When the producers of Southland went looking for an actor to play John Cooper, a tough, outspoken, no nonsense Los Angeles cop, they knew they had found their man when they met Michael Cudlitz. After all, not only is Cudlitz a first-rate actor, he’s also just as outspoken and no nonsense as the character he plays.
In fact, after spending the better part of an hour talking with Cudlitz following a panel for the show at last summer’s Television Critics Association tour, it seems like the only traits the strapping actor doesn’t share with his character is Cooper’s bad back and the fact he’s gay.
That isn’t necessarily true of course, especially as we really don’t know that much about Officer Cooper yet since NBC aired only seven episodes of the series before abruptly pulling it off the air weeks before it was due to return to the lineup last fall. Things looked grim for the gritty cop drama until TNT stepped in and rescued the critically acclaimed show.
AfterElton.com: Not everyone in the gay community has loved Cooper so far. Does that bother you at all?
Michael Cudlitz: Why would everyone in the gay community like this character just because he’s gay? That’s ridiculous. Maybe in the past, because that’s all you had to hold on to because it was so rare. "Oh my God, he’s gay! He’s not my kind of gay, or he doesn’t live my lifestyle, but it’s being depicted. Even if it’s wrong, they’re screwing it up, whatever, at least it’s there."
Now, it’s more mainstream, not completely mainstream obviously. I feel like the same struggle that’s going on at a societal level is happening on television. It very much is a mirror. Obviously, the gay community would want more representation on television, but they’d also like to get married in most states and they can’t. That fight is still going on.
I’m heartened more than I’m disheartened by the response from people, and even people who don’t care for the kind of gay character that John is, because they’ve come to the point where they’re allowed to feel that way now, and that’s fantastic.
AE: I’m not going to ask you if you had any concerns about playing a gay character because that’s been asked a million times, but did you have any concerns about playing a gay character as different and complicated as John?
MC: Absolutely not. This is one of the most exciting roles I’ve ever offered, if not the most exciting.
AE: What makes it that?
MC: Everything. From the fact that he’s homosexual to the fact that he’s the most badass cop on the force, those two things being juxtaposed against each other so far as public perception goes. The fact is these guys exist whether you do or don’t know about them. Public perception of an officer on the Los Angeles Police Department whose tough as nails, really good at his job, a guy’s guy, a sort of John Wayne kind of character, comes in and kicks ass and takes names, and then you find out, oh, and he’s gay. That makes a lot of people’s head spin. I love that.
What it’s doing, what the show did by the way that they revealed, was they got people to fall in love with John as a character, and then they revealed his sexuality, and then it’s your decision at that point whether you’re going to abandon John or embrace him. Whereas early on, depending on your feelings about that or how you live your life, you might just say, "Oh, he’s gay. I know gays. I’m not even going to waste my time on him."
AE: Said in an Archie Bunker voice.
MC: Yes, Archie Bunker voice. A really horrible Archie Bunker voice.