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TAVIS SMILEY: Pleased to welcome our friend, perennial best-selling author, Michael Connelly, back to this program, also joined tonight by Titus Welliver who is the star of Bosch, the new Amazon series. Of course, the character Harry Bosch was made famous by Michael Connelly in 58-million copies of his books now translated into 39 languages. I hate you. His most recent book is called The Burning Room. The Bosch series debuts on Amazon Prime Instant Video on February 13. We take a look at a clip first from Bosch and then we’ll start our conversation.
SMILEY: Michael, this is a long time coming, and as I was reading the process you have gone through from selling rights to having to buy rights back to get to Amazon and this deal, just give me the backstory of how all this eventually came to be with Amazon.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: You’re right. I mean, these books, Harry Bosch, has been on the shelf at a studio for like fifteen years and I finally got the chance to get them back. And then over that fifteen years, I kept writing books. So it seemed like the obvious choice was to go into television where I could have, you know, dozens and dozens of hours to present this character as opposed to a movie. You know, ninety minutes wasn’t going to cut it, you know, with all the stuff I’ve written about Bosch. So, you know, there is an intersection there of bookselling and Amazon getting into making television now, so we went there just to check it out and tell them that, hey, we’re working on this. And, you know, ten minutes into the conversation, they go, “We’ll take it.” So here we are.
SMILEY: Let me go to Amazon then, they closing deals that fast. Titus, what do you make of the way that television has changed? I mean, it just seems weird to say “coming to Amazon”.
TITUS WELLIVER: Well, I mean, also the, you know, notion of binge-watching is the new thing now. But when you shoot a pilot and then there are six guys sitting in a room and if the French toast was off that morning, you might not get picked up. So whereas this, it’s empowering they use the subscription base to comment and view the content. Ultimately, they’re still going to make that command decision, but it’s a bit different.
SMILEY: Do they get it? Clearly, they can get your product to you overnight. Do they get it where television is concerned?
CONNELLY: Yeah, I think they do and I think not just our show. Some of their other shows that are coming, this will be the first drama they’re doing. But, yeah, I think they do get it and what’s also good about it is, in a way, they’re not entrenched the way other networks and studios are, so they really kind of have a fresh look at this. You know, I’ve had some dealings with other networks and studios and so forth and that’s been very refreshing, the kind of freedom they’ve given, just the fact that they have me so involved. Most of the time, Hollywood says to the writer, “Okay, we’ll take it from here. Be a good little fellow and run along.”
SMILEY: That’s why you had to buy it back.
CONNELLY: You know, they were quite the opposite. They said, “We’re not gonna make this unless you’re gonna be there”, so that was, I think, a sign of something new.
SMILEY: So, Titus, the $64,000 question: what’s it like playing Bosch? Is he fun to play as a character?
WELLIVER: A lot of fun, a lot of fun. He’s irreverent, doesn’t suffer fools. Who doesn’t want to play that character that kind of comes into a room and doesn’t ultimately care? He also has a great moral compass and has almost an Ahab-like obsession in seeking justice for the victims. There’s a lot to play there and yet he is not, you know, the sort of standard hero character. He’s really an antihero. He’s flawed. He’s very human and I think that makes him very accessible to both the reading and the viewing audience. He’s someone that they can– he’s flawed, so he’s very real.
SMILEY: Michael, whenever I read your Bosch stuff, the city of L.A. is as much a character in the book as anybody else is. How much is L.A. a character in the series?
CONNELLY: Oh, I think it’s very reflective of the books. I mean, a long time ago there was a great writer named Richard Price. I had read an interview of him and he said, “When you circle around a murder long enough, you get to know a city” and I thought that’s genius. That’s what this is about. So I’ve always kept that very prevalent when I write the books. So then when I went to Amazon, I basically said this is gonna be in the contract. Every shot has to be shot in L.A. unless, you know, like we have one episode where he goes to Las Vegas and, obviously, we went to Las Vegas. But we’re not gonna shoot Canada for L.A. because something will get lost. And the books are about Harry Bosch, but the city is certainly intrinsic in Harry Bosch and we had to try to communicate that. So I think we’ve done that pretty well.
SMILEY: Is there anything about Bosch that you had to tone down or conversely enhance to make him work better on the screen?
CONNELLY: Well, to me, that was the $64,000 question. It was like who could play Harry Bosch? I mean, Harry Bosch is a guy of very few words and, when you shift from books to TV, you’re talking about visuals and dialog. You know, he’s a guy that carries some stuff inside. He’s got some damages, but he can’t walk around saying, “Oh, man, I’m a damaged guy.” It’s got to be projected. You know, what we saw in Titus in some of the other roles he played was something that we had this instinct that he could do that. He could project that without having to, you know, be on the nose about it. So, you know, I don’t really think we had to make a big shift in the character. We just had to find the right guy and I think we did.
SMILEY: I think that’s a compliment, Titus, but I’m not sure. You are a damaged guy and you came across that way and you got the part.
WELLIVER: No complaints there. But he is. I mean, that’s what I think really draws people to him is that he’s a very, very complex character. But I like the fact that he’s a guy of few words. Part of the depiction of the character within his universe is that it’s really through Harry’s eyes and he’s an observer and he doesn’t have to comment on everything, and doesn’t. And we have moments of silence in the show where…
SMILEY: I was about to ask how does an actor play a guy well who is a person of few words?
WELLIVER: The story is all there, you know. Michael has created this universe, so it’s really just about inhabiting it and having the knowledge of Harry’s backstory. So those moments where we find him being contemplative are allowed to happen. You would not normally get to do that because people would say, well, what’s going on? And we’re allowed to do that and I think it’s really important `cause it’s a very, very large part of who his character is.
SMILEY: To your mind, Titus, as a character, what makes him different from any of the other characters who are doing crime and drama series on TV right now? What makes Bosch different?
WELLIVER: Well, I think that because it’s very grounded in reality, you know, there’s no temptation to sort of sex it up and push it in another direction. So often in network procedural crime dramas, the crime gets solved, you know, within the episode. So with our show, Harry goes through the entire season with these cases, so the audience is experiencing the solving of the case in real time with Harry. What he sees, they see as it’s uncovered in real time and I think that’s very, very different than what we’ve seen before.
CONNELLY: And I’ve worked on scripts for networks, cop scripts and so forth, and the standard note is what makes this guy special? What makes him supercop? And that’s not the kind of notes we get on this show because Harry’s not a supercop. He’s just a grinder. He’s a guy who’s relentless, he won’t give up and he makes all kinds of mistakes. You know, we have ten episodes and Harry goes down a few wrong alleyways, but he’s smart enough to back out and try another way. I think that does make him outside your standard TV cop.
SMILEY: So, Titus, this becomes a huge hit, people love it and you do it year after year after year, then you become Harry Bosch. You okay with that? I mean…
WELLIVER: I’m more than okay with that. I’m more than okay. And I’ve said to Michael when we sort of joked about it, I’ve said, “You know, as long as they’ll have us, I’ll do Harry with a walker.” So I’m more than happy with that.
CONNELLY: About two episodes in, he started signing his emails: “Harry.”
SMILEY: Oh, yeah?
CONNELLY: So I thought we might have a problem.
SMILEY: Before I let you go, Michael, tell me about The Burning Room, the latest one.
CONNELLY: It’s Harry Bosch and it’s quite different. We have a much younger Harry Bosch on the show. This is about Harry to me realizing it’s time to pass the torch. It’s about him, maybe his last case, him getting a young partner and kind of giving her the ropes and realizing, hey, they’re not gonna be lost without me. This person actually gets the mission, gets what it’s about. And I kind of feel good about heading out the door when I know someone like this is gonna be here for the next 30 years in my stead.
SMILEY: In other words, I can hear Titus saying you won’t want to get this one for a long time, right?
SMILEY: We won’t be doing that as a script for quite a while. Titus Welliver plays Bosch in the new series, Bosch, for Amazon. Of course, the character has come courtesy– for so many years now, 58-million copies, courtesy of Michael Connelly now, as I said, in 39 different languages, but finally, after all that, coming to Amazon. Congratulations, guys, on the series, and good to have you on the program.
CONNELLY: Thanks a lot.
WELLIVER: Thank you.