Michael Cudlitz Discusses Tonight's 'Southland' Season Finale
When Michael Cudlitz and I last spoke, back in April, I used some, well, (ahem) colorful language during an interview junket --
a junket that everyone but me thought was on live local television -- to describe his character on Southland, Officer John Cooper. We finally get a chance to go one-on-one and clear the air over that moment and, more importantly, discuss tonight's season finale of Southland (airing at 10 pm ET on NBC) along with his experience on Band of Brothers and working with John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank.
Michael Cudlitz: You're the guy who said, "You're a dick."
Mike: (Laughs) Well, I was talking about your character but...
Michael Cudlitz: Or, "You treat him like a dick," or whatever it was and I was like, "Dick? What are you talking about?" (laughs)
Mike: I apologize.
Michael Cudlitz: No, I thought it was great ... We were sitting in studio doing satellite video ... We thought we were live somewhere on some station somewhere. They don't tell us who was what, people just start talking to us and I was like, "Oh, okay. That's a little different."
Mike: The best part was that after I said that, you repeated it three times.
Michael Cudlitz: "You can say dick? Dick? I hope so." I saw your name today and was like, "Hmmm, Mike Ryan... I recognize that." (laughs)
Mike: Well, first, congratulation on the renewal of Southland. Though, I really hope it catches on on Fridays. I know NBC is trying to bring Fridays back as a night of television. I just hope it works.
Michael Cudlitz: Well, you know, right now at NBC it's a total game changer; they've got the Leno thing. They're completely, from the ground up, redoing the entire network. They've had successes on Fridays before; Third Watch ran for many years on Friday.
Mike: And they're putting Law & Order on right before Southland, that's a nice lead in. They're labeling it as their crime drama night.
Michael Cudlitz: Sometimes Friday or Saturday night is where they'll put a show when they just want to run out an order. But [with Southland] they haven't completed the order; they could have very easily canceled us. They had to move us at some point [because of Leno], but it's not like they moved us to Friday mid-season to burn off the episodes. They're actually trying to recapture some of the market. You know: we'll wait and see.
Mike: Was the season finale airing tonight written as a cliffhanger at all or more with the attitude that we don't know if we'll be back for sure, let's kind of wrap things up?
Michael Cudlitz: You'll be satisfied as a viewer, things will be answered. There's definitely a cliffhanger element to it. There's some crazy stuff that goes on, a lot of action sequences and ... someone gets shot. We don't know how all that's going to turn out.
Mike: I wanted to ask this last time, but time wouldn't allow it. In the first episode your character, Officer Cooper, says to Officer Sherman (Ben McKenzie) "You've got 90210 written all over your face." Was that an inside joke considering you, if I remember correctly, played Brenda Walsh's prom date on 90210?
Michael Cudlitz: It ultimately turned into an inside joke but it didn't start out that way. That script was written before either Ben or I were hired. The rest of that (laughs) was just gravy for people that got the inside stuff. When you say 90210 everyone associates it with Beverly Hills: 90210, so when you say that on a TV show, he's talking about the rich kids ... but that's all just complete Easter eggs for people who know TV. It had nothing to do with anything in particular, other than they lucked out having a guy that actually was on 90210 and having another guy who was on The O.C.
Mike: How did you get involved with Southland?
Michael Cudlitz: I was sent the script. It was a random script that came to me wondering if there was any interest by me to come in to read for it. When I read it I was sort of like, "Are you kidding me? Absolutley."
Mike: I like the fact that a lot of the characters don't even know each other. I'm assuming that's more realistic. There was even an episode where Sherman and Cooper didn't appear at all. Not that I don't like seeing them but I find it interesting we can go an entire episode without them.
Michael Cudlitz: We've established at this point there's two different divisions ... we cover different areas. I just think that gives you a sense that the city is larger than two cops and two detectives fixing everything.
Mike: As mentioned earlier, last time we spoke I called Officer Cooper a dick...
Michael Cudlitz: (Starts laughing)
Mike: Well, at that point I had only seen one episode. Now I've seen all of them except the finale tonight. You know... he's really complicated. My favorite episode so far is the one where Cooper and Sherman go on all of these bullshit calls. In that episode he comes off as a pretty nice guy. I remember thinking, "I wish I wouldn't have told Cudlitz that I thought his character's a dick." Then, the very last scene of that episode, he's putting the cones out for that traffic accident and the lady asks what happened and he says, "A spaceship landed, what do you think?" And I'm like, "yep... still a dick."
Michael Cudlitz: (Laughing) Exactly! You know, he doesn't suffer fools. He takes his job very very seriously. Early on we meet him and he's sort of at his hardest with Ben. That's his job; he's got to try and break him. We talked about this before: If he can't survive me and the first day and the amount of shit I'm going to give him, then he's not going to make it on the force. And Coop's got a lot going on, too. Other than just the training, he's got a lot of personal stuff going on.
Mike: Yeah, we learn that later. Was the [pain killer] addiction problem always written into the character or was that added?
Michael Cudlitz: Always. There was stuff in the pilot that was actually taken out because of time. He comes off as this bad-ass know-it-all and at the end of the day he's still human. The worst thing in the world would be for him to be taken off the beat and put behind a desk and he's going to do whatever he can to make that not happen.
Mike: And it's not like the viewer doesn't care about him. That was a pretty tense scene with the drug dealer in last week's episode.
Michael Cudlitz: I know you know this: It's not a show about superheros. The cops aren't like 'The Best Cops In L.A.' ... He said in the beginning [of that episode] what he would not do, in the end he comes back [to the dealer] with his tail between his legs and does exactly what he said he wouldn't do.
Mike: Last time we spoke I also described Officer Cooper as a "jaded Bull Randleman" from Band of Brothers. To which you responded "that would be a very jaded Bull Randleman." Being a part of that show had to be a once in a lifetime experience.
Michael Cudlitz: Absolutley. That's the highlight of my career, without a doubt. I don't know if anything will ever come close to being so satisfying on so many different levels as that project was. Not only was it entertainment, it meant something to the country to document what these men had done. And it meant something specifically to the families of these veterans to actually learn what their parents and grandparents had done. But, ultimately, to the men who actually served get a chance to tell their story and have their story told by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
Mike: The first two episodes of Band of Brothers aired the night of September 10, 2001. I'll always remember that series for helping me get through what happened a day later.
Michael Cudlitz: A day later, the eleventh hit and every piece of advertising for the show was stripped from the country. Nobody knew what was happening but everybody knew this is not something we wanted to promote or advertise with any sort of attack or war. There was a big debate on whether they were going to stop airing the series.
Mike: That would have been a huge mistake. It was almost comforting to watch it, I know a lot of people feel that way.
Michael Cudlitz: That is ultimately what the consensus was over at HBO. It was that even though we don't advertise this, we need to continue showing this because it's that important. Ultimately I think they were right in doing what they did all the way across the board. I think it was a pretty brilliant handling of a really bad situation. Because I think a lot of people did find comfort in it. A lot of people didn't want to see anything that had to do with it at all and I understand that as well. It just continues to amaze me how important the project was and what a difference a piece of entertainment can make.
Mike: You've made a lot of appearance on many different television shows. What's your favorite experience on a show that you were not a regular cast member?
Michael Cudlitz: There would be two ... maybe three. I had a really wonderful experience with Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue. I did a really great spot on The Practice. Life, I loved working with [Band of Brothers co-star] Damien [Lewis]; I got to shave my head and cover myself in tattoos. And Over There. I did one episode of Over There and the episode itself and the character was so integral to what was actually going on in Iraq at the time. It had such an impact on that group of men in the show that it kept coming up; the perception that I was beating this guy for answers when I wasn't. The whole idea of: If you're not there you don't really know what's going on. I thought that was very illuminating to what was going on with Guantanamo and prisoners and what is torture.
Mike: OK, last thing; this is a reader question. What was it like working on Grosse Point Blank?
Michael Cudlitz: Oh, that was awesome. That was phenomenal. For the longest time John Cusak was one of my favorite actors ... I just really really admired his work. Almost everybody in that movie was somebody that John Cusak, Steve Pink or D.V. DeVincentis went to school with. Myself and Jenna Elfman were two of the only people who didn't know anyone on the film. At the time it was written, Bobby "Beemer" was this huge role and he had one of his buddies that's a huge star doing it, the role got written down and his buddy took another job and this role became available. I went in to go meet with John at the audition and we started improvising and playing around and he was like, "absolutely, definitely. Okay, you're hired, we'll see you next week."
We weren't really sure what Bobby Beemer's problem was. At one point we had floated something where I basically break down in tears after smashing my head against a locker because all these years I've basically been in love with John's character, but I was not able to tell him when we were in school. That was one way of going with it. There were three of four different scenarios and the poem is the one that survived in the end. He had written this really long poem for me, and in the middle of doing it really really slowly he's like, "uhhhhh that's great." So when we were actually shooting it, it was taking me so long he was like, "let's get on with it," and that became the point of the scene. And we start playing back and forth with each other about, "no there's more." It was just really creatively satisfying. [John's] a really really good guy. It's one of those times that you meet someone you admire and you're not disappointed.
Mike: Again, sorry for the D-Bomb last time.
Michael Cudlitz: I loved it! I thought it was hilarious. We're just sitting there and couldn't understand. How is he saying that? (laughs)
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit reader questions for celebrites to Mike on Twitter.