Interview Date: 02/22/2010
Run Date: 03/01/2010
When "ER" production mainstays John Wells and Christopher Chulack announced that their next project for NBC would be a police drama called "Southland," the critics were instantly intrigued. Unfortunately, while the show's first season lived up their expectations, the ratings weren't exactly through the roof, and when the network was forced to purge a few programs from its lineup to make way for the great experiment known as "The Jay Leno Show," the decision was made that the series' harsh, sometimes controversial content wouldn't be appropriate in any open timeslot.
No one was pleased with the way things went down for "Southland" at NBC – whoever heard of a series being renewed for a second season, only to be canceled before any of the new episodes that had been filmed had even hit the airwaves? But thanks to a quick swoop-in by TNT, the show was given an almost immediate reprieve. Season 1 of "Southland" received a DVD release just in time for viewers to absorb the first seven episodes of the series before the premiere of Season 2 on March 2 and, fortunately for Bullz-Eye, their new network made four of the cast members – Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz, Regina King and Tom Everett Scott – available to chat with us about where the show has gone and where it's going. Plus, each of the actors had just enough time to answer one or two questions about some of their previous projects.
Michael Cudlitz: Hellooooooo…?
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Michael, how’s it going?
MC: Good! How are you doing?
BE: Pretty good. Well, I’m planning to ask the others about their reactions when they first heard that NBC had dropped “Southland,” but yours was pretty public…particularly in my case, since I’m subscribed to your Twitter feed.
MC: (Laughs) Who are you on my Twitter feed?
BE: (Laughs) NonStopPop.
MC: Okay, perfect.
BE: So, anyway, it was obviously a pretty public reaction. Did you experience any fallout from offering that?
MC: No, no. It’s funny, ‘cause I told everyone right after that the whole thing had gone down and…y’know, the initial thing is that I got very angry at the way everything went down. It wasn’t the fact that we got canceled. It was the way that we were canceled. Once that had happened, the focus immediately became, “Look, there are other people involved and interested in looking at the show, so what can we do to facilitate letting them know that there are a lot of people who are interested in the show and don’t want the show canceled?” So I think one of the early things I Tweeted out was, “Go onto every blog, every story that comes out about this, and post and make sure that they know that you’re out there and you’re pissed off.” And the reaction from everybody else has been fantastic. I think there’s one guy…ironically, his posting name was Jeff…and he would go on every single thing that was written about what I had said, and he would call me a dumb-ass. And I just thought it was hilarious. He’s basically saying I’m committing career suicide, and this and this, and basically that dude’s a dumb-ass. So that was the only sort of fallout. Look, this is a business where everybody in the town works with everybody else at some point in their career, and then it loops back around and we’ll all work together again. I was pissed off at a very specific business move that was made at a very specific time to a very specific show, and nothing I said has changed.
BE: Well, when I wrote my piece when it first happened, the title was “NBC Kills ‘Southland’ In a Manner Which Will Annoy Even Those Who Didn’t Watch It.”
MC: Exactly. And that’s what it was, y’know? Everyone’s sort of wondering what it was all about, but that being said, TNT has come in and, I think, really seized on this opportunity with all their new programming that they have coming out and grabbed something that is critically acclaimed, they know that it’s a really, really good show, and their job now is just to build and make sure that the audience comes over and that people are aware that it has moved over to TNT. I think the rest will take care of itself.
BE: Now, how quickly did TNT come into the talks? Because that was my first guess as far as who would pick it up, but…
MC: To be perfectly honest…and this is through all my understanding, and I don’t know if it’s dead on or not, but…my understanding is that, within two hours, Michael Wright contacted John Wells and said, “I want to see if we can make something happen.” And then there were one or two other entities that they were all searching out. Warner Brothers is very involved business-wise with a bunch of different networks, obviously, and they had to find out what the right fit was. And, of course, there was the whole thing of whether NBC would let the show go. But when all was said and done...you know, they let it go, so I thank NBC for that, because they could’ve held onto it and killed it. So now that the smoke has cleared, we’re where we should be, they’re going to deal with what they’ve got to deal with, and it’s all going to work out for the best.
BE: When I did my review of the Season 1 set, I described Cooper as a guy who you want to punch in the face, but it’s as much because he’s kind of a dick as it is because you know he’s right.
MC: (Laughs) You want to hug him and punch him in the face! Well, he says the things that everyone thinks, and it’s not…a police officer is not usually the vehicle you expect that coming from. So, yeah, I would agree with that.
BE: He says in the beginning, “If you do what they teach you in the academy, you will die,” and he’s constantly proving that.
MC: And that’s also a training technique where…I said this to someone before, but it’s not so much that you didn’t learn anything that you’re going to use. The thing is, get out of your head, be here on the streets right now, forget all your training, listen to what I say, keep your mouth shut, and maybe you’ll be okay. Everything that you have learned, you have learned. Don’t try to remember what you’ve learned.
BE: A lot of times, it seems like he’s such a “seen it all, done it all” kind of guy that he only teaches his partner enough to keep him alive.
MC: I think with the situations that we’ve been going through, that sort of trial by fire, that’s where you learn the most. Because we’ve had some very sensitive situations with domestic things that’ve gone down, and I think that relationship is going to evolve. I don’t know if you saw…
BE: I’ve seen the first two episodes of the new season.
MC: Okay, well, you can very much see a dynamic shift right from the beginning in the way that the stories are being told. I mean, the content, I would argue, is still the same, but I think the focus of the storytelling has become a little narrower.
BE: It’s funny, because I was at the TCA panel that you guys did on the Warner Brothers lot, and there was all the talk about how it was going to be streamlined a little bit, but it doesn’t really feel streamlined.
MC: No, and that’s what was really hard, and that’s another thing that I would say was…NBC sent out some mixed signals, because they’re talking about the show in a way that just wasn’t true. They said they saw the episodes and that the darkness was the reason why the canceled it, and…I can ask you, now that you’ve seen it. It was no darker than anything else we were doing, was it?
BE: Not particularly.
MC: As a matter of fact, it’s about four times better, in my opinion, than any of the other seven we’ve produced. But the storytelling didn’t really change, other than getting more focused. But insofar as dealing with the multiple characters, that’s all there. We’re now just dealing with three storylines instead of five.
BE: I think the only thing that really stuck out to me was that, in the first new episode, everyone’s pretty much brought together on the case.
MC: Yes. And that was one thing that they wanted to do, because that’s very satisfying for an audience. You see these characters and you get invested in them and you want to know how they’re going to work together. How does that energy change? Because you actually did see us when we were looking for the baby…we had some interaction. Both Regina and Tom’s character work out of the same division that we work out of, so we will cross paths. But you see us working a little bit closer in the new episodes, and, like I said, I think that’s because they realized in the earlier episodes that that is very satisfying for the audience, and it’s a way to tell the same story with the same people but have it be a little bit more focused.
BE: I did notice…and, of course, this actually started during the last couple of episodes of Season 1…that the handheld camerawork has been toned down. Or, at least, it feels like it does.
MC: No, I think you’re just getting used to the vibe of the show. (Laughs) I could be wrong, too, but I’m serious: the camera moves when they want it to move, and there was never any mandate that the camera should move less. They’re moving it the way they want to. They may have, so I won’t come out and say, “No, you’re wrong!” (Laughs) But I think you’re just getting used to how they’re telling the story.
BE: During Season 1, I think my favorite guest star by far would have to be Tom Sizemore.
MC: Absolutely! (Laughs) Oh, absolutely.
BE: I don’t think they could’ve written him a better part to play off of his reputation.
MC: (Laughs) And he was awesome! He was a joy, and he came ready to work. He knew what he was doing, in the sense of what his role was on the show and what was expected of him, and he just kicked ass. Tom was fantastic for us.
BE: So what can we expect from Cooper this season? Because, like I said, I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I’ll play it cool as far as offering up any revelations…
MC: …because, otherwise, you won’t ever get any again! (Laughs)
BE: True enough! But I’ll just say that you do still continue to visit the restroom at the bar for your “medicine.”
MC: Yeah, Cooper’s issues get…more complicated. And he has not hit rock bottom yet, and you will journey with him, and when the show gets picked up, you’ll see even further where this takes him and how the dynamic between Cooper and Sherman shifts and changes, and how the training that he’s been receiving has a cumulative effect. This sort of partner training. It’s not only training to be a cop, it’s also training to be a partner and the responsibility that you have to this person who’s basically becoming closer at times than the people in your family. The people in your family, you don’t rely on them on a day-to-day basis to save your life. There’ s a strong, wonderful dynamic that develops between partners, and you’re going to see the energy and the dynamic shift between Cooper and Sherman…and it’s really, really powerful.
BE: Am I to take it from the last scene in Episode 2.2 that we’re going to be seeing more of Cooper’s personal life?
MC: You’re going to be seeing more of everyone’s personal life. It’s going to be unfolding as it has in the past: very slowly, because it has to be intertwined with how they’re dealing with their job and with their personal problems on the job.
BE: Are we going to see C. Thomas Howell returning, even in a one-off capacity?
MC: Absolutely. Tommy’s not off the show.
BE: Awesome. So, now, how have the ratings been since the show’s premiered on TNT?
MC: They’ve been fantastic.
BE: Obviously, you hear from a lot of people’s opinions through Twitter. Do you get the impression from your fellow cast members that they’re hearing just as many raves about the show?
MC: Oh, yeah. The interesting thing with all that is…you’ve got to remember that the show aired seven times now on prime time, and the DVD has come out. We’re doing fantastic, and everybody feels it. People are getting stopped on the street, people are asking when the new episodes are coming, they’re talking about seeing the episodes again and seeing things they’ve never seen before. This show is very layered, and it’s very complicated…in a good way. You can watch them again and find new things. Plus, TNT has taken out some of the bleeping. Some of it is still there, which I think actually serves the show, but you’re also kind of seeing things with new eyes. People are Tweeting things like, “Omigod, I had no idea he said that,” or, “I didn’t see that last time,” or, “Did you see that look? That was great!” It’s sort of getting rediscovered again for the first time with new eyes. So it’s…it’s been a rollercoaster, and it’s actually been pretty fantastic.
BE: I just had a couple of quick questions about some other stuff you’ve done.
BE: First of all, you first came on my radar when you appeared in “Grosse Pointe Blank.”
MC: Yeah! I loved doing that. That was awesome. I love the soundtrack to that movie.
BE: Did you have any idea that you were going to come off as such a memorable character, given the way it was written? Because it seems like a role that’s as much about the performance as anything.
MC: You know, when I was cast, that movie was…it was John Cusack, D.V. DeVicentis, and Steve Pink who wrote that, and their mission was basically to hire all the people they went to school with. And they did. I believe that of the major characters who are in it, there are only two who didn’t have some major connection to them through either school or from back in Chicago, in their Second City days, and that would be myself and Jenna Elfman. (Writer’s note: I think he’s forgetting about Minnie Driver, but otherwise he’s pretty close to on the mark.) I think it was one of the first roles that Jenna ever did, because she and I were talking, and everybody knew each other but we didn’t. I was hired…someone else had the role, one of his buddies, and he was working on “The Rock” at the time, and he got a big movie and was offered a boatload of money to do the other role. So he called up John and said, “Hey, I can’t do your little film.” And they’re, like, “No worries, go do your thing.” And I got the call. I came down, met with John, we improvised a couple of things, and… (Snaps fingers) … I was driving on my way home and I was told I was hired. So the role was larger at one point, but when his buddy got removed from it, it got smaller…and then when I came in, they pumped it back up a little bit. I had a blast working with John. The whole scene with the poem and stuff, a lot of that was…they had a scenario that they wanted to go down, and we improvised that and came up with that scene together. It was just fantastic working with him, because at the time, he was one of my…I don’t want to say “idol,” but he was definitely an actor that I really respected and enjoyed watching, so it was quite an honor to get to work with him.
BE: Excluding “Southland,” what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved?
MC: “Sex Drive.” Because it’s a film that was, in my opinion, completely killed by the marketing. It’s totally a John Hughes film. It’s a raunchy comedy, but it’s not “Porkys.” It’s more “That Thing You Do.” And I think the title of it…I mean, it’s got jokes that play out over a period of time, it’s got heart, and I think it just got completely buried because people were, like, “‘Sex Drive’? That’s perverted! That’s ridiculous!” And it’s not. Well, okay, it actually is at times… (Laughs) …but it’s very, very funny.
BE: It’s one of our music editor’s favorite films. (Writer’s note: Stand up, please, David Medsker!)
MC: It’s funny! I really liked it. If you haven’t seen it, rent it!
BE: And I was just wondering about one of the TV shows you did that didn’t last as long as perhaps it should have. It was the one you did for Fox…
MC: Oh, “Stand-Off”? That was fun.
BE: It only lasted for a season. Did you see the cancellation coming?
MC: Um…not really? Yes, no, kinda? It was a similar thing with what happened to us early on with “Southland,” where that hesitation starts and they begin to move things around, so it’s all up in the air. We had a blast. That was another situation where we had a wonderful crew and wonderful cast that worked really well together. I’d worked with Ron (Livingston) before on “Band of Brothers,” and…yeah, it was just a joy coming to work. Rosemarie Dewitt is just a phenomenal, phenomenal actor. She’s in the new John Wells film that just came out at Sundance. That experience was just a great work experience. Fox was fantastic to us, to be perfectly honest. They just didn’t really know what to do with us. We weren’t pulling huge numbers, and it was kind of one of those shows where…I don’t know, it was similar to “Bones” in a way, but… (Trails off) You always see it coming, though. It’s the natural lifespan of a show, to be canceled, no matter how good or bad you are. Every time you finish up a season when you’re working on a TV show, you wait and see, and then they tell you what’s going to happen. So you enjoy it while you’re doing it, and you leave it all on the field.
BE: And lastly, to bring it back to “Southland,” do you have a favorite line of Cooper’s that really stands out for you? Particularly a smart-ass one, since those tend to make me laugh pretty consistently.
MC: (Laughs) Um, I don’t know if I have a favorite. I like’ em all. Anne is an amazing writer. None of them really stick out for me, just because it’s a never-ending barrage. A lot of them don’t wind up in the show. (Laughs) So, no, I don’t necessarily have a favorite.
BE: I have to say, I enjoyed the bit where he got punched out.
MC: What, you mean with the “Dennis” tattoo? (Laughs) Yeah, that was good.
BE: Yeah. (Laughs) Well, it’s been good talking to you, Michael. I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the season goes.
MC: Thanks, man. And as far as the season goes, it just gets more and more intense. I think you’re gonna like it!
Ben McKenzie: Hello, Will!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Ben, how’s it going?
BM: Not bad.
BE: I just talked to Michael a few minutes ago.
BM: Yes, and he’s already posted on Twitter, so I have been informed. Well, good. The circle of spontaneous interactive media coverage is complete.
BE: Absolutely. And as soon as you and I finish chatting, I’ll be posting about it on Facebook.
BM: (Laughs) Excellent. The world is in order, then.
BE: Well, obviously, anyone who follows Michael on Twitter knows how he felt about NBC dropping “Southland,” but what was your immediate reaction when you first heard the news?
BM: My immediate reaction was, “What?” (Laughs) My immediate reaction was, “I don’t understand,” because we were two weeks from premiere. I mean, it had already been such a process by then, anyway. We had shot a pilot a year ago, it had all the markings of what would be a really great show…which, of course, is the death knell of any series. But, anyway, you know, it was John Wells’ new show, it was going to replace “ER” at mid-season, right at the beginning of 2009, and we were going to be on Thursdays at 10 PM, which has consecutively been the timeslot for some of the longest running dramas in TV history. I could be wrong about that, but, I mean, it was “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law,” and then “ER,” so for 20, almost 30 years straight, they knew exactly what they were putting on Thursday at 10 PM, and it was always a huge hit. NBC owned that timeslot. So I remember sitting there talking with Peter Roth about this, who runs Warner Brothers, and I thought, “All right, well, that sounds good! Let’s do that! If I can get that part, that’d be a good idea,” y’know. So we shot it, the pilot went great, we saw the footage and it looked as good if not better than I’d hoped it would be…and then we sat around. And then eventually they picked us up, but only for six more, so a total of seven episodes. It came on really late in the year, and they promoted it, but mostly through NBC-owned stuff. And we came on to great reviews and decent ratings, they picked us up, we go back in and we’re gonna shoot at least 13 new episodes…or so they tell us. And then two weeks from when we’re airing, we’re gone. And I…I just didn’t understand! (Laughs) Because, you know, as soon as you renew a show, that’s a lot of money you’re spending to ramp the whole thing up again: new scripts, the crew goes on, you’ve got actors you’ve got to pay, and directors. That’s expensive. So I just didn’t understand why they wouldn’t put it on and see how it did first before yanking it. I mean, before it even aired…? It’s a very odd thing to be renewed and then yanked before you even air. It’s one thing f you’ve just shot a show that they said they believe in but actually isn’t testing well or something, but to have been proven to have been at least critically well-received and have a decent fanbase, then to be pulled at the last minute…? It’s just very odd.
BE: Yeah, actually, when I posted the news on my blog, the premise of my piece was, “Whether you liked the show or not, you’ll still be annoyed by the way this went down.”
BM: (Laughs) Yeah. And by the way, fair argument: our show is not going to appeal to everyone. And in a sense, I think that’s part of the reason it didn’t work on NBC. If you look at NBC’s programming…and, to a certain degree, all networks’ programming… (Hesitates) The shows that are going to actively turn people off…and our show may, because it’s pretty violent and there’s foul language, and some people don’t like that…those shows are going to be made on cable now. And I feel like…I hate to be overly dramatic, but I actually think I’m totally right…I think we were the last 10 PM character-based, edgy, kind of gritty show that will ever be made on network TV! (Laughs) I’m not exaggerating. I’m not saying that network TV won’t make interesting shows, because they will. Every once in awhile, there’ll be a “Lost,” or there’ll be a really well done sort of soap opera, like “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Desperate Housewives,” and of course there’ll be procedurals. But the gritty, character-based edgy stuff, they’re just not going to do it anymore. Cable’s gonna do that, or pay TV like HBO or Showtime. Ultimately, hopefully it’ll work out and we’ll be on TNT for a long time. I know TNT is definitely excited about having us, and we’re excited to be on, so if we can get whatever ratings they’re looking for, then I’m optimistic that we can someday make 13 straight episodes of this show. (Laughs) That’s the dream, to do 13. It’s no longer to do 22 episodes and to be on a hit show. At this point, my dream is to do 13 episodes of a show that I genuinely love…and I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoy doing this show.
BE: Well, I’ve seen the first two episodes of the new season, and I’d heard the talk about how it was going to be considerably less sprawling for the new season, but to me, it still feels basically like the same show.
BM: Right, exactly. Good, good, I’m glad you feel that way, because, actually, the last interviewer asked me about that quote that Angela Bromstadt gave when we were picked up, about how the show was going to focus more on Regina and her partner and Michael and myself. I think it’s…you’ll see a little bit of both, but we didn’t cut any cast. I mean, Tom Everett Scott is sort of coming in and out a little bit…
BE: Well, he’s got a good excuse.
BM: Well, sure: he got shot. (Laughs) But we didn’t drop any cast. I think maybe the difference is that we may try to tell three stories in an episode instead of five, which I just think is sort of the demands of doing a 42-minute show: it’s too much to ask an audience to follow five storylines in any given show. So that may be the net result. But ultimately, it’s not like…I mean, Shawn Hatosy and Kevin Alejandro and Michael McGBrady and Arija Bareikis, all of these people, they’re all big components of this show, so I’m very pleased with the mix that we’ve kind of settled on, and I think it bodes well for our future, because I think the show is exactly what the fans looked for last year. The people who watched it and liked it will totally get on board again. And in a certain sense, doing three storylines makes it easier for new fans to come on and not be totally lost and be unable to pick up from where it left off.
BE: Like I said to Michael, though, it does seem in the first new episode as if they made a concerted attempt to bring all of the primary characters together by the end. I don’t know if that’s consistent throughout the season, but that first episode, it’s clear that they’re being brought together to make it one big storyline.
BM: Yeah, I think we’re trying to provide areas where the cast members can cross over on each other, that their plotlines can overlap, but not in a way where it’s obnoxious and unrealistic. Because it’s not a show about… (Goes into an announcer-like voice) …a team of elite, highly-trained professional cops who solve crimes throughout Los Angeles. (Laughs) Which, you know, those shows are fine. Those are very successful shows. But that’s not particularly realistic to what actually happens. The LAPD has, like, 10,000 members, and you may work in a certain division with certain people, but even when you do that, you don’t see them all the time. You work different shifts, you have different partners, you don’t spend a lot of your time – particularly if you’re a patrol cop, as Michael and I are in the show – in the division headquarters. You’re out on the streets, where you should be, driving around and listening to the dispatch and waiting for things to go down and trying to fix them. So there’s not as much overlap as I think people have sort of been taught to believe there is by shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI,” and things like that. Again, those are fine, but they’re just different.
BE: When I wrote my review of the Season 1 set, I observed how Ben, because of his background, is underestimated, which means that he manages to surprise people a lot, but at the same time, it means he’s prone to overcompensation.
BM: Yes. That’s very accurate. Yeah, I think he’s a very confident, very sharp guy who has, for sort of interesting psychological reasons, chosen to become a cop on the street, a beat cop. Well, he’s chosen to join law enforcement, and you have to start as a cop. People don’t join as detectives. Everybody starts as a P1, and they work their way up. But you’re right, he will be a great cop someday, at some point in the future, if he can kind of hold it together. I think the tension is that he almost knows that. He knows enough to know that he’s a sharp guy, he’s a charismatic guy, he has the technical skills to do well at this job, but that also blinds him to the fact sometimes that he’s in a little over his head in terms of, y’know, he grew up in, like, Bel Air or Beverly Hills. There are certain aspects of the real world that he’s more or less completely oblivious to, and he’s going to learn them the hard way…and that’s a fun little tension to have there. I think there’s that tension of him thinking that he knows everything but doesn’t, and there’s also the tension of him trying to extract justice out of a fundamentally unjust world. What motivated him to go into this was that he had some, uh, maybe not terribly well mapped-out version of, “I’m gonna make some of the things that I saw go wrong in my childhood, particularly with my father, go right by doing the opposite of what I’ve seen. He kept bad people out of jail. I’m gonna fix that. I’m gonna make it better. I’m gonna make the world a more moral place.” The problem is that, y’know, he has very little control over that. (Laughs) So I think that’s a cool tension: a young man having to adjust to the world the way it is as opposed to the way he wants it to be. But he’s still getting up in the morning, putting on his uniform, and going out in the street to do what he can.
BE: In the second episode of the new season, there’s an implication – or, at least, I saw one, anyway – that he might want to pursue being a detective at some future juncture, because he kind of wants to see that episode’s case to the end.
BM: Yeah. That’s very observant. You actually watched the show! (Laughs)
BE: I really did!
BM: Hey, you’d be amazed at how many people ask you questions where you’re, like, “Yeah, I know, but, what, did you only read the DVD jacket cover?” (Laughs) But, yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s really tricky on a show like this, where we’ve shot 13 episodes in a year and a half, to know exactly where we’re going with any of the characters in the long term, but with the conversations that I’ve had with Ann Biederman, John Wells, and Chris Chulack, we absolutely…if we were to go on for a long time, we’d want to track Ben Sherman’s rise through the ranks and all of the potential pitfalls that could happen along the way. But he absolutely has aspirations…or, at least, he has interest in becoming a detective. He’s thought, “Should I go over and work the gang unit at some point? Could I work undercover on certain things?” I mean, he’s a white guy, a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid, so there’s maybe a limit to what he could do there… (Laughs) …but the goal is to use my character to show different sides of the LAPD, and to allow the audience to kind of come along with that. So we’ll see how it goes. It’ll all depend on how well we do here on TNT, but in the long term, yeah, absolutely, we want to show him for who he is, which is an ambitious guy who won’t always be a patrol cop. But who knows where that will lead?
BE: Are we going to see more exploration of his family this season?
BM: You know, we were going to. (Laughs) That was actually going to be the latter half of the 13, at least somewhat, and we basically just didn’t get there. We got canceled before we got there. So it’ll always be there, and it’ll always sort of be around. There’ll be little hints and small things regarding it, but unfortunately we’re not going to see that unless we go forward beyond these episodes. For the six that we were able to shoot, for me, I think the plotline is about, “Okay, he’s not a true rookie anymore.” It’s kind of what you were mentioning about him being confident to the point of sometimes being dangerous. He’s not a rookie. He knows enough to know that he’s not a complete idiot, but he isn’t completely ready yet. He’ll start to get more responsibilities, and John Cooper will give him more things to do. In the third episode…which I think they’ll send you eventually, but I think they just wanted to send you the first two first…it’s called “U-Boat,” and it’s me going out on my own. John gives me the keys to the car and says, “All right, you’ve proved yourself, now go drive on your own, because I’ve got to deal with another situation.” And it’s me alone. And that difference…when you sort of think about it, you wouldn’t think it’d be such a big deal, since I’ve ridden in a cop car, in a black and white, for six months now, so what’s the difference? Well, all of a sudden, I don’t have John Cooper to watch my back and help me out, so I’ve got to do it on my own and figure it out on my own, and that’s a big challenge. And I think the episode’s really cool in the way I handle things. There’ll be incremental challenges throughout the entire show, and I think what they’re pushing towards…and I think they are going to get into it…is what happens to Ben Sherman’s moral sense of right and wrong, because he has a very high sense of that and sees things in black and white, right and wrong.
What happens when that gets tested? Maybe there’s a way to fix something that’s clearly wrong in the world, something morally dubious and morally incorrect. I think we’ll get into that as we move forward on TNT and poke around there. There are some really cool angles to explore.
BE: Well, I know I’m going to be told to wrap up any minute, but one of my friends just wanted me to ask you this one very simple question.
BE: Was Marissa Ryan’s soulmate?
BM: (Bursts out laughing) Oh, man, what a question! You know, I’m going to get so much hell for this, but…I don’t think so. I’m going to answer the question seriously and say that I personally don’t think so. I know I’ll get so much crap for that from “O.C.” fans, but…maybe I won’t. Maybe it’s past the point where everyone will be concerned about it.
BE: It’s never past the point. There’s this thing called the internet, you see…
BM: (Laughs) I know, right? Well, I’m still going to say that I think the answer’s “no.” I think she was…oh, man, I realize I’m only digging myself deeper here, but I think she was the first girl that he fell in love with. We’ve all had the experience…or most of us have, anyway…where you fall in love when you’re 16 or 17 and then, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out. And you always look back fondly on it, but you also know that it wasn’t the right person in the long run. It’s just a pleasant piece of nostalgia.
BE: Excellent. Well, just in closing, I wanted to mention we actually have a connection of sorts: I’m a Virginia native, and I know you went to UVa.
BM: Oh, excellent! Where are you?
BE: I’m in Norfolk.
BM: Oh, fantastic. I love Virginia. It’s a beautiful state.
BE: Now, be honest: how much money did you spend at Plan 9 Records when you were in Charlottesville?
BM: (Laughs) Oh, that was place was good. Yeah, and I saw a lot of music at Trax. Dave Matthews had kind of already made his name by then, he was already a big deal, but there were some other cool people…I don’t know what you’d call them. Jam-band-y types? (Laughs) But, anyway, I saw a lot of bands put on some great shows. I love Charlottesville.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Ben, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the season play out.
BM: Same here as well. Thanks! It’s been a pleasure!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Tom, how’s it going?
Tom Everett Scott: Good, man. What’s going on?
BE: Nothing much. Good to talk to you. Mind you, just getting to talk to you about Season 2 of “Southland” was kind of a spoiler in and of itself.
TES: (Laughs) I know! I’ve been trying to find out if the people I’m talking to today have seen the cliffhanger resolution yet or not.
BE: Fortunately, I’ve seen the first two episodes of the new season.
TES: Okay, good!
BE: Well, Michael’s reaction when he found out about NBC dropping “Southland” was well documented, but what did you think when you first heard the news?
TES: You know, it was a bummer. I think everyone was shocked and bummed about it. But then the news of TNT picking it up was really great and kind of just made all of that go away.
BE: You’re a TNT veteran. Did you happen to include an addendum in your contract that gets “Saved: The Complete Series” released on DVD?
TES: (Laughs) Well, I’ll tell you this much: I’m happy that “Southland” went to TNT. I had a very good experience with them on “Saved.” They really promote their shows well.
BE: When you first came aboard “Southland,” was it anything to do with you having been remembered by John Wells and Chris Chulack from your stint on “ER,” or was it just happenstance?
TES: Well, I certainly had a rapport with John and Chris, but it was a pretty hot piece of material. I had to fight for it. There were a lot of actors who wanted to be on “Southland.”
BE: During Season 1, you obviously have some relationship problems going on. In fact, when I wrote my review of the DVD set, I referred to them as being problems that lead you to make poor choices that will almost certainly come back to haunt you…and they certainly do. How much of Clark’s path did you know about when you signed on? Did they have it laid out already?
TES: You know, that’s more of a question for Ann Biderman, but I know that in the beginning, it wasn’t all mapped out, because there was the possibility that he was going to be sort of preying on women who were victims of crime. If a woman was suffering and it was his case, he’d get closer than was appropriate. That was kind of where the character was starting, and then he was also having a bad marriage. But then I think Anne switched gears, and she didn’t want him to be, as she said, “a serial philanderer.” She wanted him to just be struggling with the marriage, because in reality, these police officers do find it hard when they spend more time with their partners than their spouses to actually have a connection at home. So that’s kind of the line that we’ve found and we’ve started to follow.
BE: What’s funny is that I was going to theorize that the reason Lydia is currently so upset about Clark being sidelined is, as much as anything, because he’s the longest successful relationship she’s had with a man in a long time.
TES: Yes. You’re absolutely right. It rocks both of their worlds, and that look that passes between them at the end of that first new episode, right before she breaks down out in the hallway, is a very difficult coming to terms with reality. Life will be different because of that shooting. So, yeah, it’s hard.
BE: The phone calls between them are really harsh to watch, just because you can see her refusing to acknowledge the reality of the situation.
BE: So what is your status on the show? Because you’re listed as “guest star” in the episodes, but I didn’t know if that was just to keep us in suspense about Clark’s rehab and how it’s progressing.
TES: Well, the character’s role definitely has changed, and…the show has been changing and evolving, so my status was changed to a guest-star role for the second season, and I didn’t know if it was going to continue. With it moving to TNT now, that’s really up in the air, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens if TNT picks up “Southland” for more new episodes.
BE: Can we expect to see a flashback to the immediate aftermath of the shooting, to fill in some of the blanks between the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2?
TES: I don’t think so, no. As far as I know, there aren’t any flashbacks.
BE: Well, I know that everyone was saying that this season was going to be less sprawling, but having watched these first two episodes, it doesn’t feel that way…and I mean that in a good way. It doesn’t feel significantly different from the show that it was on NBC.
TES: Right. I actually found that…the only one that I’ve seen so far is the first of the new ones, and I just feel like it’s a better show than the first seven. I do. Less sprawling? What do they mean by that? Like, less spread out across the city?
BE: I think they meant that, like, the lesser characters wouldn’t be as significant. The cast would stay the same, but it’d be streamlined.
TES: So, like, they’re tightening the focus…? Yeah, that’s true. But it doesn’t feel different. I thought it was just very tight in a good way.
BE: I told Michael that I thought my favorite guest star in Season 1 was Tom Sizemore.
TES: Right! Me, too, man. Me, too. Boy, we were all, like, surprised and excited that he was going to be on the show.
BE: I also really liked the way they utilized C. Thomas Howell as well. I hear he’s coming back at least in some capacity in Season 2.
BE: Did you have any particular favorite guest stars that you yourself got to work with?
TES: Oh, they were all so good. No, I just kind of felt that we were really blessed with great actors. I have to acknowledge John Levy, the casting director, for that, ‘cause he’s really done an amazing job of casting this show. No, they’re all great. I’ve really been enjoying it.
BE: When you heard that NBC’s great 10 PM experiment was not the success that they’d hope, did you find yourself thinking, “Well, then, maybe you should’ve stuck with the dramas”?
TES: (Laughs) Well, there was certainly some of that feeling, where you feel like you were part of the experiment that failed, but…oh, well. Ultimately, that’s show biz. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something comes along, and you’re, like, “Uh, okay.” I just kind of roll with it, pick up myself, and I’ve learned not to worry about things I don’t have any control over. I was really feeling worse for Conan than anybody else, because I really loved Conan’s show. But he’ll land on his feet.
BE: So what can we expect from Clark in the upcoming episodes? Obviously, he’s in rehab at the moment. Is that where he’s going to remain?
TES: Yeah, he’s rehabbing, and he’s finding it challenging, so that’s his storyline: the struggle of coming back to the job, the physical challenge.
BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of other things that you’ve done in your career. First of all, what would you say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
TES: Interesting. You know, I guess… (Hesitates) It doesn’t really make any sense to go back and go over that, you know what I mean? Like, things happen for a reason, and I’ve definitely got something from every job I’ve worked on, so I just keep moving forward. I think with Hollywood remaking a lot of things that were hits in the past, like remaking every single TV show and comic book… (Laughs) …and whatever they can get their hands on that was a hit someplace at some time somewhere, maybe they should focus on the projects that had a lot of potential that didn’t succeed at the box office. Like, some of my movies. Like, say, “Dead Man on Campus”! (Pauses) I’m kidding. That’s a joke. That film’s probably better left where it’s at. (Laughs) But, no, I’ve really had a good time on all of these jobs I’ve done, so this is really one of those rare situations where we get a second chance.
BE: Did you enjoy getting a chance to voice Booster Gold again on “The Brave and the Bold”?
TES: Oh, yeah, I love that show! They’ve had me back a bunch, and there’s this one that we did that’s really funny. It’s Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Batman, and Blue Beetle and Booster are really great friends, but Batman didn’t know, so there’s this whole love triangle of sorts… (Laughs) …that’s really funny. It’s really good.
BE: And I just wanted to close by saying something you probably still hear all the time, but…as a former music critic, I still love “That Thing You Do!”
TES: Oh, cool! Yeah, me, too.
BE: As a pop boy, it’s one of my favorite all-time films. It might not be the deepest film in the world, but it’s the perfect encapsulation of an era in music.
TES: Oh, yeah, and we had so much fun working on that, and it still just continues to pay off in the relationships that started there and continue now. And it’s a movie that I can honestly say that I enjoy watching. No matter what point in the movie it is when I change the channel and find it on, I’ll watch it from there on out. I can’t say that about many other things.
BE: And that was a pretty big role for you. You’d done, what, “Grace Under Fire” and not much else, right?
TES: Yeah, I’d done jack squat before that, really. It was just the ultimate opening of the door, and I was in the hands of a guy who I had idolized…and still idolize, I should say. But at the time, my mom, who knew I was this huge Tom Hanks fan, she was, like, “I can’t even believe that he’s the guy who’s giving you this break!” It was really weird.
BE: But can you still listen to the theme song, given how many times you must’ve heard it during filming?
TES: Yeah, I don’t want to brag, but between rehearsing it and hearing it, I think I’ve heard it more than anyone ever. (Laughs) I have! I haven’t heard it in awhile, but, y’know, what’s funny is that I’ll go into a store somewhere where the staff clearly has access to the jukebox, and it’ll just kind of come on coincidentally. That’s really the only time I hear it.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Tom.
TES: The pleasure’s mine. Good talking to you, too.
Regina King: Hi, Will!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Regina, how are you?
RK: I’m good, thanks!
BE: Well, I’ll start by asking you the same thing I’ve asked your co-stars: thanks to Twitter, I know what Michael thought when NBC dropped “Southland,” but what was your initial reaction when you first heard the news?
RK: My initial reaction was that I was disappointed, but then I felt, like, “Okay, well, where’s our show gonna go?” Because I never felt like that meant it was the end of our show. It just felt like it was the end of our time at NBC.
BE: How did you first come aboard “Southland”? Was it a standard audition, or did they approach you?
RK: An audition. I was looking to do TV, so my reps were, y’know, reaching out to different producers, letting them know that I was interested in doing TV, so that when the pilot seasons and everything were coming around, they would send scripts my way. I think now… (Hesitates) I say that, as each year goes by, you’re starting to see more movie actors doing TV, and I think that because of that, producers are more automatically sending scripts to actors. But up until just, like, a year ago, it was really something that a movie actor would actually have to pursue, because the assumption was that a movie actor would not be interested. So when the script for “Southland” came along, it was the only script that really was of interest to me, so I met with Wells and Biederman and Chulack, and they let me know where they were going with the character, and they let me know that they really wanted me for the part and they weren’t going to audition any other people. But NBC wants to audition everybody, so I still had to go through the auditioning process for NBC.
BE: You touched on something I was going to ask about. You mentioned that they told you where they were going with the character. So was Lydia pretty well developed, then, before you even came aboard?
RK: I think she was really well developed in… (Hesitates) You know, honestly, what I feel like is that Lydia was not really written as a black woman. I think Lydia was just kind of written as…well, not kind of!...she was written as a woman, but I know just from being in interviews with Anne that, when she starts a character, she likes to start it without an actor in mind. And then from there, once the actor becomes that person, she gets a whole new burst of inspiration. So I think that Anne had somewhat of an idea of what she wanted to do with Lydia. I think with all of the characters in that pilot script, what was interesting was that in the way it was written and the way the story started, you were left interested in where they were going to go. So it wasn’t really clear like, “Okay, she’s a woman that’s taking care of her mother because her mother was sick, and her mother is well now, and she’s still living with her under the auspice that she’s living with her because she’s sick and because her mother needs her there, but the real deal is that she has her own issues and is using her mother as an excuse to not deal with her lack of a relationship.” All of that was not on paper. (Laughs)
BE: I thought the relationship between Lydia and Russell was interesting, but especially so as the new season begins. I get the impression that the reason she acts the way she does is because he’s pretty much the only successful male relationship she’s had in recent years.
RK: Oh, definitely. I think you’re the first journalist that I’ve spoken with that actually saw it that way! I mean, the majority of the others felt, like, “So, were Russell and Lydia gonna hook up?” Or, “Had they actually hooked up in the past?” But it’s exactly what you just said, so kudos to you for actually seeing that! (Laughs)
BE: Well, it just never struck me as being a romantic chemistry, and we saw her trying to pursue a relationship out in the “real world,” as it were…
RK: …but they definitely have a chemistry, and it was and is a beautiful relationship that a lot of partners have, because they spend so much time together. And, y’know, because there’s no romantic involvement, there’s this guard that, as adults, after so many failed relationships, we automatically put up when it comes to new relationships that you’re not putting up because there’s not any romantic involvement. So they’re able to have this honesty with one another about how they feel about things and not feel like they’re gonna be judged.
BE: And, yet, it is almost like they’re breaking up as the season begins, because the phone calls between you and him are so stilted and awkward. You’re thrilled to talk to him, and he’s, like, “Yeah, I gotta go…”
RK: Which is a first for them. It’s the same awkward thing that…she feels him pulling away, and he feels her not wanting to let go.
BE: And now you’ve got your new partner, Rene Cordero, played by Amaury Nolasco.
BE: Obviously, you’d only done half a dozen episodes with Tom, but even so, what was it like to try and build a rapport with this new partner, particularly a character who Lydia clearly doesn’t have any chemistry with?
RK: (Laughs) Well, you know, Tom is an awesome person, and he’s an awesome actor, so there’s this part of me that’s really gotten to know Tom as a person. But there’s another part of me, the artistic side of me, that…you know, I understand when it comes to writing and storylines that I don’t really have control over that. I’m not a producer on the show. So there’s a part of me that’s a little bummed, because I really wanted to be able to…I call it “working out” with him, in actor terms. You know, when you get to have all of these great scenes together and get to see where a character is going. It’s almost like a tennis match. So I kind of felt like we were doing that, and we were starting to have this great volley and this great game, and we just keep getting rained out.
BE: There was a bunch of talk about how the show was going to be tweaked and streamlined for Season 2, but I’ve seen at least the first two episodes, and the changes aren’t really as noticeable as I was expecting them to be.
RK: Well, what did you hear?
BE: Well, for instance, I was at the TCA panel that you guys did last year…
RK: Oh, the one with NBC…?
BE: (Laughs) Well, the one at Warner Brothers, but, yeah, you were still with NBC at the time. But, y’know, there was this talk that it was going to be streamlined and not have quite as expansive an ensemble.
RK: Yeah, I don’t think that ever really was the case. I think that was just a soundbite that NBC decided to make on their own. That was never the intention with the creators. At all. The intention was always that you’d have these eight stories, there’s no way to tell all eight stories in 40 minutes, so some episodes you’re going to see geared more towards some storylines, and other episodes you’re not going to see those storylines as much. You’ll see different storylines. I mean, it’s eight characters. There’s only so much you can show.
BE: So in the second season, will we see Lydia have any sort of romantic relationship?
RK: Well, we… (Starts to laugh) Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten that far. The intent was to. But I feel really positive about the relationship between Warner Brothers and TNT, and I feel like TNT really wants “Southland” to win. I think they feel like they acquired a gem, and I feel like they’re treating it as such. So with that being said, in the next season…? (Laughs) Yeah, you will.
BE: I wanted to ask you about one of your projects outside of “Southland.” I was wondering what positive effects do you think “The Boondocks” has had on black culture with the way it’s looked at black society?
RK: (Considers the question) I don’t know. I think that for most people…it’s really interesting, because it depends on who you’re talking to. For some people, it could have had a negative effect, and then for some it’s kind of allowed them to step outside of themselves and see how other cultures possibly regard us. So I think for those that are smart enough to see that, I think it’s had a great impact. I know with a lot of teenagers that I’ve talked to – because that’s really our hugest audience – who’ve seen the ridiculousness of…I’m gonna say video life. (Laughs) ‘Cause, y’know, videos influence so many teenagers, and them seeing it in animation form, in an exaggerated form, has allowed them to see how ridiculous it is in its real form. I don’t think Aaron (McGruder’s) intention was to make this huge statement where it’s, like, “And the moral of the story is…” I don’t think that is the intent. I think the intent has always been that Aaron is expressing a lot of his views from…kind of like a parody. And I think the majority of the teens that I’ve run across understand it that way. But, you know, you’re going to have some that don’t. That’s just the luck of the draw with any art form.
BE: Did your work on “24” help prepare you at all for working on “Southland”?
RK: Oh, definitely! It made know that I… (Hesitates) “24” was the first TV situation that came up when I started looking for TV. That was the first callback that my manager got: from Joel (Surnow), who said that he would love for me to be a part of the cast. So, y’know, it was that response, and then waiting for them to kind of develop and see where they wanted to go. And then they called back and said, “Okay, these are two different ways that we’re thinking about going. What do you think about either one of these characters?” So that’s how that came to be. The writing over “24,” you just don’t know where anything is gonna go. You could end up being the pulse of the storyline throughout the 24 hours, or you can come and go, like Angela Palmer did. It made me know that TV…y’know, there was always this thing for me that, in a perfect world, a sitcom is the schedule that I need, but it’s not the type of actor that I am. So doing “24” definitely verified that for me. (Laughs) The sitcom world is not for me. But it also made me know that, yes, the decision to go to TV was the right decision.
BE: And I know I’m probably up against the wall, but I’m just curious about this reported “Big Chill” remake that they’ve got on your IMDb listing.
BE: What’s the story with that? Because I love the original, so I’m kind of curious about it.
RK: Well, it’s something that we’re still working on developing, because we want to be careful to not disrespect the love for the first film, but we are aware that there is an entire audience that has no idea of what the first film was. And we also know that, as a black audience, there are very few…very, very, very, very, very, very, very few…movie storylines that are about black people that are, quote unquote, the “Cosby Show”-type people. And the majority of us know successful black people, and they have their own conversations that they have with other cultures, and they’re able to go in and out of those conversations with those people within their families that aren’t as successful, and their conversations are a little less…broad? And myself and the other producers feel like is important to show that side of black life. It’s not documented in film as much as it should be. Usually, when you see it, it’s really about a big, gigantic story or plot. It’s not about the relationships. We just felt like we’d like to see it, and we’ve done a lot of…what would you call it? Think tanks and, you know, just having conversations with groups of successful black people in different walks of life between the ages of 30 and 50. And they all feel the need for it as well, to see it as well. The common thing is that none of us feel like we are represented in the majority of the movies that we see us in, unless we are the best friend or the wife. So that’s how that came to be, and what made “The Big Chill” so brilliant was that it really wasn’t about the funeral, it was about these people coming together.
BE: I’ll be interested to see how it comes out.RK: I will be, too! (Laughs)