February 25th, 2010 by thetvchick
Southland is a wonderful, gritty, in depth look at the lives of members of the LAPD. It doesn’t follow the traditional formula that most procedural dramas adhere to, rather it focuses on the work and home life of all of the characters. It has an outstanding cast, and I was so glad it got picked up by TNT after NBC dropped it. I loved The OC, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to talk to Ben McKenzie. We talked about his former OC persona Ryan Atwood, the many layers to his new character Ben Sherman, and what makes Southland so unique.
Ben is on the brink of moving on to Phase 3, and finishing his probationary period to become a full member of the LAPD. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s been like.
It’s another sort of mini milestone in his experience in the LAPD. I think it’s one of the more gratifying experiences, because everyone who joins the LAPD starts out as a P1 — phase one of their probationary period and then rises through the ranks, as far as they want to rise. But you have to go through the first three phases as a probationary officer to join the force in a full position. It’s like I don’t know — graduating from high school or something or college…or whatever your last educational thing is. You’ve now done all of the homework, and you’ve been given some responsibility, but now you’re out and you’re actually going to do it on your own, as a full member. So it’s cool, and I think it was a nice way to kind of jump in to the new season — he needs sort of one wrap around, bigger event to happen within the episodes — I think that’s kind of a cool one, because it’s kind of nicely juxtaposed at the end of that episode, I’ve just passed a test basically, and I’m celebrating a new phase of my life, where Regina King — her character — is bemoaning a loss of a chapter in her life, with her partner in the hospital. And it’s a nice juxtaposition there of one rookie who’s still a little bit got his head in the clouds, a little kind of on cloud 9 about the excitement and joy over all the possibilities, and a veteran who’s experiencing the opposite.
Absolutely. And Ben has been through quite a journey from the beginning of season 1 until now. What has that been like for you?
It’s been fantastic. I love making the show, shooting it, the actual process of filming it, being out on the streets of LA all over town, working with a fantastic crew. I’ve done a lot of my work really with Michael Cudlitz — 75 percent or more of my work is with him, and he’s really a joy to work with. And then I also like all the other stuff in addition to the shooting of it — the training, the preparation, I don’t know there’s just a lot of aspects of the show that I can relate to and the character that I can relate to. I’ve found it a rewarding experience and I hope it can keep going on.
Are you anything like your character?
Yeah, actually I think I’m quite a bit like my character. I think I’m more like Ben Sherman, than I am Ryan Atwood…far more so. I grew up in a pretty well off family. My father is a lawyer, like Ben Sherman’s father is a lawyer. My father’s a nice guy (laughs) but I grew up a nice upper middle class kind of existence, and there are aspects of Ben Sherman’s personality: his ambition and his intelligence and his work ethic that I would certainly like to aspire to (laughs) I would certainly like to believe I share with him…sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t…but I can definitely relate to him. And I can definitely relate to him seeing stuff on the street and being completely blown away by what’s happening in front of him because I didn’t grow up in Beverly Hills but I was sheltered in the same way that everyone is sheltered, from the realities of being on the street as a cop, you just don’t see this kind of stuff every day. It’s really powerful stuff. Some of it’s very sad, some of it’s very disturbing, some of it’s very inspiring–it’s the whole gamut of emotions–and some of it’s very funny.
You are best known for playing Ryan Atwood on The OC, and Ben Sherman’s a very, very different character. Are there pieces of Ryan Atwood in Ben or are they totally different and you keep them completely separate?
I’m not overly protective (laughs) of my work. I think the reality of acting, particularly acting on film or on screen in television or film, is that you’re always bringing yourself to the character. And you’re always using whatever your natural innate kind of talent and skills and/or just your personality to the part. So you know, it’s not as though I’m playing a one-legged pirate with a lisp. I always bring myself to the part and that’s the only way you can do it I think. Because particularly on our show, we’re shooting with hand-held cameras that’s maybe six inches from your face, if you’re trying to do a [English accent] performance [end English accent], you’re going to look like a freaking idiot. Just keep it natural, and keep it relaxed and stay within what feels reasonable and right to you, while still kind of pushing the boundaries and making sure that whatever your motivations are, whatever your objectives are in the scene, are being played to the fullest of their ability if that makes any sense. I don’t think you have to do a lot of high level, analytical Ben Sherman stands up straighter or walks different from playing football in 3rd grade, you know, it’s me. He’s me, and I’m him, I just happen to be a cop. I happen to have a certain history, psychological profile here, and what he did, and that’s what happened.
I just spoke with Tom Everett Scott, who talked about going on ride-alongs with the LAPD. Do you have a favorite moment from doing these ride-alongs and meeting with the LAPD?
I just really had a great time spending time with these guys, experiencing their lives, their very unique lives where they ride around in cars, stay on the lookout for trouble happening until the radio goes off and you have to fly into the situation that could be potentially lethal. I just think that’s a fascinating way of being. So I think it’s more that than any particular story.
And there was a big reveal last season about why Ben wanted to become a cop? Is there more to Ben that we haven’t seen yet? Are there more layers to him that we will see coming up?
Yeah I think that there are with anyone, there are certain situations that we find ourselves in that test our ability to handle them. And sometimes people react in ways you wouldn’t expect. I think that we’ve seen a lot of kind of what makes Ben tick, but there will be circumstances that you’ll see in this season, and certainly as we go forward in new episodes on TNT, you’ll see circumstances that will test him, that will bring out aspects of his personality you haven’t seen yet. He’s an ambitious, hard working, intelligent guy, but he also sometimes lets that get the best of him, and sometimes he’s overly confident, or he’s overly kind of emotionally involved in whatever’s going on in terms of the victims and the crimes that he’s seeing, and he wants to fix it, and he wants to make it better, and sometimes he just can’t. He has to learn the hard way.
And do you have a favorite moment from filming the show so far or perhaps a favorite episode?
I really have a blast when I’m shooting the show. I like a lot of the more physical stuff. I really like how it just sort of relaxes you, and it’s more therapeutic when you can run around and tackle a guy to the ground, or pull out your gun and fire off some blacks, or you know, just that kind of stuff is like being a kid, it just reminds you of being a kid. I think in terms of episodes, I really think the season premiere is really good. And then I like the 3rd episode, which I think they’ll be sending you eventually, which is called “U-Boat,” and I think it’s a really strong episode. It’s about me getting off on my own car for the day.
There are a lot of procedural dramas out there, but one thing I think Southland does so well is focus on the characters’ lives. What do you think makes Southland so unique?
I think that the focus on the characters is absolutely the characters not the crime is absolutely a unique aspect of the show. I think the way that it’s shot — it’s shot on location, it’s not shot in the studio, it’s shot with the red camera, the distro cameras that require a lot less — we use a lot of ambient light, so there’s not a lot of lighting set up, so everything is meant to look and feel as realistic as possible in terms of how we shoot the show: hand-held, up close, multiple angles. The dialogue I think is more realistic to the way that cops actually work, with the things that they see and the situations that they encounter, as opposed to sort of some of the aspects of — I’m not trying to mock them but CSI, or something, where they’re sort of sitting in a lab and talking in long, expositional sentences about the scientific way that they are going to take the guy’s thumbnail and determine that yes it was the butler. It was him all along. And I just think it’s more realistic on all sorts of levels: the language, the filming style, the filming location, the emphasis on character — I think all of it to me is a more realistic show.
And this show deals with a lot of gritty moments in a very sensitive way. Has it been a challenge to film these scenes and figure out what constitutes too much to be shown on television?
The writers are really more involved in terms of what plot lines are being filmed. But I think in general, I think this is what [gained] attention when we were on NBC, and I’m optimistic that as we go forward on TNT, we’ll be able to tell most of the stories that we want to tell. We’re not looking to be exploitative of any particular dramatic situation that occurs. We’re not trying to show grizzly, terrible, awful, violent things just to show them. We’re trying to use them to inform what the characters see, and how what these people see on the job has an immediate but also cumulative effect on their ability to keep it together, to really hold it all together. And in that sense, we’re trying to pay our respect and our honor to the work that these men and women do. So I think we’ll continue to do that. I hope we continue to do it, because I think it’s important to what makes the show different and interesting and unique. And as far as seeing things, experiencing things emotionally that we’ve shot, I’m able to kind of see it for what it is, and although I’d like to think I do a good job of acting, I don’t think I take too much of it home with me because quite honestly, I’ve seen the real thing, or some of the real thing with actual cops, and what we do is not the same thing. It’s clearly different.
Right. Southland was canceled by NBC and picked up by TNT. What does it mean to you to be a part of this new network?
I think it’s terrific. I think TNT is branching out into all sorts of — they already have obviously a lot of scripted programming but they’re continuing to take on more and more, and very high quality programming and I think this sort of thing is the future. The character based dramas are going to cable TV, they won’t be on network TV anymore because network TV doesn’t see the profit margins in it. So I’m excited about having an opportunity.
And I know you can’t spoil too much, but can you give us a preview of what’s coming up in the 2nd season, for your character specifically?
It’ll be sort of following how he’s not a complete rookie anymore. He’s not totally wet behind the ears, but he’s not a veteran yet either. And so he’s still trying to figure out how to be on his own, and how to be a cop without being totally dependent on his training officer for guidance, and how to stand up by himself as a man in a pretty brutal world. So I think that’s kind of what you’re going to see with him overall, and you’ll see certain situations that will test him, and you’ll see sort of romantic situations as well — little bit. And you know, that’s pretty much it. [The season] is only 6 episodes, but there will be more of it if we go forward.
Be sure to tune in to TNT on Tuesday, March 2nd at 10 pm for the 2nd season premiere of Southland. The only way to guarantee more episodes is to watch!Tweet