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 [producer] 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.
Be sure to tune into VH1 on Jan 15 to watch the Critic’s Choice Awards! I will be there, so see if you can spot me. Kevin Bacon will receive our Joel Seigel award, presented by Meryl Streep (who, of course, has a Bacon score of 1 because she co-starred with him in ???). Our host for the evening will be the lovely Kristen Chenoweth and our house band will be Nick Jonas and the Administration!
You can vote along with us, too.
Those who want to see the Michael Cera they know and love and those who want to see him do something else can both find what they are looking for in “Youth in Revolt,” based on the popular epistolary novels by C.D. Payne. Cera plays Nick Twisp, the typical adolescent hero — his parents are insensitive mess-ups with love lives that embarrass Nick and make him even more acutely aware of how alone he is and how unlikely it seems that he will ever find a girlfriend.
And at first this is the typical Michael Cera role — a sensitive teenager who is not sure of himself but whose hesitant delivery produces makes the surprisingly barbed coherence of his comments particularly winning. But then, when Nick meets Sheeni (appealing newcomer Portia Doubleday) and realizes that faint heart never won fair lady and nice guys finish last, etc. etc., he realizes he needs to up his game. And so, like the Dark Knight, Dr. Jekyll, and The Nutty Professor, he takes on another persona, one that manifests his darker impulses. Nick becomes Francois Dillinger, named for the fantasy Frenchman Sheeni says she hopes to marry and, well, you know. Francois has a mustache, he smokes, and he wears slim, European white pants. He gets Nick into a lot of trouble, but he coolly keeps pushing him forward. The two Michael Ceras interact like “The Parent Trap” on crack.
The exceptionally strong supporting cast includes the Mary Kay Place and M. Emmett Walsh as Sheeni’s very strict Christian parents and Fred Willard as a soft-hearted liberal neighbor. Jean Smart plays Nick’s perpetually-unlucky-in-love mother (her suitors are Zach Galifianakis and Ray Liotta) and Steve Buscemi is his BMW-loving father. The episodic nature of the story seems to drift toward an end that seems hasty and contrived. But Director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Chuck and Buck”) maintains a darkly comic tone, twisted but buoyant, that will feel authentic to anyone who has survived — or hopes to survive — adolescence.