Emmys

Eye on Emmy: Southland's Michael Cudlitz on Cooper's Journey and That Killer (?) Ending

Southland Season 5 Spoilers FinaleFor five seasons, Southland cop John Cooper served the streets of Los Angeles — and his portrayer, Michael Cudlitz, served viewers with a riveting performance.

After watching the officer in blue struggle with his sexuality, prescription drug abuse for his ailing back and troublesome rookies, it’s truly a crime that Cudlitz has not yet been recognized with an Emmy nomination for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. But perhaps that will change this year, as the TNT series wrapped its run with John Cooper’s biggest season yet.

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TVLINE | Every year, the writers give you incredible material. But did you feel more challenged than ever this past season?
Yeah, but in a good way. This is the kind of stuff that we hope for as performers. The work was delivered extremely consistently. Everyone had wonderful opportunities this year in the show. We had a deeper bench [of writers] than we ever had before. Before, maybe we had three [or] four writers that were really great. This year, we had six, seven writers who were just amazing, so we benefited greatly from that aspect. We benefited from the fact that we’re very specific about how we tell our stories now.

TVLINE | The show is produced on a very tight schedule, moving from location to location very quickly. Do you think that helps you in terms of your performance?
I do. That helps to get to the truth. We move so fast that you don’t spend so much time on a scene that you are creating things that are not there just because you feel this may be more interesting. It’s like if you ask me to give you an answer very quickly on a question, the truth usually comes out. Lies take time. The more time you have to work on a scene, the more lies you can put into it.

Southland Michael CudlitzTVLINE | What did you think of Cooper’s arc this year?
I loved it. It was wonderful the people that they had me work with, from my first partner [played by Derek Ray] to Anthony [Ruivivar] to introducing Gerald McRaney as my training officer. The emotional stuff, for me, was very much in the trajectory that they had already set up for Cooper. I don’t think there was anything different this year, other than things coming to a critical head. Ann Biderman created these characters with John Wells and Chris Chulak from the beginning [to be] extremely, extremely layered [and] extremely, extremely flawed. Those flaws, over time, surface and need to be dealt with. But there are so many things going on, it never seems one note [or] predictable.

RELATED | Southland Producer Weighs In on Cooper’s Fate

TVLINE | Was there anything that you learned about the character that was new to you?
One of the cool things that they did, which I had a different take on, was how my back got injured and how [it] possibly happened while saving Dewey, which is wonderful because it gives just amazing backstory and history to those two characters. That’s not how I, in “my” backstory, had injured my back. Mine was connected to another partner, another injury that had happened, and that was one of the reasons that launched me into why training was so important for me. That would be the biggest surprise that I came to realize but hadn’t thought of before, and it was exciting to me. They did a really great job.

TVLINE | Looking back on the season, do you have a favorite moment or episode?
My favorite moment is actually with Gerald, the scene with him back at my house in [the episode “Heroes”]. He did such a phenomenal job. I felt honored to be in the room with him when he was doing that work. I really have a lot of respect for him.

TVLINE | When you have a scene like that where somebody else is in the spotlight, but at the same time you have to be present in the scene, is that daunting?
Southland Michael CudltizI don’t look at it that way. If you gave all that dialogue to Gerald, and you took me out of the room, it’s not a scene. That’s a guy standing in his underwear, talking to himself. Me and my father, if you take me out of that scene, that’s dad just before he’s dead. The scene happens because there’s more than one person in it, because both people are being affected by what’s going on. To me, it doesn’t matter who’s doing the talking. You still have to be extremely present, extremely active, and you’ve got to know what’s going on. After I met Gerald and we rehearsed it, my job in that scene became to not screw up what he was doing. [Laughs] Just listen, be there, and just react. It’s not a moment you have to create. It’s just there. You enjoy it as a performer.

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TVLINE | What was your interpretation of the finale ending? Did John want to get shot?
That moment when he looks up, he sees that there’s a way out. Right or wrong, he makes that decision that he’s going to take that way out. … Even if it’s fleeting, the moment starts to come in, and you push it away before it’s even fully a thought, but many people can identify with that moment of suicide or that moment of, “God, if I just ended it all, I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.” [What if] right when that moment happened, right when that thought went through your head, you had a way to execute that? What would you do? This is John knowing instinctively all of the wrong things to do to make that happen. … Had he had even half a moment to think about it, he probably wouldn’t have done that.

TVLINE | Do you see John as surviving that gunshot? Or do you prefer to think, since there’s no more episodes, that’s the end for him?
I prefer to think of him as a survivor. Imagine the life he’s going to have after that. It could go any direction.

TVLINE | Is there any type of format or genre that you’d like to try out next?
I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve had working on films. I’ve enjoyed television movie-of-the-week format. I’ve enjoyed the few comedies that I’ve done, and I’ve enjoyed one-hour television. If you’d asked me after Band of Brothers what thing I wanted to do next, I certainly never would have imagined Southland. I imagine that my next thing is out there, figuring itself out, and when it’s ready, it’ll present itself to me.

TVLINE | Southland has never been recognized in any of the major Emmy categories. Is that frustrating?
It’s frustrating because we always looked at the Emmy possibility as a way to get more people to watch the show. The thing about the voting process is… we never know how close we came to being nominated. We were we the seventh show? Were we the 10th show? There are a lot of good dramas on right now, a lot of good television, which bodes well for all of us. Do we wish that we were nominated because it would be neat? Absolutely. But I don’t feel there’s some vast conspiracy to not nominate. People have their viewing habits, and a lot of that’s dictated by what’s easy to find. There are still a lot of people who didn’t know that we were on the air, and I don’t think that people traditionally turn to TNT for the kinds of shows that are traditionally nominated for Emmys.

A version of this interview first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season and include deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.

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20 Comments
  1. Jefrey Roseff says:

    keeping my fingers crossed. I knew Michael in boy scouts many moons ago. been following his career since the beginning. He MORE than deserves this. Good luck

    • Ruby says:

      I’m so happy to hear that. He is my favorite actor on TV, and if his twitter is any indication, a damn fine man to boot.

  2. If there is any justice at all in this world, the Emmy will be Michael Cudlitz’s — especially after this (final) season — he gave an absolutely incredible performance week after week (as he had been doing since Day 1). So very deserving of the Emmy.

  3. Tenney says:

    For a while now, Michael Cudlitz has been superb in his role as John Cooper. Finally, he is getting some recognition for it. This past season he made John Cooper the heart of Southland.

    • Chicago Dan says:

      Absolutely. Cooper was the heart of the show and I believed it would continue with a new set of younger officers, etc. built around him since it seemed like the other principals were resigned to leaving. It’s hard to believe this quality show only produced 43 episodes. It deserved a longer run, but many thanks to TNT for saving it and giving us 30 more great shows.

  4. Pat D. says:

    I’m surprised “Chaos” wasnt his fave. Easily the best episode in the entire run, IMHO.

  5. andrewbowman55@msn.com says:

    Nice to see him win the Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor – Drama. Anyone that watched him this season in Southland saw a tour-de-force portrayal of John Cooper. The only thing that scares me is that Emmy voters might not have Southland on their radar. Best of luck on an Emmy nom/win.

    • Ruby says:

      The Emmys are a joke at this point. I have completely lost faith in them. I now look to the “lesser known” awards shows, a lot of them seem to know what’s going on outside of network TV and HBO. Emmy doesn’t even know anything outside of that exists.

    • gayle johnson says:

      Thanks for your support of Michael and Southland Andrew. Michael’s name did get put on an Emmy ballot, so I guess that is something. Not sure exactly how it all works, but hopefully those people will recognize that man’s awesome talent.

  6. gayle johnson says:

    Fantastic interview. Michael really put it out there. I am ashamed to say that even though I have watched Southland from the beginning, and yes Cooper became my favorite character, I had not really thought too much about the actor portraying him until s5, and WOW did I suddenly sit up and take notice. I have the s1-4 on DVD, started watching them, and then really saw Michael in action as an absolute fantastic actor. He can do a scene without any speaking lines, just look at his eyes, and John Cooper is telling u everything he is thinking at that moment. Southland, and definitely Michael, deserve an EMMY in every sense of the word.

  7. Joey says:

    Great interview. I hope Michael will get the Emmy nomination and win for his great performance this season of Southland.

  8. Belle says:

    Love that guy…he’s just so humble and real :) Thanks for giving us some awesome TV Mikey – sit back, relax and know you truly touched people with your performances each and every episode!!! You’re a Rockstar!!!!!

    • gayle johnson says:

      Right on Belle. I came on Michael’s f/b page April 13, 4 days before final episode, and that is how I learned that Michael is indeed a very “humble” man, and he definitely has touched people with his performance of John Cooper. Actually, I do not think he really knows just how much his performance of this character really has affected people in so many different ways. He does know up to a point (has even gotten letters from people, etc) but not sure if he really knows how much of an impact. He is most definitely EMMY WORTHY.

  9. didi says:

    Coop’s character never struggled with his sexuality. That is what was so cool about him and the show, it was never made into an issue.

    • gayle johnson says:

      U are absolutely right Didi. There was no real struggle there, and that is one of the things that I really loved about John. The writers did excellent job with his storylines. The only time there was any issue, which was not about his sexuality, but was when his partner wanted to take the relationship to another level, but for whatever reason John was not ready for that, and the partner leaves, and whenever there were scenes when John comes home to an empty house u always got the sense of his loneliness.

  10. didi says:

    Oh and of course, Cudlitz is a phenomenal actor.

  11. Ali says:

    Love him and can’t wait to see where he’ll pop up next. He OWNS that Emmy already. No voting necessary, just give it to him already. I hope he’ll get a new project soon.

    • gayle johnson says:

      I absolutely agree with you 200% Ali. Michael is an outstanding actor, and I think no matter what he does it will be awesome to say the least, and he most certainly deserves that EMMY!!!