From director Suri Krishnamma and writer Frank John Hughes, the indie drama Dark Tourist tells the story of graveyard-shift security guard Jim Tahna (Michael Cudlitz), a man with an obsessive interest in serial killers. When he takes a road trip to a small Northern California town to delve into the world of 1960s serial murderer/arsonist Carl Marznap (Pruitt Taylor Vince), he has a chance encounter with a local waitress named Betsy (Melanie Griffith), who shows him that there are other possibilities in life.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Michael Cudlitz and Melanie Griffith spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what attracted them to this project, what it was like to work together, how important trust is, especially when you’re shooting very intense scenes with each other, and what Pruitt Taylor Vince added to the mix. They also talked about what they look for in a project and how they’re both actors for hire who are looking for good material, while Michael Cudlitz talked about the memorable experience he had making Southland and what he thinks his character’s ultimate fate was. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
MICHAEL CUDLITZ: It’s rare that you get an opportunity to play a character so wonderfully written, so you jump at the chance, in a story that’s told in such a layered way. I don’t think you’re ever convincing yourself, if it’s written well. When things are written well, then you start to make decisions of, “Well, do I want to be away from home for that long? Do I like the people involved?” When it’s written well, a lot of those things go away and you can’t not do it.
MELANIE GRIFFITH: If you harken back to Shakespeare, there are bad characters in Shakespeare, too. I’m not saying that Frank John Hughes is Shakespeare. I’m just saying that he writes in a way where, for each character in the movie, there is such a person there, for an actor to delve into.
CUDLITZ: Yeah, there were just wonderfully layered characters, each with their own vision. They just collide in the worst possible way.
What was it like for the two of you to work together, especially when you really got to intensely look each other in the eye, for many of your scenes?
GRIFFITH: It was fun! It was cool.
CUDLITZ: It’s always wonderful to look into an actor’s or actress’ eyes and see somebody looking back.
GRIFFITH: Wow, that’s so true. There are a lot of people where, when you look at them, there’s nobody home. That’s really scary.
CUDLITZ: Melanie was amazing to work with. I wouldn’t have had anyone else.
GRIFFITH: Michael was amazing to work with, too.
CUDLITZ: She is that potential life raft for him, and you have to go there, or the film doesn’t work. There’s definitely an empathy that you have for him. You don’t have to like him, per se. You have to understand how he got to where he is and think that there may be a way out of the hole he’s in. There may be hope.
GRIFFITH: He almost grabs that lifeline.
Melanie, do you think that Betsy ever began to doubt Jim?
GRIFFITH: When he lies to Betsy and says that his sister has died, I remember that being such a strong choice, on my to make it so that I totally believed him. If I started to go, “Oh, I don’t know if I believe your story,” even when he did show that he’s faking the story, my character doesn’t know that. And then, when we’re together and we’re back at the apartment after being at the AA meeting, I think Michael is wonderful and, dare I say, brilliant. He did that so beautifully. That’s why it works. He did it right.
Does it help to have a trust together, when you have to do a scene like the one on the couch?
CUDLITZ: Yes, you need to have trust.
GRIFFITH: I had no idea what was coming. It was a big surprise.
CUDLITZ: Beautiful, honest work comes when there’s trust. Problems start happening when trust is broken.
What was it like to work with Pruitt Taylor Vince on this, and always have his character lurking around?
CUDLITZ: Oh, he was awesome! And he’s the sweetest guy, in real life.
GRIFFITH: He was so good. He’s the sweetest, most elegant guy, who’s intelligent beyond belief.
CUDLITZ: He’s really awesome. It’s just one of those gifts. You don’t know. Typically, he actually plays harder characters who are a little bit bent, but he could not have been a sweeter man.
What do each of you look for in projects, when you’re trying to find the next thing to tackle?
CUDLITZ: Good is good. Maybe where you are in your life, good may change. You do work for many reasons. Sometimes you do it because the material is good. Sometimes you do it because the paycheck is good. We would love to only do things that are art, that are artistic and that satisfy us, but this is our job, as well. So, when you have opportunities like this, that come up where things really do speak to you because they’re so well-written, you take advantage of it.
CUDLITZ: It’s play time. It’s the best job in the world. It really is.
Michael, does it feel bittersweet to have been a part of a show that people loved so much, with Southland, but you never knew if it would be back for another season, or even what network it would be on, or can you feel creatively fulfilled, knowing that the show’s dedicated fan base really got it?
CUDLITZ: Oh, yeah, absolutely! The lifespan of a TV show is to get cancelled. That’s part of the deal. You just have to enjoy it while you’re doing it. The work was always phenomenal. The people we were working with were fantastic. The fans were amazing. That was an amazing ride for me, and I’m very proud of it. I will always look back fondly on it. But, we got five years. There are not that many shows that run for five years. There are some that do. We had already had a stay of execution. The only thing I’ll miss on that is the work and the fans. That’s just how it is. It’s all good.
Did you have any idea about how things would have turned out for Officer John Cooper?
CUDLITZ: I always said, in a very selfish, egotistical way, that Southland doesn’t exist without John Cooper. So, in my world, John lives. That’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it. He would have had a lot of processing to do afterwards, with therapy and stuff, but John survived.
Do either of you know what you’ll be working on next?
CUDLITZ: No. We’ve both got stuff in the works, but nothing is locked yet.
GRIFFITH: Yeah, we both need a job. We’re both available for hire.
CUDLITZ: We’re guns for hire, if the material is good.
Dark Tourist opens in theaters on August 23rd.