'Southland' detective falls prey to vampires
Spoiler alert: Do not read this story if you have not seen Tuesday night's episode of "Southland."
Blame the pain that "Southland" inflicted on you Tuesday night on the vampires, America.
When the lovable Nate Moretta died quickly and shockingly from a blow to the head with a metal pipe, "Southland" viewers immediately took to the show's Facebook page and Twitter to express grief and outrage. That a police officer would eventually lose his or her life on this gritty and realistic Los Angeles police drama was inevitable, but why the cool-headed, sexy young father and best friend to his unhinged partner, Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy)?
"Not Nate!" the Internet wailed in unison.
But, sadly, it had to be Nate. And the behind-the-scenes story probably won't make you feel better about losing him.
Kevin Alejandro, who played Nate, took on a role on "True Blood" when it was unclear if "Southland" would find a new home after NBC canceled it. Then TNT bought "Southland," and although both series tried to work out their schedules so that Alejandro could be a fine cop on "Southland" and a hot gay witch on "True Blood," it proved impossible.
"We were in the dark and I was freaking out about what was happening with 'Southland,'" Alejandro said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. "And during that time, I was offered a regular role on 'True Blood' and I talked to ['Southland' executive producers] Chris Chulack and John Wells, and all of us were in the dark, and they were very, very good and understood that I have a family. We all agreed to let me out to try to pursue that, just to see what was better for my career. They genuinely showed that they cared about me. And then shortly after I signed on with 'True Blood,' the show was picked up for another season and so we struggled and struggled to try to get the schedules to work. It was just too much conflict."
The schedules aligned enough so that Alejandro could appear in the first four episodes of this season. So the writers got to work on developing Nate and Sammy's partnership and friendship so that the viewers would feel the impact of Nate's loss even more. Like many of the stories on "Southland," Nate's death was born out of a true Los Angeles incident in which a police officer died during a routine stop at the end of his shift.
"I knew the story from when I was doing research for the pilot," Chulack said. "At some point or another, it was going to be in the series somehow. The story of these guys who were on their way home, they were in the gang unit and they were done. They're driving through the projects and somebody throws a bottle and they're like, let it go, but they didn't. They just wanted to get out and say hey guys, don't do that. And in the blink of an eye, two lives are changed. That was a true story, and we took an element of that and applied it to Kevin's character. It's good drama, because you have these two guys who are close partners and are opposites and have different ways of doing a job but are very close."
Alejandro, who says he choked up both when Chulack told him how his character would die and later when he read the script, says there were even more tears when they filmed it and then when he watched the episode with his wife Tuesday night.
"Everyone was so sad," Alejandro said. "On the last day, there were so many tears. From our camera guy to our crew to my castmates, to Chris Chulack, we shared a lot of tears together. It was a beautiful, amazing, touching, educating experience. And last night, even though I knew it was going to happen, the moment it hit, it really hit. My wife and I both shed tears over it. It's sad. The reason it's so sad is we formed a family with those guys. It really felt like a collaborative project. We were all in the roller coaster together. It's sad and I hate that I'm not a part of it. But I'm also very happy that I get to watch it as a fan and be a part of the support team."
The heart and soul of "Southland" lies not with the crime stories, but with its crime-solvers. Filmed documentary-style, the series depicts the social ramifications and personal consequences in the lives of the men and women who risk their lives to protect Los Angeles. The remaining six episodes of this season, Chulack said, will follow Sammy as he copes with the loss of his best friend.
"They're the good guys," Alejandro said. "They're the true heroes. That's one of the most beautiful things about being able to portray characters like Nate. I'm sure Shawn feels the same way. They're the modern-day, real heroes. They put their lives on the line to keep us safe. And without them, there would be chaos. I gained a whole new admiration and respect for those guys the moment I had my first ride-along. To play Nate Moretta and enlighten people a little bit more about what these guys go through has been such an honor."
Chulack, who was directing an episode on Wednesday morning, said it's fulfilling to hear about the overwhelming response to Nate's death, considering the series' precarious beginning.
"I think the show is starting to build and it's really rewarding to have people so emotionally moved by the death of a character, and it tells us people are watching," Chulack said. "For me, it's exciting. I hope we can sustain a rating number to make it viable to stay on the air, because there's a lot left for us to do. We're really just getting started."
--Maria Elena Fernandez
Top photo: Shawn Hatosy and Kevin Alejandro as Sammy and Nate in Tuesday night's episode of "Southland." Credit: Dough Hyun / TNT
Bottom photo: Sammy protects his fallen friend's body from a melee. Credit: Doug Hyun / TNT