This season on “Southland,” Michael Cudlitz‘s veteran LAPD officer John Cooper returned to the force following a stint in drug rehab. The series itself is prone to dramatic comebacks. It debuted in the spring of 2009 on NBC and was renewed for a second season, only to be abruptly dropped to make room for Jay Leno‘s ill-fated primetime series. TNT came to the rescue, and though the police drama has never attracted a large audience, it continues to narrowly escape the chopping block; the cable network has once again renewed “Southland,” this time for a fifth season.
“We live on the bubble,” says Cudlitz of the series’s year-to-year survival. “It was stressful the first two pickups. It is not stressful now because we know that we’re honestly doing what we want to do out there … If the numbers don’t add up, if they’re not getting enough people watching the show and they’re not making their advertising dollars, we will get canceled, and at this point with what we’ve done and if we continue moving in this direction, we will be very happy and satisfied with what we did, and if there comes a point where we don’t make them anymore we can all walk away proud and satisfied.”
For the drama’s first three seasons, Cudlitz was partnered with Ben McKenzie as rookie cop Ben Sherman, but this year he shared most of his scenes with Lucy Liu as Officer Jessica Tang. “I think it was an awesome change,” Cudlitz says about working with a new partner. “From a performance standpoint, we had a wonderful chemistry, myself and Ben McKenzie, for three years, and to give that up was kind of terrifying.” But he soon became comfortable with his new co-star: “Because she had put so much trust in me early on and relied on me to sort of figure out the show, we became very close very quickly.”
Tang also became the first colleague to whom Officer Cooper came out as gay, a fact he revealed while coaxing a suicidal teen off the ledge of a building, but Cudlitz doesn’t consider his character a closet-case, explaining, “I’ve always played it as that he mostly kept it to himself but if anyone asked he would tell them. It was never anything he was hiding. That’s the way I’ve always played it.” The actor hopes for a greater exploration of his character’s personal life in the future. “That’s something I hope the writers will expand on without making it a ‘very special ‘Southland,”” he says. “It doesn’t need to be that. It can be representative of what gay men and women go through in the workplace … I think they’re doing a disservice if they don’t examine some of those things.”
“Southland” has yet to be recognized at the Emmys for its writing, directing, or performances, but it did pick up its first trophy last year: Best Stunt Coordination for Peewee Piemonte. The stunt ensemble was also nominated twice at the SAG Awards. “When Peewee wins for the stunts and the stunt ensemble wins, we feel like we’ve won as well,” says Cudlitz of the cast’s close relationships with the stunt actors.
“We’re hoping for a nomination for the show, we really are,” he says of the show’s overall Emmy chances this year. “That would be the infusion I think that we need to get people to come and see what they’ve been missing and check us out, because I think people still think that we’re canceled from NBC.”
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