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Myra Chanin

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Simon Lovell: The Weird and Wonderful Guru de Con to USA Network's White Collar Con Men

Posted: 08/27/2012 10:31 pm

Almost every sentence written about Simon Lovell should have the word "allegedly" liberally sprinkled around it. In real life, Simon is an allegedly former, allegedly reformed, alleged con man, who allegedly saw the error of his ways, allegedly stopped performing actions that hurt other people and has now stumbled into a gig that has made him the eminence grise behind Neal Caffrey/Matt Bomer and No-Last-Name Mozzie/Willie Garson, the principal characters on the USA Network hit series, White Collar, now in its just-finished-filming-its-fourth season which is currently being aired. Simon's the guy who teaches Neal and Mozzie how to do every underhanded move they need to make. Hallelujah! Simon has finally found an honest way to make trickery pay.

Simon grew up in England as an insular, thoughtful and rebellious child who lacked goals or ambition and seemed content to meander through life. His grandfather worked in the that industry and by the time Simon was eight, Granddad had taught him to cheat at cards and hustle at pool. During his university days, Simon realized that he preferred grifting more than he enjoyed the real world, so he drifted and grifted for the next decade or so. What about consequences? Wasn't Simon ever caught, beaten or incarcerated? "Everybody gets caught sometimes," Simon admits evasively, "but the cure is usually just a matter of giving the money back. "

After his change of heart, Simon remained skilled, charming, entertaining and particularly well-versed in sleight-of-hand. He wrote books deconstructing magic tricks for magicians and performed magic shows for the public. He moved to the U.S. in his mid-thirties where he published his magnum opus, How to Cheat At Everything, to allegedly help marks recognize a con. His book intrigued Jeff Eastin, the creator and executive producer of White Collar, who had his assistant call Simon and ask him to speak to Jeff. Simon thought it was one of his friends playing a practical joke and put down the phone. "A half hour later, the phone rang again and it was actually Jeff himself who told me he'd read my book, liked the way I described the depth of a con and offered me a job as the technical advisor on the show! We arranged a three-season deal in twenty minutes with no agents, lawyers or managers! That's really magic! I started working on the show before I'd even signed the contract. Jeff has become a very close friend. It's like being a member of a family. I expect the show to continue beyond my three-year contract and I hope I'll continue to work with them as long as they are on the air. I'm very proud of being a small cog in a very big machine."

Simon is hardly a small cog. He's appeared on White Collar often enough to qualify for SAG-AFTRA membership and he's been featured on White Collar's website leading a con man's tour of New York. "I'm very stoked by that. On the show, I've played poker against John Larroquette, was in an arrest scene on an episode called Checkmate where I actually had some lines. But my main role is to teach the actors, mainly Matt, how to pick a pocket, pick a lock, boost a car, unlock handcuffs, forge money, switch a briefcase, etc. I also check out the scripts and translate the dialog into con speak. For instance if there's a scene with a three card Monte man, I give them his lingo and I redesign the sleights to make then possible for Neal or Mozzie to learn in 20 minutes."

As for Simon's non White Collar life, you can see him in action every Saturday night at 6 pm at the Huron Club at the Soho Playhouse at 15 Vandam Street in Manhattan performing his intimate one-man off-Broadway show -- Strange and Unusual Hobbies - which has been running for over seven years. The Wall Street Journal called it, "A dazzling 70 minute show." It juxtaposes Lovell's off-the-wall sense of humor with demonstrations of his uncanny card cheating. Despite the early hour, it contains graphic language that's not for children. It's just the jaw-dropping tricks of an alleged former con man allegedly so loveable you allegedly won't want to press charges.

 
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