An interview with Marsha Thomason

When we first met Detective Diana Barrigan on White Collar she was relocating from New York to D.C. and had an entirely different last name (Lancing). Actress Marsha Thomason was only in two episodes of the first season of the USA show, playing the out lesbian FBI agent, but showrunners brought her back in Season 2 with a last name that cleared with legal and a promotion to main character.

The show returns tonight for its third season, and this time around we’ll have more Diana than ever before. Delving into her home life, we’ll meet Diana’s girlfriend, Christie, played by Moran Atias, and see at least one full episode devoted to a storyline she dominates. It’s going to be more Marsha, and we couldn’t wait to talk to her about what’s in store for her character’s relationship and the scenes she shares with guest star Eliza Dushku. We’re so excited about the new season. It seems like we’ll be finding out a lot more about Diana. Can you give us any insight into what we’ll be learning about her?
Marsha Thomason:
It’s not that we’re getting into her past, it’s that we’re getting into her whole life that we’ve never really gotten to see before. I used to joke that last season, Diana would be arriving home and calling out Christie’s name but Christine was, for some reason, never home. I was like “She has a phantom girlfriend. She doesn’t even have a girlfriend. She’s a liar!” So this year you’ll meet her girlfriend and Christie. Neal, Sara, Diana and Christie have a double date.

AE: When will we first meet Christie?
Episode three.

AE: Did you have to do any chemistry reads with Moran or anything like that?
No. I think they cast her out of LA, actually, and we’re shooting in New York so I wasn’t involved with that process. But as soon as they cast her, our showrunner sent a picture and was joking about my approval. But of course, it wasn’t up to me.

AE: How would you describe their relationship? Do they get along pretty well?
They get along pretty well. They’re both professionals — Christie’s a doctor. It’s really fun for me because Christie’s very glamorous, wearing dresses and very femme. And I’m the FBI agent in the pants, which is really fun for me.

Moran Atias

AE: I love your wardrobe! Do you get any say on what you wear on each episode?
No, it’s kind of a convoluted process, the costumes. There’s a fitting, then the pictures are sent off for approval, and like fifty million people have to approve them and so I’m the last person they’re worried about! But so far, so good.

AE: How similar are you to Diana?
You know, I could never imagine doing what she does. She’s in danger pretty much every day, in the FBI. I can’t imagine carrying a gun but I do enjoy carrying one in the show. It’s so the opposite of what I am in my own life. But Diana is very serious about her career and so Diana and I have that in common. We’re both invested in our careers. She’s outspoken and so am I. But no I don’t actually think we’re that similar.

AE: You’re the only female that works with Neal and Burke on actual cases. It seems like it’s pretty typically you and a bunch of dudes. Do you ever get scenes with women?
I hadn’t even thought of that but you’re absolutely right — it’s pretty much me and a bunch of dudes. Tomorrow, actually, I get to work with Eliza Dushku and there will be a lot of positive female energy around. But I adore working with all of those guys. The reality is we have lots of females working on the crew and a lot of our supporting artists are females, too, so it doesn’t feel like I’m just working with a bunch of guys because there’s a lot of females around.

AE: What initially drew you to the role of Diana?
Well, I like to work. And they offered it to me. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding. It’s a really, really fun show. It’s got heart and it’s really entertaining and it’s so stylish. And I just really liked the pilot script. I liked this idea of a strong woman working in this male-dominated arena and she really holds her own. She’s a bad ass.

AE: And it’s great to see an out proud gay women character, too, doing what she does and being part of the FBI and being kick ass.

AE: Have you ever played a gay character before?
This is my first one.

AE: Did you feel like you had to play her any differently than you would a straight character?
No, I didn’t feel that. People are people and I feel like Diana is who she is, and being gay is one small part of who she is. I just play the truth of what’s on the page. No, I didn’t feel I had to do anything special, although I’m definitely aware of the fact it’s a real honor to play an out lesbian character on a show because it’s a voice we haven’t been hearing a lot. But I do think things are changing in television. I’m very excited. There are more gay characters on TV now then there ever have been. I’m so glad to be a part of that.

AE: I couldn’t help but notice that Diana’s last name changed when you came back for Season 2. Do you know why?
I do, and it was so disappointing because I loved Diana Lancing. It didn’t clear — it was somebody’s name. And they wouldn’t let us have it or something, so it got changed to Barrigan.

AE: So is there anything else you can tell us about your scenes with Eliza? We’re huge Eliza fans over at, too.
She plays kind of a mysterious criminal. She’s a white collar criminal, as we have on the show. I think the scene tomorrow is trying to take her down but she disappears. She’s all involved with Neal and there’s a lot of sexual tension there between the two of them.

White Collar Season 3 premieres tonight on USA.