The very best thing in so many of your favourite TV shows, films and optimistic spec scripts, Titus Welliver has many fans in the Empire office, as one of those guys who makes every film 27% better. Speaking to him over the phone in honour of his new Amazon TV show, Bosch (where he plays much-loved Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch, first seen in Michael Connelly’s 1992 novel The Black Echo), we also took the time to talk to him about his other bad guys and antiheroes, in a piece not entirely unlike our conversations with fellow supporting superstars Peter Stormare and Walton Goggins. Helpfully, he’s a big Empire fan: “I love your magazine, by the way – I finally have the respect of my children. If I was in National Geographic, I would get much less kudos…”
"When I was on the set of Transformers, I was like, 'Empire want to talk to me? They don’t want to talk to me, man, they just want to talk to Wahlberg.' It was actually ‘the great day’, a couple of days after the bullshit drama that happened with the air conditioner. The fringe Triad guys. My mother called me and said, 'Is everything all right? I hurt you were attacked by a Triad."
"Actually, the first part of that happened to Kelsey Grammer, and you know Kelsey, he’s… well, he’s Frasier. He’s this very low key cat, and he and I are walking with our bodyguards up these stairs on location, and this crazy little fool, he comes out of nowhere with this thing raised over his head – it looks like a giant speaker or something like that."
"Now my bodyguard is this Muay Thai boxing champion, and before I could even say anything, this guy booted him in the chest and sent him 12 feet in the air, ass over tea kettle. At this point, Kelsey goes, “Oh dear…” (Laughs) He may deny it, but I will hold his feet to the fire and insist. I was like, “Welcome to Hong Kong.” I then unceremoniously went to the props department and asked for my big Cold Steel Tanto knife. They tried to stop me, saying something about my character not requiring it for the scene, but I said, “I’m not looking for it for the scene – if people are throwing shit, I want to have it.” Then the security guy pointed out that they’re a little tight about concealed weapons in Hong Kong. But how unconcealed can you be when someone’s running around with a massive air conditioner over their head? I guess I just wanted to say, “Oh, you brought an air conditioner to a knife fight…” (Laughs)"
"I’m the tip of the spear for Kelsey Grammer’s big bad character, Harold Attinger. The backstory for Kelsey is that he and I served together in Seal teams at some point. That’s never discussed in the film, but at one point he’s wearing a DEVGRU Seal team insignia on a hat or a jacket – I can’t remember – but that sets that up. But I’m sort of his instrument, ultimately, the guy on the ground doing it, as he talks to me through an earpiece."
"Savoy is a character that’s complicated. People think, 'Oh, he’s the bad guy…' but what you find out is that – and I think this line is probably still in the film – when there’s a confrontation with one of the Transformers, he says, 'My sister was killed at the Battle Of Chicago.' So you get the sense that Savoy is not just a character who’s driven for political gain, but rather someone with a personal axe to grind."
"He’s been tasked with the ultimate eradication of the alien lifeforms, for the lack of a better phrase, because they’ve been outlawed, so now it’s time to rid the world of them. So he’s a bit Ahab-like, a very obsessive character, only the whale is a giant truck that transforms into a robot. Optimus Dick! I did not say that. (Laughs)"
"I got an email from Bob Singer, the producer of Supernatural, and we’d worked together on a series I had done years ago, Falcone. I have tremendous respect for him. Supernatural was sort of on my radar, and I got the call to come and do it, and because it was Bob I didn’t even read the script, I just went. So when I did read the script, I was very happy, because he’s a really cool character and shrouded in this quasi-nerd, everyman attire. He’s called Roger, of all the names for War to be called. It’s an innocuous name – and I don’t meant to insult anyone called Roger by saying that."
"It was a lot of fun, and ironically Mark Pellegrino [who plays Lucifer, who brings about the Four Horsemen] and I are like Kevin Bacon with the six degrees of separation, and he was just finishing the episode prior to mine on that and we sort of reconnected there, then ended up playing brothers on Lost a couple of years later."
"The irony of my Lost fame is I only did four episodes, and one of the episodes only featured me in a four-minute scene, but because I was the human embodiment of The Smoke Monster, which had existed for an entire series, people operate on the subconscious idea that The Smoke Monster was actually, you know, me."
"One guy said to me, 'You know that episode where you did this and that…?' I was like, 'That could well have been a computer-generated effect and not me.' That’s when it all became illuminated – that’s the mythology, and that’s what people really believe."
"A lot of people talk to me about Lost. But I have no problem with that, I am really proud of the show. I enjoy the privilege of being part of that amazing, amazing show. So many great actors, and brilliant storytelling. I know many people pissed and moaned about the way it ended, and I have major Lost fans that say the third season was when it was wavering, and I have to tell them that I wasn’t actually on the third season, so you can’t put that on me…"
"But The Man In Black, I still get plenty of people approaching me about that, particularly in New York. A lot of shout-outs. But as far as television attention is concerned, it’s Sons Of Anarchy that rivals Lost – as well as Deadwood, of course."
"It’s a real joy in my life that I get called a cocksucker as I walk down the street. They think they’re clever. The first time that happened, I nearly knocked somebody out. When he saw that I was pissed off, they went, ‘Oh no, no, no, Deadwood, it’s a Deadwood reference!’ I said, ‘Oh, hey, I’m sorry, of course, of course that’s what it is. You’re not just calling me a cocksucker.’ If you called Ian McShane a cocksucker, he’d start doing the soliloquy when Al Swearengen is getting a blowjob. I know the show, and I guess that scene, is something that he’s extremely proud of being a part of. Al Swearengen, to me, he’s like Archie Bunker or Jim Rockford, a TV character that will live on for eternity."
"Deadwood is one of those shows that has the quality of really good literature. What speaks to that with these shows like Breaking Bad or NYPD Blue or Deadwood or The Wire or The Walking Dead – when the writing is operating on that level – it draws a very cultured audience. A lot of the people I talk to that are Deadwood fans are people who are really literate cats."
"I have Irish blood, but the true part of me getting the role was that they just called me up and offered it. 'Can you do an Irish accent?', they asked me. I said, 'Sure… I could get it together. How long do I have? When do I need to go?' 'You’re on a plane tomorrow.' So I would have liked more time, to really be able to sit down and study and get that Belfast dialect down. That being said, I make no apologies to, well, linguists, because I have a good enough ear to know there were a few times when I was Belfast and a few times I was County Clare, you know. What I did was the best that I possibly could and I tried as much as possible to stay in Belfast."
"My kids, they go on the internet and apparently there have been some snarky remarks at some point in the past where people have criticised my accent, and they told me that I had to respond to that, but I don’t, because if you respond to that, you dignify those people with a response. The truth of the matter is, I could defend it and say I didn’t have that much time and did the best that I could, but the accent’s less important compared to what the character intended."
"And he was a really powerful, interesting guy with a twisted moral compass, a deeply psychotic, dangerous character – but one that wanted to try to return this child who had been taken by someone else. Something he played no part in. He was not the architect of baby Abel being stolen. I think there was something in that translation that was missed. People would come up to me and say 'Jimmy is so evil, he stole the kid…' and I was like, 'Did you not watch the show? He didn’t steal the kid. He spent the entire season trying to get Father Kellan to return the kid.' That doesn’t diminish the fact that he was torturing Chibs and making his life miserable, so once he gets his comeuppance, it’s well deserved, but I always says that relates directly to his connection with Chibs, and he played no part in the kid’s abduction. That always irked me a bit."
"The books are so strongly written and Bosch is an ionic character in that genre. There are so many great things to say about that character, and I understand that. There’s a pride of ownership that people who are big fans of any kind of literature, particularly a character. As much as I love Patrick Stewart, for example, he was not my favourite Ahab, even though Gregory Peck is over the top. In that regard, it was a little bit daunting, but I had to put that aside and know that I wasn’t going to please everybody. They’d say, 'He’s too young, he’s not the physical type, I picture George Clooney, or this guy, or that guy.' I just jumped in."
"To me, the character is so clearly defined, so there’s not a lot of extrapolation. There’s no over interpreting that character. He’s very clear on the page, so in that way, it’s a great gift. There are certain nuances, where I’ve gone to [creator/showrunner/writer] Michael Connelly or [executive Producer/writer] Eric Overmiyer, and asked about things. But I don’t want to fix it, because it’s not broken."
"There’s a temptation to take characters, particularly from books, and to mess about with the source material: make it sexier, cooler. To pander to what they think is more viable, to attract the younger, hipper audiences. But Bosch is interesting because he’s a human, because he’s obtainable, he’s flawed, he’s a classic antihero. He’s not some fucker on a white horse that does right all the time."
"He’s like a troubled ronin. If I were Akira Kurosawa back in the day, I would have adapted this and made Toshiro Mifune a Tokyo detective. Because for me, Toshiro Mifune is Harry Bosch. He’s also one of my favourite actors of all time."
"Am I familiar with the British use of the word 'bosh'? Oh yeah, very much so. Bish bash bosh, done. Love it, use it, of course."
"Working with my old friend Clark Gregg on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was coincidence, ultimately. [Marvel Studios co-president] Louis D'Esposito was directing Item 47, one of the one-shots, and cast me in that. Clark knew that I was doing it, and he reached out to me and said, 'I cannot believe you’re going to be am agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. too.' Ironically, of all the things I could have been in the Marvel universe, I was always a die-hard Nick Fury / Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D fan. I still have all the comics. When I was a kid I was Nick Fury for Halloween several times. Even as an adult one time, actually – I didn’t have an idea for a Halloween party, so I went to a drug store and bought a black eye patch and put on a suit and tie. Of course, people thought I was the Hathaway shirt man, and I had to be like, 'I’m Nick Fury!' (Laughs)"
"I would love to be part of a Marvel film soon. Nothing would make me happier. My hope is to return to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. at some point, because I love the world, I know that world, and I’m a pretty huge geek, and have an almost encyclopedic knowledge from the ‘60s into the ‘70s – I trailed off a bit in the ‘80s – and it was a DC comic, actually, The Dark Knight Returns, that brought me back. Then there was the Romita series, with Ghost Rider, Wolverine and The Punisher, which really sealed the deal."
"But I have to laugh. Clark and I on the set of AOS, we just crack up. We were such a pair of knuckleheads in college, but there we are in our suits, being all too serious when the camera rolls, and as soon as it stops, we completely regress back to our twenty-something past. He’s a real pleasure, a real journeyman. He’s a triple-threat cat – an inordinately bright guy, writer/director/actor. His success, without any intention of sounding condescending, makes me really proud. I learned a lot from him. We studied together with David Mamet, and I because I have ADD, I would Walter Mitty off and be fighting the Vietcong in the middle of class, and it would be Clark that pulled me back in on the technique that Mamet was teaching us. He directed me in a few plays, and he was one of the best directors I ever had."