Titus Welliver isn’t feeling well today. “I caught [a cold] from my 13-year-old son,” he croaks. “I can’t stop hugging and kissing my children all the time, so I’m always getting their colds.” It’s a testament to the 53-year-old’s acting ability that he so convincingly plays the opposite of touchy-feely on gritty shows like Sons of Anarchy, Deadwood, and now Bosch. In Amazon’s new drama, based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling crime novels, Welliver stars as Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, an LAPD detective with a dark past (his prostitute mother was murdered, leaving him to live in a Dickensian orphanage) and a pretty grim present. In the ten-episode first season — all of which was released in one go last Friday — Bosch stands trial for a questionable shooting while tracking a serial killer and investigating the discovery of a young boy’s bones. Welliver fought off the germs to speak with Vulture about Bosch, being approached by Deadwood and Lost fans, and seeing his face on the sides of buses.
Had you read any of the Harry Bosch novels before you were cast in the series?
I’d read one years ago — I don’t even remember which one it was — but I thought it was a great story. I didn’t have time to read them all before we started shooting because I was in Hong Kong doing Transformers 4, but I focused on the ones we based the first season on: The Concrete Blonde, City of Bones, and Echo Park. I can’t read Michael’s books before I go to bed, because I get sucked in and I won’t go to sleep until I’m finished. And it’s funny, that’s the way people are experiencing Bosch.
How do you feel about the fact that so many people are binge-watching Bosch?
This show is perfectly suited to it. Michael’s stories are literary crack. You can’t stop. You’ve got to know what happens next. It’s the best way to experience this world.
Were you concerned about living up to the image of Bosch millions of readers have created in their minds?
I’d be less than truthful if I said I wasn’t. I’ve experienced that reader’s prejudice. Everybody has an idea of what Ahab should look and sound like. As a young boy, I remember thinking Gregory Peck didn’t represent what I felt was Ahab, yet he won me over with his portrayal. I realized very quickly I had to take some ownership of the character. It would be very easy to become hamstrung. Sometimes actors want to cram every single nuance from the page into a character, and it’s too much.
So which aspects of Bosch did you decide to focus on?
I like the fact that he defies the societal norms of politeness. It’s not that he’s a prick, but he doesn’t have an inherent desire to be liked. He’s irreverent. People say, “Oh, he’s a maverick cop.” But it’s more that he doesn’t suffer fools. He’s a take-me-or-leave-me guy. But he also has a sense of humor, and I’m glad he does. If he didn’t, you’d be like, “Why should I care about this guy? He’s in a constant funk.”
You’re known as a character actor, and this is the first time you’ve played the lead in a series. Is that something you consciously avoided in the past?
I’ve read scripts for other shows where I would’ve been front and center, but they weren’t right for me. I have friends who have signed on for shows they weren’t so sure about, and by the second season they hated it because it had become stagnant. Bosch is a guy I knew I could play for a long time and be happy. We’re not building it from the ground up. We have Michael’s books, and they’re all very different. There’s enough going on with this character to satiate my appetite for new challenges.
Connelly’s very hands-on with this show. Is that an advantage for you, or do you ever worry you’re not doing it the way he would want?
Having him there is gold. It’s like Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan out from behind the little billboard in that scene from Annie Hall. If I’m arguing with a writer or a director about a scene, I can say, “Well, I happen to have Michael Connelly right here behind this Bosch billboard … “
Speaking of billboards, you’re all over them in ads for Bosch. After so many years of relative anonymity, is it weird to see your face on the sides of buses?
I was walking down the street in Hollywood the other day and there was a Bosch billboard right above me. It made me self-conscious. All I needed was somebody to see me walking underneath my own billboard and think, What a self-promoting dick! But there was still a tickle of excitement. I’m not going to say I was mortified. The important thing is Amazon has done a great job getting those images out there.
Your 13-year-old son Quinn plays the young version of Harry in one episode. How did it feel to see him playing you?
He’s had no training. He’s a very instinctual kid and a huge film watcher. And he blew my socks off. It made me cry because his work was so completely genuine. He just looked at me like I was being one of these crazy parents on the sidelines, but I really was proud of him.
You were raised by artists, and you’re a painter. Is it a coincidence that you now play a character named after a painter?
How funny is that? And my wife [fashion consultant Jose Stemkens] is Dutch, too. I’m named after Rembrandt’s son, Titus. It’s an interesting coincidence. I knew more about the painter Hieronymus Bosch than I knew about Harry Bosch going in. It’s a great big name to fill, and I love having that responsibility.
Was it a culture shock going from a big-budget action movie like Transformers 4 to this down-and-dirty, character-driven drama?
I had to use two very different muscles. I’d never done anything like Transformers before, and I found it thrilling. The scale could not be more polar-opposite than Bosch. But I felt like I was coming off a great rock concert, and it was quiet. And I needed that to be able to slip into Harry’s shoes.
You’re known for a number of different projects, from The Good Wife to Sons of Anarchy. Can you tell when fans approach you what they’re going to mention?
With The Good Wife, it’s typically ladies. I had one guy come up to me who designs huge computer mainframes, and I had him pegged as a Lost fan, but he was obsessed with Sons of Anarchy. Now, for the first time in my career, I have kids and teenagers coming up to me for Transformers. I find that very funny.
Do you still have Deadwood fans coming up to you hoping for some closure?
Oh, yeah. The Deadwood fans have a certain air of sophistication about them. Losties think I have the answers. When they come up, they look at me like I’m Abraham Zapruder and I’ve got a few extra feet of film to show them. I always tell them I’ve probably got the same knowledge about the Lost universe as they do.
You worked with Deadwood’s David Milch on two short-lived CBS shows, Brooklyn South and Big Apple. Are you just not suited to network dramas?
I also did a show for CBS called Falcone, with [Bosch’s] Jason Gedrick. The network didn’t have the demographic to support edgy shows like those. It’s not that everyone wanted to watch Murder, She Wrote, but they wanted it somewhere in between, and I’m not interested in doing something in between. I’m interested in doing a show for literate adults. To me, a Big Mac and a supersize fries is a waste of time.