Southland is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television; unfortunately its road to success has not been an easy one. The series premiered on NBC in April of 2009 and gained popularity with fans and critics alike for its gritty, real-life interpretation of the lives of Los Angeles police officers. The show was quickly renewed for a second season but before it aired it was abruptly cancelled by NBC. With six episodes of a second season already shot and fans crying for more, the series moved to TNT where the second season debuted in January of 2010.
Now, premiering on January 4th 2011 is the ten-episode third season of the popular series, which will be the first produced specifically for TNT. We recently had an opportunity to speak with several members of the cast including Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz, Regina King and Shawn Hatosy, on the eve of their first table read for the new season. The cast members discussed the upcoming season, the move to TNT, their characters and how the show has changed since last season.
First up, we spoke to actor Ben McKenzie, who is best known for his breakout role on The O.C.. On Southland, the young actor plays rookie cop Officer Ben Sherman, who is no longer a rookie. The actor began by discussing how his character has changed since the first season. "We're playing it realistically, which is he's grown up a little bit. He's still basically a recruit, he hasn't moved on to become an officer in his own right. So he's still rolling around with John Cooper, Michael Cudlitz," explained Ben McKenzie. "He's more seasoned and he's more experienced. He knows it and John knows it. John gives him more leeway and he has more confidence in what he's doing. But he's still going to make mistakes and so that relationship changes. John will always be the mentor to him but towards the end of the season you'll begin to see a real shift between the two, from being peers to the roles reversing. I don't want to give too much away but there will be a point where Ben has to step in with John," he continued. "I think that dynamic is at the core of the show and always has been since the pilot so we're just treating it realistically. It evolves more over time and they see each other more as peers. Ben sees John as a great officer who has provided him with a lot of guidance but also a guy who has his own issues. To a certain degree a cautionary tale, he wants to be the cop that he wants to be. He doesn't necessarily want to end up like John, he wants to find his own path and John wants that as well."
Ben McKenzie went on to discuss how the show is changing and what fans can expect from the third season. "It's just a little bit leaner. All of the actors that you see will still be in the episodes but I think we were telling a lot of stories quickly and we need to focus more on some core elements. So you'll see more of a focus, more of a through line through Michael, myself, Regina and Shawn this year," he explained. "Because it was hard to follow at times and I think we were getting a lot of feedback and you do have to listen to the audience on a certain level. We aren't putting on a play in our parent's basement we are actually trying to get people to watch the show. But I think it won't be a rough shift, it will just be more about those four people. I think in terms of all the other stuff, the budget and all of that, I think all of those other things are things that are easily worked around," he continued. "We're a lean mean show. We're going to shoot the episodes in seven days instead of eight. It's very lean and mean and kind of gorilla style, which is the way we shoot it, on the streets in three or four different locations each day. No studios, all just out there on the streets."
The actor also talked about his excitement to come back to the show for another season. "I'm very thrilled. I'm very, very happy. It's been a long journey but I'm hoping that this one... well I'm optimistic about it. Its TNT, who is so excited about having us on and we get to make ten, which is about double our normal rate so we're very excited." We followed up by asking Ben McKenzie if he feels like the show's hands were tied on network TV and if cable television is a better home and fit for the show? "In all honesty yes. I mean I could beat around the bush here but yeah absolutely. TNT really believes in the show and as I understand from the writers they've been pretty hands off in terms of the content and the stories we can tell. We can do what we want in terms of that, which is a real change of pace," he said. "I think the truth of the matter is that the edgy, hour-long programming that used to happen on network TV when basic cable didn't exist is now on cable. I think it's a better fit for us. We're very, very excited to be able to tell the stories that we've always wanted to tell and quite frankly haven't quite been able to. We were always getting compromised, compromised and compromised, and those became big fights and now we won't have to have those fights. This show was never going to quite conform to what NBC thought it should be, which I don't know what that was? I assume they thought it was Law & Order: Los Angeles," Ben McKenzie joked.
Next we had a chance to speak with veteran actor Michael Cudlitz, who has been a fixture on television for years having appeared on such popular shows as Over There, Lost, Standoff and Life. On Southland, Cudlitz plays Ben Sherman's superior officer, John Cooper. The actor began by discussing the growth that fans will see this season in the relationship between Ben and John. "Well it will change and grow as we go along. It's obviously a mentor relationship, he's his training officer and at some point he will graduate and no longer be training. He won't be equal, in the sense that I will always be a veteran to him but at some point I'll be more of a peer then his trainer. More importantly I think you see the relationship and the friendship grow. John sort of sees a lot of him when he was younger in Ben."
The actor went on to discuss some of the changes that the show's format will go through this season. "They've been taking about the show being driven more by the incidents but to me you just discover more about the characters that way. I think you can find out more about these characters in these pressure cooker situations then by going home with them. Their lives are always going on at work where on a lot of these other police shows the personal lives are incidental," explained Cudlitz. "I think the way that the show was initially structured was a good balance of home and personal life. Things that were going on at home had to do with the case, there were all these parallels between the two. So I think when we moved to TNT the story telling got more specific. Every one is going to be back."
Cudlitz also discussed the police training that all the actors have gone through for the show and how that has affected his performance. "All of us did a bunch of training with LAPD. Our technical advisor is amazing and has opened us up to a lot of current and retired LAPD. I spoke with a few specific officers. My character's based on sort of many different people," explained Cudlitz. "So my portrayal and the writing aren't specifically based on one specific person. That being said I think there is a type of person who does become a training officer in that way. This is the kind of guy that will smack a kid in the head and send him home to his mother. Like what a cop would do when our parents were kids. A cop that is going to bring your ass home so your parents can kick the shit out of you and then they'll never do anything fucking bad again. So he's a bridge between that and the modern day police officer. He takes pride in what he does and when he trains people he wants to train them in the right way."
Actress Regina King, who is best known for her roles in feature films like Friday, Jerry Maguire and Ray, plays Detective Lydia Adams on the series. Hall spoke to us about her character and what fans can expect from her in the new season. "I know that Tom (Everett Scott) is back and Russell is back but in another capacity because he is hurt. I know that we will be dealing with that. I just feel that, from the two scripts that I've seen, we're going to be dealing more with the cop's lives at work than their personal lives. I feel like this was where they wanted to go, to discover the person at the job. If you are a certain type of person then you are going to make decisions in a certain way." King continued to discuss the different direction that the show will be going in this season. "It's not really a procedural because I think that is something they wanted to do to set themselves different from the other cop shows, not that the other ones aren't good. I think that it is impossible when you are doing a cop show for some element of it to not be a procedural. It has to be. But you are going to see decisions being made with the detectives and the officers that will be primarily based on who they are."
King also revealed to us her excitement to get back to work on the third season. "I'm so excited. It's been so long and it so gratifying to know that all the work that you are putting into something is well received. People followed the show, they found it and they championed it. I guess the great thing is that there is opportunity to do exactly what we planned to do from the beginning. It seemed at one time like the bleeping of the language and stuff like that, I don't know how much it helped or hindered but I just know that with TNT it will happen a little less. It's a little less restricting so that's exciting." Finally, King discussed the police training that she has gone through for the show and how it has helped her as an actress. "I would not be able to give an honest depiction of an LA police detective if it wasn't for the support of the LAPD. I have detectives that I talk to often, most of them retired. There is a consultant on the set. Every detective was a police officer before they were a detective so I have had the luxury of being able to sit down and talk to police officers, different female police officers to kind of determine what my journey may have been to get to where Lydia is now."
Actor Shawn Hatosy, who is also best known for his work in movies like The Cooler, Public Enemies and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, portrays Detective Sammy Bryant on the series. Hatosy began by telling us about the training that he has gone through for the show. "Our approach is totally different because our technical advisor was a cop for a long time and his wife is a cop who teaches at the police academy. So the approach was to inundate us with procedure. Before the season we spent a good week just studying and shooting and learning all kinds of stuff." The actor also discussed the direction his character will be going in this season. "Sammy will still be dealing with martial troubles with Tammy (Emily Bergl). Work wise from what I can see is that he is involved with the Southwest gang division and pretty much picking up where we left off. It does feel like we are staying true to the format," he continued. "Its not a procedural. Its how being a cop in LA affects these people. It's the kind of storytelling that I enjoy. It is very character driven from our point of view."
Finally, Hatosy talked about the move to TNT and how the change of networks has affected the content of the show. "Its hard to explain to people because most people don't understand that the thirteen episodes that we've already aired all shot for NBC, even the ones that only aired on TNT. So while I love those episodes, you can still feel NBC's presence. These episodes that we are about to shoot are all TNT and their presence is felt. You can just see that from the first script," he explained. "There isn't anything that we can't really do or explore. I think that this show, even though it was at ten o'clock on NBC we never really got to do what we wanted. It was pitched to us that we were going to do this really adult drama and it was a great show. I'm not saying it wasn't but now its like there is no one there to tell us to stop. So this version of LA that we are shooting is the realest version I've seen. I'm excited. Our fans are loyal and I think the ones who stuck with us are going to be glad they did."