Exclusive Interview with Michael Cudlitz of Southland

Hey, remember how I said Southland is returning to TV on January 4? I hope you do, because I’ve seen the first episode, and the show is leaner and more focused than ever. In fact, I think that episode (“Let it Snow”) might be the best one of the entire series so far.

A week or so ago, I had the chance to talk to Michael Cudlitz (Officer Cooper) about the upcoming season. We talked about the changes to the show now that it airs on TNT, the path of his character this season, and a number of other things. Check it out below. I’ll be back with more Southland related stuff later in the week. I hope this show gets support, because I feel really positive about this season. Watch it on January 4. Please. Don’t make me beg.

* * *

The new season of Southland… are they considering this season 2 or season 3?

I think they are advertising it as season 3.

Okay, and if I’m not mistaken, this will be the first season that was created fully under TNT’s umbrella, is that right?

Correct.

S0 did anything change in the way the show was created or filmed or shot, or anything like that, during the production process?

I think the only change that happened from the shows that we were producing before… I understand there were some budget changes, I don’t know exactly what they were; they don’t discuss that with us. But everyone out in the ether world seems to know exactly what it is. I’m always amazed at the sort of information that they have and totally amazed sometimes at how wrong it is. I don’t know the specifics of what the numbers are. I do know that when you’re shooting only ten episodes, you do get a lot more time to prep the season and you get to approach the season shooting just ten episodes so you get to approach it as a whole, with a beginning, middle and end. And I know that everything they have submitted to TNT, nothing has been really changed, or they weren’t told they couldn’t do anything. So, just from a purely practical standpoint, I know that what they call the “notes” sort of process that they would typically go through with another network was pretty painless and from there the outlines were approved and they just started writing the scripts. From what I understand, TNT has left John Wells and company alone, so that in itself is a huge change from being on any network. Other than that, the storytelling is a little more focused than it has been. They’re going to focus on telling the stories through the eyes of myself, Ben Mackenzie, Regina  King, and Shawn Hatosy but that’s not to say that everyone else that was on the cast prior… they’re all going to be around, just maybe not to the degree that they were before. But everyone’s still here and the show is tighter and better than ever in my opinion.

Yeah and you know, you mentioned the ten episode run and the focused nature of the season and I just had the chance to watch the screener a couple of days ago and I thought it was fantastic…

Oh, great!

…and I did notice that it seemed quite a bit more focused and streamlined and I really liked that a lot so I guess that goes to say about the progression of this season and I really think it also speaks to the kind of success that a lot of shows on cable have been having lately with the shorter runs and the more focused storytelling and I’m really looking forward to seeing that in this season.

Oh awesome.  Yeah I also think that it opens up for the studios… Typically a show overseas, I lived in England for a year, and their series would only run ten or thirteen episodes. That’s their typical season, because back kind of a time commitment. So in producing them this long, they still have the option to sell the series as a series with a shorter run overseas and that’s typically what they get over there, so I think it works for everybody.

(read more after the jump)

Yeah, definitely. So as I said, I saw the first episode the other day, and it seems to me that the story arc around Office Cooper will focus pretty heavily on his drug problem. I know you can’t be specific but how far will it go, and how dark might things get for John in this season?

Things will get dark for John. Very dark. He’s not in a good place. It’s not just the back issues, it’s everything that’s going on in his life, and how he’s processing what’s going on. This is an ongoing recurring injury. He’s not always walking around with a massive back problem. He throws his back out, bed rest and heat and he get’s back on the saddle again, then he injures it again. So he’s throwing it out more and more often as the show goes on but that’s not to say that he’s always walking around in extreme pain. But when he is, it’s how he manages that pain and how this affects the job and everyone around him. So, yeah, there’s definitely a progression of the back and a progression of the abuse of the prescription pain medicine. That will culminate over the entire season and there’ll be hopefully a really nice payoff to all of that as we get closer to the end.

There was that great scene near the end of the episode that kind of encompassed the whole “teacher/student” relationship between Cooper and Sherman, where your character was actually leaning on Ben as he limped across the parking lot and it was almost metaphorical in a way too… I think you guys just do a great job of conveying the camaraderie between two partners out in the streets. I was just wondering how you both get that to come across on screen?

I don’t know. I honestly think that’s the thing of chemistry, when they say you guys have chemistry, because I see it. I enjoy watching the two of us together. I see a little of what everyone else sees, probably not as much because I’m watching myself work at the same time, but I don’t know, I don’t think that’s definable. He’s very present in the scene, as I am, we both are very focused on the work and nurturing that relationship to convey that to the audience. But I think when you really get down to it, we just have chemistry together.

Yeah, it really shows. And also I think you do such a great job with the character in general, he’s very well rounded and fleshed out and really interesting, and I was wondering if you have like a real life model or a couple of influences of real life people that you’ve pulled to form this character.

Not really. I interviewed a lot of people, a lot of officers, did a lot of ride-alongs, but no, he’s him. He’s just him. I don’t know anyone like him. He’s a wreck. So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t even know if that’s the kind of cop I’d be if I was a cop.

Well he’s very distinctive and very real. Just to switch gears a little bit, there’s this really interesting scene in the first episode where Cooper and a couple of the other officers are under fire from this guy, and they cover their squad car and the windows of their car with their bulletproof vests and they push the car right out into the street to give a little shelter to an injured police officer. Is that an actual police procedure?

That’s an actual tactic, yeah.

Did they bring in some kind of adviser to school you guys on that sort of thing?

Oh yeah, we have an adviser on set all the time. Chick Daniels, who’s ex-LAPD, retired. Our adviser worked with SWAT and the crash units in Los Angeles, and a lot of those tactics were sort of invented by some of the groups that he’s worked with. You basically can turn a vehicle into an armored vehicle by laying down the ballistic body armor to use as protection. They’ve used that before, it is a tactic that they use.

I thought that was really interesting.

Yeah it was one of my favorite things that we’ve done.

Now it’s been a little while since the whole mess with NBC went down. Since then the Jay Leno Experiment that they took you off the air for has failed and overall the network itself seems to be suffering from pretty low ratings across the board, so in light of what happened, do you feel any sense of vindication?

No, no. That whole thing that happened with NBC was never about us. Ever. So there’s not way I could feel like “we told you so” or anything like that. It was a business decision, they were trying something new. So I’m just truly glad that we were allowed to go and that we have a really wonderful home over at TNT, and that’s really the long and short of it. They didn’t single us out and say “we’re going to cancel you” and “we’ll cancel you and we’ll survive as a network.” It had nothing to do with us as a show.

It seems like, just based on the first episode, and also through last season too but oftentimes the storylines of the officers and the detectives don’t always cross, and I’m wondering if the detectives and the officers will maybe be on screen a little bit more at the same time in this season?

Yep, absolutely. I think there’s nothing more satisfying for an audience than to see all the characters they love interact, and I say that as someone who loves watching television. And I felt that we were missing that… When they set up the show initially, the thing was to define this scope, this large scope. They didn’t want it to feel like there were two officers in the city solving all the crimes, which is the premise for most shows and I mean, that’s the world you live in. When we watched Quincy of old, Quincy was solving the murder of every person who was ever murdered, because he was the only person we see doing that job, and that’s what you start to believe when you see that. Now with our show, though, I think we took it to the extreme where we had these wonderful characters but they could never share things with other people in a way that you would care about because the people they were sharing with you didn’t care about, because you don’t really know them. So this year, we’re going to be doing a little bit more cross-over stuff. We have a great thing coming up in I think it’s episode 2, where we have every single person on the show is on the set at one time at a crime scene…

Oh that’s great.

Yeah, and I just think that the audience is going to love that. I really do. And it’s not contrived, it’s an actual horrific thing that happens that requires a lot of police officers to be at.

I’ve noticed that you have quite a presence on Twitter and in fact I’m a follower myself...

Awesome. Who are you on Twitter?

My name’s Jack641, I don’t really tweet anything, I just follow people I’m interested in.

Just lurk?

Yeah pretty much.

<laughs>

But what got you started on the social networking stuff and why do you keep doing it?

Actually when the show was going off the air I got started on it. That’s what really pushed me onto it. Prior to that, one of the DP’s on our show used to tweet out photos from the show, and he said people were writing back and saying “hey, can you get some of the actors on.” And I was like, “No, I don’t do that, I don’t want anyone knowing my private junk,” or this and that. And he said, “Nah, it’s not like that. Just tweet about the show. You’ve got a funny personality and I think you’d have really good tweets, and they want to hear from the actors.” And I resisted for a while and then I finally said, “Alright, I’ll do it.” And I started doing it and the fans just loved it. They love seeing photos from set where we were, hearing in the morning, if you get an update, a tweet, it goes off and it’s like, “Oh, we’re downtown shooting a bank robbery…” There’s something cool in that. It started out with just the show. When the show went off the air, I was very vocal about some stuff that went on. My tweets were picked up by the New York Times and the LA Times, and they were in the paper the next day, in print the next day. They got everyone sort of wound up and fired to write in to their local newspapers to talk about their disappointment in the show being canceled, and that rolled into TNT really realizing that there was an audience out there, so I think the social networking played a large part in the show being picked up by TNT because they knew there was such a response so early on, they were actually able to look at those numbers and say, “There’s something here.” From then on, I just have been tweeting about what’s been going on with the show. I’m mostly tweeting about the show, but every once and a while something happens in life that you have to tweet about because it’s just so ridiculous you have to comment on it.

And it’s a really great way to keep the fans into the show and keep them updated on what’s going on, spread the word… it’s a great tool for information I think.

Absolutely.

So are there any other projects that you’re working on coming up in the future that you’d like to mention?

Well, I produced a film that I starred in with Melaine Griffith over the hiatus, written by a buddy of mine, Frank John Hughes, who I did Band of Brothers with, and it should be out in the fall. It’s a low budget independent, my first real producing thing…it’s my first active producing thing, and it went fantastic. I’m very, very excited.

What’s the name of it so we can keep an eye out for it?

The Grief Tourist.

I’m wondering as we were talking before about the way this season is a little more lean and focused… Is there going to be an overall story arc to the season? I can’t remember if it was in season 1 or season 2, but there was a…

Kinda… There’s things that are ongoing that take a back seat. So far it’s the back issue and things like that, but I think the episodes themselves can actually stand alone. If you weren’t a huge fan of the show it’s not like you’d be missing a lot of the episode if you caught it in the middle. I’m trying to think if there’s any specific things that go all the way through and I don’t think there is. But there’s definitely ongoing stuff, relationship stuff.

Do you have a favorite episode or scene of the new season that we can keep an eye out for?

The scene with Ben in episode 3, in the parking lot. I’ve yet to see it but it was one of my favorite ones to film. The scene with my wife in the first episode… I had a really good time shooting that as well.

I think that’s all I have for you.

Okay.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. We’re really big fans on the blog and like I said, the first episode is really great and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store.

Oh good. I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed. I think the show is better than ever. I really do, and I think everyone’s going to be really pleased to see that.

I completely agree and I hope maybe there’ll be a fourth season in the works.

Absolutely.

By the way, not that I mention that, I guess maybe there’s not one planned now, but would they make the decision on that further down the road?

Oh yes. Now we’re in the world of just your typically television series. You know, it’s all numbers and critical response and how the two jive. You can get away with a little bit lower of a number if you have really positive critical response because it’s all good for the network, good for the show, but now it’s the life of a series, and how it fits into the business model of the network, and all that stuff’s made once we start airing and they see how we do. And I can live with that, live with being picked up because we’re doing fantastic, or a righteous kill.

Well great, thank you so much again Michael. We’ll be looking forward to season 3.

*images courtesy of TNT

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2 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview with Michael Cudlitz of Southland

  1. Pingback: Southland Returns « Raked

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