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Titus Welliver: Tough opponent on 2 drama series

The Associated Press, Monday, November 22, 2010, 4:00am (PST)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Titus Welliver knows how to mix it up.

On CBS' legal drama "The Good Wife," he stirs the pot in his recurring role as State Attorney Glenn Childs, a sleek political beast now waging an election battle against prior officeholder Peter Florrick (Christopher Noth) while regularly butting heads with Peter's attorney-wife (series star Julianna Margulies).

That's not all.

Appearing opposite himself in the same time slot (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST), Welliver this season has raised Cain on FX's motorcycle-gang actioner "Sons of Anarchy." He plays Jimmy O'Phelan, a cold-blooded Irish Republican Army gunrunner who will stoop to anything, including child abduction, to get the job done.

Last spring, in the final episodes of ABC's "Lost," Welliver clashed with his twin brother as The Man in Black, bringing human form to the mysterious force — aka The Smoke Monster — that had propelled the show's mythology since its earliest days. (He was unprepared for the reaction by "Lost" fans: The day after his first episode aired, he dropped by his neighborhood Starbucks "and several people looked like they might expire from excitement," he marvels.)

Also on Welliver's resume: a pivotal guest shot as a trauma surgeon on "NYPD Blue" in 1995 that led to his casting on "Brooklyn South," "Big Apple" and "Deadwood," more series created by drama auteur David Milch.

Now, he speaks hopefully of making an appearance in "Luck," HBO's upcoming drama from Milch, whom Welliver calls "a father figure to me."

But for the moment he has his hands full shooting his new film, "Man on a Ledge," a thriller starring Sam Worthington and Elizabeth Banks, and, in a couple of weeks, returning to the New York set of "The Good Wife" as its election campaign heats up.

Meanwhile, he can savor his tumultuous run as Jimmy O on "Sons of Anarchy" as it blazes toward its season finale Nov. 30.

"Jimmy is quick with his hands and feet and a gun, and has a bad temper," Welliver says with a laugh. "I would say he has impulse issues."

He's certainly proven to be a worthy foe for members of SAMCRO, the outlaw motorcycle club based in tiny Charming, Calif. They journeyed to Belfast to hunt down O'Phelan and rescue the kidnapped son of the club's vice president, Jax Teller (series star Charlie Hunnam).

The baby, Abel, is now back home safe and sound. But what will be the fate of Jimmy O, who is on the run from the Feds and SAMCRO's vengeance-seeking membership?

"He's a scary guy, but I don't consider him a villain," says Welliver. "I never stigmatize characters when I play them. I think that's an enormous mistake, and it just doesn't work for me."

What does work is the urgency Welliver brings to his roles. With his long face and heavy-lidded blue eyes, he guarantees his characters emerge fully recognized by viewers. His presence on the screen is as distinctive as his name.

About that name: "I think my parents just liked it, but 'Titus' is a hard name to hang on a kid." He lists a few of its raunchy variations with which he was inflicted by the other kids. "It toughened me up pretty quickly."

He adds with amusement that, four centuries ago, Rembrandt named his son Titus. "I used to chide my father" — noted painter Neil Welliver — "about being full of himself."

The 49-year-old Welliver was raised in Lincolnville, Maine, where his father hiked deep into the woods to paint the vistas that awaited.

Though initially he thought he would follow the same artistic calling as his father, he was also interested in acting at a young age. He remembers seeing David Mamet's "American Buffalo" with his parents in his mid-teens. He left the theater bowled over by the raw, natural acting style.

"I said, 'If I was going to be an actor, I would want to act like that: I felt like I was hiding in the room with those guys; they just didn't know I was there.'

"I acted quite a bit in high school," Welliver recalls, "and after an uneventful year in art school, I said to my father, 'I'm not sure that I want to be a painter.' He said, 'If you're not sure, don't do it.'"

As someone who favors a collaborative art form, Welliver says he chose the right career path. But a few years ago, he picked up his paintbrush again.

Like his father (who passed away in 2005), he chooses landscapes as his subject — "but I'm less a landscape painter, the way he was, and more an abstract expressionist."

And even as he acknowledges the contrast between the solitude of painting and an actor's public life, he identifies a common thread that links the two pursuits.

"I see a place that I consider a place of power in nature. Then, back in my studio, I make it up as I go along. I try to re-create the moment when I stood in that place and said, 'That's beautiful! I want to make a painting of that!'

"It's very much about being in the moment," he sums up, "which is how one should also be as an actor."

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FX is owned by News Corp. CBS is owned by CBS Corp.

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Online:

http://www.fxnetworks.com

http://www.cbs.com

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org.

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