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Exclusive: Michael Cudlitz on bringing Paul Krendler to life in CBS’ Silence of the Lambs sequel series Clarice

Michael Cudlitz as Paul Krendler.
Michael Cudlitz as Paul Krendler. Pic credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

Even though Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz) believed Clarice (Rebecca Breeds) when she told him that his attorney Joe Hudlin (Raoul Bhaneja) was the man who was at the hospital the night she was drugged and tied to a bed, Krendler went ahead and closed the River Murders case after being blackmailed by his divorce attorney.

Now his team doesn’t know what to think, especially Krendler’s long-time associate Murray Clarke (Nick Sandow), who tells Clarice that Krendler just isn’t himself.

“I would like to think he is an honorable man, but right now we’re in a place where that’s going to be tested,” Cudlitz tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview.

“Once again, it’s what people are seeing and what you see is not always what is happening. So, I’m more than happy to let the audience form their judgments. We’ll let this play out and we’ll see if there is a reason for it or if he is protecting his children like any parent would do.”

Hudlin is a man with a lot of friends in high places, and when he threatens Krendler’s children — Jason (Anton Gillis-Adelman) and Alison (Alexis Lyon), Krendler takes it seriously because he understands the damage the man can do. He’s seen the results of those who cross him.

Even so, Krendler is a guy who gave up his upward career trajectory at the DOJ to return to the FBI to do catch the bad guys, so can he let this one escape?

“I think that guy is in him,” Cudlitz says. “I think the guy needs to do what needs to be done for whatever the end result is in him, and those are shades of Thomas Harris’ Krendler. Let’s not forget we’re dealing with someone who has not such a great past.”

“Historically speaking so far as what the audience knows about him, he has a horrible future, whether we’re headed in that exact direction or not. But his drinking and his family life leave those doors open.”

On tonight’s “Add-a-Bead” episode of Clarice, Krendler reveals his true colors when he calls his ViCAP team together for a meeting that is so secret it has to take place in hiding. It moves the story closer to the season finale, which Cudlitz promises will give us some answers, especially important because Clarice hasn’t been picked up for season 2 as yet.

“They’ve been very clear from the beginning that the whole season will be serialized,” he says. “So, there is absolutely closure at the end of the season at some level. As in all good television writing, there’s a lot of stuff that’s left open, but every season, I believe, will be incredibly satisfying to its overarching mystery, and that is definitely the case with season one.”

In our chat, Cudlitz also shared his thoughts on what makes Krendler tick, why he is so harsh with Clarice, and more about the finale.

Monsters & Critics: What was it about the Buffalo Bill case that made Krendler decide to get off the career trajectory track that he was on at the DOJ and go back to the FBI, which was not a forward step in his career, and form this special investigative team?

Michael Cudlitz: Buffalo Bill reminded Paul of why he got into law enforcement in the first place. I feel he had gotten off track with his life, with his drinking, with his marriage, everything was completely off track. And the Buffalo Bill case was a jolt to his system, specifically with the friendship that developed with the attorney general and realizing what was going on with her daughter, realizing it could very easily be his children.

He absolutely took a step backwards career-wise so he could make a difference because he truly feels he can make a difference. And I think that’s where his historic disgust is with Anthony Herman (David Hewlett), as well.

Krendler feels like if you’re in a position where you should be making a difference and you’re locked behind a desk, you’re just trying to move up in the Bureau. He feels and realizes his job should be and could be more. He wants to make a difference. He was deeply, deeply affected by the Buffalo Bill incident.

M&C: Is the advantage of having more than two hours to tell the story that we get to go into the personal lives of these characters, who often go into very dark places in order to solve these crimes?

Michael Cudlitz: Absolutely. That’s always been one of my favorite things about the long format of television. The series Band of Brothers is a perfect example. Tom Hanks found Band of Brothers while doing his research for Saving Private Ryan.

He read this book, and initially, he was like, “Oh, this would make a movie,” and they started getting into it. And they were like, “This is not a movie. This is a miniseries. We need to learn the personal lives of these people.”

I find that you can paint a character like Paul Krendler with a very wide, one-colored brush when you’re making a film, because in the hour and a half, or two-hour film, you’re only spending maybe 15, 20 minutes with him. The rest of the time you’re with Julianne Moore, who played the Clarice character in Hannibal.

So, you can paint him as this arch, horrible person because you’re not really following his story. When you’re following someone else’s story, those notes that people tend to see are filled in. You find out the reasons why.

You’re only the villain because you’re looking at them through someone else’s eyes. When you start to see through their eyes, you start to get empathy and sympathy and understanding of what they’re going through. And so, you may say that might not be my choice. I might not do it that way, but I understand.

Rebecca Breeds and Michael Cudlitz on the set of Clarice
Rebecca Breeds and Michael Cudlitz on the set of Clarice. Pic credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

M&C: Krendler was really harsh with Clarice in the pilot episode. He seems to have mellowed a little bit towards her now. Do you think he has a little more respect for her? Do you think he’s starting to believe in this innate sense that she has for understanding what’s really going on with these crimes?

Michael Cudlitz: Krendler is absolutely beginning to understand. He is a fact-based person, and everything that she has been bringing to him has been coming to be true. Undeniably true. In episode four, his problem wasn’t with her necessarily in the fact that she found Buffalo Bill before he did; the problem was how she did it.

The fact that she is fresh, smart as she is, intuitive as she is, she still is a rookie. There’s so much that she has to learn about keeping herself safe, about finding evidence that can be used in a case, not just finding things and coercing people and thinking everything is admissible.

She’s a rookie. That takes nothing away from her intelligence, her intellect for hunches. Everything that drives Clarice Starling, this genius or savant, whatever you want to call it in this area, she’s completely emotionally in tune with what’s happening around her, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good cop.

Becoming a good cop means learning how to become a good cop. And that is his biggest problem with her. So, he has no problem with her so far as her abilities.

Now, that being said, he is in a system that was at the time primarily driven by men. It’s a fact. We don’t run around going, “Oh, my God. They’re sending in the G-Women.” It’s the G-Men, and it’s always been the G-Men. It’s been the government men, and that’s who used to work for the government.

It has changed over time, but Clarice is set in 1993, where we are very, very heavily dealing with the very real idea of G-Men. It takes a long time to turn an aircraft carrier.

M&C: You mentioned that Clarice is a rookie, a novice. So is Rebecca when it comes to being No. 1 on the call sheet. How is she doing as the star of the series?

She’s fantastic. She sets an amazing tone. She was born to do this. I’ve seen a lot of people do it, and I’ve seen a few people do it really, really well. She’s fantastic.

M&C: Were you a Thomas Harris book reader or were the movies your first experience with his stories?

Michael Cudlitz: I actually am not a huge book reader. I read quite a bit during college, stuff I had to. And then, when I got out and started working, I read a tremendous number of scripts. So, I read a lot, and then I read source material and background material for roles doing research.

For me, reading is not something that I use to unwind. I’d rather go into my woodshop and make something, or take a walk, or work in the yard. I don’t find, for myself, reading to be something that I do to relax.

So, it wasn’t that I wasn’t a fan, I did read his stuff after the fact. I had seen the movie first and then went back and read the books after I knew this project was happening, and I loved him. I think he’s terrific. I love his style of writing.

I feel like his books were made to be movies, the same way that George R. R. Martin’s books are written. You can tell that George was a screenwriter because some of the scenes in the books read like scenes in a movie. And it’s the same way with Thomas Harris’ stuff.

M&C: Kal Penn isn’t in the next two episodes. Is his character gone?

Michael Cudlitz: No, no, not at all. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. He’s very integral to everything that happens from here on out. It’s just that the structure of the show, there are some characters that are just not in every episode. That’s just how it was designed from day one.

If we could have had him for every episode, we would have. A lot of this has to do with things that are beyond our control, other commitments, different contracts.

M&C: Is part of it COVID protocols as well?

Michael Cudlitz: Yep. Every time you leave Canada and you come back, it’s two weeks in quarantine.

M&C: Even now that people are vaccinated?

Michael Cudlitz: Well, they’re not that vaccinated in Canada. They’re working on it.

M&C: What can you say about the series going up to the finale?

Michael Cudlitz: In closing, the whole series, all 13 episodes, reads like a novel. We get introduced to the crime. We get teased by it. We get in-depth depth character stuff. As we move forward to dealing with the particular case, we leave the specific character stuff and get completely consumed by the case as we sail off to the end.

I think Thomas Harris fans especially are going to love where we end up. It’s an incredibly Harris-esque, satisfying ending.

Clarice airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET9c on CBS.

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