Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Since starting his acting career in New York in the early ’90s, Titus Welliver has become a go-to actor for projects in need of a complicated but still relatable villain. He’s also somewhat of a director’s favorite and a writer’s muse, working repeatedly with people like David Milch, Ben Affleck, and some of the writers from Deadwood who went on to helm shows like Lost. Welliver pops up on TV and in movies all the time: This past season alone, he guested on Grimm, Touch, and CSI, and he’ll appear on the big screen in Ben Affleck’s Argo later this year.
Deadwood (2004-2006)—“Silas Adams”
Titus Welliver: Unlike a lot of characters on Deadwood that were actual people that resided in Deadwood during that time, Adams was a created character by David [Milch]. A very little-known fact was that the name, Silas, that was my older brother’s name; [he] passed away suddenly three years prior to us shooting that show. David said, “What would be a good name for this guy?” And I said, “You know, I would really like to pay homage to my older brother, who inspired me to be an actor.” He was an actor in high school; he never pursued it as a career, but he should have. He was an extraordinarily talented guy in so many ways, but that being one of them. [Milch] said, “Well, it’s great, because that’s a perfect name, it’s a Biblical name.” And I said that would just be great if we could do that. And then “Adams,” there is an Adams family—no pun intended—in the history of Deadwood. So that’s how we sort of came up with that. Not many people know that, except for those that were involved.
That character initially served as a vehicle—or I should say, as the point of the sword—for [Al] Swearengen to get rid of the corrupt politician Claggett. He was initially sent as a bagman from Yankton, where he had clerked in a law office. He had been a gunfighter and had this great backstory, none of which was ever discussed on the show. This was all information David gave me in the process of him writing the character. One of the best things he did—this is sort of quintessential David—David said to me before I even appeared on the show, “I really want to write and create a character for you to come and do this show, are you interested?” I said, “What are you, kidding?” I’d seen a rough cut of the pilot at that point. David sort of gave me this background: “Well, he was a kick-around guy, he’d been a bare-fisted fighter in saloons in San Francisco, he had served as an infantry fighter in the Civil War and proven himself, then became sort of a gun-for-hire, and then ended up in Yankton, where Claggett was impressed by his intelligence and brought him in, so he started to clerk in the law office and became very knowledgeable about law.” So they added some brains to the brawn of this character.
Then David says to me one day, “Oh, I have some things for you.” and he says to his assistant, “Do you have those books for Titus?” And the assistant comes in with a couple of books: A History Of The Black Hills, and a book about Red Cloud. [Milch] said, “The bookstore here was out of it, but I need to you to get The History Of American Law.” I said, “You know, I might even have a copy of that from when I was taking a some pre-law classes in school.” I looked around my library and it wasn’t there, so I went out and bought it. I don’t know if you’ve read it or even looked at it—most people haven’t—but it’s a tome. It’s basically the Yellow Pages. He said, “I’d like you to read these things, ’cause they’ll really be helpful.” I said, “Okay, fine.” The other books were really, really interesting. The History Of American Law, to a layman, is interesting for about five minutes. And then it becomes an exercise. Frankly, I would rather experience serious, serious dental work without the aid of some kind of pain reliever. It was laborious at best.
So I finally complete the task, and it’s time to go back. David’s written the first episode that I appear in. I get out to L.A., and in the typical fashion of an actor needing approval at that point, I go in—David’s like a surrogate father to me, so I bounce into his office, seeking a pat on the head, and say, “I read all the books and The History Of American Law!” I figure we’re going to sit down and he’s going to imbue me with even more brilliance. And he says, “Yeah, that Black Hills book is interesting, isn’t it? And Red Cloud died, that’s heartbreaking, but what an incredible warrior.” And then he says, “The History Of American Law—yeah, there’s nothing in there that’s actable.” [Laughs.] And I just looked at him and said, “Yeah, yeah, there really wasn’t… anything… okay…” And that was sort of the end of the conversation.
That’s David. So many actors said, “I would’ve been so angry,” and I said, “No, don’t you understand.” That was him giving me those books so that I had a sense of what it would’ve been like for Adams to pore through these legal documents and learn this stuff, with no experience or education in the law before approaching that. So it was invaluable. It wasn’t actable in the sense of, “Oh, that’s how I build my character,” or any of that mysterious nonsense, but it was brilliant. That’s why if David Milch says, “I’m doing a two-minute short, and you have one word to say,” I’d say, “When and where do I need to be there?” Because he’s really responsible for my career in television on so many levels. It’s like if you asked me what time it is, and I showed you how to make a watch.
NYPD Blue (1995-1998)—“Dr. Mondzac”
Brooklyn South (1997-1998)—“Officer Jake Lowery”
The A.V. Club: The first show you ever did with Milch was NYPD Blue, so clearly you did well enough for him to work with you again.
TW: Well, it was fun. That’s how it all changed. I had done a part on L.A. Law several years before for [Steven] Bochco. David was not involved in that at all. This was after the departure of David Caruso, so it might have been Jimmy Smits’ first or second season, I don’t recall exactly. I got a call from my agent, who said, “You’re going to go in and audition for Steven Bochco and David Milch for NYPD Blue. It’s for the season opener.” And I was very excited. I said, “Oh great, what is it, a cop gone rogue?” and she said, “No, actually, he’s a trauma surgeon. He’s head of the trauma unit in the ER.” I said, “I’m never going to get that part. I’d rather wait for when a juicy cop role comes along,” because I’ve played some of these knucklehead tough-guy roles.
That was partially my fault, though. One of the first breakout roles I played was Al Capone’s brother, Ralph Capone, in this film I did for TNT called The Lost Capone, and I gained an enormous amount of weight for that role. I went from being a leading man on the stage in New York City to suddenly ballooning into this behemoth, and it took me an extraordinarily long time, almost a year, to take that weight off. So I sort of had a leading man’s mind in a Sydney Greenstreet character actor’s body, and those roles were not coming my way initially. And then I got back into my normal fighting weight, but I was still somehow relegated to playing monosyllabic tough-guy characters, which was fine because it paid the bills, but it wasn’t always terribly interesting.
So anyway, I resisted, but my agent said, “That’s the role that they want to see you for.” So I put on a shirt with a collar for once and I brought my reading glasses, and I went in and read for David Milch and Steven Bochco. When I was finished, David had a smile on his face and he said, “Would you like to play this part?” And I said, “Very much so.” He said, “Well, you’re going to.” I said, “Really?” And Bochco said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Wow, thank you. Thank you very much.” And they said, “We’ll see you in a week or so.” And as I was leaving the office, David Milch said to me, “Don’t forget to call your mom and dad.” [Laughs.]
So I did that part, but I then went to New York and Laurence Fishburne and I and Heavy D were doing a second jump at a play, Riff Raff, that [Fishburne] had written and was directing and starring in, a three-hander. I got a call and my agent said, “They want you to come back as this doctor again, this character Dr. Mondzac.” “Really? That seemed like a one-off deal.” So I just kind of kept going back. I would get these calls every now and then, and that character turned into a recurring character. Anytime somebody would—specifically, it was Sipowicz, Dennis Franz’s character. He had erectile dysfunction, and then Jimmy Smits had a friend who was an ex-pug who he believed had Alzheimer’s and was acting out, so he wanted me to take a look at him and see if he met the criteria. So it was just sort of this ongoing thing. I would go onto the show and do one or two scenes.
So cut to about two years later. I had just finished shooting a film, I had hair down to my shoulders and a beard—I looked like I looked when I was Adams on Deadwood—and I was on the Fox lot auditioning for something. David Milch went by on his bicycle and of course he wouldn’t recognize me like that. I said, “David! David! It’s—” He sort of went zooming by, suspiciously looking at me, and almost seemed to increase the speed of his pedaling. I said, “It’s Titus, it’s Titus Welliver!” And he jammed on the brakes like a kid does, did a little sideways skid, and sort of turned around and rode back, and he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you, I thought you were the Deer Hunter.” And he said, “I’m doing a police show, a new cop show with Steven and Billy Finkelstein about uniformed cops on the beat in Brooklyn. Would you be interested in doing the series?” And I said, “Are you kidding me? Yeah, I would. That sounds great.” And he said, “Okay. We’ll reach out to you when the time is right.” So I then did Brooklyn South with him and Steven. But it was really that role of Dr. Mondzac, playing this guy that was articulate, that was kind, that was a humanitarian, who didn’t have a gun. Suddenly, it just sort of changed the tide in the kind of myopic attitude that casting in Hollywood had about me. I was suddenly playing lawyers, I was playing scientists, I was playing people that could speak the English language and who didn’t just come to beat your brains out or take your money.
AVC: The guys you’re playing might be smart, but they’re generally still kind of bad dudes. Take Silas, for example. He’s got a soul, but he’s still not afraid to kill someone.
TW: He kills people, yeah. Adams was great. Going back to him, what David would do is, he would take certain things about me personally. I did three episodes at the end of the first season, and I was then asked to return as a regular in the second season. Over the course of that was when I really started to grow my hair long and really started to grow that beard. On my first day of work, driving to work, I received a phone call from my then-wife who announced that she no longer wished to be married. So I arrived at work having just received that information, and went into my dressing room to get dressed. I was the first scene up, and went in and did the scene.
I was walking out of the soundstage after we completed the scene, and David caught me and said, “Hey, that was great.” and I said, “Yeah, first day of school.” And he reads me like a palmist would, somebody at a fair, and he says, “What’s up with you?” And I said, “‘Blank’ just asked me for—didn’t ask me for, ‘Blank’ instructed me—that she doesn’t want to be married anymore and I need to engage legal help.” He said, “Jeez,” you know, we had a conversation, and he said, “Why didn’t you tell me that before shooting?” I said, “I’ve got a job to do. Nobody died.” He looked at me and just said, “Okay. All right.” So he kept a very close eye on me. He would check in with me every day: “How are you doing? How are you holding up?” Because two of my children at that time were quite small—they were babies. One son was 3 and one was 6, and they did not understand this at all. They didn’t understand what was going on. I was 3,000 miles away and was having to get on an airplane to see them as often as I could. It was a very, very painful and confusing time in my life. And David really did his utmost to facilitate having enough for me to do, but making it in a way that there was flexibility so I could go when I needed to go be with my kids. I became very withdrawn, for obvious reasons, and very burdened, and was not my normal self.
And so David had a character, which was played by Sarah Paulson, Miss Isringhausen, who was an agent—she posed as a nanny—but she was a Pinkerton agent who was coming in to deal with the Swearengen character. And she seduced me, and then she was found out, and my character had fallen in love with her. This is an ongoing theme. [Laughs.] This also happened on Brooklyn South, I kept falling in love with these women who did me wrong. On Brooklyn South, there were two women who did me wrong, and they both ended up dead—one got hit by a cab, the other was a Russian prostitute who was murdered by her pimp. Then I finally fell in love with my partner, but I had to fight another officer who had been her boyfriend, and he was probably a good six inches taller than me, and outweighed me by about 66 pounds. So we had this David and Goliath fight for love, where I took this terrible beating like Brando in On The Waterfront, but I also gave a really good beating back, but ultimately I won. I got the girl. So after all of this misery, that was the payoff.
So David took all that, and when it was exposed that she had been using me the entire time to get to Ian McShane’s character, there was the heartbreak of betrayal. There were a lot of different thoughts at the time, like, “Should Adams kill her?” But David liked the chemistry Paulson and I had so much that he thought, “No, I’m going to keep that relationship going.” So there was some enmity there on Adams’ part, not trusting her and feeling betrayed, but she had captured his heart, and he was powerless against her.
I’ll use a word that you can’t print, and it is deeply offensive to women, but I remember David saying, “You know, in the Old West, they would’ve said that Adams was ‘cunt-struck.’” And I remember really thinking, as crude as it was, it was the first time that Adams had probably ever been with a woman where it wasn’t just sex. Probably 100 percent of his sexual experiences in life had been with prostitutes, so there was no emotional connection whatsoever, there was no genuine intimacy, it just was what it was. Then he suddenly had intimacy, and it completely derailed him. That’s what I loved about Adams. He was a very, very multifaceted character. He was also a great observer. David asked one time, “What is a character trait, as an actor, that you really want to bring to this character?” I said, “Since he’s bright, I want him to be an observer.” Particularly when he’s around Swearengen, he’s observing. He’s educating himself.
So he became Swearengen’s sort of son, in a way, the son he didn’t have, and it became this whole paternal relationship, but also one of a teacher and pupil. Hence, it created an incredible jealousy with his lieutenants. Earl Brown’s character [Dan Dority] became very jealous, like a little boy, and became sort of antagonistic toward Adams, who realized that in a fight against a big bear—that would’ve been obvious, the ending of that. David said, “Well, Adams is smart enough to know that if it came down to it, he’d have to slap leather quick and just dump him with his pistol, because there’s no way he would get into a fight with hands. He’d never shoot a man in the back, but he’d look at him face-to-face and probably tell him, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Then he’d take out a gun and shoot him, and that would be it.” [Laughs.] That’s life working with David Milch.
I also got deathly ill. I almost died in that season. I went back to have sort of the final Thanksgiving with my ex-wife, and I became gravely ill within 24 hours. Something had been sort of festering without my knowledge, but I had massive surgical adhesions in my stomach from a surgery I’d had 23 years prior, and it had completely strangulated and compromised everything, and I was internally bleeding. So I had to go under the knife and have that removed, and then had to stay in the hospital. And of course, when you’ve been cut open from stern to stem, they tend to give you significant pain medication, which made me forget for a moment that I was even on a television show. But as I started to come out of that fog, I became very anxious. Of course, David called me all the time, I just couldn’t remember half the conversations we’d had, because I was so heavily medicated in the hospital. I came back to Deadwood almost immediately. As soon as I was well, David had me up and running, but I remember somebody in production saying that, continuity-wise, they had to say something, because I came back and I had lost 20-something pounds and hadn’t shaved or cut my hair. I looked like a guy on a cough-drop box.
A lot was going on in my downtime, too. I was painting again, so you would never see me around unless I was at work. The rest of the time, I was in my studio, which was the kitchen of the little apartment I was renting. I was painting, so I was becoming more and more involved with that. So I shot a scene one day and I’m coming out of the stage, and David materializes like a genie sometimes, you know? All of a sudden he’s there. And he said, “That went well.” And I said, “Yeah.” And of course, there was some pedestrian talk and David said—he nails me—he says, “You don’t derive pleasure from doing this any longer, do you?” And I said, “No, it’s not that, it’s just that I’ve figured it out”—meaning acting—“so that’s where I am.” And of course David says, and I’m paraphrasing to a certain degree, but the key words to what he said were, “The man recoiled, placing his palm against his face, the sting fresh from the leather of the young man’s glove.” And he said, “You’re all right?” and I said, “I’m fine.” And he sort of squeezed my shoulder and walked away.
And that’s when the Isringhausen scenes came up. That’s when he put me in the whole mix with the Isringhausen thing going south, but also with seeing Adams kind of falling in love and acting a little bit stupid and kind of silly. He took it as a personal challenge that I was saying, “Not even your words can move me beyond this place.” I’d figured it out, and I just needed to digest that and then figure out how to find the next challenge, something that would challenge me as an actor and bring me back. And of course, he did it. That was the moment where people were saying, “Wow, Adams has lost his mind a little bit. He’s kind of silly and doesn’t quite have that same clarity.” And I say, “Well, he’s fallen in love. When you’ve fallen in love, do you act that way? No.” I mean, if they’d had the technology, Adams would’ve been making mix-tapes for her, right?
Lost (2009-2010)—“Man In Black”
AVC: One of the writers on Deadwood was one of the writers on Lost, which is one of the reasons you got the job there, right?
TW: Yeah, Elizabeth Sarnoff. I got a call from my agent saying, “There’s something in Lost.” I had watched most of the first season, and I—just because of time, and I don’t have the attention span a lot of the time to watch TV, and I didn’t have a DVR—I missed out on a lot of it, although everybody around me was completely mad and consumed by Lost. I’d find myself at dinner tables where people would be carrying on these conversations where it would sound like they were speaking of this great new book, but I couldn’t contribute, because I really didn’t know anything about it.
Anyway, [my agent] said, “Liz Sarnoff wants to call you and discuss it with you.” So Lizzy called me and she said, “Listen, this is what I can tell you, because the secrecy in our show is really extreme. This is a great character. He is so central to the whole Lost universe, so it’s going to take a leap of faith on your part to know that I don’t know how many episodes it’ll be, this character. That’s all that I can really say. And if you sign on to do it, I promise you I’ll make it worth your while.” And I said, “I love you, Liz.” She was one of our writers on Big Apple, another show I did with David Milch. I completely trusted her, and I said, “Okay. Sign me up, and that’s that.”
So I went and did that first episode, and it was literally one scene, and I had no idea what was going on. I really didn’t know. I said, “Who is this guy?” On the page, he was just “The Man In Black,” and then it was Jacob. I said, “This guy doesn’t even have a name? He’s just referred to as the Man In Black?” And they said, “Yup.” And I’m like, “Okay. These guys have any kind of history?” And they said, “Well…” They tried to explain it to me, and I said, “You know what? Don’t tell me anything. Don’t tell me anything, because probably none of it is actable, and let’s just see what happens.” Mark Pellegrino [who played Jacob] and I had known each other from working with each other before, so there was already a pre-existing relationship which included trust, so working with him was very simple. I mean, he didn’t know any more than I did. He only had a sense of who his character was; he didn’t know who the hell the Man In Black was. I knew that there was the giant pedestal of this Egyptian statue left there, and I was looking at a boat, an older boat, in the distance. That’s all that I knew. And I could sort of tell from our clothing that we were in a different time. That’s all that I knew, so I do that and off I go.
Then the show airs. I didn’t watch it, I didn’t track anything, and the next day, I walk into my local Starbucks and literally half the people in the Starbucks look at me like I’m the mass murderer everybody’s been looking for in the paper. And there’s almost an audible gasp; people are coming up to me and saying, “Oh my God. I can’t—oh. So, what exactly—who are you?” And I really feel like I’m in the middle of some Bill Burroughs nightmare, like “What? What are—” and they’re like, “Lost!” And I’m like “Oh, right. That’s right, I forgot I did that show.” And they’re looking at me like, “How can you be so calm in the presence of this information?” And I’m sort of struggling with it. That was one thing that Liz sort of warned me. She said, “Enjoy whatever anonymity you have left.” Those were her exact words. And they said, “So when are you coming back?” And I said, “I don’t know that I am coming back,” because there was no discussion, no contract in the air.
So I’m off and shooting The Good Wife, and I’m shooting this movie The Town with Ben Affleck. Ben says, “So what’s the deal with your character on Lost?” And I’m like, “Oh, come on. You too? Really?” He knows Nestor Carbonell because Nestor is really close friends from Harvard with Matt Damon. I said, “I don’t know, Ben. I have no idea!”
So we finish shooting the film after months, and I no sooner finish and my agent says, “You’re going to Hawaii. That character’s coming back.” I say, “Okay.” I just get on a plane. There was no script or anything. So I get on a plane, and it’s the Nestor Carbonell episode, with all the flashbacks and his whole backstory. Tucker Gates was directing that. We were rehearsing this one scene, and he says something like, “No, but the black smoke—” and I have a line where I say, “No. I am the black smoke.” So I say that line, and Nestor just goes, “That is such a mindblower,” or something like that. And I go, “What?” And he says, “That line, you know, ‘I am the black smoke.’” I say, “Yeah, so what?” He says, “Do you realize what you’re saying there?” And I say, “Yeah, I’m saying that I’m the black smoke thing, the smoke monster.” He goes, “Yeah. That’s like saying, ‘No, Luke, I am your father.’” And I kind of laughed about it, and I go, “Really? Okay.”
So once again, same thing happens. That episode airs, and people are literally saying, “I cannot believe—I knew there was something! Of course you’re the smoke monster. How did you—how long have you been the smoke monster? Have you always—when did you know?” And I’m going, “I don’t know. I don’t know!”
AVC: You weren’t playing the smoke. It wasn’t like you’d been involved the whole time.
TW: I said that at one point to a guy who was like, “Remember that episode where you did—” And I said, “That wasn’t me, that was a computer-generated effect.” That guy literally looked at me and he says, “No, it was you.” So I thought, “I’m not going disabuse people of that, what they’ve surrendered to.”
I did have a homeless guy come up to me and my kids in Grand Central Station. This guy had matted hair, he was clearly not just some guy that was living on the street, this guy—the odor was overwhelming, even from where we were standing, a good seven or 10 feet away. He just started going, “Smoky, my man! What’s up? What’s going on with your world, Smoky?” I was stunned. I really was blown away. This poor man has no money, has no home, and might even be mentally ill, but he knows Lost. He finds a way to get to a television. And he was articulate; he wasn’t just some stumblebum on the street. His synapses were firing. It blew my mind. It was kind of at that point where I went, “All right.”
And then the final episode, the sort of “our origin” episode—that was even bigger. The cast there treated me like I had been on the set the whole time. I was deeply moved by it, by their welcoming and embracing of me. Here I was, I was just this guy that showed up, and that experience was incredible. First of all, I fell in love with Hawaii, with a part of that island that I’ve since returned to with my family. It was an incredible experience doing that show, and I have to say, that’s a character I have certain regrets about. I wish there had maybe been another season, because I really ended up loving that character. Typically, I like some characters more than others, I get more of a charge out of playing them, and that was a character I felt was germinating, to a certain degree. He was a classic tragic hero.
I’m really drawn to those characters. An interviewer told me this. They were doing a piece on me, so they’d talked to David about me. We were talking about the nature of the different characters I’d played, and David said to them, “Nobody does heartbreak better than Titus Welliver in this business.” There was something about that character; I just wanted to give him more time. The best thing is to leave them wanting more, to a certain degree, but I, for one of the first times as an actor, felt like I wanted that character to have more life, because he was complex, and I was interested in that character.
AVC: Not to keep coming back to Deadwood, but how do you feel about the way that show ended? Did it feel like a natural arc?
TW: I don’t think we’ll ever know the entire story. I’ve heard so many different versions of what the reason was. What I can tell you is, how I understand it, it was certainly not its lack of popularity. It ended totally abruptly, and it was not due to ratings. It was due to some political bullshit that I’m not even really sure about. Usually when people ask me about it, I say, “I know I heard shots in the grassy knoll, and that’s all I have to say about it.”
But yeah, I was really disappointed. I know David had great stuff to come, and I really loved that cast. It was a tight group of people, great camaraderie. To go to work every day and sit in a room with Ian McShane and David Milch—that’s where I want to be. That’s where I flourish, in the company of those men. And I became a better actor because of it. I always do.
People say, “Whoa, it must be so hard working with David Milch, because there are no completed scripts, and you don’t get pages until right before you shoot scenes, and blah blah blah…” He had almost become a boogeyman in the business, and I really, at a point, started to take umbrage to that. So my response to that is to say this: Working with David Milch is like Navy SEAL training for an actor. Some people are cut out for it, and some people aren’t. It doesn’t matter how tough you are, or how strong you are, or anything like that. It just comes down to a mental strength, to a kind of fortitude. Some people can do it and others can’t, and it doesn’t diminish the value of them as actors. I flourished there. When I go to work with other people, the closest thing I can liken it to is working with Affleck, although you’ve got the complete scripts. Ben inspires me to do better things.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)—“Lionel McCready”
AVC: How did your work with Ben Affleck start?
TW: I was shooting Deadwood. Ben was location-scouting in Boston, so they were putting people on tape for Ben to look at. I went in to read for [Gone Baby Gone], and I was shooting Deadwood, so I still looked like Adams. That was a big concern, because people see this, and what can you do? They can’t see past that. So I pulled my hair back into a bun and sort of pinned my hair up onto my head, and I had some connective tissue to Boston, certainly to New England, and had a minute with the accent and went in to do the audition. Then I didn’t hear anything for a long time, and I thought, “Oh, I really loved that script and loved that role. That would’ve been a great thing to do, but oh well.” Usually I just sort of go in and say, “Yeah, okay.”
And then it came back, and they said, “Ben’s in town and he wants to meet with you.” This is later, long enough that I had forgotten about it to a certain degree. So I went in and met Ben, who was charming and gregarious and extremely welcoming, and he said to me, “Where are you from in Boston?” I said, “I’m not from Boston.” And he said, “Are you kidding me?” And I said, “No, I’m not from Boston.” He said, “How’d you do that accent?” And I just kind of smiled and said, “I’ve spent some time there.” So we did it, and I remember coming in and looking at the company of actors that was outside. My character was written as considerably older than I actually was when I played that part, and I saw a lot of heavy-duty character actors that I respect, and I thought, “This is just a courtesy. I don’t know why I’m going in here. These guys are all the right age, the right everything.”
So I got the part, and Ben and I were trying to figure out how we were going to pull that off. And so I cut off the beard, but I kept that gigantic mustache, and I took a pair of scissors and cut my hair so it was extremely uneven, because I wanted this guy to look like he didn’t go to a barber. Of course, they had to fix that, because it was a little too much. I kind of looked like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys.
That experience was incredible. It was an amazing cast. I mean, Morgan [Freeman]—we had a scene, and there was no dialogue, but just to be in the presence of him is indescribable, or certainly was indescribable for me. And Ben—I was blown away by how completely prepared he was. He had my confidence from the get-go, and I believe I had his, so we just did this film, and then months later, he invited my wife and me to come out to his office to take a look at a cut of the film. It was the first time I’d watched a film I was in where I forgot I was in the film. I was so completely stunned by it. My wife wept through an enormous part of the film, and she’s a tough audience. When it was over, Ben came in and said, “What did you think?” And I said, “Honestly, I need to digest this. I’m not trying to be obtuse or anything like that. I’m just blown away.”
The Town (2010)—“Dino Ciampa”
Argo (2012)—“Jon Bates”
TW: So The Town came up, and I knew I wanted to work with him again. I didn’t care that Dino was not as pivotal a role as Lionel McCready was; it didn’t matter to me. I wanted to work with Ben again. Ben writes and rewrites, and the character got fleshed out more and more as we went along. In the new Blu-ray, there’s more information that bolsters the backstory of that character. And of course I was working with Jon Hamm, and [Jeremy] Renner and Rebecca Hall and all those guys, and the great Pete Postlethwaite, and then there was Ben, round two.
The first film, Gone Baby Gone, to me, looked like a fifth or a sixth effort by a seasoned director. I defy anyone to look at that movie and say, “This is the first film anybody’s ever directed.” So this time, there was more money, and it was a bit more of a bang-up flick. It was a drama that had some really interesting action setpieces in it, the heist scenes, and once again, just executed beautifully executed by Ben. And then Argo comes along, and it’s even smaller—I mean, I’m playing an uncredited cameo in this. But I just didn’t care, and nobody cares. What’s now happened is if you said, “Oh, Ben Affleck is directing a Chicken Of The Sea tuna commercial,” every actor would go, “And I’d like to be in that. I don’t care what the part is. Look, I don’t even need to play the mermaid, just let me be a supporting fish. I don’t care.” Once again, I go in to do dialogue recording after we’ve shot the stuff, and I get to see like, five minutes of what we’ve shot, and I’m looking at this and I go, “Son of a bitch, he just keeps getting better and better!” I just have tremendous respect for him. Even though he’s younger than I am—which he constantly likes to remind me—I’m inspired by him. When I work with him, I feel like I’m a part of something.
Sons Of Anarchy (2009-2010)—“Jimmy O’Phelan”
TW: I loved doing Sons Of Anarchy. That was a great experience.
AVC: A lot of Deadwood people.
TW: Yeah, I know. That’s what happens. After Deadwood, we all seem to show up on the same shows together. I enjoyed doing that. It was a lot of fun. There’s definitely an enormous fan base, so people are constantly talking to me about that character. Jimmy was a really, really interesting character.
Beverly Hills: 90210 (1992)—“Doug”
AVC: We should talk about your early role as “Doug” on Beverly Hills: 90210.
TW: No, please don’t make me talk about that.
AVC: It’s either that or the Armand Assante TV movie Blind Justice.
TW: Well, 90210 is a bit funnier. This is many, many years ago. I was still sporting some of that Lost Capone weight, playing the sort of drunken-dick boyfriend. And a lot of the kids on that show were just car wrecks, as we know, so I came on there just going, “Jesus, let me just avoid everybody at all costs.” With the exception of Luke Perry, who was this incredibly ingratiating, warm, sweet guy, and he was just laughing because I towered over him and he was supposed to punch me out, knock me out pretty much with one punch. And Luke was incredulous; he just said, “Guys, come on. This is just too dumb.” So I said to him, “Well you know, we could do what they did with Alan Ladd,” and he looked at me and said, “Alan Ladd?” I said, “You know, he’s the guy who played Shane… never mind.” And he said, “No, no, what?” I said, “Well he wasn’t as tall as everyone else. So what they would do was, they would dig a hole, not a very deep hole, but they would put the actresses in that hole so he would be taller in the scenes.” I said, “I realize that this is a faux-parquet floor so we can’t do on-the-spot construction here, but how about we give Luke an apple box?” And he starts laughing and he says, “A half apple box.” And I said, “How ’bout two full apple boxes?” We became great friends from that. It was hysterical.
But for whatever reason, my father—may he rest in peace—tuned in to see his son on that show. I get a call from my dad the next day and I say, “How are you doing, dad?” And he says, “I’m okay, how are you doing?” I say, “I’m all right, everything’s fine.” And he says, “Listen, I want to say something to you, and I want you to accept it in the spirit.” And I said, “Sure,” and he says, “That show you did last night? Don’t ever do something like that again.” I said, “Why not?” And he said, “That’s an atrocious piece of shit.” And I said, “Look, I got to pay my bills.” He said, “Don’t do it, do you understand, son? It’s bad for your soul.” There was sort of a pause and I said, “Well, I’ve got to live,” and he says, “Son, if you need money that badly, call me. I’ll send you money. Just don’t ever do something like that again.”