Ben McKenzie Interview -- JustJared.com Exclusive
Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Ben McKenzie, who was one of best interviewees ever — easygoing, funny and candid. The 30-year-old actor talked about being single (yes, ladies, I said single), keeping in touch with his costars from The O.C., and his new cop drama, Southland, which premieres tonight on NBC! Check it:
JJ: Hi, Ben! Big fan. Are you familiar with JustJared.com at all?
BM: Yup! A friend referred me over, so thanks for the nice things!
JJ: Do you go online a lot? Are you computer savvy?
BM: I’m not particularly computer savvy. No Facebook or MySpace. I’m on there but I’m not there. Other people have created accounts for me I understand. I don’t even know how to work them! I’m only hip circa 1994 with email. (laughs)
JJ: Congratulations on your new series coming out. Can you tell us what your character’s like?
BM: Thank you! Sure. I play a rookie patrol officer named Ben Sherman who is about a month out of the academy. He has the makings of a good cop on paper but is a little inexperienced when it comes to the streets. He’s a little wet behind the ears and has a little growing to do. His training officer, John Cooper (played with Michael Cudlitz) is pretty unforgiving and puts him through the ringer in the pilot. The first episode is largely about my character trying to prove himself and to John that he has what it takes to be a copy.
(Click inside to continue reading Ben McKenzie‘s interview…)
JJ: You tend to play the newbie characters. In The O.C., you were welcomed with “Welcome to the O.C., b—-”. In Southland, is there a certain point in the series you get an official welcome?
BM: You mean like, “Welcome to the Academy, b—-!”? (laughs) We certainly do use that kind of language. There’s a lot of bleeps and curse words all over the place.
I don’t know. They certainly don’t shy away from making fun of me and also making fun of the fact that I don’t speak a lot. There’s actually a reference to it in the pilot where I don’t react to something and he says, “What are you, Canadian?” (JJ Note: I didn’t laugh, so Ben told me I have no sense of humor! Hahaha.)
My character also comes from a little bit of money and later on you’ll find out what that means. Basically, I grew up with a little bit of money which is interesting because it allows my training officer to refer to me as Tori Spelling and Richie Rich! And make fun of this rich kid who’s trying to be a cop. There’s plenty of opportunities for them on a certain level to allude to my experiences on The O.C., they’re not really, but kind of a reference within a reference.
JJ: How many episodes have you shot for the series so far?
BM: We’ve shot three in addition to the pilot. We’re a little under the gun. Everything’s going really really well though. It’s a very exciting show. Even compared to the pilot, we’re stretching the rules of television even more after that. It’s almost all handheld or steady (?) digital cameras that are pretty new to television. We’re all in practical locations all over L.A. from Beverly Hills down to south central and Watts and we’re out in the streets filming away and it’s got a cool energy to it. Sort of like an episode of the show Cops. Very realistic and unfiltered and I think people will be surprised at the things we’re trying to pull off.
We’re still shooting. We’ve shot three, we’re shooting three more, which is seven total. We’ll air consecutively for seven weeks starting on Thursday at 10pm Eastern, until the third week of May and at that point, they’ll break into summer schedule for NBC and get going in the fall.
JJ: Have you personally gotten in trouble with the law?
BM: I’ve been pretty lucky, I haven’t been caught doing anything. No, speeding tickets here and there and a fair share of parking tickets in L.A. So far so good! And I’m hoping this experience playing a cop on television will buy more latitude should I ever need the help of law enforcement. I certainly know enough cops socially after having done ride-alongs. Real cops play our background extras which is pretty cool. We have a lot of ties with the department. Our technical advisor Chick Daniel is an ex-LAPD and ex-SWAT. His wife is an ex-LAPD, so there’s a lot of cops around so certainly they can help me out should I get into a situation.
JJ: All you have to do is keep their cards in your glove compartment and whip it out!
BM: Exactly. I certainly have enough cards. I have a whole glove compartment full of them! I should keep them in there! “Do you know this guy? How about this guy? None of this working? Not going to jail? Great!”
JJ: Does your character have any love connections yet?
BM: To be completely honest, they’re hinting about a few things, but before the seven episode run, you’ll see a romantic, um, sexual interaction.
JJ: Do you have a favorite prop on the set?
BM: It’s pretty cool carrying around a real gun. I’m not a huge gun guy, but carrying around a real Glock, even though it’s obviously unloaded, it’s pretty cool! We’re using all the real props. We’re in as close to real cop uniforms. Real belts with real handcuffs. Real guns, real walkie-talkies, real magazine clips, pepper spray, the whole nine! The whole thing is real as we can get it. There’s a lot of props to fiddle around with! You can take out your handcuffs and stuff!
JJ: Has anyone played pranks on the set yet?
BM: It’s been relatively prank-free so far! No stories yet, but I’ll get some of the cast by the end of the run!
JJ: How is the dynamics on the set different from The O.C.? Everyone was about the same age. This time, you’re one of the younger ones.
BM: I think I am the youngest member, not by a lot, [but I am]. I think I’m the only unmarried cast member. I’m the young guy which is an interesting experience. I sort of experienced it on The O.C., but I wasn’t the youngest of the young. It’s close to being completely different from The O.C. considering they’re both TV shows. The O.C. was shot in a studio the vast majority of the time.– maybe 3/4 of the time. This time ,we’re on-location 3/4 of the time. It’s the complete inverse. I’ve literally shot maybe one scene at our studio because I’m patrol, I’m out on the streets. So that has a different feel to it. Everyday is different. The role is different, more of an adult role. It’s about as different as you can possibly get. I think there’s enough similarities, the fact that it isn’t a typical cop show, where it’s about solving the crimes, it’s about who these cops are as people. I hope for people that have watched The O.C. and liked what I’ve done, that they’ll give Southland a chance. A – It’s a very good show. B- There’s enough similarities to where they might enjoy it.
JJ: Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?
BM: Adam Brody and I live not too far from each other and I see him quite a bit. Peter Gallagher and I stay in touch. Kelly Rowan and I stay in touch. (JJ note: That’s the whole Cohen family!) Josh Schwartz every once in awhile. That’s about it.
JJ: Does that mean you heard about Rachel Bilson’s engagement like the rest of us?
BM: I heard about it. I don’t think I’ve literally seen Rachel since we wrapped. But I’m very happy for her!
JJ: That’s a long time ago!
BM: I know! Weird! I don’t think I’ve seen Mischa [Barton] or Rachel since we wrapped. It’s weird. I like both of them. I don’t know, people’s lives… hehe.
JJ: Josh Schwartz is crossing over the Gossip Girl spinoff with characters from The O.C. He’s mixing shows. Would you make a cameo on the show? Or consider an O.C. reunion show?
BM: I think that was a chapter in my life and I’m moving on.
JJ: If you could be a superhero, which one would you be?
BM: I think Batman’s pretty cool.
JJ: Who’s your favorite Batman?
BM: Christian Bale is doing a pretty damn good job. It’s going to date me a bit, but the old show used to be on reruns when I was growing up in Texas in the afternoons. We would literally watch the old Adam West. I have a softspot for Adam West, but it’s cheesy as all heck. It’s hilarious! Twang! Pow! Jam! Awesome – plus he’s really funny on Family Guy. I’m going to go with Adam West – I’m going with the unusual choice.
JJ: What was the last movie you saw?
BM: I saw I Love You, Man – I thought it was good!
JJ: What TV shows do you follow?
BM: I watch 30 Rock. It’s good! I watch Mad Men. And I watch Travel Channel stuff – Anthony Bourdaine – No reservations. And Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer.
JJ: What kind of music have you been listening to lately?
BM: A little bit of everything. I listen to a lot of Wilco.
JJ: What was the last concert you’ve been to?
BM: It’s been awhile!
JJ: Are you single?
JJ: Where and when was your last date?
BM: I’m not going to answer that.
Ben‘s new series Southland premieres TONIGHT (April 9) @ 10/9c on NBC.