“Southland” wraps up its third season Tuesday demanding to be renewed for a fourth.
It’s been a helluva high-stakes—and high quality—season, most notably with the death of Kevin Alejandro’s Detective Nate Moretta (I’m still not fully recovered) and the angry, obsessive mourning by his partner, Sammy (Shawn Hatosy).
The explosive season finale, “Graduation Day” (9 p.m. March 8, TNT), offers Sammy and the other main characters some closure to their stories, but also leaves things open for the future.
Ben (Ben McKenzie), on his last day as a rookie, finally confronts his ailing, pill-popping partner John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), who has refused to get treatment for his bad back. Lydia (Regina King) and Josie (Jenny Gago) spar over Lydia’s dating Josie’s son. And Chickie (Arija Bareikis) considers a possible career move.
The action’s raw and realistic, thanks to the show’s run-and-gun filming style using multiple digital cameras.
“It feels raw because it is raw,” McKenzie told me earlier this season. “It’s just fast. It’s really, really, really fast … We don’t have any time to sit and debate and set up all these beautiful, aesthetically pleasing shots.
“It looks cool when it is honest and real and when you as the viewer feel as though you are really right there.”
On Tuesday, viewers will feel they’re in the middle of big brawl in which Ben chases a villain over rooftops. (Photos at left.) McKenzie had a say in just how brutal it got. In a call with reporters last week, the actor said the initial fight sequence felt a little too choreographed for him, so he asked that he and the guest actor simply improvise by “rolling around on the ground.”
“Certainly every fight I’ve ever been in in my own personal life [was] not choreographed," McKenzie said. "It’s messy, and that’s the way a lot of fights are—messy.”
Messy is a good way to describe the history of “Southland,” too. NBC aired seven episodes in spring 2009. It put the show on its fall schedule, but then it changed its mind, shelving six new episodes it had paid to produce. TNT saved the show, airing those six episodes in spring 2010, then renewed it for a 10-episode third season.
So what about a fourth season? A TNT rep told me earlier this season the network has been pleased with the show, but it has averaged between 2 million and 2.9 million viewers this season, depending on which ratings data you use. TNT’s “The Closer” gets about four times that many viewers.
Still, Cudlitz feels good about the show’s chances for renewal, saying they are “very proud” of the series.
“I would just say that we have produced the television series that we set out to produce and TNT has given us the opportunity to do that unflinchingly,” he said during the call last week. “We will not be discussing not being picked up anymore.”
You’ll find an edited transcript of the call with McKenzie and Cudlitz below. And don’t forget that the actors will be live tweeting with fans at 8 p.m. (Chicago time) before the season finale at 9 p.m. on TNT. They will be using the @tntweknowdrama account to answer fan questions. Fans can tweet their questions using the #SOUTHLAND hashtag beginning an hour before and throughout the live chat.
It's been a helluva Season 3 for Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, Shawn Hatosy and Ben McKenzie. (TNT photo)
Ben when you jumped over that building in the finale did you wear a wire?
Ben McKenzie: They all used wires but I just said, you know what, man [I’ll] just do it by myself. No, that’s not true.
Michael Cudlitz: I threw him over.
BM: He threw me over. That was the wire, there was no netting or anything below but there was a wire. [We were] 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 … 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 a hell of a lot of fun.
Have the producers talked to you guys if one hopes there will be another season what directions your characters are going to go?
MC: Well they haven’t really gone into any specifics. … I think they’ll 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.
We see your character’s partnership evolve over the course of the season. How has the relationship between the two of you evolved over the course of the season?
MC: Probably a lot more positive than our characters.
BM: Probably. It’s actually great … You are not worried about anybody’s stuff. You’re kind of doing it together even though you’re 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, that’s a safety net for you.
MC: On my end it’s obviously the same thing. It’s just been getting to know Ben, the actor and working together has just 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 they’re not comfortable with going. You feel safe in that environment; you feel safe enough to take those risks. And I think both of us have done things in the show that we’ve never done before in our careers and it’s just been a pleasure.
BM: Amen to that.
So what excites you guys about playing your characters Ben and John? Are there any challenges you guys face?
BM: Well we face a variety of challenges on a daily basis. In a good way that’s 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 they’re practical challenges working out a scene in which we may be in a car chase that leads to a foot chase that leads to a cuffing.
All of those things challenge us as actors to perform dialogue as well as engage in some more 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 that’s what makes the show so much fun for all of us as actors.
We’re not sitting in a studio rehashing the same sort of plot lines over and over and over again. We’re out on the streets just like the LAPD is, solving problems that are immediate and visceral so it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
MC: I’d say that all of the things that make this job a challenge … 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.
Ben, you had a lot of fist fights in “The OC” and they were just kind of your regular Hollywood fist fights. This fight you have on the rooftop was just brutal. What’s it like to film a scene like that?
BM: I haven’t actually seen it yet but I know what it was like to do obviously. The stunt coordinator who had choreographed the whole thing without my being there was kind of elaborate perhaps sort of standard thing … a little too choreographed for my taste. So I just said, why don’t I just roll around with this guy who is when he’s not acting and being a stunt guy he’s a MMA fighter so he’s used to wrestling. In real life he would totally kick my ass but we can roll around and fight each other, as long as you don’t punch or kick each other particularly to the face you’ll be fine?
We sort of rehearsed a little bit but we pretty much rolled around and it was fantastic. I really think it’s a real credit to him as a performer that he was able to go for it and make it look realistic without destroying me. I’m excited to see it. I think that’s more realistic to the way fights go down.
I was wondering if you could describe John and Ben and how do they compare to you in real life?
BM: I actually think they are two sides of the same coin in a lot [ways]. … I will pay for this, [but] an older, arguably jaded and bitter veteran officer who has a lot of personal demons that he’s fighting … and decisions he’s 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 … And they’re 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 that’s the genius of the pairing of the two of them … You have two guys who couldn’t 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.
How do you get back into intense moments when there are those sort of abrupt interruptions during filming? Just watching Ben run down the street I know I’m sure you’ve done it like 12 times just for that one shot.
BM: Well actually no. That’s the beauty of the way we do this is that we don’t run down the street 12 times. We might run down the street three times maybe, but usually we run down it once or twice.
The seemingly un-choreographed fight that I engage in with the guy that I’m chasing [in the finale], we only did it twice where the part where we’re 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.
What we sort of have to do given how quickly we’re 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 … 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. If the actor shows up prepared, which we all do, there isn’t a lot of sort of fussing around and arguing over script changes and all of the usual kind of rigmarole that accompanies a television show…
Where would you like to see your characters go next season?
BM: I think the phrase that this finale really completes the journey for my character literally and metaphorically of being a rookie. He’s finally done with his probationary period. He’s grown up, he’s become a confident officer in his own right, more than competent and he’s also had to face down his returning officer and tell him some hard truth. So he’s ready to go out into the world. 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.
Shawn Ryan, who produced “The Shield,” said the Los Angeles cops really hated the show and didn’t give any cooperation…
MC: Really? The LAPD hated a show that was entirely based on police officers being corrupt?
BM: That’s so odd, that’s so strange that you would say that.
You mentioned you get quite a bit of cooperation and sounds like you’re using the actual equipment they use. How much cooperation do you get from LA and do they ever object when you have the bad cops?
BM: We get a ton of cooperation. We have cops on our set literally every day who are off duty and who want to hang around and watch us film and play parts in the background. We get enormous amount of cooperation with the LAPD … I think cops are rightly suspicious of any show that comes on that’s going to portray them in a specific police department like we are doing with the LAPD, because Hollywood is known for a lot of things, but for being truthful and honest and in their portrayals with police officers and also being positive in their treatment of them is 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 portray them realistically and honestly. I think “The Shield” is a great series, it had a certain conceit which is that you’re dealing with corrupt cops, your dealing with corruption on almost all levels and that’s just the heart of the show and that show was obsessed about it.
Our show is looking at the profession in terms of what [toll] 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 go in and out of being able to hold it together. …
MC: And usually in our show when people screw up they have the actual consequences that would happen in that situation. … 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 doing something negative or inappropriate because there are consequences for bad behavior. Obviously for TV shows, sometimes those things are drawn out which I would argue that we handle it in a much more accurate way than has been handled in the past on television.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun