Michael Cudlitz on Last Week’s Brutal “Southland” Episode and Tonight’s Finale

Michael Cudlitz

If you’re like me, you’re still catching your breath over last week’s intensely brutal episode of Southland where Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) and his partner, Lucero (Anthony Ruivivar) were kidnapped and tortured by two meth-heads. Sadly, Lucero didn’t survive but our Cuddlybear did and in this week’s season finale, he tries to get back to work and figure out what’s next.

Cudlitz talked to me earlier this week about last week’s episode – including the tough shoot, the bar scene where Lucero uses the word ‘faggot’ – as well as what we can expect in the fifth season finale.

[Note: Southland has yet to get a sixth season renewal so watching live and using your preferred social media outlet would be great to spread the word to TNT/Warner Bros. that we’re not done with this stellar show.]

TheBacklot: Last week’s episode was so intense. How did you and Anthony get through that?

Michael Cudlitz: Well the cool thing about it what they did was Chris Chulack [Exec Producer/Director] decided he was going to shoot that basically in sequence for a number of reasons. We were in sort of matching white underwear, which is just basically another uniform, which sort of subconsciously reminds you that we’re cops because we are still in a uniform. Even though that was a little different, you weren’t exactly wearing the same exact clothes but from a visual standpoint we were.

With those white clothes you are sort of a canvas for the events of the day…from getting dirty to [Lucero] getting shot but by the end of the night, you were wearing the entire day on you on the white, everything that has transpired through the day so it was used as a canvas but also a visual reminder that we are still in uniform even though we’re out of our actual blues and we’re still cops. So what he wanted to do is shoot the whole thing in sequence so we wound up doing that, which I think helped the piece immensely because it made it like a play. We were able to play things out fully, five, six, seven, eight pages at a time and just run with it.

The guys who played the meth heads, Tobias [Jelinek] and Ryan [Dorsey], were just awesome. And Anthony, who always is just terrific as well, and the four of us really just got into that space there and played things out, real-time, making sure no one was going to get hurt. It was a rough shoot. And we knew it was going to be a rough shoot going into it. It was 35 degrees the night that we were there. There was no heat inside the building and then we shot for a good four or five hours outside.

TBL: In that bar scene earlier in the episode, I couldn’t remember another time where Cooper was so open about who he was with somebody, in this case Lucero.

MC: Lucero had pushed it to that point where…he was like, ‘You know what? You’re trying to bang my wife’s friends…the fat ones, skinny ones, Mexican, Black, blah, blah, blah, the crazy, freaky, blah, blah…hey, look at her. Look at the boobs on her, this and that, duh duh de duh…this guy’s looking at my ass.’ It’s like, ‘Dude. Stop shoving your heterosexualness down my throat.’  He’s just had it and he’s like, ‘You know what? We’re going to go get a drink. Guess what? I’m gay. Yeah. Shut the f**k up and get over it.’ John says, ‘I don’t go shoving my lifestyle in other people’s faces. That’s why you don’t know. You shouldn’t be shoving yours down mine either. And if you do have a problem with gay people, I don’t want to hear about it. You’re more than entitled to feel however you want to feel about it, but keep it to yourself.’ That’s kind of how John lives his life.

TBL: And then the scene outside the bar where Lucero uses the word ‘faggot’…I get that they had to be off their game for what happens next, but can you talk about that?

MC: Oh yeah. It just was a f**king poleax to Cooper’s f**king head. And then it’s how it’s played. Absolutely. That’s basically in his world and our world and your world the equivalent of ‘nigger.’ You don’t say that ever. I’ve got to tell you, even the networks at the time, on NBC (Southland began on NBC before TNT), where the guy says, ‘What? Do you think I’m a faggot?’ and he goes, ‘I don’t know. What’s a faggot look like?’…and the network initially had wanted us to cut it. We’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’ They’re like, ‘Well you can’t say that.’ But that’s the point! When you can’t use words to talk about what those words mean, you’ve politically corrected yourself into a f**king corner of doom. It’s like, ‘Oh, you can’t say the N word. You can’t say the F word.’ When you’re using it to point out how horrible it is you actually can, because that puts it in context. That shows you how horrible it is as opposed to pulling it out of context and making it something else like a word you can’t say.

So yeah, that was intended to be horrible, and we played it in a way that it was. But what that does is it sets up the real obvious tension in the morning, the next day. Where do you go from here? Which basically cascades into their guard being down because they’re more worried about the relationship in the sense of the friendship/partnership than they are in doing the police work properly. They get distracted for a moment and small mistakes start to happen. It turns into about the worst thing that could possibly happen to either of them. Obviously the worst thing that could happen to Anthony’s character.


TBL: We finally see Cooper break down at the very end of the episode when he gets to the convenience store, which seemed very fitting for him, but was there a lot of discussion about when he would break down?

MC: No. The show actually ended script-wise with me tapping on the glass saying, ‘I’m a cop.’

TBL: With everything he’s gone through over the whole season, the fact that he says those words was very, very impactful.

MC: Good. Because that’s been the theme throughout the whole show, what is a cop? The series starts out with the little girl asking the question, ‘Are you a cop?’ or I should say in the end, but [Ben’s] buddy asks in the beginning, ‘What? Are you a cop now?’ It’s told to us through the entire series every year, what is a cop? Someone who’s checking himself into rehab…that’s also a cop. Somebody who’s doing the right thing…that’s a cop. Someone whose back gives out, that’s a cop. What is a cop? It’s so many different forms, and we won’t let you stereotype this because it’s ever-changing.

TBL: What do we see in the season finale with Cooper?

MC: It’s kind of everything. It’s him trying to find the guys. It’s eighteen days later and he’s been trying to piece it together. He’s trying to figure out if he’s ready to be back on the job. He thinks he’s ready. Everybody around him doesn’t seem to think he’s exactly ready just yet. And we’re going to sort of go on that journey with him as to whether he is fit to be back on duty.

And it’s not what you think. I think the show delivers once again an awesome season finale and sets everything up to move forward in a completely reset way as we have always done. The smaller [number of] episodes do afford the opportunity to make these really wonderful, severe arcs with strong beginning, middles and ends. And we take full advantage of that.


TBL: It sounds like [Cooper] wants to get back on the force to maybe figure things out. Does he still wonder ‘is this even who I should be anymore?’

MC: I think that’s a continuing through-line. He’s trying to get his life back in order. He’s trying to take control of his life because he’s obviously a Type A personality. It is all about control, and he had lost control. Now he’s trying to get control of what will be his legacy. That is an ongoing issue with him. But we’ll see where that leads. He doesn’t have control and it is pointed out to him on every turn in the finale. He has gone through something just major and life-altering. The harder he tries to hold onto it, the more he realizes it’s slipping away.

TBL: Hopefully you guys will get a season six out of all this. It’s too good to stop at this point.

MC: Yeah. It’s going to come down to the numbers at this point. Last year we were lucky. This year, the business part of it is saying, ‘No,’ but there are a lot of other things happening. We are something that the network is very, very proud of. We are something that the studio is very, very proud of and that factors in to some degree. We just won a Peabody Award for crying out loud. It doesn’t mean you’re going to survive, but it does bring other things to the network and the studio. If nothing else, we got three more years than we would have had. So thank you, TNT, for that. And we’ll all move forward from here.

The season finale of Southland airs tonight at 10pm on TNT.