Sharif Atkins Talks "White Collar"

By Jamie Ruby

Sharif AtkinsSharif Atkins is probably best known for his role of Michael Gallant on ER, but he also appeared in series such as Hawaii, 4400, and Numb3rs. Recently Atkins appeared in the film Preacher's Kid. Atkins currently plays the character of FBI Agent Clinton Jones in USA Network's original series White Collar, which will air its midseason finale on Tuesday.

Atkins recently took time to talk to members of the digital media about the series.

USA Network Conference Call
White Collar
Sharif Atkins

July 25, 2011
12:00 pm CT

Sharif AtkinsSCIFI VISION: Can you talk first about how you became involved in White Collar?

SHARIF ATKINS: How I became involved - you know, it's almost 2-1/2 years ago now, three seasons ago I met up with Jeff Eastin and at that time actually I was an actor looking for work.

And yes, he and I had worked together on a project called Hawaii about four or five years ago and developed a great professional rapport, did great work together. And we got together and he said the possibility that there was a role that could be brought together and put together for the purposes of the show. So I said hey, I'm on board.

QUESTION: I was wondering what you thought would be Jones' ideal case to work on - who's your dream case...not counting Neal?

SHARIF ATKINS: Something other than Neal, well I think the ideal case actually is coming up tomorrow. I think actually it peaked my interest and it definitely had Agent Jones completely and thoroughly involved.

A mix of personal, a mix of professional - it kind of brings out the best of him I think.

QUESTION: What is the one crossover you would like to see with White Collar and any other USA show?

SHARIF ATKINS: Wow. One crossover? You know what, I would love to give the young men over at Psych the chance to walk through those FBI doors. I think that would be actually very fun and the rapport they have with each other you know, that'd be a nice rival with the rapport that Caffrey and Burke have with each other. So that might be fun.

SCIFI VISION: What do you find most challenging about working on White Collar?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know what, in terms of challenging, I don't know if that's a word I'd use to describe as far as working with the cast, it's been great. As far as sort of uncovering the storylines that they put out every week and a half, I think has been great.

You know, so I wouldn't say anything is necessarily challenging. It's always a joy to go to work every morning. So I've got to say.

QUESTION: What's been the coolest thing that you've been able to do on the show so far?

SHARIF ATKINS: Well, you know, I think the coolest thing quite frankly is coming up in the episode tomorrow night. I got a chance to do a couple of fight scenes with a great guy. So I'm really looking forward to that and it's something that you haven't seen on White Collar yet.

QUESTION: You're getting some action in.

SHARIF ATKINS: Yes, getting a little action in.

QUESTION: If you could use one word to describe Clinton, what word would it be and why?

SHARIF ATKINS: I would say solid. Solid, because he always has Burke's back. You can always rely on him and as I am discovering as well, he's proficient in tech speak. There are just a lot of things about him that you can definitely look to and rely on him if you're agent Burke, quite frankly even if you're Neal Caffrey.

QUESTION: My question has to do with this episode coming up. I'm seeing this great promo shot of you holding a gun up to Peter and he has this giant crossbow, which looks pretty terrifying. Give us an idea of what's going to go on. What can viewers expect to see besides, as you said, more action?

SHARIF ATKINS: Yes. Well, the premise of the storyline is I have a buddy that I knew from the Naval Academy years ago. He's gone missing and there is a bit of a twist in our personal relationship because he marries an old girlfriend of mine.

So that's a bit of a twist but she's the one that gives me the heads up that something is wrong. And so then we kind of delve into that and then it was really great working with (Grady Smith). He guest stars. He's the gentleman holding the crossbow.

Yes. He's a lot of fun, a lot of fun working with him. And yes, we just have a lot of great scenes. You see Agent Jones, Clinton a bit out of his element, sort of leading the charge as opposed to just backing the fellows up especially because it's personal to him and it's something near and dear to his heart. So it's a nice twist.

QUESTION: You've appeared in around 95% plus of the episodes and you're still down as a guest star. What kind of assurances do you get at the start of the season to say you're going to be in this number of episodes?

Because being a fan of the show and I'm sure a lot of fans are, we're kind of worried are you not going to be in some episodes? And it's great that you're now getting the back story but what kind of assurances do you get at the start of the season?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know, as it concerns - it really sort of boils down to contractual details. But you know, I've had a lot of fun on this show, great with the cast, Jeff Eastin, the creator of the show has really appreciated the work that I have done.

And he and I are in communication often enough for me to know or at least have an idea if my character wasn't coming back the following season. So that's just something that - no worries for the audience. I'll be sure to tweet it if there are any problems.

QUESTION: ...Did you ever find a New York bakery for banana pudding?

SHARIF ATKINS: I did actually. You know where I went? I went to Magnolia Bakery and brother let me tell you, the banana pudding with the vanilla wafers - excellent, excellent.

Now I think there are about two or three others shops that I'm supposed to visit in order to give a fair representation of who has got the best banana pudding in New York. But I've got to tell you Magnolia Bakery, they put their foot in it.

QUESTION: What kind of research went into doing this role initially?

SHARIF ATKINS: The initial research, you know what I did, I ended up just going on the FBI's Web site and real casually just sort of reading through some of the expectations, some of the things that I would have had to have done in order to become an agent.

But aside from that, I think it's sort of kind of learning on the job so to speak. I mean the scripts provide great story lines and using my imagination I can create a lot of great back story with regards to what's going on. So in terms of preparing for the agent bit it was relaxed, casual sort of reading on the FBI's site and things of that nature.

SCIFI VISION: What have you learned about yourself since you started working on White Collar?...Something surprising that you learned.

SHARIF ATKINS: I've learned that I love New York. I know that much. And considering we get a chance to visit every part of New York that is fathomable when we go on location, yes. I love New York. I think that's one thing that I learned.

And having a place here or working here on a semi-regular basis is not something that I had looked down upon at all.

...

QUESTION: ...You guys have done three seasons of White Collar now. The stories are getting richer, the action, more packed. What do you think has made this show such a hit among viewers? I of course won't judge you if you say Matt Bomer is good luck, but there have to be better reasons why viewers are hooked.

SHARIF ATKINS: Hey, listen - there is nothing wrong with having a great looking leading man. So you know what, I think the writers have found the ability of creating an awesome relationship between Bomer and Tim DeKay.

I think that's one of the things that draws the audience in. It's interesting because the demographics for this show are all over the map. I mean I've seen some of every type of person say that they're absolutely in love with White Collar. So sometimes it kind of takes me aback. But I realize that the humor is excellent and I think the way the writers craft the season where this is this overarching storyline so the mystery is there with that leading guy Matt Bomer.

You know, taking us through so you kind of keep up with that while at the same time each episode has its own sort of you know, hour-long arch that they can play with. So I think being able to follow along each episode knowing that there is going to be a big bang at the end of the season for instance, is something that probably attracts smart viewers quite frankly. I think it's a smart show.

QUESTION: How have you found the White Collar experience different to your experience on ER? Did you have to do a lot of research? More for ER being medical compared to the whole FBI side of White Collar?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know what, I think so. I think I was much younger when I did ER so there is just - the experience is different in terms of I'm much more seasoned as an actor, as a television performer.

So you know, it's sort of the courage I have to make choices or talk with writers and producers about the direction that the character is going in or maybe a particular line in the scene. I have that whereas with ER one of my first big gigs, you know, I was sort of just give me the line and I'll say it to the best of my ability and hope that you enjoy it, you know what I mean?

But in terms of what needed to be learned, I think with ER I think it was a daily grind to figuring out what the heck should I be saying in the scene that day? We had on set you know, medical consults and such. So it wasn't too tough to figure out what was going on and get a context of things. But yes, I think that's about the difference. I think I'm older and more mature as an actor.

QUESTION: Are there any shows you're a big fan of that you want to appear in or have you appeared in any you've already been a fan of?

...

SHARIF ATKINS: Oh man, I've got to tell you there are two shows that I would absolutely love to have some form of a role on if it ever came to be and that's Breaking Bad and Walking Dead. I just don't know if you saw Breaking Bad's episode last night but it was another good one, another really great one.

QUESTION: I heard it was a good one.

SHARIF ATKINS: Yes. Brian Cranston is an absolute beast. The show is great, the writing is great. So yes, if the executive producers were to give me a call up and say we'd love for you to do a couple episode arch on this show I'd be there in a heartbeat as long of course as it didn't interfere with my White Collar.

SCIFI VISION: Is there someone specific that you'd like to work with that you haven't yet, actor or director?

SHARIF ATKINS: Yes. Actor or director - in terms of dream role, that would be a great dream television role. Film role I've got to say being able to play a vile pig, Sam Cooke. So if you asked me about that, playing Sam Cooke, I would love to do that.

In terms of actors that I'd love to work with, Ryan Gosling - I think he's an amazing young actor, Jeffrey Wright, I think he's - Don Cheadle - the list goes on. But in terms of the excitement of being able to get into a scene with somebody and know that I'm going to have a lot of fun, you know, I think those three are right up there.

SCIFI VISION: What has been your favorite role so far besides White Collar?

SHARIF ATKINS: My favorite role besides White Collar? You know what, actually it was another Jeff Eastin production - Hawaii where I played a character called John Decklin.

And I just remember at that time I had just left ER and it was just a lot of fun. I had the most fun I think that I've ever had with any character that I've played on television. Even though the show didn't go long, it aired for about nine episodes. It was still a blast.

QUESTION: I'm still kind of reacting to you playing Sam Cooke. I think that would be phenomenal. You need to make that happen.

SHARIF ATKINS: ...I would love it. And I'm talking about a gritty bio pic. Like you know, not just a musical review - no, I'm talking about something that really gets into whether it's a slice of his life or you know - so yes.

QUESTION: Yes because they're still trying to figure out what happened with his death, right?

SHARIF ATKINS: Exactly, which makes it all the more intriguing.

QUESTION: The original Tupac and Biggie. Well, I'm curious, if you're going to play Sam Cooke you're going to need to be able to sing, and I've heard rumors that White Collar wants to do a musical episode. Any news on that? What would you sing?

SHARIF ATKINS: Well, that's a two-part question. As far as the White Collar musical, I have heard that (rumor) out on set as well. I don't know how serious that is. But it'd be interesting. Maybe fifth or sixth season we'd give you something to listen to.

QUESTION: (To wait for).

SHARIF ATKINS: But yes, so that'd just be a fun bonus.

QUESTION: We were talking about New York earlier and I do have to congratulate you for being one of the only actors who didn't guest star on Law & Order as a dead body or a criminal...

SHARIF ATKINS: That's funny.

Sharif AtkinsQUESTION: Coming from ER and going to White Collar has there been any difference in moving from a network show to a cable show? And can you comment on that experience?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know, I'm sure there are some differences. From my perspective though a working actor is a working actor. You know, you're part of a company and a show that treats you well and is great and expects greatness.

And I think that's similar in terms of my experience. So you know, I'm sure in the fine details there are some differences between the two but in terms of my experience, great people, great show, no difference.

QUESTION: Are there any kind of hints or teasers you can give us regarding your character or maybe the rest of the season that obviously you're allowed to tell us?

SHARIF ATKINS: Spoiler? Well, all I can say is that Mrs. Burke and Agent Jones, they get really close. That's all I can say. I won't say much more than that - no, I'm kidding. That's not going to happen as far as I'm aware of right now.

No. You know what? I think it'll just be more of the same. I think you're going to see more of the same. I think what the show is really good at doing is sort of slowly uncovering and unveiling different aspects of the different characters of the show.

And so quite frankly oftentimes I won't know myself until I get the episode. But for my character, I love the track they're on. The episode tonight sort of opens up and gives you a really nice back story for Agent Jones and just gets you to understand kind of where he's come from and why he's doing what he's doing. So I'm looking forward to seeing it.

SCIFI VISION: If you could write for the show and had a choice, what would you like to see happen to Clinton?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know, less specifically about what I see happening to me and I love the episodes that they do that for instance, like Burke says and I don't know if you're familiar with that episode.

SCIFI VISION: Yes.

SHARIF ATKINS: One of the reasons I love that episode is because everybody was somehow involved in solving the caper. And I know that that can't always happen and every caper doesn't require every character.

But those are the most fun because you see it's almost the way the ball is sort of passed back and forth and seeing everybody believably involved in taking down a criminal. It's always fun. It's always fun to watch, always fun to play. And I get to see my castmates a little bit more.

SCIFI VISION: It was very fun to watch; that was a good episode. What part of you do you see in your character?

SHARIF ATKINS: What part of me? You know what, I think I'm fairly reliable as an individual. I show up, I hit my mark. So I'm definitely a team player and I think that hands down Agent Jones is leading the charge as far as that is concerned, ready and willing to do what needs to be done for the team in order to get the job done, you know.

SCIFI VISION: Do you have anything else, any new projects coming out besides White Collar?

SHARIF ATKINS: No, not at this time. Not at this time. When I head back to LA I'll be on the audition circuit.

QUESTION: How much do you actually enjoy the fan interaction through Twitter? Do you try to avoid it, or do you like getting comments from the fans all the time and the replies and things like that?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know, I love it man. I love it. It's one of those things where you've just got to be able to you know, you can't let it control you.

You determine when you're going to respond or when you're going to pipe up and say anything. But yes, I love it. I think it's a lot of fun. I think it's cool to see the fan enthusiasm concerning the show and even concerning my particular character. So yes, I enjoy it. I enjoy it.

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SCIFI VISION: How did you get started in acting?

SHARIF ATKINS: Wow. You know what, junior year in high school I went to this summer program at Northwestern University. I ended up attending for four years and the big pull was the teacher at this particular summer program because she was just so enthusiastic and so fun that I just kind of fell in love with it and found that I had some talent and some gifts in the area.

So I'd have to put the starting point there. And after that I went to Northwestern, did a lot of shows with the African American theater ensemble and came back to Chicago, did some theater, flew out to LA and started my career.

SCIFI VISION: Are there any scenes in White Collar that were deleted that you wish they had kept in or maybe something in retrospect you wish they had taken out?

SHARIF ATKINS: You know, every episode oftentimes the writers write a little bit over the time that is allotted them for an episode. So a lot of times you kind of see some things get cut out and some of them are - it really varies from episode to episode. But some of them were kind of like I wish I had seen that part, it was fun. It was a fun moment. But you know, that just comes with the territory.

SCIFI VISION: What's something your fans would be surprised to know about you?

SHARIF ATKINS: Something my fans would be surprised to know about me? I own both a Nook and a Kindle.

I played tennis in high school. I played tennis and I was on my high school tennis team for a couple of years before theatre took me over. Let's see. You know what, I do hot yoga from time to time. Bigram yoga.

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SHARIF ATKINS: And I love to get massages - hands down probably one of the most enjoyable thing I could ever do for a two-hour period.

QUESTION: Regarding tomorrow's episode, if you had to describe it in three words what would it be? Just a tough one for you.

SHARIF ATKINS: Intensely action packed. How about that for three words?

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