Until he won the role of a veteran FBI agent paired by necessity with a con artist partner in the hit series "White Collar" (USA Network, 2009-14), actor Tim DeKay was best known for playing Bizarro Jerry, the sincere and impeccably mannered doppelganger of Jerry Seinfeld in two episodes of the comedian's long-running NBC sitcom. DeKay honed his craft in regional and off-Broadway theatre and paid his journeyman dues on episodic television playing lawyers, doctors, detectives, corporate executives and the occasional Machiavellian schemer. Shots at recurring roles on weekly series came with HBO's "Carnivàle" (2003-05) and "Tell Me You Love Me" (2007-09), both of which hit the airwaves with considerable buzz only to fold after two seasons. Dividing his time between the stage, television and the big screen, DeKay was seen in supporting roles in Tim Hunter's "Control" (2004), Victor Salva's "Peaceful Warrior" (2006) and the 2008 "Get Smart" remake starring Steve Carell before he returned to primetime as one-half of the buddy equation on "White Collar." His collegiate handsomeness agreeably coarsening as he neared age 50, DeKay brought a sense of experience and gravitas to the role of federal agent Peter Burke, capping but hardly closing the book on the career of a seasoned character actor with a leading man's good looks.
Timothy Robert DeKay was born on June 12, 1963, in the upstate New York town of Lansing, near Ithaca. One of two sons of James and Jill DeKay, who later divorced, DeKay staged backyard plays with his younger brother and performed in student dramatics at Lansing High School. In 1981, an athletic scholarship brought him to the private LeMoyne College in Syracuse, where he majored in business and minored in philosophy. Between classes, DeKay pitched in at the Firehouse Theatre, a converted fire station-turned-performance space, where he built sets and played the occasional role. Graduating from LeMoyne in 1985, he worked for a casket company while preparing to pursue a career either in business or law. His plans were put on hold indefinitely when the siren call of the stage compelled DeKay to enroll in the directing program at Syracuse University. Transferring to Rutgers University in New Jersey, he earned a master's degree in fine arts in 1990.
After gaining experience in regional and off-Broadway theatre, DeKay made his Broadway debut in 1992 in a revival of George Kelly's 1924 comedy "The Show Off," produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company. The supporting role of a jazz era inventor was a feather in DeKay's professional cap, but critics were unimpressed and the production closed after only 45 performances. He debuted on national television on the NBC science fiction adventure series "SeaQuest 2032" (1993-96) in 1995. As villainous corporate profiteer Larry Deon, DeKay was called upon to hatch a series of world-threatening schemes, including pushing an iceberg toward the Middle East to flood the Saudi desert. Subsequent TV work followed, with his most memorable assignment being the conscientious Bizarro Jerry in two episodes of the long-running NBC sitcom "Seinfeld" (1989-1998).
In a dozen episodes of the Fox family drama "Party of Five" (1994-2000), DeKay played physician Paul Thomas, whose unhappy marriage to series regular Kristen Bennett was maintained as a subplot through the fourth and fifth seasons. During this time, DeKay made his feature film debut as a frontier bartender in Christopher Guest's "Almost Heroes" (1998), the final film of comedian Chris Farley. The following year, the actor appeared in Mark Hanlon's disturbing independent film "Buddy Boy" (1999), played a corrupt cop who meets an explosive end in "The Crow: Salvation" (2000), and popped up as an FBI agent in Dominic Sena's big-budget crime caper "Swordfish" (2001). Narrowly losing out on a lead role in the indie smash "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002), DeKay returned to episodic television and guest roles on Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000), "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002) and "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox, 2000-06).
In 2001, DeKay had appeared in "Honey Vicarro," an unsold pilot for a detective series starring Jenny McCarthy. Series creator Daniel Knauf was impressed enough to remember the actor's work so included him in the ensemble cast of his HBO series "Carnivàle" (2003-05). Set during the Great Depression, the drama followed the adventures of a traveling freak show, with DeKay cast as Clayton Jones, a former professional baseball player reduced by injury to working as a roustabout. The role allowed DeKay to affect the stubbled, macho persona of a traditional man of action and to enjoy an onscreen romance with co-star Carlo Gallo. Despite setting a ratings record for HBO with its premiere episode, "Carnivàle" struggled to maintain a regular audience and was cancelled after its second year. During this time, DeKay traveled to Bulgaria for a role in Tim Hunter's "Control" (2004) opposite Willem Dafoe and Ray Liotta.
Returning to the life of a journeyman TV actor, DeKay appeared on the quirky NBC sitcom "My Name Is Earl" (2005-09), as a friend of star Jason Lee's amends-making lowlife who has been sent to prison for robbing a liquor store with a crossbow. On the series "The 4400" (USA Network, 2004-07), DeKay was an alien inhabiting the body of a software conglomerate CEO and attempting to manipulate world events. In 2007, he returned to HBO for a role in another ensemble series. Focused on the love and sex lives of three middle-class couples, "Tell Me You Love Me" (2007-09) paired the actor with Ally Walker in the story of a couple whose intimacy has evaporated since the onset of parenthood. Frank in its depiction of adult sexuality, the series garnered considerable buzz at the time of its premiere but its cancellation in 2009 was another career disappointment for DeKay.
In Victor Salva's 2006 feature "Peaceful Warrior," adapted from the 1980 novel by Dan Millman, DeKay contributed the supporting role of a gymnastics coach whose injured athlete is mentored and rehabilitated by spiritual grease monkey Nick Nolte. Given little to do as a Secret Service agent in the "Get Smart" (2008) feature reboot starring Steve Carell, DeKay had more fun as the star of the SyFy Channel's "Monster Ark" (2008). Soldiering through the narrative in sweat-stained khaki as a Biblical archeologist, DeKay was allowed to bust some aerobic Indiana Jones moves, narrowly escaping a temple cave-in and a subterranean tomb filling rapidly with sand. DeKay reunited with his "Seinfeld" co-star Julia Louise Dreyfuss as a guest on "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS, 2006-2010).
DeKay was given another shot at a weekly series with the premiere of "White Collar" (USA, 2009-14), a variation on the buddy cop format that paired his by-the-book federal agent with the charming confidence man Matt Bomer in an effort to hem forgery, counterfeiting, racketeering and sundry corporate wrongdoing. Though much of the buzz surrounding the series' first season centered on younger co-star Bomer, DeKay received a raft of critical huzzahs and the pair's onscreen chemistry was cited by critics as the series' strong suit. The frothy procedural struck a chord with viewers seeking an entertainment alternative to the myriad cop shows focusing on forensic techniques and provided DeKay with a role that allowed him to play characters manifesting the gravitas and grit that one can only achieve with decades of on-the-job training.