The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Titus Welliver (‘Bosch’)

There are so many things that you might know Titus Welliver from that we simply don’t have the time or space to list them all – although you can hit up his IMDb listing if you really want the full monty – but, for example, even just limiting it to shows that are currently on the air that’s he’s popped up in, you’ve got NCIS, Supernatural, Sons of Anarchy, Suits, The Good Wife, CSI: Criminal Scene Investigation, Grimm, White Collar, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. At the moment, though, Welliver has high hopes that he’ll have a full-time gig on his hands in the near future…but that’s going to be up to audiences to decide.

If you’re a fan of author Michael Connelly, then you’ll most likely recognize the name “Hieronymus Bosch” as belonging to someone other than a Dutch painter: he’s a character in more than a few of Connelly’s novels – you may know him better as Harry – and now he’s making the jump to the small screen…or, more specifically, to Amazon…with Welliver playing the part in a new pilot. If it proves successful amongst viewers, then Bosch will go to series, and if not…well, let’s not even consider that possibility, because I’ve seen the pilot, and it’s pretty damned good.

In fact, it’s so good that you really ought to go watch it right now, which you can do by clicking right here. After you’re done, though, be sure to come back, because I had a chance to talk with Welliver about working on the project in some detail, and before we wrapped up, we also had a bit of time to chat about his experiences on one of his earlier TV projects as well. (Hint: he worked with David Milch on the series.)


Bullz-Eye: I’m sure you’ve gone on record elsewhere about the origins of how you came aboard the project in the first place, but as I haven’t heard them, how did you end up in the mix to play Harry Bosch?

Titus Welliver: Well, I read the script and…it was sort of a funny situation, because I was trying to meet with the producers and Michael Connelly, because I read the script and I went crazy for it and just felt like I so desperately wanted to play this character. But I was shooting Transformers 4, and a lot of different locations and a very long shoot, and sometimes it was a little bit like being in the military – in, like, special operations – where, literally, I’d get a call saying, “We need you here, now!” [Laughs.] So there were, like, three attempted meetings, and I was really getting nervous about it because, y’know, at a certain point they kind of go, “Well, as much as we’d really like to meet with you, we’ve gotta get going!”

So when I did finally get to sit down and meet with Michael Connelly and Erik Overmyer and Jim McKay and Henrik Bastin and Pieter Jan Brugge and the whole clan, it was one of those things where I walked into the room and sat down, and within five minutes… I already knew that I wanted to play the character and I loved the script, but just the energy – for lack of a better word – coming from this group, I thought, “I have to do this. My God, I really have to do it!” And that’s not always the case, y’know? Sometimes you can love material but there’s personality conflicts or whatever, you just have a gut feeling about something. But I knew from the second I got in there, “I want to work with these people.” So in that way, it was great. And I feel very blessed that I’ve been given the opportunity.

BE: Given your work history, I’m sure you don’t have but so much time to read, but did you have at least a passing familiarity with the character you were going to be playing?

TW: Yes, I’d read a Bosch book several years ago, and it certainly resonated with me. And when I got the role of Bosch, Michael explained to me that the pilot and the first season would be a combination of two of the books, Concrete Blonde and City of Bones. So I read both of those books, and Michael very generously sent me all of the Bosch books, but he specifically said, “These are the ones that you want to read first, because they relate directly to what we’re doing in the first season.” So, like the script, I burned through the books, and what I found really interesting was that…I found the books very moving. And that’s not always the case in that genre. They’re character-driven, but that’s also the thing about Harry Bosch: he’s a guy who’s deeply compassionate. Yes, he’s a tough guy, he’s a rough-and-tumble guy, but his emotional life is one of…y’know, he’s a deeply haunted and vulnerable character. He’s not just this tough-guy superhero character. He’s a really deeply nuanced character.

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BE: Watching the pilot, during the scene with you and Amy Price-Francis outside the courtroom, there seemed to be an almost noir-like patter between the two of you…and then a few minutes later, there’s a shot of you smoking a cigarette with haunting jazz music playing in the background. At that point, I went, “Okay, this clearly isn’t my imagination: they’re definitely going for some sort of noir thing here.”

TW: [Laughs.] Yeah! And, you know, thankfully, that’s the great blessing about… You know, sometimes having Michael Connelly as an executive producer / writer…I mean, it’s his baby. He created it. So to have him there, the integrity of the books and the integrity of the character is intact. And I think very often things are picked up by the industry and a lot of the things that are important, the nuances of those things, are lost. There’s a temptation or an inclination to try and make it better, and I think what you have to do is to really trust your source material – particularly when it’s as strong as Michael Connelly’s books – and service that and speak to that.

We had to alter his military background due to my age, obviously. I’m a wee bit young to have been a tunnel rat in Vietnam. [Laughs.] So we changed it to… He’s a veteran of the Gulf War, Special Forces 5th Group, and after the tragedy of 9/11, he reenlists back into the Special Forces 5th Group and fights in the caves of Afghanistan. So while that might tweak some of the hardcore Bosch fans, you have to do that. Otherwise, y’know, then you have to set the clock back in order to make the age work. But also, I mean, that’s a blessing and a curse: you’re never gonna please everybody. I mean, the hope is to please everybody, but, y’know, there’s a global fanbase for the Bosch books, and, look, people are very protective – understandably – of the characters, and everybody has a different sort of idea of the physicality that they’ve created in their mind and attached to a character. But I do know is that we’ve really…we’ve stayed to the books. We haven’t strayed from the books. So my hope is that the fans of the books are supportive.

And thus far they have been really, really supporting. And it is, it’s a daunting task to jump into these shoes, because, look, I’m the same kind of person. You know, you read a book, and then they make a film of it, and they may cast a great actor, but it doesn’t match with what’s in your mind. And I sort of realized years ago, probably because it’s what I do, that it’s really unfair. You have to sort of let it land. But I feel that we’ve really, really maintained the integrity of the books, and the response thus far has been really, really positive.


BE: And you would think – or hope, anyway – that if the creator of the character is willing to sign off on the changes, then they should just accept ‘em and sit back and enjoy ‘em.

TW: Yeah, ‘cause, y’know, the truth of the matter is that Michael is an executive producer and a writer, and there’s no way that Michael was going to arbitrarily throw his hands up and say, “Yeah, okay, whatever you want to do.” When I got the blessing of Connelly… Well, also, for me as an actor, to have him there, that’s gold. Absolute gold. If I ever feel lost or there’s question, Michael is there to explain anything and everything that I would need to know.

BE: I mean this in the best possible way, but you pretty much encapsulate the word “world-weary” in your performance.

TW: [Laughs.] Yes, thank you. I think he is. I mean, that’s one of the things I like about the character. He’s a very strong guy, there’s no question about it, but he has a real vulnerability, and…you don’t do a job like that, you don’t face death and loss on a daily basis as a human being and not become affected by it. And I think that’s one of the things that makes Harry Bosch such a strong character. Because he’s very real. He’s attainable. And that’s the other thing about him: this is not a guy who’s necessarily completely comfortable in his own skin. He kind of navigates the world in his own way. He’s not a guy who expresses… [Hesitates.] His heart is not on his sleeve. He’s a rather guarded character. And, you know, that’s a lot of fun to play, too, because you have to let some of that out. Which Michael does in the books. Bosch exposes a certain element to himself in moments of feeling comfortable. But for the most part, he’s a deeply guarded individual.


BE: In regards to the tweak to Bosch’s history from Vietnam to the Gulf War, it seems to put him a notch below being the kind of guy who’d say, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” even though he’s clearly seen a lot in his time, anyway.

TW: Yeah, although I think that there is a quality of “I’m getting too old for this shit.” But he’s so driven that he has such a strong moral compass. “I’m getting too old for this shit, but by the same token, I don’t know how to do anything else.” And retirement for a guy like Harry Bosch is sheer terror. So I think he’s… I see him as being one of those characters who just will go kicking and screaming and will always find a way to somehow stay connected to law enforcement – if he was to become a private eye, if he ultimately had to pension out – because to not do the work that he does…? That’s his sustenance. That’s his life force. That’s what keeps him going.

There’s actually a line in the pilot where Jamie Hector’s character, J. Edgar, says, “You know how many guys would kill for a stint on the disabled list?” And Bosch says, “I’m no good with down time.” And that’s really him at his essence. He also says to Billet (Amy Aquino’s character) later on, when she says that she’s gonna take the case away from him and give it to Cold Case, he says, “I need to work. This is the work that I do.” You know, those things really resonate with me very, very strongly in speaking about who Harry really is.


BE: Your use of the phrase “kicking and screaming” reminds me that it was almost refreshing to see Bosch smoking so much in the pilot.

TW: Yeah, well, and that’s… [Starts to laugh.] Look, I’ve known a lot of cops in my time, and some of them, the way they smoke, you… I mean, they chain-smoke. Now, ultimately, Harry will quit smoking, but I think too often there’s the politically-correct thing of, “What message are we sending to our younger audience? That we condone smoking? And life choices? And drinking?” Whatever they do. But the truth of the matter is that people do that. People smoke, people drink, people swear, and people act out. So that’s part of who Harry is.

Years ago, I did a television show, Falcone, and the only reason they allowed my character to smoke is because he was a bad guy. He was a capo in an Italian crime family, so they allowed him to smoke. And I remember there was a question about whether the sort of hero of the show could smoke, and they said, “Oh, no, no, no. The hero can never smoke. You can’t do that.” But you know what? The hero can smoke. It’s okay.

BE: I know you don’t want to count your chickens before they hatch, but Bosch certainly seems to be the most high-profile of this batch of Amazon pilots, therefore I  can’t help but lean toward thinking – and I’m sure you’re hoping  profoundly – that it’s going to be picked up.

TW: I really do. Not just for obvious reasons. It’s just that, for me as an actor, it’s a character that came along that I absolutely love playing, and I feel like there’s so many stories to tell, as well as just the gift of having a phenomenal cast. I get to go to work every day with an incredible ensemble cast, and that in itself is a blessing. It’s a great blessing.


BE: Given how trying the Transformers movie sounds to have been, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that there’s the potential for getting into a regular routine again.

TW: Yeah, I mean, it’s… I’m a single father of three kids, you know, and there’s something to be said for sleeping in your own bed and being able to drop off and pick up your kids from school, and being able to have dinner with your kids, and…all these things are important. The most important. That’s sort of the blessing and the curse of playing a character episodically, because what do you do if… [Hesitates.] You hope the material is strong enough to maintain your interest. Because I think it would be very easy to become sort of…not necessarily bored, but at a certain point to say, “Well, I’ve played this long enough. I kind of want to do something else.” Whereas there’s so many Bosch books. We have a lot of material to cover, and I can’t wait to… Well, you know, yes, I don’t count my chickens. [Laughs.] But it’s really my hope that this will be realized as a series, because I feel very passionate about it, and I think it’s a wonderful character, and I think the audience… I think audiences deserve this character. They really deserve to have a character that’s different, you know?

BE: Looking back at your series career, you’ve had some lengthy guest arcs on various series, and you’ve also had some full-time gigs as well. Is there one in the bunch in particular that didn’t last as long as you wished it had?

TW: Yeah, I’d say… There’s a show I did with David Milch, Big Apple, and the cast – just to name a few – was Ed O’Neill, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Madsen, and Kim Dickens. It was beautifully written, and it just became a casualty. I mean, that’s one of the difficulties. It’s a little bit of a deal with the devil with network television, and I think it happens all too often. If a show comes on and it doesn’t explode out of the box with the first couple of episodes, it goes away. I can’t remember how many actually aired. It might’ve been a total of nine. [Hesitates.] Yeah, I want to say it was probably a total of nine. And it was an enormous disappointment that that didn’t get to live longer.

Ironically, our first season was about corporate corruption, and our second season would’ve been delving into the world of counter-terrorism…and then 9/11 happened. So maybe that was a blessing, in a way, that we were not, y’know, dramatizing something that became a horrible reality in our world. But, yeah, that was such an amazing cast. And, of course, obviously I’ve worked with David before and since. I’ve done NYPD Blue, Brooklyn South, and then after Big Apple I did Deadwood with David. And certainly, when working with David, the bar is always raised at the highest level. So, yeah, that’s one that sort of sticks out in my mind.

BE: Speaking of Deadwood, I remember that, when I talked to Ed O’Neill about Big Apple a couple of years back, the biggest takeaway I had from that conversation was that David actually wrote the character of Swearingen for Ed.

TW: Yes!

BE: Sometimes, even now, I can’t quite wrap my head around that.

TW: [Laughs.] I know. And, you know, what’s funny is that I… [Hesitates.] Well, what was interesting to me in working with Ed was, you know, I knew Ed from Married with Children like everyone else. And Ed is an actor of the highest order. He happens to be extremely funny, but he’s one of the finest dramatic actors on the planet. And he was able to flex that muscle in Big Apple, and I found that heartbreaking for that reason…one of many. But, yeah, he was going to be Swearingen, and I remember talking to Eddie about that not so long ago. Eddie said, “Yes, there’s a level of disappointment, but, you know, I watch that show, and I can’t imagine anyone other than Ian McShane playing that role.”


BE: Yeah, he said something to that effect to me, too.

TW: Because, I mean, look: Ian McShane is a Jedi Knight. Forget it. [Laughs.] That was a gift, to go to work with him. That was a master class every time I sat across the table from him. Just incredible. Incredible. And a very generous actor. Very generous. You know, always working hard to help his fellow actors realize that he just gave, gave, gave, and continued to do so. I hope to work with him again.