MICHAEL CUDLITZ (Southland) Exclusive Interview

Michael Cudlitz - Southland

I recently got a chance to speak with Michael Cudlitz, who plays Officer John Cooper, on TNT’s Southland.

Michael Cudlitz talked about what’s coming up for his character in the second season, the evolution of the relationship between John and Ben, his preparation process as an actor, and much more. So enjoy the interview and don’t forget to tune in to Southland when it returns for its second season on March 2 at 10pm on TNT.

Let’s talk about the transition from NBC to TNT. How crazy is that?

Michael Cudlitz: It’s crazy. It’s awesome. I’ve never felt so much love. It breaks my heart.

I think it’s a fitting show for TNT.

Michael Cudlitz: I think so, too. Absolutely.

Let’s talk about what coming up for your character this season.

Michael Cudlitz: Oh, all kinds of stuff.

I saw the first two episodes and they were great.

Michael Cudlitz: And that’s how it going to be kind of revealed. It’s all going to unfold in small doses. You can see this relationship between Ben [McKenzie] and I evolve and change, sort of the darkness that we’re both dealing with in the family stuff and the emotional issues and physical issues. Obviously that stuff is going to get worse before it gets better. For me specifically, John starts going down a real dark road or I should say continues going down a dark road and he’s going to need to at some point address that. We’ll see the beginnings of that and how it affects him and how it affects everyone around him. So it’s really, really exciting and Anne [Biderman] does a phenomenal job of revealing these different layers of all the characters so we’re excited to see the new episodes and then to see where it takes us when TNT picks us up.

I like that you’re saying ‘when they pick us up’ –

Michael Cudlitz: It’s really all a formality. Obviously they need to make sure like any show that people are watching and once that’s really proved, once the new episodes air we’re all fine.

Can you talk about the relationship between John and Ben and how that evolves and especially now that Ben is going through phase three of his training?

Michael Cudlitz: That’s the natural progression of the show. People forget that when the show starts Ben is just out of the Academy. He’s never been in a patrol car before and he meets his training his officer, who’s me, and it’s my job to break him. If I can break him then he’s breakable and he’s of no use to us. That’s my job as a training officer. That’s not who I am. But early on we don’t care who I am. I’m just doing my job. I don’t want to show that to the audience. You get glimpses of it when you see me off duty drinking in the bar that there is another John Cooper that we’ll get to know but at the very beginning he’s a training officer.
As we grow with the relationship between he and Ben, the rookie, the training softens because it doesn’t need to be as intense and as hard as it is now because he’s learned those things that he needs to learn from that intensity. As it softens then we become more partners than the sort of teacher/student relationship. That’s still there but the dynamic of it changes because he’s starting to learn what he has to do and he’s starting to have more command presence and really fill the shoes of what it takes to be an active patrol officer in the LAPD. Within the car you’ll see that I never change because as much as John Cooper would like to say that he’s different from this kid you realize that they have more in common than what’s different about them. You’ll see that there comes a point, well it’s headed to it whether we see it as much as we should have this season, you’ll see that their relationship changes and John actually needs Ben. So it’s a really cool dynamic and it keeps shifting and growing and the more that Ben thinks he knows the more he keeps getting slapped back into place with what he doesn’t know. It’s very, very cool.

I wanted to talk about John’s pill problem and the fact that Ben is getting suspicious of that.

Michael Cudlitz: Oh, absolutely, yeah. That’s something that’s going to get worse before it gets better because John is in the position of power and so Ben can’t really say or do anything. John says one thing though and does another, like most people in the world. So we’re going to see that unfold slowly because the problem does get worse and the problem will start to affect him on the job. It does not necessarily affect at this point how he’s doing his job but it will take a toll and we’ll see that as the new episodes unfold.

That’s such fun drama.

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah, it’s awesome.

It’s almost draws a parallel with Officer Dewey who goes insane in the season premiere.

Michael Cudlitz: Interesting, yeah. John seems to have all the answers for Officer Dewey but he doesn’t seem to have any of the answers for himself. So we’ll see where that goes.

What about John’s personal life, anything coming up for him there?

Michael Cudlitz: Well, everybody; we’re going to go further into everyone’s personal life and everyone is going to be dealing with their relationships, including John. Not too much in the next six that we’re going to see but we’re definitely headed into a relationship direction.

So there’s a possibility of him getting into a serious relationship?

Michael Cudlitz: There’s a possibility of him becoming involved in a relationship. I don’t know how serious John is going to get with any one individual. He’s dealing with a lot of stuff, a lot of baggage. John is lonely.

Will his sexuality be revealed to the people he works with?

Michael Cudlitz: It’s going to be dealt with the same way that it’s been. There are people who will know and have always known that he’s gay and there will be people who will deny it right up until we smack them in the face with it which at some point we will.

Can you talk about how you prepare for an episode of the show as an actor, what is your process?

Michael Cudlitz: Well, the character work is ongoing. We’re training all the time and for me that’s where a lot of the stuff is grounded in because the show doesn’t work if the cop stuff doesn’t work. So there’s a lot of training that we do to look like we’re LAPD and when we’re on set and we do something wrong we have advisors who will help us and correct us and show us what’s right. We work with those advisors off set as well.
The actual episodes, when they get episodes, for me and for everyone the process is different. We shoot differently on this show than on most shows. We’re completely off book for every episode when we shoot it which means that you have everything memorized before you show up to set everyday. Now some people might say, ‘Well, of course. That’s your job.’ Well, yes, to a degree but when you’re working on a network television series like TNT or CBS or NBC you’re doing back to back episodes and are working a lot of those days back to back and you have a lot of material. So what happens is that you will sometimes be working on two episodes, three episodes at a time. So you’ll be very familiar with what you’re doing that day but you really don’t learn it until you get to do it and until you get to rehearse it that morning. That’s what happens on a typical show because the workload is so big.
On our show Chris Chulack does not want us to have any of the sides which are usually mini-versions of the scripts, just little sections of the work that we’re doing that day. It’s kind of an industry standard with how people work, but we don’t have those on our set. You show up ready to go and that’s it.
We shoot practical locations. We will very often rehearse on film and you just go. We get these wonderful reactions from the crowd when we have these wonderful and spontaneous moments that happen.
From what I understand ‘Friday Night Lights’ shoots very similar as well. There’s an immediacy and an intimacy that happens when you shoot that way, when you’re rehearsing and when you discover a scene for the first time. I think that’s one of the elements that makes ‘Southland’ stand apart from any other TV show that’s out there.

I was going to say that ‘Friday Night Lights’ sounds similar to that, as well.

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah. I’ve met Kyle Chandler, about a year ago, and we were talking about the show and he was like, ‘I have to come by the next time I come to town.’ I think he says he needs to stop by because he knows Chris and he said, ‘It sounds like you guys work the same way that we do.’ We were talking about how wonderful and immediate it is. So that being said I get a script and I basically start going through it and see where the character is going to go and see if there are any scenes that stick out that I have a problem with or love or whatever, if there are certain favorite things. You try to place everything in your mind, where you think it’s going to go and how you think you’re going to approach it and then you just work through it.
On a series it’s very different because you’re coming from where you just were meaning it’s not like a movie that stands alone or that whatever you do just stands alone. In a series, whatever you do prior you have to make sure that you grab a hold of that and bring it with you into the next episode so that you’re not playing things completely different or completely out of character unless that’s your choice.
So I try to work over in my head what I think the scene is about or how I think I want to play it and then when I show up to work, obviously, whoever you’re working with they’ve done the same thing and the director has his own idea and all of that comes together on set and a third or fourth thing that none of you have even thought of comes out of that. That’s what usually lives onscreen.

Can you talk about some of your upcoming projects?

Michael Cudlitz: I don’t have anything that’s coming out right now except for ‘Southland’. I was just in Bruce Willis’s ‘Surrogates’ that just came out. This process on ‘Southland’ has been going on now, we’re about sixteen or eighteen months into it and it’s really consumed me to a degree. I have a lot of stuff in the works just like a lot of actors. Everything is pending. I finished a film in December up in Oregon called ‘Rogue River’ which is a little independent horror movie that a friend of mine produced. That’s about it.

You’ve guest starred on a lot of shows but is there one that you’d like to guest star on that you haven’t had a chance to yet?

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah, ‘The Tudors’. I love that show.

The last season is coming up so you have to get on there quick.

Michael Cudlitz: I know, I know, but it’s probably not going to happen because they shoot it all overseas and they only use English, Irish and Welsh actors.