Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ben McKenzie Comes Into His Own

Prior to 2009, Ben McKenzie was best known for his four-year stint on the teen nighttime drama “The O.C.” A lot has changed in those few years, and no one could be happier about that than Ben himself. Ben currently stars in “Southland,” the highly acclaimed police drama on TNT (Tuesday nights at 10 p.m ET/PT). As you might recall, NBC aired the first season of the show but abruptly pulled the series weeks before its season two debut. Well, TNT knows a good thing when it sees it, and immediately negotiated to pick up the beleaguered drama. Proving to be a better fit with TNT than NBC, “Southland” has found a comfortable home with the cable network, as has Ben.

Celebrity Extra: It must have been quite a roller coaster for you and the other stars of the show: First NBC cancels it, then TNT picks it up. What was your reaction when you heard the news that TNT was giving “Southland” new life?

Ben McKenzie: It was great! I think the fans really were an enormous part of why we exist today. It’s very unusual for a show to have a second life, especially after it’s already aired for an entire season on another network. It’s very rare, and we’re incredibly thankful to all the fans. I wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for them. I’d be waiting tables again, which would really suck.



CE: “Southland” seems to be a better fit with TNT as well, a network known for its great, cutting-edge, lifelike dramas.

BM: It’s certainly not one of the old-fogey networks, that’s for sure. We’ve been able to make the episodes we’ve wanted to make. TNT has been very supportive and interested in what we’re doing, but they have not gotten in the way of anything, as far as I know. They really want to support the show and promote it. It just feels right.

CE: What initially attracted you to the part of Ben Sherman?

BM: I was interested in who the guy was, and I was very interested in the world that was being portrayed, because it felt like a much more realistic world. Kind of a darker take on a cop show than what we’ve seen before. This show seemed very different. Once we started shooting and I saw the footage -- it had exceeded my expectations.

CE: As Ben develops as a police officer/character, what are some new things that you’ve found that you enjoy portraying?

BM: I like seeing him understand the world a little more. I like seeing him grow up on camera and become a man. Before, he was a kid, and he’s kind of exiting that phase. There’s something fun about a character’s growth being that significant. Especially over that short amount of time -- it’s only been 13 episodes. It’s really rewarding to see it.

CE: What can fans look forward to in season three?

BM: It’ll be the same show you’ve seen before. It’s just going to be a little bit more focused on the four principal characters left: Ben, Lydia, Sammy and John. It’s pretty aggressive; it’s gonna double-down on the aggressiveness. In terms of my character, the dynamic has changed yet again between John and Ben. It’s more of a peer-to-peer relationship than it’s been in the past. Although Ben will still mess up and John will criticize him brutally for that, he’s got a little more freedom to do some of his own work. The relationship between John and Ben will deepen even farther when John sort of falls apart from his pain-pill addiction.

CE: As you look back on the past seasons, what have been some of your favorite moments?

BM: There are so many. I remember being in the jungle last season for the season opener filming a really big riot scene that had my adrenaline skyrocket. I remember being in the hospital for the end of the pilot and having a scene with a young girl, about her brother being shot and that being kind of a nice capper for the end of the pilot. And I had a good feeling that we had just finished something that I hoped ultimately was a strong pilot. And this season, the season opener, we have a bank heist in Hollywood with a huge shootout across Hollywood Boulevard. That was really thrilling.

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