‘Bosch’ star Titus Welliver: ‘Maybe I’m just a cop without a badge’

Titus Welliver isn’t the first actor I might have thought of to play LAPD homicide cop Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, hero of 17 best-selling mystery novels and counting by Michael Connelly (plus multiple appearances in Connelly’s “Lincoln Lawyer” series). But that’s more because the book series started so long ago, and has allowed Harry to age in real time, so my mental image of him is much older than the “Deadwood” alum.

In “Bosch,” a new TV series whose first season can be streamed on Amazon Prime starting today, Welliver plays a younger and slightly mellower version of Harry. Connelly and producer Eric Overmyer (“The Wire,” “Tremé”) adapted the first season from pieces of three different Bosch novels (“The Concrete Blonde,” “City of Bones” and “Echo Park”), and tweaks some biographical details. (Over the course of the early books, for instance, Bosch got married, divorced, and had a daughter who’s on the verge of finishing high school; in “Bosch,” he’s already divorced and has a teenage daughter.) The supporting cast includes a pair of “Wire” alums in Jamie Hector (as Harry’s partner, Jerry Edgar) and Lance Reddick (as LAPD Deputy Chief Irvin Irving), Amy Aquino (Bosch’s commanding officer, Lt. Grace Billets), Annie Wersching (uniform cop Julia Brasher) and Jason Gedrick (Raynard Waits, who takes credit for the murder Bosch and Edgar are investigating).

I’ve seen the first four “Bosch” episodes, but I’m going to reserve judgment on them until after I’ve had a chance (hopefully within the next couple of weeks) to watch the other six and see how the arc of the whole season goes. It’s more straightforward and conventional than a lot of other series Amazon has debuted so far, but it also seems like a smart choice for a company that has no doubt sold many copies of Connelly’s books.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Welliver about the series, his history of playing both cops and dour individuals like Harry, the ways the show had to change the Bosch of the books, and more.

Before the interview proper began, I mentioned to Welliver that he’s the star of one of my favorite DVD bonus features, from the “Deadwood” complete series set, where he impersonates David Milch, Al Pacino and other actors auditioning for various roles on the iconic series:

Welliver laughed and said he did it as a wrap gift to Milch, who has put him in four series (as a recurring emergency room doctor on “NYPD Blue,” and then as a series regular on “Brooklyn South,” “Big Apple” and “Deadwood”). When I asked why no one in the business has ever taken advantage of his gift for mimicry, he said, “Nobody wants me to be funny.”

So what do they want you to be? A cop?

Titus Welliver: They want me to just be the sort of austere, intense (guys). That, for me, what’s wonderful about playing Harry Bosch is he has a sense of humor, a really good sense of humor. So there are moments of buoyancy and levity that come out of light rather than hitting it too hard on the nose. Harry is a fairly morose character who’s very inverted to a certain degree.

Had you read any of the Bosch novels before you read the script for this?

Titus Welliver: My first exposure was I read one novel many many years before I even read the “Bosch” script. The script was completed when I met with Connelly and Overmyer. The pilot script was a small portion of “The Concrete Blonde,” which was the civil suit against him, and “City of Bones,” and we then added in parts of “Echo Park.” I’ve since read more of them just for pure pleasure, just because I enjoyed them. Certainly, there is a level of education I get, just by reading the books, there might be something that resonates, and I have. I’ve gone to Connelly and said, “Hey, I like this moment in this book, and there’s a tone thing that I’d like to put into the show.” And Michael cracks me up, because he’s written so many of the books, and he’ll go, “Which book was that?” He’s very humble.

How would you say your version of the character differs from the Harry of the books?

Titus Welliver: One of the things we obviously had to change was Harry’s age and military service. That was the trick for Michael and Eric, because Harry’s aged in real time. In the latest book, “The Burning Room,” he’s on the verge of retiring, at 62 years old. So that was the trick for them. Do we start with Harry at the beginning of his career? Can we track him that way? What they chose to do was come into the middle of Harry’s career when he’s in his early-mid 40s, and pick it up from there. So while we honor Harry’s military service (in the books, he’s a Vietnam veteran), we have to relocate it to the first Gulf War, and then had him re-enlisting and re-joining the special forces in Afghanistan, post-9/11, which many police officers did, after 9/11, a lot of cops went into the reserves.

Another change is that your Harry isn’t always as intense or difficult to deal with. In the books, he and Jerry don’t always get along, for instance.

Titus Welliver: It’s not the contentious nature between Jerry and Harry, where Harry’s thinking Jerry’s not a great cop, he’s dabbling in real estate. There is a bit more levity. but the one thing I said to Connelly when I was talking about my interpretation of the character was I said, “the one thing I find refreshing about Harry is he doesn’t follow all the societal norms about political correctness and politeness.” At his core, he’s not a guy who has an inherent desire to be liked. Everyone, in our public selves, we want to be perceived as being good chaps. I think Harry ultimately doesn’t really give a shit. It’s not that he walks around making that as a statement of, “I don’t give a shit.” But I think Harry’s very much a “take me or leave me” kind of guy. That being said, in becoming reacquainted with his daughter, we see different parts of his character emerging. But I don’t think you’re ever going to see Harry tap-dancing and singing a tune. There are elements of him that are rather morose. But he’s also a very inverted guy, and not emotionally demonstrative. So much of the books is the narrative being expressed while Harry’s by himself, and we do that with the show. We allow ourselves as an audience to see Harry in moments of being contemplative, and being public and private. The quintessential voyeuristic fourth wall experience for the audience, where they’re in the room with Harry in his house as he’s going through the murder book, and there’s no dialogue there. And I rather like those moments. I suppose that’s uncharacteristic of an actor to say, “Yeah, I don’t really need to say anything there.”

Did you find a real house with that view of the Hollywood hills, or is it you on a balcony with a green screen?

Titus Welliver: That’s a real house. A little bit of trivia on that, for those people who are fans of the film “Heat,” that’s the house Amy Brenneman has in “Heat.” Apparently, Michael Mann shot green screen plates of those windows, because he wanted to have more control of what’s behind him. So, yeah, that’s Harry’s house. That’s the reward of the spoils of having worked as a consultant on “The Black Echo” (a movie inspired by a case Harry worked on earlier in his career). And it’s not a big leap. If you look at it in the timeframe, at the time when the house was purchased by its present owner, he could have afforded it with the movie money. It’s not a very big house. The view is really the whole house. It’s got a tiny kitchen, and several smaller rooms, but it’s not a big house. And it’s extraordinarily difficult to get to, because there are these tiny streets in the Hollywood hills. But the view is spectacular.

Have you kept track of how many cops and federal agents you’ve played over the years?

Titus Welliver: I’ve played my share. Let’s see, “Brooklyn South,” I was a cop. I was a cop on “Big Apple,” I’ve done several films. I was a cop in “The Town.” I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a cop without a badge. That’s what my friends call me.

But is there any advantage to having done it so often? I know each character is different, but are there any physical shortcuts you can take in terms of how you walk, how you hold the gun, things like that?

Titus Welliver: Each character has a different kind of physicality, though, in how they walk, talk, drive and hold their weapon. Harry, because of his special forces background, doesn’t move like a cop. He has a very high level of tactical training. I choose to have him move in those tactical moments, much more like an operator, and not like a cop. And each character has a very different way of dressing. That’s another thing we changed, and we ran that up the Connelly flagpole. In the book, Harry’s always wearing suits, and I thought it would make him more accessible if he was a guy who was not that interested in clothing. That he was pulled together, but he’s a guy who just wants to reach into the closet and grab a shirt and a pair of pants. He’s not a guy who’s going to show up in a Brioni suit. He goes to Men’s Wearhouse. He wears comfortable clothing, so that it doesn’t draw that kind of attention.

Was there talk of you growing a mustache like Harry’s?

Titus Welliver: I didn’t have time to grow a mustache before we shot the pilot. I have bandied about the idea of doing the mustache, not just to satiate the fanbase. It’s just interesting, anytime you can change things up. There’s some things, in success, if God willing we are picked up for more seasons, there’s some little tweaks and things I’d like to do with Harry that way. I would have grown a mustache, but Michael never said, “Geez, I wish we had a little more time before we start shooting so you could grow a mustache.” There were some comments about that: “Where’s Harry’s mustache?” I said to Connelly, “Are we screwing the pooch on this by not doing it?” And he said, “No, no, no, just let it be.” But I would grow one.

How long would it have taken you to grow a good one? I’m not talking about “Deadwood”-length facial hair, but something an LAPD cop might sport.

Titus Welliver: The facial hair I had on “Deadwood” was an entire season in the making. Actually, I grew that beard when we were on hiatus and just let it go wild. And then I was cast in “Gone, Baby Gone,” and because I was considerably younger than the character, Ben and I discussed, and I liked the idea of him having a big handlebar mustache. It’s very much a good Irish blue-collar thing you would see in Southie in Boston. Although Sam Elliott chided me that I stole his look.

And Sam Elliott doesn’t have a mustache now on “Justified.” Up is down, black is white.

Titus Welliver: I know. And how cool is Sam Elliott? He is without question the coolest cat in Hollywood. And also a super man and an enormously talented actor. I have nothing but huge affection for him.

As someone who’s worked in Los Angeles for a long time, are you seeing the city differently through the parts of it where this show films?

Titus Welliver: I see a part of the city. “Entourage” really addressed the west side well: the Palisades, Santa Monica, Venice. That’s not the world Harry inhabits. His world is Boyle Heights, Mariachi Plaza, Musso & Frank’s. A lot of those places I was certainly aware of, but I love the idea that we can put them in there – that we go to Angels Flight in the opening episode. They’re little nods. Harry inhabits the darker parts, because he’s investigating murder. You’re not going to see Harry doing a witness canvass on the Third Street Promenade with a frozen yogurt.

Had you worked with Eric Overmyer before?

Titus Welliver: No, but I’m a huge fan of his work. “The Wire” was one of my favorite shows, and I tuned into “Tremé” because Kim Dickens is an old and dear friend of mine, as is Wendell Pierce and was totally pulled into it. I just thought it was beautiful. Interestingly enough, I had friends who were in the screenwriting program at NYU when I was at NYU and Eric was teaching there, but we never met then. I had friends who studied with him and absolutely adored him. He’s a master craftsman, and a great writer and a really wonderful human being.

As a fan of “The Wire,” what has the experience been like to have Jamie as your partner, and to have Lance in a position of authority where he can act displeased with you?

Titus Welliver: Well, Lance and I are old friends as well. We worked together years ago on a series called “Falcone.” Jamie, I knew his work from ” The Wire,” and it’s nice for me to see that J. Edgar is so the polar opposite of Marlo. Jamie and I have a nice shorthand together as actors. We’re both New Yorkers. We get to a place where we kind of finish each other’s sentences. Originally, the thought was to maintain the contentious nature of their relationship, and they still disagree on things. As you progress into the season, there are definitely moments where Harry and Jerry go at it. Harry takes nothing for granted.

“Falcone” (a “Donnie Brasco” adaptation starring Jason Gedrick as the undercover agent and Welliver as a mob boss) was a show that was, if not ahead of its time, at least ahead of its time for being on CBS. How does it feel to be working with Jason again on a show like this all these years later?

Titus Welliver: It was interesting for me. I have great fondness for Jason. We had a good time on that show. It was very laborious, but I was proud of the work we did with it. I think it was ahead of its time, and had it been on an HBO or a Showtime, it would have ran for several seasons. It was very ambitious in terms of the demographic that watches CBS. CBS put their best foot forward with it, but their audience maybe wasn’t ready. “Brooklyn South” was “NYPD Blue” 2.0, it took it up another notch with language and content. I don’t think that people in Middle America were ready to hear borderline profanity coming out of the mouths of their cop heroes on TV. But “Falcone,” I watched some episodes of it recently with my kids, because they were curious about it, and it still really holds up. I think if you jumped in with something like that now, it would work.

Having done shows for both broadcast and cable, has the experience of making one for Amazon been appreciably different for you?

Titus Welliver: No, it’s pretty much the same. The one thing I would say that’s different is there’s less involvement. One of the other great pleasures is that there’s a real hands-off (atittudie). The creatives at Amazon are very trusting, and so they delegate the realization of the show to Eric and Michael. (They) don’t come in and say, “What would really be great was if Harry had a Ferrari.” There’s none of that, no micro-managing. Nobody is complaining about haircuts, or if she could wear redder lipstick. There’s no interest in trying to sex it up for the sake of titillation. We shoot a regular television schedule: many many pages a day. The only difference from network television is the scope of our show. We are essentially shooting 10 one-hour films. When you look at “Bosch,” you’re not looking at the standard framework coverage of a lot of network television shows, where you have a master, and then bang bang bang with a medium and close-ups. There’s the opportunity to pay homage to the noir and neo-noir stuff, like “Kiss Me Deadly,” and “The Long Goodbye,” and “To Live and Die in LA.” LA is a character, and we don’t have to shy away from that. If anything, we need to exploit LA to its fullest potential, because it is a character in our show.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com