IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Titus Welliver Talks 'CSI,' 'Touch,' 'Powers,' 'Grimm,' 'Life' and 'Lost'

Sunday, 22 January 2012 20:18 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Titus Welliver Talks 'CSI,' 'Touch,' 'Powers,' 'Grimm,' 'Life' and 'Lost'

In addition to his successful stage and film work, actor Titus Welliver has appeared on some of the most iconic and beloved television series of the last decade and a half. While he was a regular on HBO’s acclaimed series Deadwood, Welliver has been mostly featured as a guest star on such popular and critically acclaimed shows as NYPD Blue, Prison Break, Supernatural, Life, The Closer, Suits, The Good Wife, and Sons of Anarchy, where he played the season-three villain Jimmy O’Phelan. But the actor is definitely best known by television audiences for his role as the Man in Black (A.K.A. – the Smoke Monster) on ABC’s mysterious island-set series Lost.

Welliver’s television domination will continue this week with the conclusion of his three-episode arc on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which culminates with Wednesday night’s episode entitled Willows in the Wind. The actor will reprise his role on the long-running CBS series as Mark Gabriel, the CEO of a Blackwater type company. In fact, Wednesday January 25th marks a big night for the accomplished actor because in addition to his episode of CSI airing, it is also the premiere of Fox’s new series Touch, which stars Kiefer Sutherland and features Welliver in a pivotal recurring role. The actor will also be appearing on an arc of NBC’s Grimm, as well FX’s upcoming series Powers, which is based on writer Brian Michael Bendis’ extremely popular comic book series of the same name.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Titus Welliver, who has truly been one of my favorite actors for a very long time. While we had a chance to discuss his latest film Man on a Ledge, and his role in Ben Affleck’s next directorial effort Argo, that portion of our conversation will run later in the week so that I can tell you now about what the actor had to say regarding all of his upcoming television projects. Welliver spoke candidly with me about working on multiple television shows, if he would like to return to being a series regular, his role on CSI, why Kiefer Sutherland’s performance on Touch will surprise you, which comic book character he will be portraying on Powers, his character on Grimm’s dark history, why he thinks the well reviewed series Life was short-lived, and what one fan of Lost said to him about his legendary role on the now-classic show.

Here is what the talented actor had to say:

IAR: To begin with, you’ve pretty much been a journeyman actor on television over the last decade or so and have appeared on some of the most iconic series in recent history. With the exception of Deadwood you’ve been primarily a guest actor, do you prefer going from show to show, or would you like to return to television as a series regular at some point?

Titus Welliver: Prior to this Deadwood was the last series where I was a regular. I have ADD and I bore very easily, so one of the mechanisms here is to kind of always be moving. That being said, I was never bored in the work that I've done with David Milch, we've done four series together (NYPD Blue, Brooklyn South, Big Apple, Deadwood). But I do enjoy doing that; I’m like a retro actor from the '60s and '70s. Like the actors that I grew up as a kid watching on television, they’d be on Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O and Gunsmoke, all in the same week. Then the next week you’d see the same guy on another show and that’s how you knew everything was shot in Los Angeles. So you’ve got a broader talent pool now and I like that. Now after having this almost six-year hiatus from being a regular on a series, I’m ready to return. I’m ready to go and do my own thing now in a regular series. That doesn’t mean that it would prevent me from going back and doing arcs on others shows, provided that it could be sort of finessed by show runners and producers. I would do it, but I’m definitely ready now to go back and do my own thing, which is something I’ve been working on.  You know, either do my own thing that I’ve created, that I’m presently working on, or going to do somebody else’s thing that interests me as much doing my own thing.

You're arc on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation concludes this Wednesday night, can you talk about your character and what it was like working with Ted Danson?

Welliver: Yeah, it's a three-episode arc that I've done playing a guy who runs a Blackwater type company. A weapon that has been in the custody of one of his military teams in Iraq shows up in a homicide in Las Vegas and my character takes a personal interest in dealing with that. So he’s a CEO and a high-powered guy. It’s an interesting character. It was great to work with Ted, who I've known for a while, and Paul Guillfoyle who is a total Jedi knight and ninja master actor. I also loved working with Marg (Helgenberger), and Annabeth Gish. They’re a great bunch of people, and it was a lot of fun.

Wednesday actually marks a big night for you because in addition to your episode of CSI airing; it is also the premiere of Fox’s new series Touch, which you have a pivotal role on. What can you tell me about the show and working with its star Kiefer Sutherland?

Welliver: Yeah, Touch got picked up and it’s moving forward. There’s a lot of really strong buzz about that. I mean it’s Kiefer, and Kiefer’s great. What’ll be fun will be … you know everybody’s got an idea about what Kiefer’s going to do … and they don’t have any idea what he’s going to do! This ain’t 24, I’ll tell you that.

Are most of your scenes on the show opposite Kiefer?

Welliver: Yeah. We cross paths for sure and we’ll continue to do so. For how long I don’t know. I don’t know precisely what they have in mind; I only know that I don’t disappear after the pilot. There’s a larger story afloat. But I’m going to return to Touch and then I shot another pilot for FX called Powers, which is still on the bubble.

That’s based on writer Brian Michael Bendis’ popular comic book series, correct?

Welliver: Yes, exactly.

Which character do you play on the series? Is it one of the characters from the comic book?

Welliver: Yes, I play Triphammer in that. Jason Patric (The Losers) is in it, Vinnie Jones (X-Men: The Last Stand), Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3), and Lucy Punch (Bad Teacher), so it’s really cool. Its very well made by Charles H. Eglee and Michael Dinner, directed by Michael Dinner and produced by those guys with Brian Michael Bendis as well. It's for FX, so that was really fun.

You also have a recurring role coming up on Grimm as well, is that right?

Welliver: Yes, I just finished that and I’ll do a few more of those.

What can you tell me about the character you play on the show, is he one of the creatures?

Welliver: Yeah he’s a creature, but he’s been around for a long, long time, for hundreds of years. He’s a Steinhammer, which is like a six foot one golden eagle. He’s been pursuing these coins that are rather like the ring in Lord of the Rings that possess the holder. They grant them a kind of charismatic influence over other people, but ultimately it turns evil. So from the ancient Greek Empire to the Romans, to the Han Dynasty in China, and to the Third Reich, these coins have passed through. Now we all know the history of those empires and how they collapsed, but we believe that at the center of that there were these coins that generated the power and the charisma to get people to rally behind these people, but also led to they’re downfall. They’re ultimately bad. So they need to be hidden and they have resurfaced after being on the lamb for nineteen years and they are connected directly to David’s (Giuntoli) character. I kind of show up and fill in the blanks for him. I am pursuing the people who are in possession of the coins and they’re bad dudes. So you think that I’m just kind of this black ops badass dude, but there’s far more to him. He doesn’t enlist the aid of those guys, they just kind of show up, and so then I kind of help them out a little bit. I mean I help them out a lot, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding, the coins have tremendous power. But my past is directly connected to his past, David’s past.

I’m a huge fan of a brilliant but short-lived series that you were on called Life. It is one of my all-time favorite shows and your character was very pivotal to the mythology of that series, did you enjoy playing that role? Also, the show got great reviews from critics but never really caught on with audiences, why do you think that was?

Welliver: Oh yeah, that was a great show! Yeah he was cool, Kyle Hollis was an interesting character because he was crazy, but he was also very bright. He was definitely kind of like The Joker, you know for Damien’s (Lewis) Batman in a way. That was unfortunately a casualty of timing, I think. To have in the middle of the season the Writer’s Strike and then come back and try to pick up the momentum that had been gathered, that’s tough. Look, the thing that I knew was that everybody who was connected with that show would go on to do other things and Damien has. I love him. He’s a fantastic actor to work with. He made me laugh, and he’s just a marvelous human being and a great actor. I’m sorry but Homeland is kind of an amazing show.

Yes it is and I’m really glad that Damien Lewis has finally been discovered for Homeland because I thought he definitely deserved that kind of recognition for playing Detective Charlie Crews on Life.

Welliver: Absolutely, he was great. It was a really wonderful bunch of people. It really did become a casualty of the Writer’s Strike unfortunately, which I think some other shows did as well. But it’s always good to be handed another tank of oxygen when you’re running out of air, right? That’s the rub!

Finally, you are probably best known by television fans for your work as the ultimate villain, the Man in Black (A.K.A. - The Smoke Monster) on Lost, another one of my all-time favorite TV series. When you were shooting the show, did you understand your character and what was going on, or were you as confused as the rest of us watching it at home? Now that it is all over and you’re looking back, do you have a better understanding of your character and his overall role in the entire series?

Welliver: No, I understood it but I got to understand it (more) as the audience did too. It is one of the few characters I have to say, that I’ve played, certainly in the work that I’ve done on television, that as a character I felt I wanted to give more life too. I wish that he had more life. I mean people will stand and argue with me that even though I only technically shot three episodes, that I was the Smoke Monster, and therefore I’ve been in every episode pretty much of the show. To which I just say to them that it was a computer generated effect. A guy said to me, “Yeah, well, people don’t walk up to David Prowse and say, you’re great as Darth Vader. They walk up to James Earl Jones and say, you’re great as Darth Vader.” Once it was sort of put into that context for me, I got it intellectually and I said, “I’m sorry, okay, if you need me to be the Smoke Monster for all those years, I’m happy to oblige you.” That character was deep on so many levels and I felt like I just sort of scratched the surface on the depth of that character. That being said you know, (Mark) Pellegrino (Lost’s Jacob) and I work very well together. We’re old friends, we love each other very much, and we became even closer in realizing those characters and their relationship to each other. I’m glad it was with Mark that I got to do it with and under the guise of (director) Tucker Gates most certainly, and of course Allison Janney (The West Wing) was phenomenal. I would’ve like to worn his clothing a little bit longer, but you know what? You do what you do and you move on.

Do you think that is what television fans remember you from the most, your work on Lost?

Welliver: No, it just depends on the demographic and it depends where I am. Sons of Anarchy is the same, you know or Deadwood. I guess I’ve been blessed, I’ve gotten to work on a lot of really … like you said, sort of iconic television shows of the past twelve or thirteen years from NYPD Blue forward. But with Lost, I think that’s also because that show is what it is. It does have a Star Wars, Star Trek quality to it. That show will be discovered and rediscovered for many generations to come. I think it’s timeless. I think it will be something that people will try to recreate, and I wish them all the best of luck!

The Willows in the Wind episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation airs Wednesday January 25th on CBS.

Touch premieres Wednesday January 25th on Fox. 

Grimm airs Fridays on NBC. 

Powers is currently in production.

Life Season One and Two is now available on DVD, and Lost is available on DVD and Blu-ray

Click on the video player below to watch a montage of Titus Welliver's brilliant work as Kyle Hollis on Life

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