Author Michael Connelly on Bringing Harry Bosch to the Screen
In 1992, a seasoned crime reporter named Michael Connelly published his first novel, the story of a body in a drainpipe, a bank robbery, and police corruption, based partly on a true crime that had occurred in LA. Featuring Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, a Vietnam vet turned LAPD detective, The Black Echo won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, established Connelly as a new voice in the mystery/thriller world and Bosch as one of the more complex characters in modern crime fiction.
Now, more than a dozen novels later, Bosch is coming to the little screen. Amazon Studios has produced the first episode in a hoped-for series entitled Bosch, co-written by Connelly and with Titus Welliver (who has also appeared in Argo and The Good Wife) as Connelly's maverick detective. In the pilot, Bosch investigates the murder of a 13-year-old boy while facing accusations that he, too, is a murderer.
The pilot episode is available for free. (More Amazon Studios pilots can be viewed at AmazonOriginals.com; Amazon solicits votes from viewers to determine which pilots will become a series.) Bosch is already finding an audience: the pilot has received more than 3,000 five-star ratings.
Recently, we spoke with Connelly by email to find out how it feels to see Bosch brought to life.
You’ve been down this road before, with The Lincoln Lawyer. But Bosch is your man, your best-known character. Any parental concerns about setting him loose onto the screen?
There were many concerns initially. My process in the past was to do due diligence on the producers interested in my stuff and then hand it off to the people I thought most likely to be loyal to it. That worked very well with The Lincoln Lawyer. But with Bosch I had a twenty-year investment of creativity and he is really the character I am all about as an author. So when it came to making a deal my terms were pretty simple and unalterable: If you want Bosch you have to take me, too, and I am going in to safeguard how this character will be presented and I am going to have a say in every decision I want to have a say in. I got lucky and found a partner who said that’s a deal, we want you to have a say.
Describe your role in the process. As executive producer, did you sit on set and drink coffee, or were you actively involved in the development (in addition to the writing)?
I was very involved in most dimensions of the project. It began with the writing but went into casting, production, locations. I was the one who suggested Titus Welliver as an actor to play Bosch. I found every location in the opening sequence, right down to the house the suspect Harry is following comes out of. So it was really great because I was not demanding to do these things. I was invited. The showrunner, Eric Overmyer, and our fellow executive producer, Henrik Bastin, wanted this level of involvement from me. We want readers of the books to look at this and feel it is right in line with the books.
There are risks to bringing a well-known character to TV or film. (See Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher). What was your biggest fear about the page-to-screen translation?
You know what’s weird is that I had so much involvement in all aspects of this that it left me without an out. If people don’t like it or the critics trash it, I can’t point the finger and say Hollywood ruined my book. I have to point the finger at myself because what we did here is what I want. I regret nothing about this pilot or the choices we made. I think it’s a loyal and pretty wonderful adaptation of Harry Bosch and his Los Angeles. So to me the risk is what if I am wrong. But it’s still a risk I am willing and happy to take.
The biggest challenge of this whole thing was making the jump from a very internal character on the page to an actor on screen that can communicate those internal goings on. Harry doesn’t say a lot in the books, but he feels a lot and he observes and thinks a lot. How do we get that on the screen without Harry talking and describing his every thought? It was hard but I think we found the answer in Titus. I knew it from the first day I met him. From the first hour. He has an internal intensity that comes out in subtle ways but it does come out. His look doesn’t necessarily match the Harry of the books. His eyes are not piercingly dark but those eyes are metaphor in the books. Here we have the real thing, a flesh and blood character whose eyes certainly convey that inner darkness and pain and resolve. There is a lot going on there and that’s what I wanted. I think in just this one episode he has taken on an ownership of Bosch and I am really looking forward to seeing where he goes with it. In fact, I can’t wait.
I think number one on my list is the controversial portrayal of Philip Marlowe by Elliott Gould. I loved The Long Goodbye (1973) and watch it every year. Another one I watch is Steve McQueen as Bullitt (1968) which many people don’t realize was based on a book. I also love the 1980 adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s The Black Marble in which Robert Foxworth played the ne’er do well Sgt. Valnikov. I thought that was great and he was perfect. There’s Paul Newman as Harper (nee Archer in the Ross MacDonald books). More recently I thought Russell Crowe’s embodiment of Bud White in L.A. Confidential was a fantastic realization of the character in James Ellroy’s novel. I could go on and on. I love it when a character from a crime novel really comes to life on film. Last one: William Petersen as Will Graham in Manhunter (1986), based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon.