Interesting insights into his childhood and parents.
|October 12, 1997 |
AUDIENCE page 1E
FINDING HIS OWN BEAT TITUS WELLIVER, SON OF A FAMOUS FATHER, GETS A BADGE
|Growing up in Maine, Titus Welliver thought he'd be a painter, just like his famous father, Neil Welliver. But then his famous dad stepped in and helped change his mind. |
The metamorphosis came after Titus drank and caroused his way through his first year of college. His father, none too pleased, made Titus move into the guest cottage at the family's home in Lincolnville, gave him with several months worth of books and told him to read every one. When the introspection was done, Welliver's father asked him whether he now knew what he wanted to do with his life. Welliver told his father he didn't want to paint anymore. He might try acting.
His father - never hesitating - gave Welliver some money and a bus ticket to New York. Sixteen years later, Welliver is starring as a veteran cop on this season's most talked about new show, ``Brooklyn South,'' on CBS. The show airs Mondays at 10 p.m.
``My mother and father both have a constant hunger for knowledge, and that's what they encouraged in me,'' said Welliver, who now lives in Los Angeles but returns frequently to Lincolnville, where he owns a house. ``I may have trained with David Mamet (the playwright), but my education was really at home with my parents.''
At 35, Welliver is sure his father helped put him on the right track. After years of acting in theater and having small parts in films and television, Welliver has a plum TV role and a promising film in the works.
``Brooklyn South'' is a classic ensemble drama, in the ``Hill Street Blues'' tradition, with a cast of mostly unknowns playing beat cops in a tough section of Brooklyn. The show has earned critical raves for its flair and tight writing, and stirred controversy with its graphic violence.
If ``Brooklyn South'' becomes a hit with audiences, Welliver may become more famous than his father. That would be all right with Neil Welliver, who says fame has never been an issue with his family.
``It's something we never talked about. My boys saw me working, but that was it,'' he says. ``They would complain that I worked too much.''
Titus Welliver was 11 when his father moved the family to Lincolnville from Philadelphia. His father, considered America's best landscape painter, commuted to the University of Pennsylvania periodically to teach and then would return to Maine to paint.
Titus, bundled from head to toe, would sit in the snow-covered woods with his father for hours as the elder Welliver captured a strand of birches on his canvas. ``He'd drag me out there, and we'd spend three or four hours in the snow,'' Welliver recalled. ``My father goes to hell and back when he's painting.''
Welliver said his father and mother, Norma Welliver, both continually push themselves to learn. So when Welliver felt unchallenged at school, his parents would load him up with books.
Neil said he knew his son had acting potential early on. He remembers Titus being about 6 years old when Edwin Denby, the noted dance critic, came to visit. ``Titus did this impression of Edwin's voice that was dead on,'' Neil said. ``Edwin heard it and said, `That boy belongs in the theater.' ''
As a child, Welliver was in school plays but didn't think he had any more acting aptitude than his fellow students. ``I had the standard roles - the teddy bear in the Christmas play, town crier number three, that sort of thing,'' he said.
His mother, a fashion illustrator, enrolled him in a summer acting workshop in Boston when he was 13. He started to enjoy acting, so he tried out for high school plays at the private Oak Grove-Coburn School in Vassalboro, which is now closed.
Welliver remembers being buoyed by the fact that many of his parents' friends saw him in plays and thought he was good. Most of his parents' friends knew a thing or two about the arts.
Still, Welliver said he thought he wanted to be a painter. So after high school, he went off to Bennington College in Vermont, figuring he'd get a liberal arts education and then go to art school.
But his poor academic showing brought more books from his father, what Titus calls ``Neil Welliver's inward bound program.'' The reading and soul-searching convinced Welliver that art wasn't his heart's desire - acting was.
In New York, Titus' work resume spanned the horizon of blue-collar labor: construction worker, assistant cook, shoe store clerk, bouncer, bartender, martial arts teacher and cab driver. While working, he studied acting with private teachers and eventually got a bachelor's degree in performing arts from New York University.
Welliver did plays for no money for years until he finally got an agent in the late 1980s. His first film role was in ``Navy SEALS'' (1990), playing a redneck who loses a bar fight to Charlie Sheen. In ``The Doors'' (1991), he played a cop at a Doors concert who sprays mace in Val Kilmer's face.
Welliver's promising career almost stalled in 1991, when one of his four brothers, Eli, was murdered in Thailand in an apparent robbery attempt. A thief had laced his beer with heroin. After Eli's death, Welliver stopped auditioning for parts and didn't want to do anything. But after a while, Welliver said he realized his brother would be furious with his moping.
``So I got up and started looking for work again,'' Welliver said. ``But with the success I've had comes a longing for him to be part of it. If there's any truth to what they write in the good book, he's looking down with a grin and a big thumb's up.''
In the past few years, Welliver has had guest roles on TV shows such as ``L.A. Law,'' ``The X Files,'' ``Murder One'' and ``NYPD Blue.'' On ``NYPD Blue'' he played the recurring role of an emergency room surgeon. It was there that he caught the eye of producer Steven Bochco, the dean of cop-show creators known best for ``Hill Street Blues.'' So when Bochco and his partners decided to start a new cop show about patrol officers, they talked to Welliver about a role.
Bill Clark, a former New York police offer and supervising producer of ``Brooklyn South,'' said he was impressed with Welliver's versatility as an actor.
``This is a show where, rather than a role fitting an actor, the actors have to fit the role,'' Clark said from his Los Angeles office. ``Titus is real versatile. There isn't any area his character might go that he can't handle.''
Welliver plays Jack Lowery, a patrolman with 11 years on the force. He's in a horrible marriage ``with this shrew hydra,'' Welliver says, and early in the show he gets in trouble at work. He's investigated by internal affairs in connection with the death of a murder suspect.
The show has gotten a lot of press for its graphic violence and for being even more in-your-face than ``NYPD Blue.'' The first episode, which aired Sept. 22, earned an MA (mature audiences) rating for a nine-minute murderous shooting spree.
Welliver admits the violence is ``pretty brutal'' but says it's not there for shock value alone.
``The depiction of violence is like (Martin) Scorsese's; it's there to show how quick and immediate violence is,'' Welliver said, referring to the famous film director. He adds that the show is so well-written that speaking the lines is like ``doing Shakespeare. It's the writing that makes this show so good.''
So far, critics like the show.
Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe wrote that the show ``delivers memorable characters, rich neighborhood atmosphere, and provocative thematic depth.'' He added that the acting is ``well above average, and if the series succeeds these men will no doubt achieve the popularity of once-unknown actors like Dennis Franz and David Caruso.''
Welliver said he readied for the role of a cop by ``hanging out'' with cops in New York. He went with officers as they served warrants and rode around on patrols.
Welliver says he hopes ``Brooklyn South'' goes on for years, although filming often lasts 14 to 16 hours a day. The show's network, CBS, has committed to running the show for 13 weeks. If the network likes it, they'll run another nine shows this season.
Though Welliver lives most of the year in Los Angeles, he considers Maine home. He's engaged to actress Joanna Heimbold, and the couple plans to marry in Maine next year.
He said his house in Lincolnville - where he spends summers, holidays and occasional long weekends - is a sanctuary of peace and quiet. That's partly because locals don't tell tourists and autograph hounds where the Wellivers live.