Two Cents And Five Questions With Ben McKenzie

ben mckenzie

Ben McKenzie, actor, SouthLAnd

Long gone are the days of Ryan Atwood (The O.C.). Ben McKenzie is known as one man and one man only now: Officer Ben Sherman from TNT’s SouthLAnd.

Tonight, the show heads into its third season after its intense fanbase petitioned to #SAVESOUTHLAND. While some characters may be switching partners or jobs, Officer Sherman is still doing his probation training with Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz). How are things changing this year for Sherman and his training officer? Read on to find out!

TheTwoCents: What is your favorite thing about playing your character? Is there something that draws you specifically to him?
Ben McKenzie: I think he chooses his words very carefully and he says less than he feels. And I think that kind of reserve nature is powerful on camera, not that he doesn’t see a lot. He’s a pretty sharp guy. He takes in a lot. He just doesn’t speak his mind. He’s not glib. He doesn’t speak his mind all that much and he can’t because of the nature of the dynamics between a training officer and a [probie]. He has to bite his tongue a lot.

But you’ll see a lot of opportunities in this upcoming season for him to be funnier I think, be a little bit – take that piss out of himself and John, kind of mess around a little bit. And I think that’s a good thing. I mean I think if you spend 12 hours a day for a year in a patrol car with somebody else you – at some point – you get a little punchy and you just want to crack up a little and you want to just have some fun.

And I think John and Ben felt that kind of comradery. They already laugh at certain situations that are absurd. So I don’t know. I think as you go along I find new ways of playing scenes that are sort of similar on the face of them with John where he’s, you know, [getting on] me for some mistake I’ve made. I think there’s always new ways to play those scenes because Ben’s growing up and evolving and their relationship is changing.

TTC: Is there a new partner for your character?
BM: No, no, I don’t have a new partner. I’m running around with John still, my last state of probationary period. The end of the season will mark the end of that period. But no, I’m still running around with John Cooper. One episode we switch partners. I ride with Shaky and a female cop and John rides with Dewy because nobody will ride with Dewy so it ends up being the short stick having to ride with Dewy.

But for my character, you’re going to see both Lydia (Regina King) and Ben more human than perhaps you’ve seen them before. Ben has an episode, where the guy who raped his mom gets out of prison and we finally talk about that, forced to talk about it. And I think it will shed some light on who this guy is deep down underneath a lot of the armor that he puts up.

You know, I think most of what you see is a pretty stoic guy out there, kind of just observing the world and taking John’s flack – taking a lot of grief from John, but inside there’s a lot of other stuff boiling underneath and you’ll see that come to the surface in that episode. And that will probably inform more of who this guy is. He’s almost sort of obsessed with the notion of justice and that’s kind of what he’s been pursuing his entire life. And when that changes in his episode you see him kind of change and grow up and mature a little bit into a different kind of cop.

TTC: Were you shocked by the fact that TNT picked [the show] up? Did you think after the first season that it was dead and gone or did you think it had that second life, that someone would see it and go, we’ve got to get this back on the air?
BM: I don’t know. At the end of the day it was out of our hands. I have no affect on the outcome of this situation which is the truth of the matter. And the truth of the matter is that none of us individually on the show did. You know, John went around and shopped the show. TNT went out of their way to express interest in it and came up with the best offer. And we’re very grateful that they did. And I think quite frankly it’s due to TNT’s interest and the interest of the fans who were pretty vocal who expressed themselves online and in letters and all over the place. That’s why we’re back.

TTC: It’s interesting that over the past decade of CSI and the forensic crime dramas that squad officers and detectives and crime shows have kind of taken a back seat while many of the crime scene analysts and medical examiners and their techniques have taken over. It’s almost like the powers that be determined that cops stopped being interesting and SouthLAnd is one of those rare shows that confers that, yes, actually cops still are very interesting. Have you thought about this? Do you think the show is offering a unique point of view in that way? Do you get feedback from your life counterparts that suggest they feel like they’ve been kind of had their thunder stolen by the CSI-types and so on?
BM: I think that’s a good point. I think you’re right. I think for whatever reason, I don’t know if that’s they simply think the technology has evolved enough to where they can make a show like CSI with all the sort of fancy graphics and camera angles interesting, whether that’s the reason for it or whether the template of the old shows about black and white and two guys in a police cruiser were getting stale but whatever the reason is I think that SouthLAnd is fairly unique because it’s very much the antithesis of those kinds of shows that are more focused on the visual.

This is really about on the ground, kind of boot level view of policing a big, crazy city like Los Angeles in the 21st century and how kind of a grittier, rougher look at what it’s actually like on a pretty human scale and how what the cops see affects them in their personal lives. I think that’s the other thing that’s missing from [shows] like CSI and Law and Order is it’s much more about the crime, solving the crime, and catching the bad guys at the end of the episode and everyone kind of being able to turn off their TVs and sleep soundly in their beds.

And SouthLAnd doesn’t really do that ever. Often, we don’t catch the bad guy if there is a bad guy. And even when we do it’s such a disturbing ride that you’re not exactly sleeping quietly home at the end of the episode. It’s a brutal look at the kind of rough world that the cops encounter. So I think it definitely has a place in society and I think it’s not going to appeal to everyone. I don’t think we’ll ever get the kind of numbers that CSI or Law and Order get but it’s not really the point.

The point is to build kind of a slice of life for what cops go through and I think that will appeal to certain sort of sophisticated viewer who wants something that’s a little more honest in his portrayal of Los Angeles and police officers.

TTC: The subject matter of your show is obviously much, much heavier than a lot of network cop-dramas these days. You’re in your third season, does it ever get any easier for you when you open that script and you read the case that you’re going to be exploring?
BM: Sometimes it does actually. Sometimes the thrust of each episode will almost always be the A-storyline on any tab so it’s almost always going to be pretty hard-hitting and pretty brutal. But there’s often a B and C storyline that are much lighter and much more funnier that is there for comic relief. And there’s a lot of humor in what cops see and do.

I mean there are such crazy situations all the time that some pretty bizarre, funny stuff happens. And it sort of rotates amongst the cast who has those bylines but I think we’ve really found a lot of humor in the show. I think what’s interesting about it – and I think this will be very evident in the episodes that will air on TNT this year but there’s a lot of unexpected humor – a serious situation that has a really, really funny thing at the heart of it.

And I think it’s funnier than a lot of the sitcom stuff out there because it’s more honest and more disturbingly funny that there’s a scene that you’re aware of. I’ll just talk about it. I’m not sure if I can or not but what the hell. I show up with Shaky, I’m running off a female cop with a guy who’s bleeding from his arm and he says his girlfriend has cut him. And they [show] she’s just in the car down the block, and we go down, and it’s a blow-up doll.

The guy is – if you want to say a little crazy and he says he got in a “argument” with his girlfriend and they were arguing about the outfit that she was wearing and all these guys looking at her. And he’s clearly fine and he cut himself. And, you know, there’s funny stuff in that but it’s also sort of disturbing and I think that’s kind of the line we walk on this show a lot.

Don’t forget to tune into TNT tonight to see the premiere of SouthLAnd! And come back here to see the recap & review of it shortly after!

Farrah Kaye – Sr. Editor

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