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EXCLUSIVE TV Goodness Q&A: Southland “Reckoning” Postmortem with Michael Cudlitz [INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Doug Hyun/TNT
Photo Credit: Doug Hyun/TNT

Sammy And Ben’s Partnership Is Over

We knew where this was headed. Ben tried so hard to keep Sammy off the scent. But Sammy used to be a detective and a damn good one. So when he finds out Ben is behind all of it – and worse, that he’s not sorry – their partnership falls apart. I loved these two so much. I’m kind of heartbroken, but after something like this I don’t see how Sammy can ever trust Ben again. And I really don’t like the kind of cop or person Ben’s become. Maybe this “breakup” will make him reevaluate some of his life choices.

Ruben Is Recognized

With all the push-back they got from RHD, it was nice to see Lydia and Ruben pursue their own leads in their own way. They managed to track down both suspects in the Lucero/Cooper kidnapping without any help whatsoever from RHD. We knew they were great detectives and they’ve just proven to the department how much better they are than the “elite cops” in RHD.

Russell and Lydia Spend More Time Together

I’m not sure what’s going on here (well I am, but I’m not sure I like it). It is nice to see that Lydia has someone to depend on. I want to see where this goes (and, yes, I have to believe we’ll get another season of this fantastic show). I’ll make up my mind about this later.

Cooper Gets Shot

He’s had a pretty bad day. He’s stuck behind a desk, working as part of the “rubber gun squad” as he calls it. He thinks it’s time to make a baby with Laurie, but she tells him she’s not interested anymore. And the guys next door push him too far. It was so hard to watch that last scene. Seeing John take his frustrations out on those guys just proved once and for all how not-okay he actually is. And then, of course, he gets shot.

We had the opportunity to speak exclusively with Michael Cudlitz (Officer John Cooper) about the season finale, his work with a few of the actors on the show and his hopes for season 6. Read our Q&A below.

TVGOODNESS: What is Cooper going through in “Reckoning?”

Michael Cudlitz: “We are 18 days later. They have not found anyone yet in connection with the murder. I am – at my doctor’s request – spending time at Laurie’s house. We’re in separate rooms but we’re under the same roof. I’m sort of being watched. I don’t have my weapon, I’m not wearing a gun and I’m basically relegated to working behind a desk. I’m telling everybody I’m fine. I’m telling Laurie I’m gonna go move home because it’s been enough time and I’m fine and we slowly see through the episode that he’s anything but fine and that everybody around him who is paid to make these decisions knows exactly what they’re doing. In real life we have the [Christopher] Dorner situation, where basically he was relieved of duty and taken off the force. Well, guess what? They weren’t wrong. The way you show your innocence is not be killing innocent people. It just proves you’re a lunatic, thank you very much. We were right. They won. There are your results. So this is a similar situation in the sense that everyone around him and the services that are put in place to make sure that everybody is not on the job unless they’re fit to be on the job – they’re all saying you’re not ready yet. You need more counseling, everything needs to take its course and I’m pushing to get back, everything back to normal. The episode unfolds, you realize that he’s not. Through the course of the episode Laurie also denies me a baby. I basically come to her and say it’s been some time you need to give me an answer. It’s the perfect time for me. I see it clearly now. We’d be great parents. And she’s like, ‘No John. I’m not having a baby. I don’t want a baby. And, more specifically, I don’t want a baby with you.’ So it’s pretty brutal.”

TVGOODNESS: Does that trigger him?

Michael: “Yeah, he’s aware but he’s not aware of what’s underneath. There’s the ongoing thing with the generator guys next door. In the middle of the night after he’s been denied the baby, he’s laying awake in bed processing everything. The guy with the generators turns his generator on, somebody yells at him to turn the f*cking thing off. I get pissed off, I get up. I got outside, turn the generator off. The guy comes out, we have some words and he’s basically like, ‘What are you gonna f*cking do? You know, it’s a noise violation. Go f*ck yourself.’ And I go to walk away ’cause it is kind of a bullsh*t thing. His brother comes out with a gun. He calls me an a**hole, I sort of flip out on him, take the gun away from the neighbor’s brother and proceed to almost beat the guy to death with the gun. The cops show up in the middle of this, tell me to drop the gun. I’m disoriented; don’t know what’s going on. I stand up and turn and aggressively move towards them and they shoot me. And I think it’s done really, really well because it’s left very ambiguous and you see how this could happen to almost anyone, how the circumstances can be just perfectly right. It’s a completely, completely in-policy shooting. I mean, I’m not pointing [the gun] at anyone but I literally come up and turn at them and I have a weapon in my hand. They have no idea who I am and all they know is I’m beating this sh*t, they responded to a complaint of men fighting in an alley. One [of the guys] comes up and he’s got a gun. Nobody’s knows what’s going on and I advance towards them.”

TVGOODNESS: Do you have a favorite moment from the finale?

Michael: “My favorite moment is the end of watch ceremony that’s given over the radio for Lucero. It’s just me up on the top of the parking structure at the division listening to the radio as the sun’s going down. It’s a beautiful shot, it’s beautifully done and it’s so much bigger than the show. It really honors the men and women that wear this badge on a day-to-day basis and I’m just so proud of everything we’re doing.”

Photo Credit: Doug Hyun/TNT
Photo Credit: Doug Hyun/TNT

Michael Cudlitz talks about season 5 and the series as a whole.

TVGOODNESS: How has it been to play Cooper this season?

Michael: “Last season in ‘Legacy’ [we] dealt with how [Cooper] felt he was going to be perceived once he left the force and what legacy he was leaving behind, what change had he initiated or what difference has he made in the world as he sees it and what has he done so far as his goals are concerned. And we looked at that in one episode last year and they expanded it this year. He’s much closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning and he’s really looking at how he has made a difference not only in the world, but in his world. How has he grown? What is he going to leave behind? And he realizes through the course of this that he’s alone. He has no family at all. Everyone’s gone through the course of the season. He’s not leaving anything behind so far as life. He’s not in a good place. He has no one in his life so what do you do when you have no one in your life? You turn to the people who are closest even if they’re not that close. So he’s trying to find happiness and he’s not exactly sure where that lies. And the whole season is about the search for that.”

TVGOODNESS: The scene with Cooper’s father was so powerful. What was it like to play that?

Michael: “It was awesome. It’s a culmination of everything we’ve been working for since the beginning [of the series]. The events with his father shaped who he was, what his career choices were. There was a sort of jumping off point in his life from the rape and murder of his high school sweetheart and [that was the] lasting memory of [his] father, the only person that’s left in [his] life.”

TVGOODNESS: Tell us about working with Gerald McRaney this season.

Michael: “He is…wow. He is terrific. He really is. What a man. What a gentleman, what a talent. I was honored to be working with him. I’d known his work prior and I just always thought he was a terrific actor. But to meet him in person and see what he did on our show and to bring it to the next level helped me get to a whole other level in my work. Just really terrific.”

TVGOODNESS: We could tell you enjoyed working together. We loved those scenes.

Michael: “Yeah, they were awesome. They were really well written, really well performed on his end, I will say. I just thought he was fantastic and it made it so easy to do what I had to do because all I had to do was sit there and listen to him. He did all the heavy lifting. All of it.”

TVGOODNESS: Let’s talk about Hank Lucero. How was it working with Anthony Ruivivar this season?

Michael: “Anthony was terrific. He started on episode 3 after my boot washed out and I basically said, ‘I’m done with the whole boot. I need to go out and be a cop. Be a cop and not tell people what to do and explain every little thing. I just wanna go out and police and make a difference.’ So I’m gonna make a difference not by training these new people, but by actually going out there and doing it myself. So the initial plan was to actually put me with somebody much older and [Director] Chris Chulack couldn’t find who he was looking for. He was looking for something very, very specific in Lucero and he did not find exactly what he was looking for but he found all the qualities except the age in Anthony. Because there’s a lightness to the Lucero character – and you realize later he’s just a f*cking pathological liar. He’s got his own things going on and he jokes about things and he lightens it up – that’s his coping device – but he by no means is a comedian and that was a very specific thing that Chris Chulack was looking for and John Levey, our casting director. So they had seen Anthony early on and I had worked with Anthony prior on a TNT movie of the week Silent Witness. I had suggested him to Chris and Chris had said, ‘Yeah, we were talking about that.’ He’s not the right age, but they wound up seeing him anyway and they were so excited about him so they ultimately went back and had us read together and we just clicked. He’s just a terrific actor, understood the role. Chris had history with him, he played Carlos on Third Watch, so there’s a John Wells history and they’re very good about keeping their circle of performers around and re-using people when it’s appropriate. He was terrific.”

TVGOODNESS: Talk a little about the evolution of their relationship.

Michael: “[The relationship] starts off very slowly because they don’t really know each other. Cooper still thinks he’s training boots [so] he’s gonna try to alpha-dog the whole thing. He is the senior officer just by time on the job, but Lucero pushes back a little bit and he’s basically like, ‘Look I’m not a boot.’ Which in some eyes, I think people were like ‘Oh. Look at that.’ And I think Cooper was like, ‘Oh, thank God.’ He was like, ‘No, you’re not. Finally. Thank God.’ So he could have a partner. And then the partnership grew. The jokes, the women jokes – which is common guy talk – and then it starts to grate on him. Obviously we saw where that headed with him not knowing he’s gay, but Cooper came out to him in a very different way because it was not a door opening where he could sort of say, ‘Hey buddy. You’re gonna act like an a**hole like this, you’re gonna learn like an a**hole that I’m gay.’ And then he responded to it in a very positive way and we really think that that has worked itself out, they’ve come to some understanding and he really is just being a jerk as most people are apt to do in a joking situation. And people get forgiven. People say, I say stupid sh*t all the time. If I was held accountable – that’s why I will never run for office because of the stuff that’s come out of my mouth. But most people do say things that they regret, or not even that they regret but things that aren’t politically correct like ‘That’s a horrible thing to say, but it was funny.’ And that stuff is said and those things are done. Well, they’ve come to an understanding, so we think. Outside the bar things get heated wrestling, one thing turns to another in the heat of the moment, joking around I get a little – just physically too close to him and he, for whatever reason, snaps and just has to get away from him ’cause it’s too much for him. [That] sets up the next morning with the tension between the partners, who are more focused on the partner relationship than doing the job and mistakes are made. And you see very quickly how small mistakes snowball into big mistakes. [Lucero] never should’ve split off from me. I never should have started searching [the suspect] or left until I had him cuffed. And these things one after another – when I went around the corner I should’ve pulled [the suspect] around with me, basically using him as a shield for whatever was going on around the corner. Just all of these things that went wrong, not huge mistakes but little mistakes that compound to become huge mistakes. And then we see the results of that. And it didn’t end well for our little Lucero. “

TVGOODNESS: Tell us about playing those scenes when they’re in the house after they’ve been kidnapped. They were hard to watch but so compelling.

Michael: “They were awesome when they set up the schedule for that. Chris Chulack was adamant that the scenes be shot in sequence. We shot two days, a Thursday and a Friday, and pretty much shot it in sequence from beginning to end. That was the point behind the white underwear. It was a reminder to the audience – ’cause there’s not a dress code for underneath your uniform – but it was important to them to remind people visually that these are cops. And the way you do that is you basically had other uniforms on under our uniforms. So we looked the same, in that dressing the same makes you feel like these two people are still in some sort of uniform or something that keeps them the same. What makes them different are the things they do or the things that come out of their mouth. The fact that we were all in white made it so that the entire event from beginning to end would be, we would sort of be the canvas that this would happen on. We didn’t know what was gonna happen with the blood with the shooting, but we did know as the events went on the clothes would get dirtier and dirtier and dirtier ’til you sort of [don’t] recognize them as these bright, stark white uniforms that we started out with. We did shoot in Palmdale. It was about 35 degrees at night with no heat in the house or outside so those scenes were brutal. They were brutal to shoot, they were brutal to act in, and in the end they were brutal to watch and that’s exactly what we were going for. We’re all so proud of this, I can’t even begin to tell you.”

TVGOODNESS: It was an amazing episode, and really surprising and shocking.

Michael: “Yeah. They wanted to do an homage to The Onion Field. Chris has wanted to do this for the past two years, but he said he wouldn’t do it unless the script was perfect, unless we could really honor these men and not show this as silly little mistakes that compound. Nobody did anything horribly wrong and it needed to be shown that way. The cops needed to be depicted in the light that they do their job, not as bumbling. It needed to be done the right way. And Tommy found me the right partner who could handle it.”

TVGOODNESS: We loved the brief bar scene with Cooper and Ben McKenzie’s Sherman in episode 5. How was it to work with him again?

Michael: “It was great. I love working with Ben. We have a lot of fun ’cause the two characters have so much going on. Neither one is answering the question behind the question behind the question and the audience is with us. They know the history so we get to play that. You can play the subtext very loudly and the audience is with you because they know exactly what’s going on, they know exactly what they think they want to hear and they’re not gonna hear it from either one of us. And that’s even better, I think.”

TVGOODNESS: Are there any other actors you wish you had more scenes with or any scenes with?

Michael: “Oh, Shawn. Absolutely, yeah yeah yeah, Shawn. I had one scene with Regina in the finale and it’s so much fun being on the sound stage, being in scenes with people that you love their work and you watch them week to week but you spend hardly any time with them. I haven’t worked with Ben in three years? Two and a half years? So that was just terrific. Shawn and I have had one scene the entire time. Not that there are throwaway scenes [because] it was pretty important, but I said like two words to him, two sentences and then it’s off. I just think I would’ve loved to have more time to work with him because I think he’s terrific. We’re very lucky. We’re on a show where we all get it. We’re all on the same page. We’re all just as excited about the material and everybody knows what is expected of them and they deliver. They more than deliver. So I’m proud to be part of this ensemble. Tommy [Howell] included and our guests [like] Jamie McShane, who comes in. He’s in 7 or 8 of the episodes as Sgt. Hill. We have these peripheral characters that come in that are just, they make up the world and if the show does continue that’s the sort of ER world they’ve set up, where you have this extended family and you’re reminded constantly that the world is bigger than just the six characters you’re following.”

TVGOODNESS: Why do you think Southland should get another season and what would you like to see for your character?

Michael: “The character question, I’ll answer first. They’ve been great to me. I’ve never told them what to do with the character. [John] is written as one of the most complicated, layered characters I’ve ever seen on television. So they can do whatever they want with John and John will be fine because John’s a total freaking mess. I think the show deserves another season because I think it’s one of the best things if not the best thing on television right now. I don’t think the numbers reflect who’s really watching the show. I’ve never been stopped more in my life and I’ve been a part of some pretty big projects, including Band of Brothers. I’ve never been stopped by so many people to comment on the work and have people say what they feel and how strongly they feel about the show and because of the nature of the show, the show is watched in a very different way. You have to be ready to watch an episode of Southland. And because of that, people just don’t rush home on Wednesday night and pop it on at 10 o’clock. They watch it the next day, or later that night or they wait until the weekend. [Network President] Michael Wright, who loves the show, watches them. Obviously, the guy runs a couple of networks but his TV watching behaviors are of such that he wouldn’t even necessarily be counted in the same numbers that they’re using to count. And this is true of all executives and it is just changing, so my argument to all of this numbers game is that we all understand that that’s where it’s headed so stay ahead of the curve and continue producing the show because the show’s good, people love the show, and it makes you look good to have us there. [Laughs] That is a completely self-serving statement, I understand that.”

TVGOODNESS: Anything else you want to share?

Michael: “We’re just all very proud to have made what we’ve made. We’re very grateful if this does happen to be the last season. We’re grateful for the three extra years that TNT has given us. And that’s it. If you’re a fan of the show definitely watch the finale, because you will not be disappointed and if you’ve never seen the show start at the beginning.”

 Edited for content and space.

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  1. JoAnne Swanson

    How do fans of Southland wage a campaign for it to be back next season?

    1. TV Goodness

      This is such a good question! I think we just have to let the network know how much we want the show to come back. Make sure you tweet at the show and the actors, post on their FB page. Do whatever you can think of and if I hear of any sort of campaign, I’ll let you know.

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