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Before he redefined himself as a gritty man of action in HBO's critically acclaimed "Band of Brothers" (2001) and on the fan favorite "Southland" (NBC/TNT, 2009-2013), Michael Cudlitz found himself typecast by his naturally cherubic face in roles that rarely strayed far from high school. Cudlitz climbed the industry ladder from behind-the-scene work as a carpenter and construction coordinator to a run of high-profile guest roles on such popular TV series as "Beverly Hills 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) and "NYPD Blue" (NBC, 1993-2005), as well as in such feature films as "A River Runs Through It" (1992), "D3: The Mighty Ducks" (1996) and "Grosse Pointe Blank" (1997). Playing teenagers well into his thirties, Cudlitz received a major career boost with his casting as Sgt. "Bull" Randleman in "Band of Brothers," a miniseries following the 101st Airborne Division's Easy Company through the European Theater during World War II. A host of man-in-uniform roles followed, including series regular status as the pragmatic SWAT team leader Frank Rogers on the short-lived "Standoff" (Fox, 2006-07), and memorable guest roles on the long-running "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010) and "24" (Fox, 2001-2010). Cudlitz scored immediately with critics and viewers as troubled LAPD training officer John Cooper on NBC's "Southland" in 2009, then built on that success by joining the critically-acclaimed drama "The Walking Dead" (AMC 2010- ) in 2014.
Michael Cudlitz was born on Dec. 29, 1964 in Flushing, NY, but grew up on the far side of Manhattan in Lakewood Township, NJ. Although he had played Pop Warner football as a preteen, a knee injury sent him to band class as a trombone player in high school. Since his elementary school days, Cudlitz also showed an interest in acting and participated in school dramatics through his graduation from Lakewood High School. After briefly considering enlisting in the Navy following graduation, to the point of taking the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery tests, Cudlitz paid heed to an inner voice and instead headed West to enroll in the four-year theatre program at the California Institute of the Arts. Upon his graduation from CalArts, Cudlitz made his way to Los Angeles, where his entered the industry as a carpenter on the horror anthology series "Tales from the Dark Side" (Paramount Television, 1984-88).
Juggling tech work with acting assignments, Cudlitz's first roles had him playing younger than his years, including on two episodes apiece of the Touchstone musical high school series "Hull High" (NBC, 1990), which was canceled after only six weeks, and Fox's "21 Jump Street" (1987-1991). He made his feature film debut in Robert Redford's elegiac "A River Runs Through It" (1992), as a boyhood chum of leads Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer, and played a follower of martial arts master Bruce Lee in "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" (1993). Cudlitz enjoyed an 11-episode arc on "Beverly Hills 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) as the flat-topped Tony Miller, high school braggart and prom date of series lead Shannen Doherty. In the Roger Corman-produced feature "The Liar's Club" (1993), he played one of a group of school friends who share complicity in the rape and murder of one of their classmates. Even after he turned 30, the baby-faced Cudlitz continued to be cast primarily as high school students, including on the short-lived TV series "Against the Grain" (NBC, 1993) and in an episode of the multiple award-winning "Picket Fences" (CBS, 1992-1996). His casting as an injured fireman on a 1996 episode of the long-running medical series "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) got Cudlitz into uniform for the first time, marking the beginning of the actor's long association with characters in the military or in law enforcement. He played Spillane, a prowl car cop who stumbles upon naked kickboxer-turned-action film star Olivier Gruner in "Savage" (1996), a virtual reality thriller that named its characters after literary figures. In the independent feature "Follow the Bitch" (1996), Cudlitz was one of a circle of poker buddies who is carrying on an illicit affair with a pal's wife even as he is cuckolded by the same friend. In "D3: The Mighty Ducks" (1996), the now 32-year-old actor was a prep school bully who makes life difficult for the eponymous underdogs of the ice and winds up hogtied and humiliated for his sins.
With marriage and the birth of twin sons, Cudlitz dove into an exhausting run of rent-paying work, mostly on television in episodes of "Party of Five" (Fox, 1994-2000), "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003) and "NYPD Blue" (NBC, 1993-2005). On the big screen, he played a former high school wrestling champ having a tough go of middle age in the hitman comedy "Grosse Pointe Blank" (1997), and a police sharpshooter who refuses to be complicit in a department-wide corruption scandal in "The Negotiator" (1998). He appeared briefly as a bartender In "Forces of Nature" (1999), a vehicle for Sandra Bullock and his old "Against the Grain" co-star Ben Affleck, and was an adult film star in the porn industry satire "Live Virgin" (2000), whose title was changed to "American Virgin" in an attempt to capitalize on the marquee value of star Mena Suvari, who had appeared in the higher-profile "American Pie" and "American Beauty" the previous year. In a first season episode of the HBO series "Six Feet Under" (2001-05), Cudlitz played the no-nonsense leader of an Outward Bound-style retreat attended with little enthusiasm by the award-winning series' troubled teen protagonist Lauren Ambrose.
Cudlitz's career shifted into an appreciably higher gear when he was cast in the historical HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" (2001) as Sgt. Denver "Bull" Randleman. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the miniseries followed the 101st Airborne Division's Easy Company from basic training at Georgia's Tamp Toccoa in the spring of 1942 through many of the most decisive battles of World War II, ending with the capture of Adolf Hitler's alpine Eagle's Nest retreat and the surrender of Japan in 1945. Shouldering an M1 rifle and with a cigar butt tucked into the corner of his mouth, Cudlitz brought to the role a characteristic brand of bullnecked garrulousness, highlighted in the fourth episode in which Bull is separated from the unit and must make his own way through Nazi-occupied Holland. A critical and popular success, "Band of Brothers" pushed Cudlitz out of the range of boyish roles into the more dynamic category of men of action.
More television work followed, with Cudlitz in uniform for guest roles on "JAG" (NBC/CBS, 1997-2004), "Medical Investigation" (NBC, 2004-05), which reunited the actor with his "Band of Brothers" co-star Neal McDonough, and "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-09), in which he appeared as a corrections officer taken hostage and killed during a prison riot. Cudlitz also participated in several projects inspired by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11. HBO's "Live from Baghdad" (2002) concerned the efforts of CNN reporters in the field during the original 1990-91 Gulf War, while "Homeland Security" (2004) was an unsold series pilot focused on the newly-minted government agency, and "Over There" (FX, 2005) provided a groundbreaking but short-lived look at the ongoing war in Iraq, with Cudlitz contributing to one episode a vivid turn as an army interrogator. He wore the uniform of an LAPD officer for a single episode of Showtime's "Sleeper Cell" (2005) and was a dedicated but doomed federal agent for three episodes of the popular post-9/11 espionage series "24" (Fox, 2001-2010) starring Kiefer Sutherland.
In Wayne Kramer's mob drama "Running Scared" (2006), Cudlitz was an ill-starred Mafia henchman with the unlikely nickname Gummy Bear. He was a series regular on the short-lived Fox drama "Standoff" (2006-07), in which his S.W.A.T. team leader Frank Rogers found himself at constant loggerheads with crisis negotiators/lovers Rosemarie DeWitt and his "Band of Brothers" co-star Ron Livingston. The actor paired with yet another "Brothers" trouper, Damian Lewis, for two episodes of the crime series "Life" (NBC, 2007-09), as a convicted felon who seeks justice from behind bars for the murder of his son. On the long-running series "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010), Cudlitz played the former LAPD partner of series regular Michelle Rodriguez; in the three-year interim between his two appearances, his tender-hearted "Big Mike" Walton was promoted from rank and file squad car cop to plain clothes detective. In dystopian science fiction whodunit "Surrogates" (2009), Cudlitz played a brusque army colonel who finds himself in the middle of a shooting war between microchip "surreys" and their biological brethren.
The role of a lifetime came when Cudlitz joined the ensemble cast of the police procedural "Southland" (2009-2013), which shifted networks from NBC to TNT between its first and second seasons. After the first episodes of the critically-acclaimed, hour-long drama had aired, bullish field training officer John Cooper emerged as a fan favorite. A blunt, goading but right-minded LAPD veteran and mentor to co-star Ben Mackenzie's rookie cop, Cooper was overburdened with a backstory of concealed injury, substance abuse, closet homosexuality, an ex-wife and a father incarcerated for rape and murder. These biographical bullet points could have turned the character into a grab bag of psychological tics, but were persuasively disseminated thanks to the actor's understated performance of the longtime law officer less afraid of dying on the job than being put behind a desk. While continuing to work in feature films, Cudlitz also contributed gravelly intonations to the video games "Call of Duty 2: Big Red One" (2005), "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" (2007), "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" (2009) and "Red Guerilla Faction" (2009). When "Southland" went off the air, Cudlitz joined the sprawling cast of cable hit "The Walking Dead" (AMC 2010- ) in 2014 as Sgt. Abraham Ford.
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