Inspired by the best-selling book by Jeffery Deaver, the NBC drama series Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector follows former NYPD detective and forensic genius Lincoln Rhyme (Russell Hornsby), who is still on the hunt for the enigmatic and notorious serial killer, known as The Bone Collector, that set up a trap that left him paralyzed. Now, he’s teamed up with Amelia Sachs (Arielle Kebbel), a young officer whose instincts remind him of his own brilliant skills, and the two are in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a psychopath that always seems to be one step ahead.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Russell Hornsby talked about why it was the right time for him to step into a lead role, what leadership is like on set, the series’ rather long title, what appealed to him about playing Lincoln Rhyme, the challenge of portraying someone with mobility restriction, how his Shakespeare training comes in handy with this role, the dynamic between Lincoln and Amelia, and keeping the cat-and-mouse game interesting for viewers.
Collider: You’ve built a long career, playing supporting roles and characters that are part of an ensemble, and while this TV series has an ensemble, your role is very much a leading role. How does that feel, especially on set? Does it feel like it’s about time, or does it feel like it’s the right time?
RUSSELL HORNSBY: I think it’s a mix of both, quite honestly. It’s about time, and it’s the right time. There’s a saying that says, “Things don’t just happen, things happen just.” I believe that 20-some odd years into a career has prepared me for this time, right now. When you talk about all of the work that I’ve done, up to this point, and how I started, coming from the theater and working with the likes of Andre Braugher and Gabriel Byrne, and all of these people, along the way, where you’re able to watch how other leads lead, it prepares you to be a leader. I honestly believe that being a number one is not just about the acting. It’s a about your leadership, and that you’re willing to take that mantle and lead as such.
At any point did you try to convince the powers that be of the show to shorten the name of the series?
HORNSBY: Initially, it started as just Lincoln, and they realized that it was exceedingly confusing. I honestly believe that it’s one of those things where, in success, people adapt. You have to get people used to something different. It has an incredibly long name. But now, what we’re looking to do is set up an anthology. That’s what I would venture to guess. 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.
When the opportunity to play this character and came your way, what most interested you and excited you about digging into him?
HORNSBY: Honestly, it was the challenge of creating something new for myself. I recognize, respect and honor what the movie did, but I also realize that, when you’re doing a television series, it’s definitely something different and more in depth. Also, it is 20 years later. I wanted to accept the challenge of adding new breath, new life, and new depth to Lincoln Rhyme. I consider myself an actor’s actor, so to speak, and I like to show the various dimensions and levels that I can play at, and this presented that challenge to do that.
Are there aspects of him that have uncovered themselves along the way, that you didn’t necessarily know in the beginning, but you’ve grown to appreciate about this version, as he’s developed?
HORNSBY: What was always there, I appreciated, but what I’m beginning to do is lean into that, a little bit more. What that is, is his confidence bordering on arrogance, and his curt retorts. Those elements are interesting to watch. 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. So, I’m leaning into those aspects of his personality more, as the show has developed.
Playing a character like this seems as though would be something that would interest a lot of actors. Was this a role that you had to audition for and fight for, or did they specifically come to you on this?
HORNSBY: It’s very rare, but fortunately, they came to me and offered the role to me. That’s never happened before, especially for a series regular, and a role of this magnitude. I was very honored that they came to me and thought that much of me and my work to offer it to me. All you really try to do is give your level best and honor the material, as best you can. I’ve always said that I can do the work, if I’m given the opportunity. And so, I have to just be honest and say that I was finally really given an opportunity to shine. I looked at it as a challenge, to rise to the occasion. People have a lot of thoughts and ideas about who Lincoln Rhyme is, and how he should be played and represented. You have to deal with the fact that you’re working in Denzel [Washington]’s shadow, so you have to hit that head on. You can’t run from it. You also have to deal with the fact that, the way he was written, he was white and now he’s black, so people still might feel some way about that. You have to break all of these conventions and molds to really bring something to audiences that they can appreciate, respect and, hopefully, fall in love with.
What’s it been like to also play a character with mobility restriction. How have you worked to figure out that and portray that accurately, and what have you learned about what that type of life experiences is really like for someone?
HORNSBY: 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. That’s why the time was now. Being in my mid-40s and having a different energy, when you get older, you’re more relaxed. I’m more relaxed, as a man over 40, than I would’ve been in my 30s. Being a father, being a husband, just being older, and having to mentor younger people, has given me a lot more patience than I had before. And in having that patience, I was able to just allow myself to be still. There’s that saying, “Peace be still.” Russell has now found an inner peace, so I’m able to really engage in that stillness. That’s really what it is. At the end of the day, as an actor, it all comes down to, you either do it or you don’t. You just have to believe and give over to the role, and you just have to do it. You can prepare all you want and think about all of these other things, but it’s really just about sitting down and applying yourself, and giving over to the role and just doing it.
You’ve previously spoken about your Shakespeare training and the importance of the words and how the text is sacred. When you’re playing a character where you have to take away his physicality and all you have are the words, do you feel like that training comes in handy?
HORNSBY: Without a doubt. That’s truly what I lean on. It’s one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know, if you haven’t had the training. But the fact that I have had the training, I know exactly what I know and what it may take to find this character. You really have to understand that it is about a career. A career is about building blocks, and you need to build to that level of maturity and artistry, just to be able to go back and use the training that you’ve had, and know it’s there and have confidence in it. It’s the same thing with novelists and journalists. As you get older, you develop a greater sense of craft and a greater sense of partiality because you’ve seen more of the world. As journalists, it’s less your opinion and more about, what do the facts say? When we’re younger, it’s all about how we feel about something. But as you get older, your maturity and patience allows you to say, “No, let’s weigh everything, equally.” So, because I’ve had the training, it’s allowed me to find the patience, know what I need to do, know how to properly prepare for a role and a scene, and know exactly how much time I need. That’s by having the training, but also by doing, over the last 20 years.
What do you like about the relationship between Lincoln and Amelia? Why is she someone that he trusts, and in what ways do you think they make each other better?
HORNSBY: I look at it, using the analogy of Star Wars. You can say that Lincoln is Obi-Wan or Yoda, and Amelia is Luke Skywalker, so to speak. It’s that thing of, the force is in you. She is special. She has something. You don’t know what it is, per se, but she has something. And what I like are the dynamics of how they’re two different people. Amelia doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, just yet. The beauty of a show like this is not being afraid of the conflict, and not being afraid of Amelia saying or doing something wrong, and Lincoln saying something about it. And if Lincoln realizes that he said or did something wrong, how does he apologize, in his own way. With character development, he may not apologize the same way that he does, three seasons from now. It’s about getting to those places. How do you get there? Well, it’s conflict, climax and resolution, and learning about each other. I like that they’re in different places in their lives and their development because that creates conflict and makes it interesting. So, there’s the procedural and we get these plots, but we also have these characters. Through conflict and resolution, that’s how we all do better. We learn more about each other. And what I like is that we don’t make it easy for the characters. At the end of the day, every day, it’s not like, “What did you learn today?” It’s open-ended. So, how they make each other better may not show until Season 3 because they have to work towards that.
What have you enjoyed about working with Arielle Kebbel? What does she bring to the table, as a scene partner?
HORNSBY: Arielle is just a very lovely person, a bright woman, and talented. Arielle is Amelia, in her own way. She’s trying to get better by going, “Let’s break this scene down. What are we doing?” She’s feisty, in her own way, as an actress and as a woman. Those are lovely elements that she’s infusing into the character, as part of who Amelia is. And I’m this older veteran actor, who has experienced a lot of different things, so I’m coming to her from that angle, too. There are all of these life elements that we’re bringing into the roles. It’s chemistry. Things just happen. Whatever that is, we have it. You can’t label it. It’s chemistry, but you can’t break down the compounds. You don’t even know what those compounds are. It’s just there, and we’re fortunate that it works. Sometimes you get shows where there is no chemistry. People can be the nicest they could be and they can get along, but there’s no chemistry, or they can hate each other, and the chemistry is great. It’s just that factor that you always look for, in a show, a movie, or a play. We have it, as actors and as people, and we’re able to bring that to the material.
With this show, you have these two characters, with Lincoln Rhyme and the Bone Collector, who are the center of this story, and yet because of the kind of character that the Bone Collector is, you can’t really share the same space very often. What are the challenges of that cat-and-mouse game, knowing that you have to tell that story and keep people interested, even though you’re almost never in the same room together?
HORNSBY: That is the challenge. The challenge is keeping the audience interested, and how we’re doing it is in the writing, keeping everything suspenseful and keeping the story moving. That’s done in the writing, in how it’s shot, and in the editing. Every episode has to basically be a cliffhanger. We’re trying to keep the audience right on the edge, at every turn, especially because they know who the Bone Collector is. You have two people working at opposite ends, trying to find one another, and we have to keep the suspense. It’s challenging, but if you get it right, it’s very, very interesting.
When you spend so much time developing that and building it up, it almost seems like an even bigger challenge is to not have that ending be anti-climactic.
HORNSBY: That’s why it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s not about the where, but the how. How are we getting to where we need to go, and what’s the process? That’s the interesting part. At the end, when they find him, with movies and TV, it’s anti-climactic because you’ve caught up. So, it’s about how you get there. It’s about taking these 10 episodes and taking a ride with us, and seeing how we ended up where we end up. That’s the challenge, that’s the excitement, and that’s the joy. It’s difficult, but we’re trying to do our best and we’re aiming high.
Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector airs on Friday nights on NBC.