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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Michael Cudlitz :: confounding stereotypes on ’Southland’

By Jim Halterman -

Michael Cudlitz
Michael Cudlitz
On the hit cop show Southland actor Michael Cudlitz plays a cop that some have compared to John Wayne. Oh, yeah. He happens to be gay. EDGE spoke to the actor about stereotypes, shooting in LA & working with co-star Ben McKenzie.

A gritty, raw police procedural series is not the normal place television viewers often find much of an LGBT presence unless they are supporting characters (like BD Wong on Law & Order: SVU), or in stereotypical roles played by guest stars.

That is not the norm over at the crime drama Southland, which recently premiered its third season on cable channel TNT. (Previously it was on NBC.) The series has a gay presence in the form of John Cooper (played by Michael Cudlitz), who is different from stereotypical LGBT characters in that he is not defined by the fact that he’s gay.

One of the more acclaimed dramas on the television landscape these days, Southland also stars Regina King, Ben McKenzie, Arija Bareikis, Kevin Alejandro and Shawn Hatosy.

To hear Cudlitz describe it, as he did during his recent chat with EDGE’s Jim Halterman, the arc of his character this season has him battling a prescription pill addiction brought on by chronic back pain and not gay-specific issues.

Cudlitz, who is straight, also talked about how playing a gay character on television can easily get him pigeon-holed, how his relationship with co-star Ben McKenzie’s character is changing and how filming on the less-than-glamorous streets of Los Angeles enabled him seeing the City of Angels in ways he never has before.

Michael Cudlitz on Southland  

Dealing with labels

EDGE: From watching Southland, I would call Cooper a character who happens to be gay and not just a gay character. Do you agree with that?

Michael Cudlitz: I think most people who are gay happen to be gay. They don’t walk around thinking ’I’m a gay character.’ There might be a portion of their life when they had trouble coming out and it becomes about being gay from my experiences with friends of mine who had trouble coming out. But my friends who have been out since I’ve known them don’t walk around talking about how gay they are.

EDGE: But do you think gay characters on television get labeled as such, which maybe limits how audiences perceive them?

MC: I think that by making a character gay you as a television producer kind of protect yourself by making them an aggressively outward gay character. Certain segments of the audience want to know. They don’t want anything brought on them by surprise. They want to be able to judge the people that they are seeing. They can say ’I know that guy is gay or that gal is gay but I don’t like that character.’ That’s okay because I know they’re gay and they’re safe and I know.

Watch this interview with Michael Cudlitz:

Michael Cudlitz (upper) and (lower) with co-star Ben McKenzie on Southland  

Like John Wayne

EDGE: But Southland hasn’t done that with your character. The fact that Cooper is gay has been handled with a lot of subtlety instead of making that the only thing interesting about him.

MC: There are a lot of people who are completely in love with John Cooper who still have no idea that he is gay. I don’t really know how that is possible but there are. I have friends who say ’Oh my God, he’s like John Wayne!’ and I say ’Well, you know he’s gay’ and they say ’What are you talking about?’ To me, that’s actually fantastic because I think that they will fall deeper and deeper in love with John and with the trouble that he’s going through and once they really fix in on what’s going on they will have to do a little self-examination. I think that we could possibly win over some hearts and minds with the fact that John’s gay but it really does not affect your life. It doesn’t put you in peril, it’s not going to harm your children, everything is going to be okay and you still get to love him on television if you want!

EDGE: What’s coming up on the episodes? John’s back is giving him major problems on and off the job and then there’s the matter of him taking a lot of those pills...

MC: Absolutely. John’s back issues is starting to really effect what he does as the season goes on. Generally speaking, he has good and bad days and we’re going to see that there are fewer good days in between. We’re going to wonder as the season goes on if it really is a back problem or a prescription drug problem and how is it affecting his work. It comes in and out, which is part of the problem because he is able to pretend that it doesn’t exist when it’s not giving him trouble but it’s a huge liability to everyone around him and he doesn’t see that because he’s so absorbed. Like most wonderful characters that I’ve loved over the years, the Sipowiczes [from NYPD Blue, for example], the completely, damaged loveable cops...[John’s] got major, major problems that he doesn’t see as a problem. The audience gets to see it but they still get to enjoy watching him go through it but he’s not seeing it as a problem. It is literally like ’What are you talking about? I have this under control’ when he clearly does not.

EDGE: Is this a physical manifestation of what he’s going through emotionally? And how does his sexuality figure into this?

MC: The sexuality, I would argue, is one of the things that he has a handle on. That’s not the problem, that’s more of the answer. It was a problem prior when he was married but now he’s come around and I would say that is the lynch key in what is going to help him get his shit together because that part of his life has been completely explained. Now, he still has to deal with that and what that means in the world that he works in, as most people who come out do and how they’re going to handle that. I would argue that his sexuality is something that is pulling him through to the light eventually. It’s just not that he was growing up gay and not really realizing it or not being allowed to experience or acknowledge it. There are other family issues that are so much bigger than that. Everything goes right to that and I think it impairs [his] ability to make clear decisions and he’s still dealing with the simplest things.

Michael Cudlitz  

Loves it all

EDGE: Cooper doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who is going to ask for help, which makes it interesting as Ben (played by Ben McKenzie) is trying to help him. How is this going to affect their relationship both as partners and friends?

MC: The dynamic of their relationship is going to shift in many ways. On face value, it has to. John is no longer going to be [Ben’s] training officer in a few months so he basically has to evolve into being an actual officer. What’s going on there beyond all that is that they actually like each other. They understand each other. It’s probably the first person that either of them has ever met that actually gets it about the other and it doesn’t have to be talked about all the time or explained; they just get it. I think one of the things the show does a really good job of is not overwriting actual relationship stuff. Granted, we tell stories and people talk and just go on and on and on but there’s a point to it. As far as the relationship stuff, I would argue that we actually definitely talk less than more and still get the same point across.

EDGE: When I look at your credits, you’ve done everything from the original 90210 to Band of Brothers to Southland. Do you have a preference of the type of role you play?

MC: No, I love it all. For me, if you immerse yourself in a character you can have the best time on the worst project. I think that everything has something to offer. There’s wonderfulness to movies because it’s a slow pace and you have time that you can put a tremendous amount of work into it. There’s something about television, which lets you get away from the bullshit. I think the truth tends to stay more in television because it is so fast paced you can’t hold onto these precious moments that you’re trying to create; they’re either there or it’s not.

EDGE: Have you seen a different side of it filming the show on the streets of LA?

MC: There are pockets of this city that are horrible but this city in general is amazing and filled with amazing people. I’ve been to a lot of areas where people say ’Oh, never go down there’ and we’ve shot in these amazing, amazing pockets where it’s just fantastic. I would argue that there are a lot of labels put on by the media about certain areas whether it’s affluent or trouble spots and you have to sort of live this for yourself to know exactly what’s going on. It’s made me a lot less judgmental of specific areas. We’ve been in some phenomenal places that I never would have gone to on my own if the show wasn’t here and there are now places that I would absolutely take my family down to go eat; a few restaurants that we found in areas I never would have ventured near. It’s really cool and we sort of get a kick out of showing the iconic areas to the rest of the country and the world.

Southland airs on TNT every Tuesday at 10/9c.

Watch this interview with Michael Cudlitz and Ben McKenzie:

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook. and, of course,


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