Interview with Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz of "Southland" - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz

Interview with Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz of "Southland" on TNT 3/3/11.

Operator: Good day and welcome to the Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz conference call. Todayís conference is being recorded.

At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Miss Chrissie Eckhardt. Please go ahead, maíam.

Chrissie Eckhardt: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining todayís conference call with Michael Cudlitz and Ben McKenzie. The third season finale of Southland airs Tuesday, March 8 at 10:00 pm Eastern and Pacific on TNT.

A transcript of this call will be available within 24 hours.

Iíll now turn the call back over to our moderator to give instructions on how to queue your questions.

Operator: The question and answer session will be conducted electronically. If you would like to ask a question at this time, you may do so by pressing the star key followed by the digit one on your touch-tone telephone. Again, thatís star one if you have a question at this time. If you are using a speakerphone, please make sure that your mute function is turned off to allow your signal to reach our equipment.
And weíll go to our first question from Rob Owen with the Pittsburg Post Gazette.

Rob Owen: Hi guys, thank you for doing the call. I had a quick behind the scenes question. Ben when you jumped over that building was there a wire on you that got the raise and I assume the same for the guy who didnít make the jump?

Ben McKenzie: They all used wires but I just said, you know what, man just do it by myself. No, thatís not true.

Michael Cudlitz: I threw him over.

Ben McKenzie: He threw him over. That was the wire, yeah there was nothing - there was no netting or anything below but there was a wire there was a - about 130 feet up so there was a crane a 150 foot crane that had a wire attached to it that was hooked to my back and a couple of guys on a pulley.

There was no one, you know, pushing me over or catching me on the other side but there was a pulley there was a wire on my back so I was safe. Even doing that was a bit of a battle with the Warner Brothers safety officers who were none to pleased that an actor would actually do this but it was actually - it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Rob Owen: Okay and then my quick follow up was have the producers talked to you guys if one hopes there will be another season what directions your characters are going to go in particularly since it doesnít appear they are paired up anymore.

Ben McKenzie: Michael?

Michael Cudlitz: Well they havenít really gone into any specifics. I think they - theyíre not sure yet a lot of that is going to have to do with the success of how many they just picked up for and those things.

I think theyíll go back in and decide all of that later, but I think that door has been left open for many, many changes including and not limited to the ones that you see at the end of the episode.

Ben McKenzie: I think that is a perfect (answer).

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Brittany Frederick with Digital

Brittany Frederick: Hey guys its great to get to talk to you again.

Michael Cudlitz: Hi Brittany.

Brittany Frederick: Iím kind of curious we really see your characterís partnership evolve over the course of the season so how has the relationship between the two of you evolved over the course of the season?

Michael Cudlitz: Probably a lot more positive than our characters.

Ben McKenzie: Probably. Itís actually great to work with, you know, you have fun doing stuff like that is so intense as ((inaudible)). You are not worried about anybodyís stuff. Youíre kind of doing it together even though youíre acting out material that is about as real as it can get between two people who are still in a friendship to back it all up on so, you know, weíre not worried thatís a safety net for you.

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah its - and on my end itís obviously the same thing. Itís just been getting to know Ben, you know, the actor and working together has just been - itís been a highlight of my career absolutely.

I feel safe when we work together and I think safety is the key for any performer to go places theyíre not comfortable with going. You feel safe in that environment you feel safe enough to take those risks.

And I think for both of us have done things in the show that weíve never done before in our careers and itís just been a pleasure.

Ben McKenzie: Amen to that.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Lauren Fleishman with Pop Culture

Lauren Fleishman: Hey guys thanks so much for taking the time out. So what excites you guys about playing your characters Ben and John? Are there any challenges you guys face?

Ben McKenzie: Well we face a variety of challenges on a daily basis. I mean thatís - in a good way thatís the wonderful thing about the way we shoot the show, on location all over LA, practical locations using the real equipment the LAPD uses from the uniforms to the guns to the hand cuffs, the radios, the cars.

All those provide great challenges just theyíre practical challenges working out a scene in which, you know, we may be in a car chase that leads to a foot chase that leads to a cuffing.

All of those things, you know, challenge us as actors to perform, you know, dialogue as well as, you know, engage in some more, you know, physical and visceral things like driving a car really fast through oncoming traffic, safely of course.

And chasing down a suspect and handcuffing him all that stuff so this challenges us on a daily basis and thatís what makes the show so much fun for all of us as actors.

Weíre not sitting in a studio, you know, rehashing the same sort of plot lines over and over and over again. Weíre out on the streets just like the LAPD is, you know, solving problems that are immediate and visceral so itís a hell of a lot of fun.

Michael Cudlitz: Iíd say that all of the things that make, you know, make this job a challenge most people donít like challenges at work. I would say actors love challenges at work so everything that is challenging and exciting about this show.

I would speak for all of the actors and I feel comfortable speaking for all of them. The things that challenge us are the things that excite us so we hope to be challenged every week and the show delivers.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Mike Hughes with TV America.

Mike Hughes: Yeah first of all just for a second I wanted to follow up on that first question from Rob. Michael if the show doesnít come back, I hope it comes back, but if it doesnít come back it strikes me as this is a pretty good wrap up episode.

What would be your feelings overall about this episode and just the experience if it doesnít come back?

Michael Cudlitz: I would just say that, you know, we have produced the television series that we set out to produce and TNT has given us the opportunity to do that, you know, unflinchingly.

And weíre very proud of the ten hours that we have done as well as the, you know, the 13 previous hours that we produced. But more so specifically though the past 10 hours, but we will not be discussing not being picked up anymore.

Mike Hughes: Okay and then Ben I wanted to ask you this. I mean, you had a lot of fist fights in OC and they were just kind of your regular Hollywood fist fights. This fight you had on the roof top it was just brutal.

I mean it was just, you know, I thought you guys were both going to kill each other before it was done. Whatís it like to film a scene like that? How hard is it, how hard is it to get it right. Whatís it like overall?

Ben McKenzie: So thatís ((inaudible)) I havenít actually seen it yet but I know what it was like to do obviously. When we shot it basically, you know, we had a stunt coordinator but he was also an actor who - Iím hearing a lot feedback, is anyone hearing that.

Mike Hughes: Yeah youíre dropping out just a little bit buddy.

Ben McKenzie: All right let me try and move a little bit, sorry, maybe this will make it better. The stunt coordinator who had choreographed the whole thing without my being there was kind of elaborate perhaps sort of standard thing ((inaudible)) a little too choreographed felt way too choreographed for my taste.

So I just said, you know, said to Chris why donít I just roll around with this guy who is when heís not acting and being a stunt guy heís a MMA fighter so heís used to wrestling. In real life he would totally kick my ass but we can roll around and fight each other without - as long as you donít punch or kick each other particularly to the face youíll be fine.

So we basically, you know, we sort of rehearsed a little bit but we pretty much rolled around and it was fantastic. You know, I really think itís a real credit to him as a performer that he was able to go for it and make it look realistic without destroying me.

And I think that - Iím excited to see it. I think thatís more realistic to the way fights go down certainly every fight Iíve ever been in in my own personal life is not a choreographed, you know, I throw a left jab and the guy throws a right cross back at me and then we, you know, fall to the ground or whatever.

Itís messy and thatís the way a lot of fights are messy so Iím excited to see it. Thanks for the compliment.

Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Lena Lamoray.

Lena Lamoray: Hello Michael and Ben.

Michael Cudlitz: Hello.

Lena Lamoray: Itís nice to speak with you. I was wondering if you could describe John and Ben and how do they compare to you in real life?

Michael Cudlitz: Take it away.

Ben McKenzie: I think that - the way I would compare the two is I actually think they are two sides of the same coin in a lot (facts). So far as different as they may appear to be, I will pay for this, well an older arguably jaded and bitter veteran officer who has a lot of personal demons that heís fighting that are ((inaudible)).

And, you know, decisions heís making that are probably not the correct ones versus a young fresh naive idealistic (rookie) who has a lot to learn but is very sort of Type A ((inaudible)).

As far as they appear to be they are actually quite similar. They both chose law enforcement for personal reasons that have to do with from a sort of ((inaudible)) they both feel passionately what they - the line of work chosen.

And theyíre both working very, very hard to kind of keep their various demons at bay. I think Ben Sherman has more than he lets on so I actually think they are closer than they appear to be.

And thatís the genius of the pairing of the two of them out of a sense of ((inaudible)) is that you have two guys who couldnít be more different on the face of it but are actually more similar than either of them realize and they start to sort of understand that as the series progresses.

In terms of how similar they are to us personally Iím going to let Michael answer that question, Michael?

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah I would say, you know, personally they - I mean I think as an actor you try to put a little bit of yourself in everything you do but that being said I think these guys are really far away from myself and Ben.

And I think further than I actually thought at first. Thereís something about putting on that vest and getting in that car that changes you. I donít know if its something and I donít want to sound all, you know, high faluting actor but there is something that changes in you when you put on that uniform and you start doing that job.

Now Iím sure thereís a chunk of us, you know, a big chunk of us in each of these guys but as much as I thought there, you know, there was a lot of me in John Cooper, John Cooper just takes off when I put on the vest.

And I see Ben, I see a change, you know, I talk to him in the mornings, you know, when we hop out of our cars to when we, you know, we jump behind the wheel of those cars.

So I canít really put my finger on it, this whole experience has been, you know, pretty surreal and Iíve worked in a way and everyone on the show has worked in a way that I donít think any of us have ever worked in before.

So not to sound vague or that Iím dodging the question but I donít really know if I can, you know, specifically answer it other than what I just said about how close they are to me and Ben. That was about as gray as I could possibly muster. Sorry.

Ben McKenzie: You know, I think everything Michael said is true. I mean I think that you immediately as soon as you put on the uniform the vest and the weapon and everything and jump in the car youíre immediately in another world and you canít help but put yourself in those same circumstances and ((inaudible)) over the part youíre playing.

Michael Cudlitz: And we know - but I was going to say we know who these guys are and for me and I see it in everyone else the way we fight is in a way Iíve never fought before for the, you know, ((inaudible)) choices, for movement in the series and the writers respond.

They respond with this is why we feel this needs to happen or this is why we feel youíre right so itís been a really, really interesting experience. Did we lose you Ben?

Ben McKenzie: Hello.

Michael Cudlitz: Ben, can you hear us?

Ben McKenzie: Yeah, yeah Iím back.

Michael Cudlitz: Okay. So I hope that partially answers your question. Sorry.

Operator: Thank you. As a reminder, star one to ask a question; star and the number one on your telephone keypad. Weíll go to our next question from Paul Christensen with Movie Web.

Paul Christensen: Hey guys.

Michael Cudlitz: Hey buddy.

Paul Christensen: I want to know living in the area where most of this action takes place on the show, how do you guys feel youíre changing just average peopleís perceptions of the police officers that are on duty and in the streets everyday.

Michael Cudlitz: Well I think...

Ben McKenzie: Go ahead.

Michael Cudlitz: Well I think for one the people are getting a, you know, people around the country are getting a really great look at the city and the vastness of the city and the sort of, you know, the challenges that do present themselves with policing something that is so vast and not as condense as say New York City where everything is really, you know, tight and compacted on itself.

And, you know, inside of apartment buildings and, you know, those perceptions that we have of New York whereas Los Angeles is much more sprawling and itís much more, you know, that these pockets of affluence, you know, amongst poverty.

Thereís these wonderful iconic images but thereís an openness to the city and thereís an openness to the policing and I think that, you know, hopefully weíre giving you, you know, an actual view of what it would be like to be in this city.

You know, if you were to come as a visitor not just sort of a situation where itís like, you know, Hollywood Boulevard or, you know, the walk of fame. You know, Los Angeles is made up of a lot of, you know, really diverse communities and hopefully weíre giving people a little bit of introduction to that.

Paul Christensen: Are you guys responsible for the new booth over at El Siete Mares?

Michael Cudlitz: Iím sorry youíre going to have to repeat that.

Paul Christensen: Are you guys responsible for the new booths they put over at el Siete Mares where you guys eat on the shows all the time?

Michael Cudlitz: I have no idea maybe they did that after we left.

Ben McKenzie: Thatís awesome though. I hope so. Wow, I guess I hope so I kind of liked the way it was if theyíre nice then yes. If not then no.

Michael Cudlitz: We changed the location thatís one of the things that Chris Chulack is extremely adamant about is that the locations be shot at the locations. We donít need to change something to make it look nicer, it looks the way it looks.

You know, Filipes looks the way it looks. Itís, you know, itís arguable looks atrocious but thatís what Filipes is and thatís the charm of it, you know, we donít go in and repaint Filipes because it didnít look the way we wanted it to look.

We shoot things, you know, found objects the way in society the way they exist in these officerís lives and consequently being in that environment affects us as actors and thatís kind of the design the show from, you know, from the ground up.

Operator: And our next question comes from Christina Kovar with Maverick Media.

Christina Kovar: Hey guys, the intensity of the show as youíre watching it on the screen, I mean it has a lot to do with the directors and the camera block and everything like that, but Iím sure there are moments where you have to stop and reset.

How do you get back into that intense moment when there are those sort of abrupt interruptions because it relates on the screen to the fact where, you know, youíre watching it with your heart in your chest and youíre wondering if itís going to honestly pull through. But I mean just watching Ben run down the street I know Iím sure youíve done it like 12 times just for that one shot.

Ben McKenzie: Well actually no. Thatís the beauty of the way we do this is that we donít run down the street 12 times. We might run down the street three times maybe but usually we run down it once or twice.

You know, the seemingly un-choreographed fights that I engage in with the guy that Iím chasing on the roof top we did that - we only did it twice where the part where weíre rolling around on the ground we went about three minutes at a time and they just would use whatever they could use off of it.

But what we prefer to do is well what we sort of have to do given how quickly weíre shooting and how low the budget is we need to go quickly we need to go fast, it fits the aesthetic of the show, its very natural very ((inaudible)) but we just get in the rotation and we suit up and we roll.

And the brilliant thing about the show is that the analogies the digital cameras that we use allow us to go with this sort of breakneck speed and if the actor shows up prepared which we all do there isnít a lot of sort of fussing around and arguing over script changes and, you know, all of the usual kind of rigmarole that accompanies a television show.

The lighting set up and, you know, this and that moving the equipment around you basically show up in the DP puts the camera on his shoulder or on one of his camera operators and we roll and we only do it a couple of times and that allows you to keep your energy very high.

And I think it shows on the scene so I think thatís my answer is that we donít do it 12 times, we do it twice.

Operator: Thank you. And our next question comes from Sandra Gonzalez with Entertainment Weekly.

Sandra Gonzalez: Hi guys.

Ben McKenzie: Good morning.

Michael Cudlitz: Hello.

Sandra Gonzalez: So I just wanted to ask you I think youíre totally right, Mike, we need to not talk about you not getting picked up for another season so letís talk about getting picked up.

What are your Vegas odds in your head, this is sort of a two part question but your Vegas odds tell me sort of what youíre thinking about getting picked up for another season and where you would like to see your characters go.

Michael Cudlitz: Well I think the show is getting picked up. I think itís a matter of how many.

Sandra Gonzalez: Okay awesome.

Ben McKenzie: Yeah what odds are giving us Sandra?

Sandra Gonzalez: Iím not the odds maker here you are. Youíre the insider.

Ben McKenzie: If itís three to one Iíll still put money on it. Iíll bet you 100 bucks. You pick the odds and Iíll bet you 100 bucks, how about that.

Michael Cudlitz: There you go.

Ben McKenzie: What was the other question about?

Sandra Gonzalez: And where would you like to see your characters go?

Ben McKenzie: Well I think, you know, I think - well Mike will answer for his own character but in terms of my character I think the phrase that this finale up this season really completes the journey for my character literally and metaphorically of being a rookie.

So he is, you know, heís finally done with his probationary period. Heís grown up - heís become a confident officer in his own right, more than competent and heís also had to face down his returning officer and tell him some hard truth.

So heís ready to go out into the world so I think the gloves are off for Ben Sherman and the world is wide open and he can go in any number of directions which I think is very exciting.

It is very exciting for both me and I think for the producers and writers as well so, you know, he could go in any number of directions. I kind of think...

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah I think that the really great thing about, you know, for every great character in the show the future of the characters is that everything is moving forward. Everything is moving forward, everybody is moving forward.

Operator: Thank you. We have time for one more question. Weíll go to our final question is from Mike Hughes with TV America.

Mike Hughes: Yeah I just wanted to ask one last thing. We talked to (Sean Ryan) a little while ago who produced The Shield and he talks about how the Los Angeles cops really hated the show and didnít give any cooperation and you were talking about...

Ben McKenzie: Really the LAPD hated a show that was entirely based on police officers being corrupt?

Mike Hughes: Can you imagine that yeah.

Ben McKenzie: Thatís so odd, thatís so strange that you would say that.

Mike Hughes: But anyway you mentioned you get quite a bit of cooperation and sounds like youíre using the actual equipment they use and so forth and you do okay from them and you do have good cops and bad cops in your show.

And cops taking ((inaudible)) character and so on, tell me first of all how much cooperation do you get from LA and do they ever object when you have the bad cops?

Ben McKenzie: Go ahead Mike.

Michael Cudlitz: No you go ahead.

Ben McKenzie: We get a ton of cooperation. We have, you know, we have cops on our set literally every day who are off duty and who want to, you know, hang around and watch us film and play parts in the background.

And, you know, we get enormous amount of cooperation with the LAPD and particularly as we have gone on in the series the nice thing is, you know, I think cops are rightly suspicious of any show that comes on thatís going to portray them specifically in a specific police department like we are doing with the LAPD because Hollywood is known for a lot of things for being truthful and honest and in their portrayals with police officers and also being positive in their treatment of them its not one of the things its generally known for.

So they are completely on our side and I think what we are trying to do on the show is not is portray them realistically and honestly, you know, I think The Shield is a great series, it had a certain conceit which is that, you know, youíre dealing with corrupt cops, your dealing with corruption on almost all levels and thatís just the heart of the show and thatís what the show was - that show was obsessed about.

Our show is looking at the profession in terms of what (hold) does it exact on specific members of the profession. How they go about waking up in the morning and working in a field that is incredibly hard on them both physically and emotionally and psychologically.

So there are going to be cops who are going to fall apart get torn apart at the seams from working at a hard job. You see cops like Dewey who, you know, go in and out of being able to hold it together.

And, you know, Michaelís character ultimately has to, you know, get some of his problems fixed but we also have many other cops who are dealing with it and handling it the best that they can and theyíre good people who happen to be police officers.

There will occasionally be plot lines where officers will screw up and make mistakes and usually not - thereís not some grand conspiracy itís a failure of their character often but that is a failure that is not unique to them but is inside all of us.

Weíre all challenged maybe not as often as these guys are but weíre all challenged on a regular basis to maintain a certain amount moral integrity and sometimes we fail and weíre not going to say oh well these officers are perfect they never fail.

Part of whatís interesting about it is that they do fail, thereís just no grand conspiracy theyíre good people doing a hard job sometimes theyíre going to screw up.

Michael Cudlitz: And usually in our show when people screw up they, you know, they have the actual consequences that would happen in that situation.

Dewey doesnít search for a gun in the pilot episode and gets shot, you know, there are people who say oh, you know, a season cop would never not search, you know, a gang banger and you go oh why what would happen if he didnít do that, well he gets shot. You know, (Russell) steals the photos and it takes some time but he gets caught.

You know, there are usually typically consequences for improper actions and that I would say is actually more of a positive than showing somebody who is, you know, doing something, you know, negative or inappropriate because there are consequences for bad behavior and obviously for TV shows sometimes those things are drawn out which I would argue that, you know, we handle it in a much more accurate way than, you know, has been handled in the past on television.

Operator: Thank you and we have no further questions in queue at this time.

Chrissie Eckhardt: Thank you everyone for joining todayís Southland conference call. As a reminder a transcript of the call will be available within 24 hours. Ben and Michael, thank you guys so much for your time and everyone have a great day.

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