Exclusive Interview: Melanie Griffith & Michael Cudlitz on Dark Tourist
Melanie Griffith smiled at me throughout her paired interview with costar Michael Cudlitz for Dark Tourist. It really went a long way to put me at ease because Griffith is one of those movie stars who I haven’t seen a lot in my career as a journalist. A red carpet here and there, a roundtable for her voiceover role in Stuart Little 2, but I didn’t know how she would respond in a one-on-one setting. The answer was: she was lovely, friendly and personable.
Dark Tourist stars Michael Cudlitz, my favorite “Southland” cop as well, as a “grief tourist” obsessed with visiting the scenes of tragedy or disaster. On his way to the sites of a serial killer’s spree, he meets a diner waitress Betsy (Griffith). When she opens up to him it reveals the grief tourist could be just as unstable as the crimes with which he is fascinated. So there begins my conversation with Cudlitz and Griffith, with a healthy spoiler warning, and of course with my usual dose of movie memories from her legendary career, and finale of his TV cop show.
CraveOnline: I noticed in the credits you were also a producer, Michael. Did you produce this for yourself to have a role like this?
Michael Cudlitz: No, I produced it initially, I think part of giving me a producer credit initially was because no one was making any money and they wanted me to do it. They were friends of mine so that’s how it started out initially. Once we got into production, we had some issues with some third party in New Orleans and we had some issues with the financing. They were screwing around with our money. We knew for a film of this budget, New Orleans was not a safe place for us to be so we came back to Los Angeles and I got much more active in the producing of it and was actually thrilled to be part of it and had a great time actually producing a film, not just producing it in name. The four producers on the ground – myself, Adam Targum, Zachery Bryan and Frank John Hughes who also wrote the script – were really a team in making this, all on the same page from day one and just had a really, really good time making this film.
Betsy is so kind. Do you think she’s just desperate for a connection?
Melanie Griffith: Isn’t everyone sort of desperate for a connection when you’ve lost somebody that you love more than anything and you don’t have anyone in your life?
Yeah, and then someone comes right into your place of business and you think you’re hitting it off.
Melanie Griffith: Yeah, exactly. I think that the second time he’s in the diner and he talks about his sister dying, I don’t know that that’s a lie. My character doesn’t know that that’s a lie so that starts to build the connection for Betsy, and I think he’s really going there. He’s almost there. He almost makes that decision and then doesn’t, but with Betsy I think I might have even said this in it, that he is the first guy that I’ve wanted to be close to since my husband died four years ago.
And even after their terrible date, that ends rather violently, I felt for her so much. She’s still giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Melanie Griffith: I know.
It seems like that’s the kind of person she is. She’ll believe the best in him.
Michael Cudlitz: Well, I think we’re all so damaged in this film. In Betsy’s case, if I may speak for you…
Melanie Griffith: Yeah.
Michael Cudlitz: She’s still willing to look the other way.
Melanie Griffith: Not just that. I think she thinks it’s her fault.
Michael Cudlitz: Yes, exactly, blaming yourself. I’m going to look the other way at what I did, that I almost fucking rape you on the couch. No, I must have done something wrong.
Melanie Griffith: Yeah, there’s something wrong with me.
Michael Cudlitz: We’re in such low places and when we are there, we’re so vulnerable and just looking for anything to grab onto to pull ourselves out, even if it’s the wrong thing.
You’ve done love scenes before. Was that the toughest one you’ve ever had?
Melanie Griffith: It was a big surprise to me that it was happening. [Laughs] It was fun, but I didn’t know. That just happened, his pants came off without me having any former knowledge. I was not prepared.
Michael Cudlitz: We knew where it was going. She didn’t know where it was going.
Melanie Griffith: Yeah, they didn’t tell me where it was going.
Was it not scripted to end with that violent outburst?
Michael Cudlitz: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Melanie Griffith: Yeah, but not quite. I wasn’t ready for that.
Michael Cudlitz: Which is perfect.
Melanie Griffith: Yeah, it was perfect.
Did you shut down that diner?
Michael Cudlitz: That diner is actually a diner out on San Fernando Road that is rented out to movies. Cadillac Jack’s Cafe, it’s in Glendale or Sun Valley. All they do now is rent it out for films, so we didn’t have to shut it down. We had to make it look like it was not shut down.
One of the difficult things I imagine you had to do in the film, Michael, was saying the F-word in the beginning. Among the many things your character ultimately expresses, is that difficult as an actor to express things like that?
Michael Cudlitz: No.
Melanie Griffith: To say fuck?
Not that F-word. The other one that I don’t even want to say.
Michael Cudlitz: Yeah, the other F-word.
Melanie Griffith: Oh.
Michael Cudlitz: [Laughs] No, look, the movie deals with a lot of dark themes and this is how people are, whether we like it or not. One of the things that’s happening in society, the N-word, the F-word, people walk around talking about the N-word and the F-word and I think they take away the power of it by doing that. Then you sort of dilute your argument in fighting for those things. I think when you say things what they are, then you can defend it or fight against it. I think when you’re hit with that, it is such an ugly word and it has the exact context it’s used in, it’s ugly and it’s supposed to be ugly, so it’s supposed to evoke that feeling for you.
We used it on “Southland.” It was like, “I don’t know, what’s a faggot supposed to look like?” You’re struck by it and you’re hit, and it’s a gay man in the show. He’s disgusted by it but then later on in the season, it’s the same word his father uses against him that almost destroys him. I think obviously words are extremely powerful and when words are put together, strung together in a way to evoke such feeling out of the audience, I’ll say anything if it’s for a purpose ultimately, and that is to evoke an emotional response.
Melanie, I was wondering, was there ever a Melanie Griffith “type?” You’ve played femme fatales, heroines and all sorts of different roles.
Michael Cudlitz: Hot great actress type?
Melanie Griffith: Oh, thank you. I think maybe more comedic was probably, sexy comedy maybe. I don’t know.
Melanie Griffith: Okay, maybe not. [Laughs] How old are you?
Melanie Griffith: Oh, you’re a baby.
No, I have seen Born Yesterday and Working Girl. I was just also thinking about the Body Doubles and Pacific Heightses. I was wondering if there was a type because I didn’t think there was.
Melanie Griffith: Yeah, I guess I’ve always tried to do something different, to try everything that I possibly could. I didn’t want to ever stay in one genre.
When you see public movie disaster spectacles like The Lone Ranger and John Carter happen, do you think, “Oh, I’ve been through that on Bonfire of the Vanities?”
Melanie Griffith: [Laughs] That’s not my first thought. No, but I felt for them with The Lone Ranger. I didn’t see the movie so I don’t know if it was really that bad but Bonfire I think was pretty bad. I think we were all kind of shocked. I wasn’t even here when it came out actually. I was in London filming and I had to do the press with just a camera in a room, and then my face was apparently on a huge screen somewhere here doing the press junket. Tom [Hanks] and everybody were here in L.A. and I finally got a call from somebody saying, “It’s really, really bad. Nobody likes it at all. Be quiet. You should stop now.”
So you didn’t know when you were doing the interviews? You couldn’t even get a feel for the room?
Melanie Griffith: No, I didn’t know at all. Nothing, so I would never, ever let that happen ever again.
You did a Sidney Lumet movie that was one of his lesser known movies, but hearing the way actors rave about him, was A Stranger Among Us an important experience for you?
Melanie Griffith: Yes, it was amazing. Did you ever work with Sidney?
Michael Cudlitz: Mm-mm.
Melanie Griffith: We had two weeks of rehearsal. There was 10 hours every day, one day off. He mapped out, before we even got there, we were in a big auditorium and he mapped out the floor plan of every place that we would be in a big rectangle, but every room that we would be shooting in, he had done the tape himself [laying down the marks]. He was one of the most amazing, kindest, most interesting men. He was married, did you know that, a few times, and he was married to one of the richest women in the world, in the ‘40s or ‘50s. He was an amazing, amazing man and I stayed in touch with him until he died.
Oh wow, when was the last time you spoke to him?
Melanie Griffith: Probably a year before he died. And his wife, he was lovely.
Just catching up?
Melanie Griffith: Just catching up and then every Friday, we would be done with work by 4 o’clock because he was out of there to go to the Hamptons.
Michael, TNT rescued “Southland” from NBC. In five seasons, did you get to do the show you wanted to?
Michael Cudlitz: Absolutely, every day we got to do the show we wanted to.
You were always the most vocal about it.
Michael Cudlitz: It’s very easy to be vocal and aggressively supportive about something that you believe in.
Was the end in the fifth season right?
Michael Cudlitz: It’s the end for us now. From a business standpoint, they didn’t have enough people watching the show. There were no creative conflicts. There was nothing else going on. Just in the end, there’s a certain number that a show has to hit to be financially viable. I think we loved doing the work so much and from a creative standpoint, we all like to get wrapped up in the fact that we’re proud of the work we’re doing, we’re excited about the work that we’re doing and we forget that it’s a business, which I think is fantastic that we forget that it’s a business because we can’t work otherwise. Ultimately, you were reminded that it was a business.
Melanie, are you doing Antonio’s next movie, Akil?
Melanie Griffith: Yup, at some point.
Is that going to be a starring role like you had in Crazy in Alabama?
Melanie Griffith: Yes but it’s not a Crazy in Alabama role. Antonio wrote it, and he didn’t write Crazy in Alabama but he wrote this story and it’s very beautiful.
What kind of character are you going to get to play?
Melanie Griffith: Well, I’m not going to tell you yet because I’m not here to talk about that. [Laughs]
Michael Cudlitz: Let’s save it for another day.
What about Yellow?
Melanie Griffith: I don’t know what’s happening with it. I really don’t. I heard that Nick [Cassavetes] is doing another movie now with Denzel. But then I read somewhere that it’s going to the Munich Film Festival and I went to Munich Film Festival last year for this movie. So I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening with it.
Is Dark Tourist the sort of movie that can get made now because the entertainment industry is so spread out, you can find an audience for something this dark and something this specific? Do you feel like this could have been made earlier in your careers?
Melanie Griffith: Silence of the Lambs wasn’t dark? Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?
That’s a big spectrum. Henry was not the big movie phenomenon that Silence of the Lambs was.
Melanie Griffith: No, it wasn’t but I’m saying, because I’ve been thinking about the same thing. I think we all have. There have been very violent movies that have been little movies and then become huge movies because of how well they were done.
Michael Cudlitz: I absolutely think time is going to tell on that and you guys are obviously a big part of helping us get the word out. This is a small movie. One of the large obstacles to over come is the big press and media machine. Look, I think that these kinds of movies, this subject matter and the size of the film, I think they’re done all the time. I don’t know how well they’re done or how wonderfully they’re done, but people are always making movies, small or large. The thing that differentiates is what happens once they’re made. Where does it go?
I do think there’s an audience for this kind of film. I do think you can use the cable television model for it. You’re not compromising or trying to make everybody happy. You’re diving in with both feet. There’s a message to the film. There’s your voice, your vision and people are either going to love it or not respond positively to it. Either way is fine because it made you feel something. I think that that audience is out there and that audience will help itself find the film. There’s a huge underground with these independent films and people talk online. They will help us, with your help, find this film.
It’s been really gratifying for me to see all these movies come out on streaming, download or VOD, however they get to me, and have a chance to do interviews like this. It’s also become a little overwhelming because there are so many now.
Michael Cudlitz: Yeah, there’s a lot of good work out there.