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Why does Amazon's 'Bosch' feel so much like the books? It's Michael Connelly

LOS ANGELES

Traffic is roaring along Interstate 5, and beyond it a hot orange sunset burns.

Just east of the freeway, in the parking lot of the L.A. County Medical Examiner building, Detective Harry Bosch steps out of a car, then does it again, and again, as his creator watches intently.

"This will be about 10 seconds on screen," author Michael Connelly says of the on-location shoot outside the morgue, which involves two actors, more than 50 crew members and an hour and a half of filming. "We have filmed inside the morgue, too," he says, "but doing it too often gets a little disruptive."

The shoot is a bustling scene, about as different from the solitary craft of novel writing as can be imagined, and Connelly, 61, revels in it. Tall and silver-haired, he strolls through the set, greeting crew members in the white tent called the Video Village, or at a catering table set with bowls of chips and ceviche.

Joking with a photographer on set, Connelly says, "Get some shots of me looking at this screen like I know what I'm doing."

Harry Bosch is a fictional character, an LAPD homicide detective who is the tough, incorruptible heart and soul of 20 of the 31 novels Connelly has published — books that have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and been translated into 39 languages.

Since 2014, Bosch, played by Titus Welliver, has been the main character in an Amazon streaming television series that bears his name, and Connelly has been involved every step of the way as an executive producer and writer.

That's rarely the case when an author's fiction moves to the screen. Often a movie or TV deal is a financial boost, but the tradeoff is loss of any control over the result.

Connelly almost lost Bosch that way. Back in the mid 1990s, when he was just beginning to publish novels, he sold rights to a couple of the Bosch books — and the character — to Paramount. Scripts were written, but no movie happened. Connelly had to wait 15 years for the rights to expire and then go to court to get Bosch back.

Feeling the character was so rich he needed more room than a movie would offer, Connelly began shopping a TV series: "I had all these books, all this material." Amazon made the deal. Three seasons are streaming already. Shooting for Season 4 is underway.

• • •

Taking a break in the coroner's parking lot, Welliver talks about playing Bosch, a character fiercely beloved by an army of readers.

"I really wanted it," he says. "He's such an incredible character, this multidimensional, troubled antihero.

"You don't want to want something too much in this business. There's too much heartbreak and disappointment."

Welliver, 56, has had a long and busy acting career, with notable roles in Deadwood, Lost, Sons of Anarchy and The Good Wife. As Bosch, he's tightly wound and more likely to scowl than smile, but out of character he's warm and expressive.

He had only read one of Connelly's books before reading the Bosch pilot, but, he says, "I had a lot of friends who were devoted fans."

The script wowed him, but he couldn't meet with Connelly as the show was being cast because he had a role in Transformers: Age of Extinction.

"I thought that ship had sailed," he says. "Then my manager said, you've got to meet with Michael Connelly. They can't find the guy."

The two hit it off. "When I met Mike, I immediately felt like I had known him for a long time," Welliver says.

The role has been as rich as the actor hoped. "People talk about a character evolving," he says, "but what I like about Bosch is that he doesn't really evolve. He evolves when the circumstances surround him, but he's still the same Harry Bosch he was in The Black Echo (the first novel). He's always been an old soul.

"I think because of the tragedy that happened to him when he was a young man (Bosch's mother was murdered), he's always been that advocate for victims. He doesn't really change, the audience just gets to know him better."

Bosch's relationship with his daughter, Maddie (played by Madison Lintz), is key in Season 4, Welliver says. It's the character's warmest personal relationship. "Some of the fans say, 'Harry's got to have a love interest.' I say no. He's not a guy who's comfortable with that. He's kind of myopic emotionally. He's always on the mission. Because of that, he's not available to women.

"You see that in his relationship with Eleanor (his ex-wife). They might have a lovely tumble in the hay, but they both know they're never going to last. The bond they do have is the love for their child."

Welliver is now the reader for the audiobooks of the Bosch novels, including Two Kinds of Truth, which will be published Oct. 31. (Click here to read a review.)

"I love reading them" for audio, he says. "I don't read them in advance. I want to have that experience for the first time.

"(Connelly) will get me, though. I'll think I know what's coming next and boom. There are a lot of outtakes with bad language."

In the books, Bosch had the words "Hold Fast" tattooed on his knuckles as a young man, then removed. Welliver has ink of his own all over his arms, but Bosch's scars on his knuckles.

"The tattoos are real, they're mine," Welliver says. "I kind of like the irony." Connelly says of the scars, "Makeup puts them on every morning."

• • •

Los Angeles is the essential setting of Connelly's books, but he lives much of the time in Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood. (He and his wife, Linda, also have a home in the Hollywood Hills. Their daughter, Callie, is in college in California.) He grew up in Fort Lauderdale, graduated from the University of Florida and started his first career as a journalist at newspapers in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

He found Harry Bosch in California, when he was a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Driving a sleek black Tesla around L.A., he seems to have retained at least one reporter's habit: a mental map of every parking place in town.

Crime reporting gave him a deep knowledge of how police officers work, which has helped lend authenticity to Bosch's world.

"Every Thursday, two real LAPD homicide detectives sit in the writing room," he says. "Some of the best moments on the show are anecdotal stories from their lives."

One of those advisers, LAPD Detective Mitzi Roberts, was an inspiration for Connelly's newest character, Renée Ballard, featured in The Late Show, published in July.

Bosch had more than one inspiration, and also was born of Connelly's admiration for the great progenitor of Los Angeles crime fiction, Raymond Chandler, and his iconic detective character, Philip Marlowe. Seeing the 1973 movie version of Chandler's 1953 novel The Long Goodbye while a student in Gainesville is what made Connelly want to be a mystery writer. A poster for the movie is one of the few things on the walls of his spare Hollywood office.

Los Angeles is a deeply felt muse for Connelly, practically as much a character as Bosch. When the deal was made for the TV series, Connelly insisted on as much location shooting as possible — a rarity now that much of what we think of as Hollywood's product is filmed elsewhere.

Each Bosch season borrows plot elements from several of Connelly's books. For Season 4, the chief source is Angels Flight, a 1999 novel named for the historic narrow-gauge funicular railway that trundles up and down the side of Bunker Hill in downtown L.A. The railway was recently restored, just in time for Bosch to film a grisly murder there.

"It was pretty cool," Connelly says, noting that they also filmed in the nearby Bradbury Building, a set for many noir films (including Blade Runner's final sequence). "We were in that office right next to the 'Bradbury Building' sign."

On location at a construction site adjoining the Subway Terminal Building, he talks about looking forward to filming in the tunnels, which have been closed for half a century. "It's the story in Who Framed Roger Rabbit about the city deciding to go with cars and highways instead. That's a real story. And now they're building new subways."

• • •

Bosch films some scenes at Red Studios in Hollywood, where the staff's offices are located. The studio has a century of history — for a while, it was Desilu Studios, owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.

"They used to shoot The Andy Griffith Show here," Connelly says. "It's all industrial around here now, but back then there was a neighborhood behind the studio where they could shoot some outdoor scenes. They shot that last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark here, too, the warehouse scene."

For Bosch, there is a full-scale, amazingly detailed mockup of the LAPD homicide squad's office. Connelly says that during the first season, they shot on location in LAPD headquarters (a testament to his good relationship with the department).

"It got to be a little intrusive, though, so we shot about 5,000 photos so they could duplicate it — even the chipped paint on the doorways," he says, pointing. Desks are cluttered with photos and trinkets and piles of paper. A wood "Homicide" sign, with a tiny body outline, hangs from the ceiling. "They gave us the sign, for authenticity."

Sitting at Bosch's desk, with a sign that says "Get off your a-- and go knock on doors," Connelly talks about the differences between the books and the TV series.

Two of the characters who are markedly different are Chief Irvin Irving, played by Lance Reddick, and Bosch's partner, Jerry Edgar, played by Jamie Hector. Both are much more developed on the TV series, and more sympathetic — especially Irving, Bosch's adversary in the books.

"These are characters that were in my first book," Connelly says, "and every book is a learning experience. In the first books I was all in on creating Harry Bosch, and I was negligent in creating his partner and the command character.

"The show gave me a chance to correct that. In the books, Harry is there all the time. On TV you don't have Bosch in every scene, so you can develop those other characters into something more than cliches."

In the books, Edgar and Bosch are about the same age; on the show, Edgar is younger. "As a reporter I knew a lot of cops, but not as well as I know some now. I've learned that it's actually rare for partners to be the same rank. Usually one is younger and lower in rank. On the show, we went more for real life."

The solitary work of writing novels seems very different from the highly collaborative nature of making a TV series, but Connelly enjoys the swing between them. Of TV, he says, "To me it's easy and it's fun. It's something new. I'm very set in my ways of writing the books. It's a solitary journey. I know how to do it."

When he's in the Bosch writers room or on set, he says, "It reminds me of being in a newsroom 25 years ago, especially the joking and the pranking.

"We have a great writing team. There's a lot of loyalty to the books and the character, and a lot of ingenuity about how to translate them."

The character is the heart of both endeavors for Connelly. "I still have a lot to write about Bosch."

Amid the hubbub of filming, he's working on his next book. (He wrote two last year.) This one will feature Ballard, the new character he's excited about developing. "But Bosch will show up."

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

Why does Amazon's 'Bosch' feel so much like the books? It's Michael Connelly 10/19/17 [Last modified: Friday, October 20, 2017 2:50pm]
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