IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Titus Welliver Talks 'Man on a Ledge' and 'Argo'

Sunday, 29 January 2012 21:51 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Titus Welliver Talks 'Man on a Ledge' and 'Argo'

I recently had the immense pleasure of speaking with one of my all time favorite actors, Titus Welliver, about his prolific and impressive television work. But as accomplished as his TV resume is, the actor has just as distinguished of a film and stage career. Welliver first gained attention in the groundbreaking off-Broadway play “Riff Raff,” which was written, directed and co-starred actor Laurence Fishburne. He would eventually reprise the critically acclaimed role that he originated on stage as the sympathetic drug addict and part-time thief Billy “The Torch’ Murphy in the film adaptation of the play entitled Once in the Life, which also starred Fishburne and marked his feature film directorial debut. In fact, while the actor and I were chatting about the making of Once in the Life and his work in "Riff Raff," which also happens to be my all time favorite stage play, the actor happened to mention that he and Fishburne are discussing doing a revival of the show. “I have to say Laurence and I have been sort of toying with the idea of doing the play again even though it's been about twelve years since we made the film,” Welliver admitted.

While the actor is probably best known for his extensive television work that includes playing Silas Adams on HBO’s Western-based series Deadwood, the pivotal role of Kyle Hollis on the brilliant but short-lived NBC series Life, season three villain Jimmy O’Phelan on FX’s motorcycle gang series Sons of Anarchy, a recurring role on the current Fox series Touch with Kiefer Sutherland, and of course, as the Man in Black (A.K.A. the Smoke Monster) on ABC’s cultural phenomenon Lost. But he’s also appeared in many popular feature films including The Doors, Mobsters, Twisted, Assault on Precinct 13, and most recently Man on a Ledge, which opened on January 27th and is in theaters now. But his most famous film roles have come from his collaborations with fellow actor and now critically acclaimed writer/director Ben Affleck. Welliver first appeared in Affleck’s Boston-based directorial debut Gone Baby Gone as Lionel McCready, and also appeared as FBI agent Dino Ciampa in The Town (also set in the Boston area) opposite Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men). Now, Welliver will achieve the hat trick by also appearing in Affleck’s upcoming third directorial effort Argo, which will be the first of his films, as a director, not set in Massachusetts.

In Man on a Ledge, Welliver plays NYPD officer Nathan Marcus, the cop in charge of the crime scene when Sam Worthington’s (Avatar) decides to go out on the ledge of a Manhattan building during morning traffic and attempt to jump. I recently had an opportunity to speak with the great Titus Welliver about his upcoming television projects, and also took the chance to talk to him about his work in Man on a Ledge, and his role in Affleck’s upcoming Argo. The actor spoke graciously about the new film, working with its sensational cast, playing a New York City cop, his special relationship with director Ben Affleck, and what Affleck’s fans can expect from Argo.

Here is what the extremely talented actor had to say:

IAR: To begin with, Man on a Ledge features an incredible cast of actors, what was it like collaborating with them on this project?

Titus Welliver: Yeah, it was a lot of fun and a great cast. I love Banksy (Elizabeth Banks), she's great and so is Sam (Worthington). Ed Harris and I we have a track record together from Gone Baby Gone. Anthony Mackie and I have not worked together before. Jamie Bell and I, and Edward Burns and I have not (worked together before) but it was great. It was really a lot of fun.

You play NYPD officer Nathan Marcus in the film, what can you tell me about your character?

Welliver: Yes, Marcus is … well, what he appears to be is this guy, a cop who's just doing his job and who's very frustrated. I’ve played enough cops, and spent enough time around cops to sort of know how they think, feel, walk and look. So there was that and you know he's also a cop who has a tremendous amount of power. He's not like a patrolman or just a detective who's working the beat. He has this whole command center and like all police work, for the most part, its life and death. The audience knows what he also knows, which is that this kid jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge not long ago and Elizabeth Bank’s character is kind of a wild card. So as things kind of unfold, it's interesting and I think that the script was solid. They did a lot of work on the script on the day, and I had fun with it. I just had a really good time with it. I felt like it's a popcorn movie. It's got a lot of really good action stuff in it, but there's a reason that (director) Asger (Leth) cast good actors who make the material work and I think that's another part of it, right? It's suspenseful obviously, I mean most things are, but the audience believes it because you've got actors there that are making you buy into it.

I’ve often heard actors or filmmakers say that, “You don’t shoot the script, you shoot the film.” Has that been your experience? Or do you think that it’s really the actors and the filmmakers collaborating together that make a script come alive on screen?

Welliver: Yeah. Although, look you know when I'm doing a film with Ben Affleck, he is the first person to cut or revisit something if it doesn't work. I mean he is brutal on himself I have to say, you know to watch a guy who's a director, writer and an actor all at the same time be as mercenary as he is. He'll kind of go, “You know what, when I wrote that I thought it was a cool line, but it doesn't really work so let's not say it.” The hardest part about that is trying to convince an actor who you give a really cool line to that you want to take it back, now you’ve got an arm wrestling match.

Since you mentioned him, can you talk about your working relationship with Ben Affleck? You’ll now have been in all three of his directorial efforts, so what is he like as a director?

Welliver: Yeah, I mean when we were shooting Gone Baby Gone I knew (he was a great director). Also, I have a connection to Boston. I love Boston; it's where I first attended any kind of an acting program, at the actor's workshop in Boston, over on Commonwealth Ave., which is like three blocks away from Fenway. I remember when I was a teenager visiting my mother in Massachusetts, you know I picked up on the accent a little bit. (I remember) my brother, my older brother saying to me, “Yeah, that's never going to come in handy.” Little did he know, and of course he didn't live to see it. But he would've loved the fact that not only do I get to do one picture with a Dorchester accent, but also then I get to do the Charlestown dialect in the next one. The experience for me is valuable and I love the role of Lionel McCready (Gone Baby Gone). I felt like it was just honestly well written, and a very complex character. Once again he got a bunch of seriously great actors to work with. I knew from the minute we were... well, I always knew that Ben was a bright guy even before I worked with him. Then I met him in the official capacity and I liked him immediately. He's a gregarious, bright guy, warm and welcoming, and his passion is extremely contagious. He was incredibly generous, and he really allowed me to kind of find Lionel, what he looked liked, how he walked, how he talked, and he was very generous. The Town was a gas. I mean we went through doing an intense drama to then doing another great drama, but there was a lot of action, a lot of cool stuff. But that being said, that's a film that was not put in the action genre. That's a really, really great drama that film. It just happened to have some great action set pieces in it, but if you took the bank robbery, and the truck heist and stuff out of that film, that film would still completely hold up. You take the whole armored car chase scene with the nuns, even if you take that stuff out, that movie still plays as it does. Not that I've ever done that as an exercise, but I could tell you just from watching that film.

Finally, have you finished shooting all your scenes for Argo?

Welliver: Yeah, I did and that's not a Boston movie, that's a totally different thing, a political film. Yeah, I did my thing. The amount of stage I’m going to have in Argo is significantly less than The Town or in Gone Baby Gone, but it's going to be a really great film. I have to say once again, when you get on the set with Ben, you know, you catch his bug. You know you're working on something that's going to be great. I have every confidence that this film will be as good enough, or better than the last. That's just what he does as a filmmaker. So I'll be in all of Ben Affleck’s movies if that happens.

So anytime Ben calls with a role for you in one of his films, you’ll do it?

Welliver: I would! I've pursued him and said, look, c'mon. I love working with him. I mean there are a lot of great actors in Argo, and there are a lot of great actors in all his films. Once again, people see his films and they call their agents and say, “The next time Ben Affleck makes a movie can I please be in it?” Also, it's great to shoot in Boston I have to say. There's nothing better than shooting in Boston.

Man on a Ledge is currently in theaters everywhere!

Argo is set for release on September 14th.

To read part one of our exclusive interview with Titus Welliver about his various TV projects, please click here

To watch our exclusive interview with Edward Burns about Man on a Ledge, please click here.  

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