Michael Imperioli loves detective work in 'Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector'

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

Emmy-winning actor Michael Imperioli loves playing detectives.

“Being a big city detective is a really great gig. It’s just a very prestigious, very exciting, very respected job, and it’s something that’s different everyday,” said Imperioli, 53. “There’s a swag to being a detective. When you meet them and spend time with them, you really see it. It’s not easy to be a detective, not easy to get that gold shield.”  

Although best known for playing mobster Christopher Moltisanti on the 1999-2007 grounding-breaking mob drama “The Sopranos,” the New York native has also played his share of detectives. He played Det. Ray Carling on 2008-09’s “Life on Mars.” One of his better-known roles is Det. Louis Fitch on 2010-11’s “Detroit 1-8-7,” the first TV series to be set and filmed in Detroit.

Michael Imperioli as Det. Mike Sellitto and Russell Hornsby as Lincoln Rhyme on "Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector."

Currently, he plays Det. Mike Sellitto on NBC’s “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector,” which ends its first season Friday with a 2-hour finale.

“To me, Sellitto’s a tribute to the NYPD, which I consider the greatest crime-fighting force in the world,” said Imperioli. “I’m very proud to represent them.”

Based on the series of novels by New York Times best-selling author Jeffery Deaver (which was adapted into a 1999 movie called “The Bone Collector,” starring Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie), the titular Rhyme (Russell Hornsby, “Grimm”) is a brilliant NYPD detective who’s injured in the line of duty and becomes a quadriplegic.

On the TV series, the Bone Collector (Brian O’Byrne, “Prime Suspect”), a cunning serial killer, is responsible for Rhyme’s paralysis. Rhyme recruits Officer Amelia Sachs (Arielle Kebbel, “Ballers”) as his eyes and ears in the field as the Bone Collector re-emerges in the first episode. Sachs is paired with Sellitto, Rhyme’s former partner.

Throughout the first season, the Bone Collector returns to play his sick, deadly games with Rhyme, always one step ahead of him. However, Rhyme and Sachs learn that the Bone Collector – who was forced to murder his wife (Claire Coffee, “Grimm”) when she learned who he was – is really Peter Taylor, someone Rhyme met years earlier as seen in flashbacks. In the finale, Rhyme’s team take the fight to him, but not without deadly consequences.

“It’ll lead up to a conclusion that’ll be satisfying,” said executive producer Mark Bianculli. “Season 1 will have a very satisfying ending.”

Unlike Hornsby and Kebbell, Imperioli didn’t read the novels nor see the movie. It was the strength of Bianculli and V.J. Boyd’s script for the pilot that drew him in. Imperioli based Sellitto on two detectives he knows, which grounded the character.

Michael Imperioli plays Det. Mike Sellitto on "Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector," the season finale of which airs Friday.

“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,” he said. “That always helps me to find a real, living kind of example… someone I can look at in life – how he dresses, his posture, how he behaves, and put that all together.”

 Imperioli reminisced about his time on “The Sopranos,” calling it a "brilliant show."

“When we started shooting the first season, every script kept getting better and deeper and more intricate. There was a wider canvas and we started saying, ‘Wow, this really is something special,’” he recalled. “(Creator David Chase) conceived a brilliant show with great characters, great stories, and great writing. The cast was something that would get together once in a lifetime… There was something about that group coming together that made a little magic. I think people felt that.

“What’s interesting about ‘The Sopranos’ is a whole new generation of people are watching it. I never expected that… You never know if something’ll transcend generations. People watched it Sunday nights when it (originally) aired and they had parties and ate pizza and made pasta and watched it with their friends – they’re all of a certain age, like my age; some are a little older, some are a little younger, but it’s my generation,” said Imperioli. “Now it’s not on Sunday nights; it’s (streaming or on DVD). That’s been really cool, talking to kids in college who are binge-watching ‘The Sopranos’ – I think that’s really satisfying.”

Imperioli lived in Royal Oak during his “1-8-7” days. His character was a brilliant yet enigmatic detective who moved from New York City to Detroit when his family was threatened by a mob boss, whom he kills in the series finale. Imperioli was happy that Fitch’s story arc was concluded.

“We were very proud of the show. It was disappointing that it didn’t become as big a success as we hoped. It was a big success in Michigan, that’s for sure. Everybody in Michigan was certainly watching,” he said. “For me, it was a great experience because I felt a lot of love from people. It made it a very nice experience for me. I have a special relationship with Detroit and Michigan.”

 Initially, people were skeptical about “1-8-7” because they thought it would be a very negative portrayal of Detroit, said Imperioli.

“When people started watching the show, overwhelmingly, they felt it was a very fair portrayal and that was because of the writers. We were actually shooting in Detroit rather than doing it in a studio and coming to shoot exteriors once in awhile,” he said. “We spent time there and really tried to tailor the stories to the city rather than make it some generic cop show. And we really got to see what was going on in Detroit. We shot down there, we got to know people, and got to see what’s going on. That made it specific – it wasn’t just another murder-of-the-week cop show. I think the people of Detroit and the surrounding areas really appreciated that.”

'Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector'

8 p.m. Friday