'The Bone Collector'

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New TV series is based on best-selling mystery novel

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

When New York Times best-selling novelist Jeffery Deaver created Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic protagonist of his 1997 mystery-thriller “The Bone Collector,” he was supposed to be a one-and-done character.

“My original concept was that he would go through with assisted suicide – a subplot running through the book. That was in my outline. But when I was writing the book itself, I realized readers would be displeased. And my goal is always to keep my audience happy. (It’s a) good thing I kept him alive,” explained Deaver, an alumnus of Fordham University School of Law.

Rhyme has starred in 15 novels and several short stories, the most recent being 2018’s “The Cutting Edge.” In 1999, Denzel Washington played Rhyme in “The Bone Collector,” co-starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie as NYPD Officer Amelia Sachs (Amelia Donaghy in the movie).

On Jan. 10, “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for The Bone Collector” debuted on NBC, with Russell Hornsby as Rhyme, Arielle Kebbelas as Sachs, and Michael Imperioli as Det. Sellitto.

Hornsby didn’t ask Washington, his co-star from 2016’s “Fences,” about playing Rhyme.

“I think (Washington) would’ve said ‘congratulations’ honestly and to do the role – it’s not his anymore. I’m here to honor the Lincoln Rhyme that was on the page in the novels, not whatever Lincoln Rhyme was present in the film. That’s what I’m looking to do,” said Hornsby.

The plot  follows the book: Rhyme, a brilliant detective is injured in the line of duty, rendering him paralyzed, and loses the will to live. However, when Sachs, a rookie cop, discovers a corpse on the railroad tracks, she stops a train to preserve the crime scene. The NYPD consults Rhyme, who’s reinvigorated by this case and impressed by Sachs’ forensic instincts. She becomes his eyes and ears in the field. Their first case is hunting “The Bone Collector,” a cunning serial killer.

“My character’s very pushy, stubborn, and cynical – and so is she, so we’re doing this dance. That’s the challenge, but also the joy and the fun of it,” said Hornsby. “Lincoln thinks he has all the answers. The challenges of being unable to move, he doesn’t realize how that affects him mentally. He begins to see that once he starts working with Amelia.”

The underlying theme throughout the series is “the broken take better care of the broken,” according to Hornsby, Kebbel, as well as executive producers Mark Bianculli and Peter Traugott.

“I don’t know one person who can’t relate to that. We’re all so vulnerable, yet we have to be strong in these moments. What I love about Amelia is it’s not that she doesn’t have fear, it’s that she’s full of fear and she does it anyway,” said Kebbel.

“We found a story about two wounded characters who really needed each other,” said Traugott. “These people really needed each other to heal.”

Bianculli noted Sachs is the greatest departure from the books. “Her parents dying – I hate to say a Batman-esque origin because she watched her parents die – was this (impetus) she dedicated her life to fighting crime in her own way. We just loved that. We loved setting up our characters with great adversity and obstacles inherent to them because we didn’t want to have super-heroes and invincible protagonists – it wasn’t interesting to us,” said Bianculli. “Obviously, Lincoln has a physical disability but that’s really not even his problem; he has huge blind spots to other things that he has to overcome, and Amelia has traumas to overcome as well.”

Added Hornsby: “It’s that sense of ‘I know what you’re going through’ because I am hurting, I can see that in you. What we can’t fix in yourselves, we can help fix in each other. It’s that close thing of a person able to give better advice but they can’t take their own. So that sums it up for me. Because we’re broken, we could see each other’s failings that we couldn’t see in ourselves.”

The creators noted “The Bone Collector” story arc will be finished by the end of the first season. They’ve mined Deaver’s books for subplots and B-stories for the 10 episodes comprising the first season.

“(That) doesn’t mean ‘The Bone Collector’ will go away. We will finish the story, but he may still be around,” hinted Traugott.

In the books, Rhyme and Sachs eventually become lovers. Hornsby doesn’t see the show heading in that direction.

“I don’t think so,” said Hornsby. “I think it’s more of an interesting dynamic to keep things as they are – master and apprentice, if you will. There’s so many stories and angles that you can probe with just that dynamic and not having to complicate it with a lovers theme.”

To research their roles, both Hornsby and Kebbel read Deaver’s books. In fact, Kebbel marked up her copy of “The Bone Collector” with notes. It also gave her an excuse to re-watch the movie.
“After that, it was very important to me to not go back to that,” said Kebbel. “I wanted to bring in an initial foundation that was honoring something that was already built. I wasn’t trying to ignore it was there and do my own thing; I really wanted to start there and then bring my own (version) to the picture.”

Kebbel also spoke to female police officers to authenticate her performance, as what they go through daily differs from their male counterparts. She also went to the shooting range and got into shape, which included learning self-defense.

“I thought it was an incredible script. I felt like I was reading an action movie. It was a page-turner,” she said. “That was something about Amelia where literally my heart was pounding as I was reading her; it was like, ‘I know this woman. I have to tell this woman’s story.’ I felt like my own personal experiences I’d been through, I knew I could use them to bring her to life. I knew how I could infuse my own emotions to show what she was going through in these high-stakes situations, missing loved ones, dealing with PTSD and anxiety disorders. How someone reacts – they can seem totally strong on the outside, but they’re just totally broken on the inside.”

Unlike Hornsby and Kebbel, Imperioli didn’t read the books nor see the movie.

What attracted him to Sellitto was the script, which he found very compelling.

“Even in the pilot script, Sellitto’s part was much more about doing the job, introducing Amelia to Lincoln, and solving the crime, but I was just really attracted to the story and talked about it with the writers where this character could go. It felt like this could have some longevity in terms of keeping things interesting,” said Imperioli. “I based him on two (detectives) I know ... and that just really helped, really grounded him. I’ve done a lot of research about being a detective in New York and the procedures ... how it works and all that stuff ... This was more about finding out who he is.”
Imperioli likened the three main characters to musicians.

“To me, Lincoln Rhyme is the Mozart of detectives. He’s a prodigy that comes along once every 200 years. Sellitto’s like Bruce Springsteen – he’s working class, blue collar, streetwise, old school. Amelia’s like Billie Holiday – that kind of wounded soul,” he said. “To me, Sellitto’s a tribute to the NYPD, which I consider the greatest crime-fighting force in the world. I’m very proud to represent them. I love playing detectives, especially New York City detectives.”

Imperioli compared Sellitto to Det. Lewis Fitch, the lead character he played on the well-received yet short-lived “1-8-7” from 2010-11, filmed in Detroit.

“Sellitto’s not as tightly wound,” he explained. “Fitch was a very tightly-wound guy, a private guy, and played things very close to the vest. Sellitto’s much more of a guy who has a lot of friends on the force, hangs out with a lot of guys on the force, has been to their weddings and their kids’ birthdays – he’s much of more of a guy you can go to the bar and have a beer with. Fitch kept to himself.
He was complicated and had a lot of demons that haunted him.

“Sellitto has a little bit of that in terms of his relationship to Lincoln, what happened to Lincoln, and what maybe Sellitto could’ve done differently so it didn’t happen. He doesn’t carry that much weight as Fitch did.”

While Deaver has offered insight into the TV series, he’s not involved in it; he’s hard at work writing his next two books (one featuring Rhyme and the other featuring tracker Colter Shaw, a University of Michigan alumnus).

“That NBC picked up (‘The Bone Collector’) was a huge – and delightful – surprise,” he said. “After all, this was the network that brought us ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and dozen of my other favorite shows over the years.”

Deaver has high praise for the cast.

“I was familiar with Russell from ‘The Hate You Give’ and ‘Grimm’ and, of course, Michael from ‘The Sopranos’ – Chris (Moltisanti) was one of the most complex, believable, and frightening characters on the show. They are both top-notch actors,” said Deaver.

“I was not extremely familiar with Arielle at the time, but she is the exact image I had in mind for Amelia when I wrote the book, though I recall her character in ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ and then I went back and saw her wonderful performances in ‘Midnight, Texas’ and ‘Ballers.’ It’s a great cast.”



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