Southland's Michael Cudlitz Previews Cooper's Return to Work and 'Unresolved Issues' With Ben

It’s a fresh start for several characters on Tuesday’s season premiere of Southland (TNT, 10/9c), particularly Michael Cudlitz’ Officer John Cooper, who finds himself with a new partner (special guest star Lucy Liu) when he returns to the job pain- and drug-free.

TVLine chatted with Cudlitz about playing a healthy Cooper, reuniting with his former trainee Ben Sherman, delving into John’s personal life and more!

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TVLINE | What’s a drug-free Cooper like?
A drug-free Cooper starts with a pain-free Cooper. When he had the surgery, that could have gone either way. That’s why he avoided doing it for so long, and like most things, it turned out well. The reason he didn’t do it years ago was because the potential consequences are him not being able to walk again. So now we have a healthy John Cooper, who has to be reassessed to see if he’s completely street-worthy. That’s where Lucy Liu comes in. She’s another senior officer. She doesn’t have as much time as John does on the job, but she is not only partnered up with him because John’s not going to be taking any training personnel out for a while, but [also because] he has to be cleared completely for duty. The department only really knew about his back issue. But as with all workplaces, John wonders who knows what about whom. Rumors fly and people know things.

TVLINE | Are they making you do more stunts now that he can run after the bad guys?
Yeah, that’s just part of it. I’m more physically [involved]. … He stills prefers to drive when you can drive because that’s a myth of the young cop that you have to run everywhere. That line still holds true with experience – why run when you can drive?

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TVLINE | Speaking of driving, your new partner doesn’t let you take the wheel.
She doesn’t. It’s kind of cool though. John has relinquished a lot of control to his new partner, and he’s OK with that. It’s kind of nice to not have all that responsibility. Knowing that he’s in good hands, that he has a partner he can count on, he doesn’t have to always take the lead. So he’s very, very satisfied with sitting in the passenger seat and readjusting to life with clear eyes.

TVLINE | Does he get along with his new partner?
Absolutely. There’s a wonderful chemistry. They hit it off right away. At the end of the first episode, you’ll see that there’s even a stronger connection between the two of them. John has this life event that he’s coming back from, and there’s something major that Lucy’s [character, Jessica Tang, is] coming back from as well. In that, you realize that they need each other to re-enter the force and reassess their place in the force and why they’re there doing that job.

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TVLINE | John has a new partner and a new lease on life. Does it feel like a new show to you?
Absolutely. Same old Southland as far as the stories are told, but all the characters are going through a major reset. … When we come back, we’ve flashed forward eight months. John has had the surgery. John is clean. He’s back at work. Ben is no longer sort of new with his new partner [Sammy]. He’s been with his new partner for eight months, so he’s extremely established as an officer in his own right. Regina is coming back with a new partner, but she’s almost in a training situation. Dorian (guest star Ruben Robinson) is a cop – he’s a seasoned officer – but he’s new to the detectives. So Lydia is in control of that car, and it’s the first time that she’s been completely in control of that car.

TVLINE | Will Ben and Cooper’s paths cross again?
They do cross in the first episode. It’s the first time that we’ve seen each other since the surgery. … Let’s just say there’s a lot of issues that are still unresolved.

TVLINE | Are there any storylines that delve into Cooper’s personal life?
As we go [further into the season], there are things on the job that directly relate to Cooper’s personal life, his sexuality and his take on life and love. All of that is dealt with. It’s all dealt with the same way we’ve dealt with it in the past. I’ve always said there will never be a, “Tonight, on a very special Southland…” We’re staying true to that.