There’s a moment in “The Old Man” when FBI agent Angela Adams (Alia Shawkat) refers to confrontational CIA operative Raymond Waters (EJ Bonilla) as “The nosiest motherf—er in the history of the CIA.”
“They wrote Raymond to be the kind of guy who is so willing to stick to his morals and his view of the world that he’s willing to turn in his bosses,” Bonilla, 33, told The Post about his role in “The Old Man,” a gripping FX spy drama starring Jeff Bridges. “He’s unafraid to question anyone regardless of status or stature or role.”
Waters needs to embody that mindset, since he’s tasked with finding Dan Chase (Bridges) in the seven-episode series airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. (and streaming on Hulu) adapted from Thomas Perry’s 2017 novel.
Chase, a rogue CIA operative who vanished in 1987, is living quietly as a small-town widower under an assumed name while dealing with the aches and pains of aging (including an enlarged prostate). He suddenly finds himself on the run after being flushed out of hiding by his onetime ally, Afghani warlord Faraz Hamzad, on whose side he fought after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Now, 30 years later, he’s being chased by Waters and by top-tier FBI chief Harold Harper (John Lithgow) — his ex-boss — and Harold’s loyal FBI protege, Angela, she of the pithy quote about Waters.
“There’s something about [Waters] that’s extremely endearing to me,” said the Brooklyn-born-and-raised Bonilla (“Bull,” “The Long Road Home,” “Unforgettable”). “The creators … absolutely gave me the freedom to do with him as I chose. [His qualities] are so necessary in a world of espionage and lies where you have to be willing to look under any rock to find an answer. I’m in love with how inquisitive and curious Raymond is and that he’s unafraid to be quiet … and to look like a fool.”
Bonilla and Lithgow share a lot of screen time; from the get-go, Waters suspects Harper of hiding something about Chase (he’s right) — and confronts him despite the much-older FBI assistant director’s bona fides.
“There’s an amazing scene between Harper and Ray Waters where Harper says something along the lines of, ‘You know, I used to do that when I was an agent,’ ” Bonilla said. ” ‘Sometimes I’d ask a question to hear the answer, sometimes just to hear what they didn’t say.’ I tried to ingrain that into Waters; there’s a lot more going on than words, which are what we choose to say. [Words] are empty vessels filled with meaning, and what’s not being said is far more interesting and often more important.
“Honestly I was a huge fan of his before I met him,” he said of Lithgow, 76. “I went to the casting director’s office for a callback … and when I was in her office I saw John’s picture behind her and I was like, ‘Wow!’ I’m a huge fan of [Lithgow’s old NBC sitcom] ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ and John is easily one of the most intelligent humans I have ever met. He makes it very easy to be present in the scene; if you ever feel lost, all you have to do is find his eyes and he’s grounded — he’s right there.”