Most actors are lucky if they get one recognizable role, but for a guy like Titus Welliver, noticeable is sort of an understatement; he was the biggest WTF in television history a few years ago. We’re speaking, of course, of his portrayal of the Man in Black on ABC’s Lost.
Having begun on the stage in New York and moved on to kick total ass in TV and film, Welliver currently finds himself with a resume chock-full of outstanding appearances on shows such as the aforementioned Lost, Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy. His new role of Harry Bosch in Bosch is based on author Michael Connelly’s famed character, a homicide detective whose story spans 17 novels and assorted short stories. The new show is produced by Amazon Studios, proving more and more that new outlets are continuing to push the boundaries and we fans can’t help but eat it up.
We recently spoke with Welliver about Bosch, getting back to the stage and how being known as Smokey for the rest of his life doesn’t suck…
Playboy.com: You have such an impressive resume. Where did you start, New York?
Titus Welliver: Yeah, I started in New York. I originally followed my father’s footsteps and tried to become a painter but ultimately decided to get into acting. After some time, I went to NYU and studied with people like David Mamet and William H. Macy. Initially, I was a stage guy in New York.
Playboy.com: Do you ever get back to the stage?
Welliver: Not as often as I’d like, but I’d love to get back and do some plays because that’s one of the things that does drive me crazy. I’ve been looking at some. The last one I did was workshopping a play with a New York playwright, Frank Pugliese. He’s one of my dear friends. He wrote this play I’ve been workshopping for about 16 years, off and on, with Bobby Cannavale, Chris Messina and some other actors, called The Talk. It’s an amazing play. I think the last full play I did in New York was Riff Raff with Lawrence Fishburne. He wrote and directed it.
I love doing film and television, but there is something to be said for doing a live performance every single night. It’s kind of amazing, and I long to do that again. Unfortunately, I just haven’t had the time.
Playboy.com: It seems like most actors who start on the stage never lose that love for theater. I guess it’s that live audience factor.
Welliver: Absolutely. When you come from that it becomes a part of your makeup, for lack of a better term. It’s humbling as well because it’s part of your origin. In doing film and television, we actors can sometimes become lazy because we’re not using our voice. It’s not the same amount of physicality. Film and television is all told through the camera; the stage is very, very different.
Playboy.com: So, the new show Bosch is based on the Michael Connelly character, Harry Bosch, correct?
Welliver: It is, but I hate to say it’s just based on him because these are the Connelly books. The pilot episode is a combination of two books: City of Bones and The Concrete Blonde. So our source material is taken from the books. There’s actual dialogue lifted directly from the novels. And with Eric Overmyer and Michael Connelly writing together, you can’t go wrong.
Playboy.com: I was going to ask if there’s pressure stepping into a role that people have grown to love over the years, but with Connelly himself writing it, does that pressure lessen at all because you know he’ll write the character as he is “supposed” to be?
Welliver: Well, I think the one certainty is that Michael will stay to the books he’s written. The only change we’ve made is that we’ve updated Bosch’s military background. I’m a bit too shy of the age range to have served in Vietnam. [laughs] So, we changed that a bit, but the important parts of Bosch’s history are still very much intact.
I think that anytime an actor steps into the shoes of an iconic character in literature, there’s going to be naysayers and people who aren’t sure how it’ll be. So in that case, yeah, it’s a little bit daunting but I just looked at it like, why not? This role really intrigued me, and the fans have been really supportive of me playing the character. So, are we going to please everyone? No, but I think we’ve maintained the integrity of the character and we’re still telling the stories that have been loved by readers.
Playboy.com: I think that’s essentially what they want. They want the stories they love to be maintained.
Welliver: Exactly. It’s when people deviate from the source material that I get agitated. Why water it down? If something drew people in the first place, there’s a reason it did so. I’m proud to say we’ve stayed completely faithful to the book.
Playboy.com: I love that it’s an Amazon Studios produced show. With all of these different outlets, such as Amazon and Netflix, there are so many more opportunities for actors. What are your thoughts on that?
Welliver: You have to embrace them, and I really love it. It’s so great because if a show like Bosch were optioned and produced on network TV, it would have to be so diluted that all of the facets that make Bosch so unique and substantial would be taken out. I know the readers wouldn’t want that. They want the grit, the profanity and the things that make it what it is and should be. Bosch curses, he breaks the rules…he’s human!
Playboy.com: I agree. I think all of these outlets are making great, exciting television.
Welliver: Absolutely. It’s always good to raise the bar and I think that’s what happening. When you’re not restricted by so many rules you’re able to widen the boundaries and give some really great material.
Playboy.com: Aside from a show like this—a brand new one—you’ve also been on many established shows. As an actor, is it more exciting walking onto the set of an already successful show or to build one from the ground up?
Welliver: Well, in this instance, it’s definitely more exciting to be doing Bosch. It’s an immense gift to be playing this guy. He’s so complex and I love it. It’s very rewarding artistically.
Having said that, it’s a lot of fun to go and do shows that are established. I was a big Lost fan well before I did the show. And as an actor, we all do that thing where you see a show and you call your agent and say, “Get me on that show! Keep an eye out, because I want to do that.” And that’s how I’ve gotten a lot of shows.
Frankly, I think Bosch is that kind of show that will be like that. Other actors will watch and decide they want to be on it. The show has an amazing cast of actors.
Playboy.com: Since you mentioned Lost, did you have any idea how big that role was going to be? Essentially, your character was the guy everyone talked about.
Welliver: The funny thing about that was Elizabeth Sarnoff, whom I’ve worked with on Big Apple and Deadwood, called me saying something like, “I’ve got something for you on Lost, but I can’t tell you what it is. If you accept my word as bond, it’s well worth your while. I can’t tell you what the role is, but if you accept the job, I can tell you it’s good.” I have such respect for Elizabeth, and I loved the show so much, that it was a no-brainer. Sure, of course!
Also, when I first did the show it was still abstract to me; I didn’t know all that much about the role. It wasn’t until I was doing the episode with Nestor Carbonell, which was his origin episode, where he says to my character, “The black smoke, he took her away,” and I go, “No, I’m the black smoke.” Nestor and I were rehearsing that day and he started laughing, but I just didn’t get it. And finally he’s laughing and asks, “Do you know what that means?” For some reason, it just didn’t click. He said, “That’s like saying, ‘Luke, I am your father.’” [laughs]
But after that very first episode aired, that really short scene with Mark Pellegrino and I on the beach, the very next day was crazy. I walked into my local Starbucks and people were flipping out! But man, I loved playing that character. I still have people coming up to me about it. I think that is emblematic of the universe those over at Lost created. It’s amazing! I suppose on some level I’ll always be the Man in Black or Smokey…which is fantastic.
Playboy.com: A lot of your roles are very masculine, very tough guy. But I saw you on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show and you may have the best Christopher Walken and Al Pacino impressions I’ve ever heard. So, that leads me to the question of if you’ve ever enjoyed comedic roles?
Welliver: [Laughs] You know, I’ve never really done comedy. That’s one thing I like about Bosch: there’s a lot of humor. But I think on some level, because of the nature of the roles I’ve played, Hollywood sees me as always being intense and hard. Those opportunities don’t really show themselves.
I think that was Kevin’s way of playing the role of an observant agent or manager, saying that I’m not all blood and thunder, there’s a part of me that is really very silly. Kevin brings that out of me. He’s very good at that because he’s so silly and you just want to join him. So while I haven’t had those opportunities yet, I do hope they come because I’d love to do comedy.