, makeup knows what they're doing, wardrobe knows what they're doing, so let them do their jobs. All you have to do is direct, and that ends up being a pretty easy job when you get down to it. Mike Nichols, just to be a horrible name-dropper, told me that directing is like throwing the right cocktail party. If you do it right, all that's left for you to do is pour the drinks. And that's exactly what I did, I just had to show up.
TV Guide Magazine: What was the most enjoyable part for you?
Garson: Well, another one of the directors told me if you can keep the crew laughing the whole time, you're in good shape, and I really did. We laughed the whole time. Here's the thing: I was insanely well-prepared. I was staying up until like 2 or 3 in the morning every night, prepping, so that by the time I got there, the comfort of being somewhat in control was a great thing.