During the ’90s, a string of hit dark serial killer movies flooded theatres – including the serial killer spectacular Silence Of The Lambs (1991) featuring cannibal killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The Bone Collector (1999) closed out the decade with a dazzling performance from Denzel Washington as detective Lincoln Rhyme and Angelina Jolie as young rookie cop Amelia Donaghy, from the Jeffery Deaver Bone Collector series of novels. Turning a cult classic like that into a TV show was never going to be an easy task, with just a handful of other shows making that book-to-movie-to-series jump successfully. Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series (2013-2015) being a stand-out.
Now imagine taking on a role that was made famous by an actor considered the finest of his generation. Add to that the physical challenge of playing a character who is a tetraplegic (paralysed from the neck down). We’re talking deep-sea abyss levels of pressure. But Russell Hornsby wanted the role of veteran police detective and criminologist Lincoln Rhyme enough to shrug off the weight of expectation. And thanks in a large part to his performance, the new series Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt For The Bone Collector has come to life onscreen, rather than getting toe-tagged and shoved in TV’s morgue drawer.
The show also benefits from a strong supporting cast and the clever writing team who’ve managed to keep the story updated for the current times. ”I recognise, respect and honour what the movie did, but I also realise that, when you’re doing a television series, it’s definitely something different and more in-depth”, says Russell.
The spatter’s on the wall
The series centres on veteran detective Lincoln, a man who could be classified as a modern day Sherlock Holmes. He sees every single detail at crime scenes, and has a knack of connecting the blood-soaked dots quicker than everyone else. His abilities soon pitch him against a notorious serial killer, The Bone Collector, who has been terrorising New York City for years. After events that almost lead to the killer’s capture, eagle-eyed detective Lincoln is left paralysed from the neck down after falling through a building, and he’s forced to quit his police work.
Fast-forward three years. Rookie cop Amelia Sachs (Arielle Kebbel) comes across a crime scene that eerily resembles The Bone Collector’s work. She brings the case to the now bed-ridden Lincoln, dragging him out of retirement. Lincoln will team up with the spritely and eager Officer Sachs, who’ll act as his eyes and ears in the field thanks to some nifty technology. However, going from being a brilliant detective who’s always managed to anticipate his suspect’s next move, to being a tetraplegic who can never do as much as he wants, is never easy.
Standing up to lying down
“It presents a great challenge. Having a medical consultant, Gary Baisley, who is, himself, a c-5/c-6 quadriplegic, is very helpful for me. The challenge, for me, as an actor, is really about patience overall”, states Russell. "He (Gary) is on set every day that I'm working, and he's there to monitor my physicality or lack thereof and to make sure that I'm being authentic and that everything comes from an organic place. I also went to some of his physical training sessions and met other quads (quadriplegic patients) as well to get an idea of their sensibilities and how they think,” he adds.
As a performer, Russell has had to place more emphasis on how he’s saying things rather since he can no longer underline those statements with gestures. “What I have to focus on are the words”, says the 46-year-old actor. Russell continues, “I learnt from doing Shakespeare, that above all, the text is sacred. You have to use the words for tone, for emphasis. Now it becomes about a look – about an elongated stare. It becomes about how do you drag out a word, or shorten a phrase? It’s really using every part of my acting ability to convey the emotions and sensibilities of Lincoln Rhyme.”
Lincoln might be stuck in bed most of the time (when he’s not in his specialised full-body wheelchair, but he’s no object of pity for the audience, and he’s certainly no pushover. At times, Lincoln even comes off as arrogant and unpleasant due to his incredible intelligence. “If you play it right, it’s interesting, but it also creates conflict, and it gives the character somewhere to go and, possibly, somewhere to come back from. You want a character that’s possibly unlikeable, or that people have to warm up to because that gives audiences something to lean into”, says the Shakespeare-trained Russell.
In an era when we can’t swing a cat through a TV schedule without having it fingerprinted and getting its motives analysed, Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt For The Bone Collector brings a breath of fresh air to the procedural drama.
And don’t let the long name scare you off. “It has an incredibly long name,” admits Russell, “But now, what we’re looking to do is set up an anthology. As the show gets better and we show more episodes, it’ll catch on. Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt For The Bone Collector is just what it is. Hopefully, next season will be Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt For The Burning Wire, or The Skin Collector, or The Steel Kiss, or whatever that may be. So I’m excited about what the future holds.”
Watch Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt ForThe Bone Collector S1 Wednesdays on M-Net (DStv 101) at 21:00 or on Catch Up.
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