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