SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you've watched tonight's episode of TNT's "Southland."
Characters come and go on television shows and on a serious and very realistic crime police drama like TNT's "Southland" it was only a matter of time before one of our beloved regular characters would succumb to dangerous circumstances and die in the line of duty. In the "Southland" episode that aired tonight (entitled "Code 4," written by Will Rokos and directed by Felix Alcala) the close relationship between Kevin Alejandro's Detective Nate Moretta and Shawn Hatosy's Detective Sammy Bryant was punctuated throughout, which only made the final moments of the episode an even more impactful punch in the gut.
To catch you up, Sammy, whose estranged wife is possibly pregnant by another man, is sleeping on Nate's couch, much to the chagrin of Nate's spouse. The personal drama bleeds into the work front as the team investigates a gang-related homicide and Nate constantly must reign in the hot-headed Sammy. It's all the more shocking and heartbreaking at the end of the episode when, during a seemingly low-key gang altercation, the calm and collected Nate (who has just held up four fingers - or Code 4 - to a police helicopter overhead to signal that the situation is under control) takes a blow to the back of the head by a baseball bat in Los Angeles gang territory and is killed much to the horror of Sammy.
Our Jim Halterman had the first exclusive chat with Alejandro first thing this morning as the episode was set to air and this closely-guarded secret was about to finally be let out of the bag.
Jim Halterman: Has it been difficult keeping your departure from "Southland" a secret?
Kevin Alejandro: Dude! It's tearing me up! Everyone is talking about "Southland" this, "Southland" that and I think, "Oh, I am going to break your heart come Tuesday night!" And I'm horrible with secrets, too. Whenever I buy my wife anything I say, "Wanna know what it is? Wanna know what it is?" It's been very difficult to keep this secret but lo and behold it will be released tonight and people will finally know what's going on.
JH: What was the conversation like when you found out Moretta was going to be killed?
KA: Honestly, it's unfortunate because I wanted to stay on "Southland" for a long time and it throws you off guard no matter which way you hear it. Chris [Chulack, Executive Producer] called me and I was in my car and you could tell he had a difficult time saying it. We knew it was going to happen at some point but when it's finalized you're like "Whew! This is for real." I still text the guys every now and again and it's like "I miss you guys so much." It's one of the greatest things I've had the pleasure of being a part of.
JH: How was shooting that last scene? As a viewer, you don't necessarily see it coming but it just breaks your heart.
KA: First of all, when we read it out loud at the table read there were tears. The imagery of [Hatosy's Sammy] shielding my body and taking the blows himself so they stop hitting me... it's just written so well and it chokes you up just thinking about it. The shooting of it was so intense. We're in this neighborhood and it's obviously one of those true, rough areas of LA and there were a little bit of nerves going on because there are so many people in the scene that anything could go wrong so that's going through your head. Shawn was just amazing in the entire episode and the way he handled what happens to my character... he did outstanding work. It was great.
JH: Were you hoping that you might have a big death scene where you get to say your goodbyes to everyone in Moretta's life?
KA: Yeah, there's a small part of me that wanted that but the way that it went down was so much better. It's such a stronger impact than going out with some words. It's so jarring and scary because it just happens. All of a sudden it's like "Whoa! Whoa! What just happened?!"
JH: I know you work closely with the LAPD. Had you talked to them about officers who had gotten killed in the line of duty?
KA: Absolutely. One of the interesting things about working on "Southland" is that no matter where we are and whatever the situation is we're doing there's always somebody with hands-on experience who has been there and is someone you can talk to. It's great because you're forced to form a relationship with these guys, too. The energy on that day [of shooting the death scene] and the emotions were running high with all of us and it just felt so real and so true with what was about to go down. You couldn't help but put yourself in that situation; it just felt so real.
JH: Since the show literally shoots on the streets of LA, has it made you look at the city differently?
KA: I actually didn't know the city that well. I knew my pockets of familiarity but I have never seen more of LA than I have on "Southland" and in areas that are so different and dangerous. But you look over your shoulder and it's so beautiful because you see this amazing skyline and there's such beauty in the middle of this rough, bohemian sort of life. I never would've been able to explore LA the way that "Southland" has given me the opportunity to.
JH: And this isn't the first time you've been killed off of a show, right? You died on "Ugly Betty" several years ago.
KA: Right. I tend to die. [Laughs.]
JH: Looking at your career overall, you've had so many different kinds of roles. Does that happen by accident or is there a master plan?
KA: When I was starting off, I was just hungry and I wanted to work. Anything that came I was just so happy and ready to do but then as time progressed and people started to give me more and more opportunities a strategy then came into play. Right now, we're very fortunate to be in the position to pick and choose and manage it differently.
JH: It is easier or more difficult to act in a show like "True Blood" since it is not as grounded in reality as "Southland?"
KA: Each one of them has their own pressures. It's more difficult on "Southland" because you want to keep the integrity of these heroes - these police officers - and you want to do it in a way that doesn't look fake. One of our biggest compliments comes when a detective or an officer says, "This is the closest to real that I've ever seen." It comes from their hands, eyes and mouth of the real heroes and that's what we strive for so there's that added pressure. In "True Blood," it's fun but my character is different from most that I've ever played so that has its own challenge of how to I deal with the circumstances and the situations that I'm put in there.
JH: Speaking of "True Blood," you're featured in most of the episodes in the coming season, right? What can you tell me about what's coming for Jesus?
KA: Yes, my character is a witch and this is the year of the witches. [Laughs.] You get to see quite a bit of me in the kind of crazy situations that "True Blood" does so well.
JH: So we can expect to see you on a broom flying around Bon Temps?
KA: Yes! Long-haired, green with big warts and all. [Laughs.]
JH: Any final thoughts about "Southland?"
KA: I want to say how much I love "Southland" and it was a wonderful feeling of true family and camaraderie with everybody there. I had some of the most amazing experiences that I could ever had there.
"Southland" airs Tuesday nights at 10:00/9:00c on TNT.