Where have I seen this guy before? Who, Tim DeKay?
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen him everywhere for nearly 20 years – most recently if you’re a fan of the “character”-driven shows on USA Network, where DeKay co-stars with dashing Matt Bomer on “White Collar.”
DeKay, 48, plays a by-the-book FBI agent in an uneasy partnership with a con man (Bomer), who’s either helping the feds or running his own con on them. DeKay’s character, agent Peter Burke, is never quite sure and neither are we – a situation that is much in evidence as the series returns for its third season Tuesday (June 7) at 9/8c.
But DeKay – a native of Ithaca, N.Y., who studied acting at Rutgers – has been seen in multi-episode arcs in series as diverse as “Party of Five,” “Everwood,” “My Name is Earl” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” The latter reunited him with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with whom he guest-starred on an unforgettable two-episode arc on “Seinfeld” in 1996.
We asked him about “White Collar,” “Seinfeld” and his career in a recent phone conversation from the set of “White Collar” in New York. Here’s what he had to say:
At three seasons, “White Collar” beats “Carnivale,” doesn’t it? It does, it beats it by one season. “Carnivale” was two. I wish that it was more. The thing of it is, those period shows [“Carnivale” took place in the dustbowl region of the 1930s] cost a ton of money. So if the network, or in this case HBO, feels there’s not enough bang for the buck, then they get rid of it.
When you’re in a period piece like that, is it fun, or otherwise rewarding, for an actor because you get to play a person from another era? And, in fact, your character of Jonesy had a handicap – a bum leg – as well. It is. We actors do this to pretend, to go into imaginary circumstances, so when the imaginary circumstance is of a different time, that just compounds the joy of doing what we do.
So “White Collar” is the longest you’ve been with any one show, right? It’s fantastic steady work. Doing “White Collar,” quite often my character goes undercover, so therein lies the compounding of the imagination. I get to play Peter Burke and then someone else when Peter Burke goes undercover.
Actors like working in disguises, mustaches and beards, wigs and eyeglasses, stuff like that, don’t they? Oh yes, anything we can grab onto because it’s something to ground us into the scene – anything that can help us feel that we’ve arrived in that world.
Let’s talk about the character of Peter Burke. Is he tough to play or easier than others? His occasional disguises notwithstanding, he’s a pretty straightforward FBI agent, isn’t he? He is a straightforward FBI agent. One of the keys to the show’s success is the relationship that Peter and Neil [Bomer] have. There’s always that energy that you hope you will find with your co-lead that transcends to the audience. I think we met it with this show. The other thing I like about this is that you get to go home with this guy, with Peter. Not too often on television do you get to see where the FBI agent lives, how he deals with his wife [played by Tiffany Thiessen] and, in this case, they have a very good relationship and I think it’s refreshing.
You’ve been around television long enough to see cable really evolve. Does it surprise you that a show of this quality is on USA Network and it’s just the same, for you, as being on a broadcast network? I have been. I think for business reasons, fiscal reasons, I think these cable networks can take greater risks and I think with a risk comes better programming. And I think USA has got an amazing identity to it now that is clearly defined with its “Characters welcome” tag.
I cannot resist questions about “Seinfeld” whenever I interview someone who was on the show. You played “Kevin,” a boyfriend of Elaine’s for two episodes. In fact, you were Bizarro Jerry – Jerry’s personality opposite – in the classic episode titled “The Bizarro Jerry.” How important were those two episodes of this iconic series for your career? Prior to “Seinfeld,” I had been doing a lot of drama work and once I got [“Seinfeld”], the industry and the public saw me as someone who could do something other than drama and that led me to a number of other half-hours [and] a number of comedy pilots that were never picked up.
I was young enough to certainly realize the excitement of how popular “Seinfeld” was. There was one moment, where I was sitting in the booth at the diner and Elaine and I were in the booth and Kramer [Michael Richards] comes in and she introduces me to Kramer. This was in the [first of his two episodes, titled “The Soul Mate”]. It was one of those moments where I stepped out as an actor and the character and realized I’m sitting in part of television history. This booth is equal to, like, being in Lou Grant’s office [on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”] or something to that effect. It was the only time I kind of stepped out and said, Hey, remember this moment because this is rather neat!