Interview: Michael Cudlitz of ‘Southland’

Posted on January 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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Actor Michael Cudlitz was in Washington today to talk about his television series about LA cops, “Southland,” now on TNT. He and I sat in the “America’s Most Wanted” studio at DC’s National Museum of Crime and Punishment and talked about acting, Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, and home-schooling.

You seem to get a lot of uniform roles — you’ve played a WWII soldier, a customs officer, and now an LA cop.

Interestingly enough, my more high-profile things are in uniform. But if you look at my full body of work there’s a lot of stuff that’s not in uniform. But I do a lot of stuff in the service and I think that’s just how I’m built physically. It just serves the roles. There’s an energy as well to it. And I’m fine with it.

I understand you have done a lot of research for this role. What was that like and what have you learned?

We did firearms training, we did cuffing techniques, we did these things called situation simulations, sit-sims, where they’ll basically put you in a situation with very little information, have you walk into that situation and try to find out what’s going on. We jump into that situation, we do what we think we would do as a police officer, and then we get critiqued on how many ways to Sunday we got ourselves killed, everything we did wrong. Having physically partaken in this event, you remember it way more viscerally than you ever would by reading about it. They say, “Make sure you know where someone’s hands are. You can never get that close.” There are these things you need to be aware of as an officer.

Everything sort of culminated in these ride-alongs. They were more important than anything else we did because we got to see all these different officers all doing the same job and all doing it differently. It’s all based on the same standards of technique in their training but each of them is different and we saw that there isn’t only one way to do something. It helps wash away stereotypes in your way of developing the characters. Once you get the training and know what you are supposed to do, you can sit back and rest on the training. It’s like when the boots come out of the academy. They have all this training that they want to handle. I deal with this in the pilot — you have to get him out of his head. It’s a very zen concept. You’re not going to do it by thinking about how to do it. Get him think about what he’s seeing in the present.

Your character is more than just a cop on the job. You have other things to deal with like some physical problems and other issues.

All of these Southland characters are so multi-dimensional. And Ann Biderman has it all in her head. She has done an amazing job of avoiding cliches. She has created a group of very strong individuals with weaknesses and nobody’s supercop or knows everything or has all the answers but they are good people trying to get through life like everybody.

Did you watch cop shows when you were growing up?

Of course! Everything. Starting from “The Blue Knight,” “Baretta,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Police Story,” “Police Woman,” “Rockford Files,” “NYPD Blue,” “Third Watch,” just love them. I’ve been watching a lot of TNT lately and been re-introduced to these old “Law and Order” shows. Jerry Orbach is just phenomenal. He is genius, so present.

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Actors Interview Television

Crossing Over

Posted on June 9, 2009 at 8:01 am

A well-intentioned but ham-handed exploration of U.S. immigration policies, this movie’s message is undermined by its cardboard characters and clunky script. Like “Babel” and “Crash” it is a multi-story exploration of one theme, but it is formulaic and uninvolving.

It starts off badly as one character says to Max Brogan, the immigration cop played by Harrison Ford, “must you always be the humanitarian?” And just in case we don’t get it immediately that the immigration defense lawyer played by Ashley Judd is close to sainthood when she is introduced on screen hugging a little African girl and worrying that if she is not placed soon she will lose her native language, Judd wears a necklace with a charm in the shape of Africa to make it clear where her loyalties are.

The movie unspools as though it had been laid out on a grid. On one side, we have the worthy immigrants who want to stay in the United States. On the other we have the evil or unfeeling bureaucrats who want to send them home. Brogan’s partner is a naturalized citizen from Iran (New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis, in one of the film’s best performances) whose father is about to become the last member of the family to be naturalized. The two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers (with huge ICE letters on their jackets) conduct raids on sweatshops to round up illegal immigrants. But the soft-hearted “humanitarian” Brogan cannot help getting involved. When one beautiful young woman pleads with him to make sure her son is all right, he literally cannot sleep until he tracks down the boy and delivers him to his grandparents in Tijuana.

The movie’s points are hit with a sledgehammer and the dialogue is almost as overweighted. Each character is a symbol with only one presenting characteristic. Slimy: predatory judge who insists on sexual favors in exchange for a green card. Misguided: Korean kid about to be naturalized who thinks that he has to be in a gang to get along in America. Even more tragically misguided: long, awkward conversations and confrontations in impossible circumstances, like a murder accusation in the middle of a naturalization ceremony. This is a serious and often tragic issue but the sincerity of the film’s good intentions cannot make it successful as a movie or as advocacy.

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