Exclusive Interview with Southland’s Michael Cudlitz

I’ m so excited. The first season finale of Southland premieres on TNT in just under an hour which means that brand new episodes of the series start in a mere week’s time! New Southland! What more could you ask for?

Well, how about a great chat with one of the costars of the show, Michael Cudlitz. Cudlitz plays John Cooper, the cop who’s part training officer, part partner to Ben Sherman. Known most for his Twitter activity in promoting the show (and helping to get fans in an uproar at NBC’s cancellation), Michael has some great things to say about the show this season.

So take a look at the interview below, where Michael talks about what in store for his relationship with Ben Sherman, his time on Band of Brothers, and even a hysterical anecdote that includes Ben McKenzie…with no pants.

So I’m curious, what attracted you to Southland and the character of John Cooper?

Um, what attracted me to Southland. Hmm…[laughs] What really attracted me to the project and the role was the fact that it was–initially that it was a John Wells project. The fact that John Wells is known for historically putting together just amazing ensembles, large casts, lots of stuff going on, great character-driven storytelling, and the fact that it was taking place in Los Angeles with a subject matter that felt, if he was going to do it, something must have been drawing him to do it because he was going to do it in a new way. Very much in the same light that ER was sort-of a reinvention of the medical drama, which had been done for years. Um, my hope was that this would be, you know, similar in the way it was shot and the way stories were told. And I was not disappointed.

Great. Is there anything–I have heard about John Wells that he makes you guys do a lot of prep work to get ready for the character. What all did you have to do?

Uh, yes, that bastard! [Laughs] He makes us do our homework, everything! Um, we did a lotta, lotta cop research. They hired a technical adviser very early on. His names’ Chic Daniel. His wife, Sheila Daniel, also worked with us. Sheila is retired. She taught at the academy for about 15 years. And Chic is retired LAPD as well; he worked on SWAT, he worked in metro division. He was one of the original members of the first CRASH unit in Los Angeles. When he finished out his career, uh, his attachment would be the DEA running out of Los Angeles airport. So we have an amazing team and access to a lot of retired and serving Los Angeles police, which they created classes–these sort of classic situations for the actors to go through a little mini bootcamp.

[Read more after the jump!]

We spent three days in the classroom, then we spent a couple days doing these things calls “situation simulations,” where they’ll create a situation, you have to go in, assess the threat, and handle it the way you would think you would handle it, at which point they come back in and basically tell you how many which ways of Sunday you get yourself killed, um, and then you take that information as a learning tool and you figure out with their help how to do it correctly. And you kinda never forget that when you do it that way. You’re not reading in a book, you’re actually doing something. Um, after that we went to the firing range. We did some, you know, basic weapons training with the weapon we actually use on the show, and then we did some live fire exercises, where we fired…at the targets, then we did some shooting on the move, where we go from one section to another, and you know, you get to realize how your…shooting and your aim adjusts once you get your heart pumping a little bit and how hard it is to actually focus and fire and hit what you’re trying to hit.

Um, that all culminated in basically individual ridealongs in different divisions with serving–current serving–Los Angeles police officers. That for me was the most amazing thing of the entire training because you get to spend time with these officers just doing police work, and if you’ve ever have the chance to do one or if you ever get a chance to do one, I highly highly recommend it.

Yeah, that sounds pretty awesome.

It is, it is.

So you particularly work really closely with Ben McKenzie. How is that and did you guys hit it off right away?

Yeah, it’s awesome. Yeah. Yes. Yes, it was awesome. And yes, we hit it off right away. Um, we just–we just clicked. Like, uh, it’s very interesting, too, because we’re in two very completely different places in our lives. I’m, I think, thirteen years older than him? Um, and different places in our careers, um, but that being said, we both have the same sort-of–we approach the work the same way, and we agree pretty much on 80-90 percent on what we, you know, the work that we do on the show. We know what the show is about. We know what the scenes are about. We both come at them from the same aesthetic, so, uh, it’s been a really wonderful collaborative working experience.

That’s great. And your character has actually been a mentor of sort for Ben’s character so far. What can we expect to see in the new episodes starting on March 2?

Well, continuation of the same. I think that what happens is as the training progresses, he becomes a better officer, speaking of Ben, and when he becomes less in need of the constant hammering of the training, it becomes time in the relationship where we can actually open up to each other and start sharing things personally. Become more partners than we do, uh, sort-of a training officer/student relationship. So the balance kind of shifts a little bit. Because I allow it too. And there’s an interesting relationship that starts to evolve between the two characters that I think the audience is going to be very satisfied with because it is, uh, it is a trading off of the power in the relationship. It is not so much the sort-of training officer beating down the rookie so much as there’s two people in the car kinda dancing around each other, figuring out how to approach these very intense things that are going on in their lives, both personally and professionally.

Yeah, so speaking of your–the two of you learning the more personal sides of each other, Cooper’s been one of the tougher characters but we’re starting to see a little more of his personal side. I’m wondering, too, whether some of the squad is going to be finding out about any of his secrets any time soon. Any hints you can give us?

Well, I would say that, um, I don’t think there’s as many secrets as, you know, for the rest of the squad as there is for the audience.

I guess by secrets, I mean more things he’s hiding from others. The homosexuality angle…

Well, yeah, I get that. I don’t, uh, that’s just… There’s his personal life which is his personal life, but his relationship status and his sexuality and things like that–and things that are not specifically haven’t been talked about directly on the show–I would argue that he is definitely out of the closet. And it’s just not been talked about.

Ok. That’s great. And what do you want to see for him in the future?

I want to see it keep going in the direction it’s going. I do want to see the personal, you know, more of the personal lives… When you see the second episode [of the new season], there’s this horrific event that takes place. And you can see how they both–Ben and I–how we take that home. I think there’s a lot of strength in the storytelling to do a little more of that. And you’ll see what I mean early on, it starts out with this just horrendous crime, and then you sort-of ask yourself, how when you get home–how, how are these guys getting through this day? That, I think, is fascinating to watch because that is what we want to see. You know, if they could take a Special Victims Unit-type thing and, like, the crimes are horrific and we know it’s going to be a horrific crime every week, but how do you–how do you go home and tuck your kids in at night after that? That–that to me is the connection that I want to see more of. I want to see these guys a little bit more of how these crimes are directly affecting what’s going on with them at home.

Yeah, no, that sounds completely intriguing to me. I look forward to seeing that episode.

I love it.

So I have to ask the Twitter question because you are clearly very active on Twitter.

[laughs]

How’s it feel to be so close to the fans, and was it a hard decision when cancellation with NBC and the questionable pickup with TNT–was it a big decision to really put yourself in the forefront and try to get people to band behind you?

Um, I don’t think I made a decision. I think you guys made that decision. [laughs] I think I was put in the forefront, which for this fight I’m very happy to be close to the front on. I’m just–you know, from the beginning when I got on Twitter, I don’t know how long you’ve followed or if you started following once I made those comments, but I was just saying that basically I’m going to tweet about the show, I’m going to send pictures about the show, and give you guys information. So I was speaking to a very specific audience who felt very strongly about the show when I said what I said. Um, so, it was–it was–it was a, I guess you could say, a tool that I had at my disposal to sort of help direct everybody to take their frustration. It’s like, you know what? Don’t tell me how pissed you are about it. You’re already on the internet right now writing to me. You know what? Just change the address. Send it to them. You know, and then you might actually have some effects because telling me you’re pissed off about the show, that’s preaching to the choir. So I just sort of said, you know what? Go find all the blogs, anybody who writes an article, anybody who posts something–go tell them that you’re pissed off or how you support the show because that might actually make a difference because we found out within hours of the cancellation that there were people interested in buying the show. And what I took from that was, you know what? Now is the time to let people know that there is a huge fanbase, not, oh there might be a deal pending, you know, let’s let everybody know. Let’s let them know now. Let’s make a bunch of noise right now. And I, you know, I didn’t know how many people were going to respond or do it or take me seriously or whatever, but um, apparently, a lot of people took my advice. And it was very, as I’ve said earlier today, it was very humbling to realize that I had had that kind of effect on that many people, you know, with something that we both felt so passionately about. So, it was cool. It still is cool. I love it.

I actually, I love being this close and this accessible to the fans because I find that they are very respectful of my time. By my time, I mean, they know that I’m not sort-of at their beckon call because they’re fans of the show. They know that if I have a moment, um, you know, they’re going to give me a hard time or ask me an actual question or whatever, and I’ve had very few people sort-of cross over the line and, you know, think that I’m their personal pool boy or someone is going to go to extraordinary means to come visit them in Saskatchewan or wherever the heck they are because, you know, they supported the show so now I need to get on a plane and come see them. Everyone–they get it. They get what it is, and they enjoy the time, or they seem like they enjoy the time and the connection that we make.

That’s really great. I think few celebrities can say that about their fans, honestly. So one of the most memorable roles that you’ve had beyond Southland is Bull in Band of Brothers. How was that experience?

That was amazing.

And both of these are very gritty shows–is this something you look for?

Eh, no. I think gritty stories lend themselves to film and television. I mean, you know, I think that that’s, uh, it’s good storytelling. You know, wars, hospitals, police departments–you know, there’s drama happening there. High stakes drama. And if it’s done well, there’s nothing more intriguing.

Band of Brothers was amazing at a lot of different levels because, you know, that’s a project that’s, very much like Southland, I was interested and I said, Oh my gosh. Here’s a project from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg about World War II guys. They just did Private Ryan. This is going to be really good. It about a big group of guys. They’re going to handle this well. They’re not going to screw up the material. You know, it was very, a lot of real selfish, actor reasons, you know, got me into the project. Once we read the material and realized what the project was, you sort of go, Oh my gosh, this is–we have a lot of responsibility here to these men, and these families are still alive. You know, I’m going to be talking to the guy I’m playing next week, you know? What do you say to him? What do you say to his wife? The 80-, 81-year-old veteran that you’re portraying in a mini-series that’s going to represent probably one of the most significant experiences or events in American history, and one which, quite frankly, most of these guys would rather forget and just move on.

It was humbling. It was mind-blowing. And it still to this day remains the most amazing thing I’ve ever been involved with in my entire life.

Wow. High compliments.

Well, we’re actually going out the…weekend of March 6. There’s a benefit for anyone who reads this, there’s a benefit at Curt Schilling’s house to raise some money to help document some of the other guys who were not–who’s stories specifically were not told who are still around. To make sure that they can, you know,  get these stories out of what happened. It’s very wonderful and very cathartic for the men because they come from a generation–and the women that served both home and overseas–they were a generation that came home, and it was ok to forget everything. They were the heroes. They beat the bad guys. Hey, forget about it. Here’s great financing on a house. Here’s a job. We love you. Welcome home. Not too many other wars since then have the men and women who have served been welcomed in that way. The problem with that is that it tends to make you bury things because you don’t deal with them. You don’t talk about it. You don’t deal with it. You move on. And it’s very, very important that we as Americans and people realize that there’s a lot of pain that’s still there, that these men are still dealing with or have not dealt with. And these projects and the acceptance and sort-of telling–you know, you tell one man’s story, you’ve told a thousand men’s stories because they all had similar experiences. It’s very, very important to get these stories out while these men are still alive for them and also for their families.

Yeah, that’s really great. …Are there any behind the scenes moments at Southland that stick out as your favorite?

Behind the scenes, um, there’s the episode that um… [laughs] Yes, as a matter of fact, behind the scenes. They, um–Ben and I kept talking about when we’re working on the show and it’s summertime, and you know, we’re in the car and they’re shooting across the two of us in uniform. We always have to be in full uniform the whole time because the nature of the show, the way we speak with which we work, and we kept joking about how, you know, “Man, if this were any other TV show, and you know, we were on second year, whatever, we’d be in here–we’d have our shirts on, and we’d be in shorts and tennis shoes. No gun belts because you never see ‘em, you know. It’d be great.”

So we were shooting the fourth episode of the second season, and we’re out in Palm Springs, and Ben’s like, “Hey, this is the time where we can do it.” It’s like, what? “This is the time that we can do it. We can actually–we get in the car; we don’t have to put our pants on, we can be in shorts.” “Well, we don’t have any shorts.” Well, he’s like, “Well, let’s do it, just do it in our underwear.” I go, “That would be a great story. That’d be awesome.” So we go to change and I’m like, “You know what, dude? I got a bad feeling about this. I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.” I go, “I’m not gonna…I’m gonna…I’m gonna put the whole uniform on.” He’s like, “Ok, well, I’m doing it. I’m doing it.”

…So we’re all laughing at the fact that he’s standing there on the side of the freeway. Just the shirt, no pants. Jump in the car, go ahead and start shooting, and they’re like, “Eh, no, we’re panning down and we see, we see his legs, we see the things.” So here we are, completely ready to go, we have a California hghway patrol escort, we’ve shut down the highway. I’m sitting there in full uniform, and Ben McKenzie [laughs] is hopping around on the side of the freeway trying to put his pants on because we can tell that he’s not wearing any in the shot.

[laughs] Yes, that would definitely be what I was looking for.

Yeah, that would be one of my favorite behind-the-scenes moments is when we tried to get the pants-off shot and it didn’t work and he had to get dressed on the side of 15.

So it sounds like you and your cast have a lot of fun doing the show.

It’s a blast. For as intense as the work is and as dark as the work is, yeah, in between is very light, and we keep it that way probably as a coping device for us because the subject matter is so intense sometimes.

Well, that’s great. Well, thanks so much for talking with me.

Thanks for having me.

And I look forward to seeing more of Southland, and I’ll see you on Twitter.

Awesome. Take care.

*****

Don’t forget to watch Southland on TNT Tuesday nights. New episodes start March 2. And while you’re waiting, check out other exclusive interviews here on Raked with Southland‘s Ben McKenzie and Tom Everett Scott!

*images from TNT and tircuit.com

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