Interview: Michael Connelly and Titus Welliver Q&A (Bosch)
Ivan Radford | On 14, Feb 2015
Bosch arrives on Amazon Prime Instant Video this week. The 10-episode original series, based on Michael Connelly’s books, stars Titus Welliver as detective Harry Bosch and arrives hot on the heels of Amazon’s Golden Globe win for Transparent. Speaking at the UK premiere of the show, though, the author reveals that the show has been in development for a much longer time.
“We were just waiting for Titus to reach the right age!” he jokes, before explaining how he sold the rights to Paramount years ago.
“What happens to many writers, I made a deal with the devil. I was working as a newspaper reporter and I wasn’t making a lot of money and Hollywood came calling and I sold them the rights to Harry Bosch so that I could quit my day job and be a full-time writer. Some pretty valiant efforts, I have to give them credit, were mounted to make a film happened in the mid-1990s. Some pretty good screenwriters, one guy won an Oscar for screenwriting, tried to adapt one of the first three books and eventually it got shelved. It was a long-term deal because they paid me a significant amount upfront. Years go by and I kinda felt I had kissed him goodbye in terms of him coming to screen in any way, but I loved the character and I kept writing about him.”
Eventually, though, he got the rights back – and started thinking much smaller. The decision to make a TV series rather than film, he says, was a “no-brainer”.
“What was the best way to serve the character of these books was many hours, not a 90-minute movie. I was thinking in terms of 60 hours. For some reason, that figure came into my head. How do I get 60 hours to tell the story of Harry Bosch?”
It was at the time that The Wire was ending and Breaking Bad was beginning.
“Any writer that wanted to tell a story that went beyond procedure was looking to TV,” he explains.
Connelly teamed up with Eric Overmyer (of The Wire and Treme) to adapt the books into a pilot, when Amazon turned up on his proverbial doorstep.
“I got an email from a guy on the book side of Amazon, who I’ve known for many years, and he said did you know Amazon are making TV. And I said ‘What the fuck?'”
“That led to lunch with a guy named Joe Lewis and five minutes into that, he said they wanted to take this off the table,” he adds. “To me, that was an immediate yes. I knew that Amazon was selling my books and I liked the synchronicity of this show being one click away from where you could buy my books.”
This was, of course, long before Transparent arrived and Amazon won the first Best Series Golden Globe for an online show.
“There was a risk factor involved,” admits Connelly, “but we decided to take it.”
Michael Connelly talks with confidence about his creation; a guy who knows he has sold 58 million books worldwide.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew I had a fanbase. I knew I had a pretty good social media operation going. I thought right away: “I can bring this. We can bring down the computers at Amazon.”
He wasn’t even phased by Amazon’s unique pilot system, which gives the public a chance to help decide what gets commissioned and what doesn’t.
It helps that he has been burned by working the other way.
“The alternative is and I’ve done this before,” he explains, “I’ve [written] pilot scripts for networks and cable companies and they go off in rooms by themselves and they… I don’t know what they do… but they decide whether or not the idea of the show goes forward. At least two of those cases, they didn’t go forward and they didn’t bother to tell me they weren’t going forward! I turned in my script and I never heard another word. To me, that’s the wrong way to do it.”
For him, he says, there was no doubt about the quality of the TV show, because of the people and the content involved: “I knew what we had, in terms of who would play Harry Bosch and in terms of the script.”
Would he rule out a second season? Not at all. In fact, he sounds highly optimistic.
“The whole 10 episodes are going to drop and Amazon are going to have to make a decision in the next six weeks or so, hopefully sooner, on whether to do a second season and part of that will be the numbers in terms of reviews and stars and all that stuff. Once again, I’m confident. I’m probably the only one in here who’s seen all 10 episodes. I know what we have and I’ve got the Bosch fans. The people who like the guy in the book are gonna love this show. ”
Titus Welliver, who is also at the premiere, says that he was equally impressed by what Connelly and the writing team – “They come from all over,” says Michael. “People from The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men…” – and wanted to do it straight away.
It almost didn’t happen, though, he says, until they met and got under the skin of the character immediately.
“Through a series of mishaps in scheduling, we kept having to reschedule the meeting and typically, that boat could sail in the casting process. I was desperately worried it was going to go away, but I was able to meet with Michael and Eric and after a five-minute conversation, I wanted it so much more desperately. Then they sent me out the room like I had misbehaved…”
“There had been 3 months from the day when we said we wanted to talk to Titus. He came in and he did a scene with an actress from the pilot and, obviously, he nailed that,” chimes in Connelly.
“But what was most important was when he sat with us and talked about his take on Harry, and really keyed in on the idea that Harry doesn’t care if you like him or not. And that’s really antithetical to what people do when they start out on a TV show: they want to create a character that people will love and want to come back to week after week. He picked up on [this] as well as many other aspects of the character, and that’s really why we sent him out of the room. Normally, people come out and people go in and at the end of the day, you talk about them. But with Titus, he left and we talked about him and somebody in the room goes ‘I’m pretty sure that was Harry Bosch, wasn’t it?’ and everyone said ‘Yeah, that was Harry Bosch.'” And so our search was over.”
Titus pauses. “Because I’m a dick.”
“My books, there are no walls… so I think that’d be cool to have two series that sometimes cross.”
The main challenge for Bosch, though, is trying to externalise what’s going on its lead’s head: Harry’s not very vocal about his feelings or thoughts. It’s all done through narration on the page – but on the screen, it falls on Titus’ shoulders.
“One of the things that i like is that Michael and Eric and company have the bravery and the balls to realise that so often what we see in, certainly in network TV – that’s not to deny or diminish network TV’s importance – is things that are spelled out… We don’t shy away from those moments where see Harry be contemplative by himself in his home or in his car. Because the story is there. The audience has a sense of what’s going on with him.”
“He doesn’t say a lot,” agrees Connelly, but the pilot episode reveals a key part of Harry’s back-story for viewers – a reveal that, Michael says, was intentional.
“People say why didn’t you start with the first book, The Black Echo? We decided to start with Concrete Blonde, because we knew Harry would be put under oath and, kinda dragging and kicking, would have to reveal stuff about himself, which I think was one of the best scenes in the pilot.”
“That, in a way, is a gimmick,” he adds. “That was a way to reveal his back-story. Because Harry in the books, he would never tell anyone that back-story. So he had to be under oath and he had to be pressed by a lawyer to get it out.
“That was our thinking process: what stories best platform or reveal his character? And you can see at the end of the pilot, Harry connects personally with this kid [in a murder case]. Harry doesn’t know him but he has this empathy towards what happened and now we start seeing what this character’s about. There’s no dialogue at the end; it’s all in his eyes, what he reveals silently. That’s a really good case of, you say the writing’s impressive, but there was no writing there. It’s all in the actor’s hands to take this character and realise it in this other dimension of film.”
The house itself is an impressive sight. In fact, Titus notes, it’s the same home from Michael Mann’s Heat.
“Michael Mann is so insane that rather than using the actual house, he had them shoot green screen plates, so when you see the film next time, you’ll notice it’s very clearly green-screen,” explains Titus, with an enthusiasm quite unlike the downbeat man he plays
“Whereas we shoot there, which is a lot of fun, because it usually means we don’t get out of there until 3 in the morning, but it’s beautiful. And a great metaphor for Harry, looking over his city and absorbing it all.”
Connelly adds that the house is a crucial part of the series, both on the page and on the screen.
“For me, the heart of the books are when he’s out on the deck, by design, a couple of times a book. I love them for their silence and their jazz. I don’t think, if we had this show on any network or cable, they would’ve allowed us to get away with this jazz music! They would say ‘Why isn’t it Lana del Rey or something?’
It’s hard to imagine Connelly agreeing to a different soundtrack, though. He comes across as a man who knows exactly what he wants – especially when it’s his baby. When Titus or a spokesperson from Amazon speaks, he looks focused, tapping his fingers, almost impatiently, keen to get back into the ring and share his thoughts.
Was it hard for him to give up some of his control over the series?
“I guess I was at the right stage because I felt like it was about time,” he says. “I’m always a believer of shaking things up creatively. I’ve been going into a room by myself and writing about Harry Bosch for years, so it was kinda nice to go into a room with seven other writers and I was kinda the referee.”
It was a role that suited him to a tee – “I’m very ego-driven,” he confesses – as he got the final say on most things.
“You know how you say everyone wants to be the smartest guy in the room? I actually was! I knew this character way better than anybody else so it was a very ego-gratifying thing but it was also a very creative time and I had a good time with it.”
Changes were made to the book, though, to make Harry a contemporary detective. If not, Connelly notes, Bosch would have to be 63.
“It’s the clash of creativity and commerce. We’d like to have maybe five or six seasons, so we can’t start out with a 63 year old Harry Bosch. What we decided was we would find the best actor we could find between 45 and 55.”
That means a crucial shift to Harry’s back-story in Vietnam, which has now been altered to Afghanistan.
“It was important to me and to everyone’s else that Harry’s military service is honoured because it has informed the man he has become,” comments Titus. “Certainly the work he has done in the tunnels. In Afghanistan, the 10th group, the unit Harry served with, did a lot of the cave fighting against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, so that’s honoured and will be fleshed out to a certain degree.”
The tunnels, as fans of the novels will know, form an integral plot point for the series.
“We’re able to keep that in tact,” says Michael. “Just in the first season, the tunnel stuff, that theme of going through darkness towards light, really comes to the fore. It’s pretty cool, in fact, the way we do it.”
“Titus really keyed in on the idea that Harry doesn’t care if you like him or not.”
There are still moments he wishes were more like the books, though, he tells us later on.
“Every now and then we filmed stuff that then gets cut. I get reasons why stuff gets cut, I don’t always agree with it – especially stuff that’s very impactful to the books.”
For example, the bathroom scene at the end of the first episode, when Harry has to leave an autopsy because he’s so affected by the case. It’s taken straight from the page – but with a different ending.
“In the book,” says Michael, “someone comes into the bathroom and Bosch says ‘Get the fuck out of here!’ because he’s so emotional. We filmed that, but they cut the guy coming in. They said they didn’t want to interrupt the emotion. But I still think in my head, I kinda like that the guy interrupting, because it’s realistic.”
The result is a string of episodes of a roughly similar length, trimmed to fit a deliberately broadcast-friendly format.
“Amazon has UK, the US and Germany, then we can sell it around the world where it probably won’t be streamed,” adds Connelly. “The second episode is almost an hour because we wanted to get so much in it. There’s another action one that I think is only 42 minutes. So it’s kinda all over the place.”
Both the author and Amazon are clearly thinking big – but international distribution is only the start of it. It’s telling that when asked what other books he’d like to see brought to the screen, Michael doesn’t hesitate to keep the spotlight on his own work.
“I’m gonna be really selfish and say I’d like to see Jack McEvoy and The Scarecrow done on TV!”
His ambition doesn’t stop there, though, envisioning a sort of Marvel-style universe of his characters.
“And then, if it was done on Amazon, my books, there are no walls. Harry’s had dealings with Jack. So I think that’d be cool to have two series that sometimes cross…”
Would that include Micky Haller, the lawyer played by Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer?
“Anything can be negotiated!” jokes Michaell Connelly – but you wouldn’t put it past him.
“It would bother me to have someone play Micky and not be McConaughey,” he elaborates. “You know, Harry spends a lot of time in court. I think it’d be cool if he was just walking down a hallway and McConaughey walks by and says hi or something.”
Amazon’s spokesperson joins in the joke: “We could afford that!”
Michael Connelly’s confidence, you suspect, is catching.
Read our spoiler-free review of Episodes 1 to 4 of Bosch here.