Before the Scene with Michael Cudlitz

by AJ Buckley on August 29, 2013


Before the Scene is where we all start. In a small town with our families. In front of a mirror with our friends. The days spent sleeping on a couch. The nights working at a bar. Living with the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the darkness just before the limelight.

Michael Cudlitz is a veteran actor from Long Island, New York. He is best known for playing John Cooper in the critically lauded TNT drama Southland. He also starred as Sergeant Denver “Bull” Randelman on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. He can next be seen in the Baton Rouge-shot film Pawn Shop Chronicles.

What made you want to become an actor?
It’s all I ever wanted to do as a career as far back as I can remember. I have been involved in theatre since the third grade, one of my first plays being The Wizard of Oz. I was the Cowardly Lion and my mom helped make the costume. I had a big yellow mop on my head. I have always been on stage, have always wanted to be on stage, and I’ve always wanted to entertain.

What was your biggest fear?
It wasn’t so much the fear. It was a reality: that you can’t do this for a living. Most people who study theatre don’t wind up doing theatre, at least not as a career. You do it as a side thing, as a passion, but it’s not something that you can raise a family on. Most of them who are doing it on stage are doing it in musical theatre. I’ve had a tremendous amount of musical theatre coming up through the years, which always makes me laugh because I really can’t sing or dance.

What was your lowest point?
There were a couple points, early on, where the work wasn’t coming and I was deciding whether or not I still wanted to pursue it. That would have been a low point as far as giving up my dream, but I still was going to continue doing theatre on the side. It wouldn’t be giving up my dream. It would have been giving up trying to pursue acting as a full time career. So, as far as an emotionally low point in regards to my career, I’ve been blessed in a way that I have not really experienced that.
I always am extremely realistic about what it is to make a living as an actor. Going into it, I didn’t really know if it was going to be possible. I didn’t have blinders on and say, “I’m gonna make this work and it’s all I’m gonna ever do!” I knew that I had to get another job to make a living and I decided early on that that job would be something that I enjoyed doing so that if I never acted another day, I would be successful financially and I would be happy.

What kept you from walking away?
My dad got me in woodworking. I built furniture and all sorts of things. I actually got jobs working with studios building scenery for film and television. I continued doing that after I got out of school. I was in the union as a construction coordinator for Beverly Hills 90210 for the first four and a half years. I was a prop maker for probably fifteen or sixteen years. I finally gave up construction completely right after Band of Brothers. That afforded me the ability to tread water for a bit.

Who has been your closest ally?
My wife. Best friend. Biggest supporter. Twenty-three years married in September and twenty-seven years together.

What were you doing the morning before the audition that changed your life?
I was doing construction. They were very cool with us working [elsewhere in film]. They would let me come and go. And they let me go audition for Band of Brothers. Had they not let me go, I wouldn’t have gotten the job. They were very cool. That was the role that changed my life. It changed my career path.

What were the words that kept you going?
I was at a point where I was applying for engineering school to do construction. I thought I made a logical choice for a secondary job while I was trying to pursue acting. My dad walked in on me one day while I was doing my homework and just said, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” And I said, “I need a second job.” He said, “Well, why don’t you go try first?”
I always remember my dad being the supporter. Saying, “Why don’t you go do it?” There’s been nothing in my years where I’ve had a huge low point. I never wrapped everything I have into my work. It wasn’t like, “If I’m not an actor, I’m not anybody.” I don’t subscribe to that. But I always remember my father being very supportive and saying, “Go do what you want to do.”

How have you changed?
I think I’ve settled down. I’ve realized how fortunate I am, and I’ve just chosen to enjoy it. I try to be as straightforward as possible, really in the moment, and enjoy it. Early on, I really didn’t enjoy it. I was just doing it: going from job to job, caught up in that whole thing, and now I enjoy the people I work with. I enjoy the material. I enjoy the experience. Most actors forget to really enjoy the success. Just really enjoy it. Take it in. Soak it up. It’s such a hard business to be successful in and, when you have successes, celebrate those successes. Because the business can be very harsh and your last job could be your last job. You have no control over that. In the last five or six years, I’ve really settled down and started to enjoy what I do while I’m doing it.

What words do you have to inspire others?
Don’t give up. Follow your dreams and don’t give up.

A partner in Scene Magazine and the president of Louisiana Entertainment Publishers, AJ has starred for the last eight years as Adam Ross on the hit TV show CSI:NY. Originally from Dublin and raised in Vancouver, he has spent the past twelve years in Los Angeles acting, writing and directing. He is currently in Louisiana producing and starring in North of Hell. Find out more on Twitter @AJohnBuckley and at