Interview: Titus Welliver Talks 'Sons Of Anarchy', 'Lost', Working With David Milch & More – TVWise

Titus Welliver has had an impressive career. From a long list of feature film credits which includes Twisted, Assault On Precinct 13, Promised Land and the upcoming Transformers: Age of Extinction; to an impressive TV resume which includes stints on The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Deadwood, Lost, That’s Life, Big Apple, NYPD Blue and more recently Bosch. Earlier this month, Titus spared some time from his busy schedule to talk to TVWise about a number of his projects. The first part of our interview with Titus went up earlier this week, covering his newest project, the Amazon Studios pilot Bosch. In this, the second part of our two-part interview, Titus Welliver dishes on his time on Sons of Anarchy, Lost, working with legendary television producer David Milch and more.
TVWise: You’ve done some great work with David Milch; Deadwood, NYPD Blue, Big Apple and Brooklyn South. Looking at Brooklyn South, what was it like working on that series?
Titus Welliver: Well, I always feel like anytime I’ve worked with David, the bar is raised so high. I learned a tremendous amount from David, not only about writing and acting, but also about life. He’s a staggeringly brilliant man and has always challenged me as an actor. I think I always get better when I work with him. You look at the cast of actors; it was such a great ensemble on Brooklyn South. That is what Bochco and Milch really do well, an ensemble. They really know how to divide the pie. Everybody gets a moment to shine and yet you are also part of a larger picture. It keeps the beast of narcissism somewhat at bay. Doing that show was really exciting. The show has a lot of energy and people really liked it. I think had they given it another season, it would have gone on for several years because it had that potential. Over the years I’ve had these momentary fantasies that it would be really cool to do a movie of the week and see how the characters were doing now. I love working with David and the jobs that I have done with him have always come at a time when I sort of felt a bit bored or disenchanted with the business and David always seems to kind of pop up like a genius elf and put something in front of me. I am indebted to him and Stephen Bochco for really pushing my career as an actor up and I’ve grown a lot in the work that I’ve done with them.
TVWise: What was it like playing the character Jimmy O’Phelan on Sons of Anarchy and working with Kurt Sutter?
Titus Welliver: Jimmy was such a fun character to play. Kurt was great and I have to say he really invited me to the table as far as the creation of that character once he made me a regular on the show. It was a very fast moving decision where I literally got a call from my manager who said I know you love Sons of Anarchy and there is a great character; can you do an Irish accent? I said sure, but give me a minute and he said you don’t have a minute; you have to get on a plane in 48 hours. I had to kind of jump in and that’s not normal when you have to do an accent. So, my apologies go out to the people of Ireland for my accent because it was very last minute. The one thing I sort of question is the clarity of what had occurred with the taking of baby Abel. That was something Jimmy O was not instrumental in at all. It was something that was done by one of his minions. He sort of took the heat for it and all he was trying to do was get the baby back to Jax. The priest was making the moves to implicate him and I don’t think that was clear to the audience. I would have fans come up to me on the street saying I can’t believe you took that kid, so I don’t think it landed with the audience. At the same time, let’s not kid ourselves, he was brutal. I remember one particular scene where they capture one of the priest’s guys and his teeth had been yanked out. That was actually my idea so it shows you what a dark place Sons of Anarchy took me to, but I sort of woke him up and revived him just so he could look at me before I shot him. Everyone thought I was going to be in some rival bike gang, so it was cool to play an IRA guy who was on the run. [He was a] really fun character.
TVWise: When you were first approached about being on LOST, how much were you aware of the show, had you watched it?
Titus Welliver: I watched it religiously the first season and then I kind of dropped off due to my schedule and I didn’t have a DVR at the time. I got a call from Elizabeth Sernoff, who I worked with on Big Apple with Dave Milch and she was a writer on Deadwood as well. So, she called me and was somewhat cryptic and said “I have a great role for you on Lost, but I can’t really tell you about it. I’m asking you to take a leap of faith in that what I promise is something really great for you to act. If you accept this role, I can give you more information”.
Because of my relationship with her, I didn’t have to consider it for a second, so I said yes of course. I didn’t have any idea until I got to Hawaii and they brought me the script sealed, watermarked with my name and the guy was like “here, you can have it”. I had never worked on something so top secret before and it made me a bit anxious. So I just said “no, why don’t you hang out in the lobby and I’ll learn my lines, give me an hour and then I’ll hand it back to you”. So that’s what I would always do, learn my lines and hand it back.
So I shot the first scene which is the one with Mark Pelligrino and me and if you didn’t know anything about the Lost world, you were probably confused. Liz would give me dribs and drabs of information and I felt like ignorance was bliss and asked her not to tell me anything. Let me just do this. That episode aired and I had kind of forgotten about it and walked into Starbucks the next morning to get some coffee. A lot of people came up to me and were asking me questions about the episode and I thought they had mistaken me for someone and then I realized they were asking about the episode from the night before. Luckily, a friend of mine had DVR’d the episode and I watched it and I said “Oh yeah, that’s obtuse” and it must have made people crazy.
It didn’t really start to become clear to me until I was shooting the Nestor Carbonell origin episode. Tucker Gates directed that one and Nestor and I were sitting on set rehearsing this one particular scene where he has a line where he says the black smoke came and took his wife and I have a line that says “No, I’m the black smoke”. Nestor got this big grin on his face and started to chuckle and I said “what?” He said “Do you realize what you just said?” I said “No, why?” He said “You just said I am the black smoke. You realize that is just like saying, no Luke, I am your father!” That is when the weight just sort of hit me and I realized that people had been wondering what is the source of the smoke monster and I just said “I’m the smoke monster”.
I realized they made the right choice to finish the show, but that’s a character that I really liked a lot and wanted to do more with. I felt there was more to tell about the character. They did a really good job by giving us our origin episode where you really got to see exactly what happened and how the Man in Black became the smoke monster. It was really beautiful and poetic and sad, he was a deeply tortured character. All he wanted to do was get off the island and just live as a human being. He didn’t want to be the smoke monster. That duality was very interesting to play.
TVWise: Do you think the lack of a name for the “Man In Black”, a lack of identity so to speak, made him so unhappy with the world?
Titus Welliver: Yeah, I think that was definitely an issue. When he is transformed into the smoke monster, he still doesn’t have a better sense of who he is. The quality and nature of his relationship with Alison Janney’s character was so Greek. It has all those underpinnings of great mythology; just a real tragic character. He was not a villain, just a victim of circumstances and really didn’t want any of those powers that were given to him. He just wanted to be mortal and have a sense of who he was because he didn’t know.
TVWise: You’ve done some great guest appearances on shows like Grimm, Supernatural, CSI and Murder One to name a few, as an actor, is it easy to come in to a show that’s a well-oiled machine and fit right in for your appearance?
Titus Welliver: My experience has been very pleasant when I do a show. They really make you feel like you are a part of the cast. I’ve been very fortunate that when I do these shows that are established, they are very welcoming which makes it a lot of fun. It’s like someone invites you to their house for dinner and rather than treating you like a guest, they treat you like a member of the family. There is a kind of generosity there; typically guest roles, especially when they are arcs are kind of a flash part and you get to come in and do things that their characters haven’t done before and them being secure with their characters, makes it a lot of fun for me.
TVWise: You also had a role on Life with Damien Lewis. You played a great character Kyle Hollis who was important to the overall story. What was it like playing that character and working on that show?
Titus Welliver: That was a fun show and a crazy character. It was interesting because you never were really sure what his deal was. I often thought of him as the Joker. The Joker is very transparent at being a pure villain, but there were qualities about that character where he was kind of bad and twisted, but there‘s also something about him that’s not bad and unfortunately we never go a chance to see that fully realized. Damien Lewis is such an amazing actor and so hilarious and always making me laugh on set.
Titus Welliver stars in Amazon Studios’ new drama pilot Bosch, which is now available to stream on Amazon Instant Video in the US and on the Amazon-owned streaming service LOVEFiLM in the UK.