BEN MCKENZIE (Southland) Exclusive Interview

Ben McKenzie - Southland

I recently got a chance to speak to Ben McKenzie, who plays Officer Ben Sherman in TNT’s Southland, which premiere its second season on March 2 at 10pm.

Ben McKenzie talked about the big movie from NBC to TNT, what’s coming up for his character, some possible new romantic interests for his character, and more. So enjoy the interview and don’t forget to watch Southland on March 2.

Lets talk about the big move from NBC to TNT. How do you feel about that?

Ben McKenzie: It is exciting. We’re excited to be on and to have a nice home at TNT where they really want us to succeed and are great about promoting the show. So far so good and we’ll just see what happens. We have to see if people tune in March but if they do then hopefully we can be on TNT for a long time to come.

It seems like a really good fit compared to the other shows on there.

Ben McKenzie: Yeah.

Any other differences you’ve noticed, maybe in shooting an episode, with TNT versus NBC?

Ben McKenzie: Well, we haven’t shot new episodes for TNT. TNT bought what aired on NBC in the spring of ’09 and then the new episodes that we shot before we were cancelled. So we haven’t shot anything for TNT yet but if we do, when we do I think it’ll be great. I think they’ll let us make the show that we always wanted to make and never really could on network TV. But that remains to be seen, whether we get to do that or not.

I saw the first two episodes of this new season. Your character is moving to phase three this season so what does that mean for him and what’s going to change in his day to day life?

Ben McKenzie: Well, it’s a maturation process. Phrase three in a sense is just a symbol of the fact that he’s made some progress. It’s an important milestone in his journey as a rookie. But it’s just another step in the process and I think what’s nice about following this character is that it allows the audience to kind of, he’s the fresh eyes to the world when you first come into the pilot and then as you go along you start to follow him and you start to understand how he’s always going to be tested and there are always going to be new challenges and you kind of fall in love with that heroes’ journey of it all. No matter how far he rises over the course of the show, whether he goes on to be a detective or join the brass or a lieutenant or whatever, he’s always going to have challenges both in his job and in his personal life. I think it’s cool. I think it’s a nice long form kind of take on one specific character’s journey.
As for me in this season, he’s a little more experienced, a little bit more confident but he’s also almost in danger of being overconfident, thinking that he knows too much and getting himself in over his head. He will on occasion have that trouble. Getting into phase three means that he’s getting close to being able to go out on the streets by himself without his training officer and you’ll see that in the third episode of the show and that’s a big deal. That’s him learning to be a man on his own in the world. That’s a big deal.

In episode two there’s a great scene where he goes to dinner with his sister and some of her friends and you notice how different the worlds they live in are. Is this going to be a recurring theme? Is he going to become more distant from his family and friends and get closer to the people on the force who know what he’s going through?

Ben McKenzie: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think there will always be that push/pull between the people that he grew up with and his family members, who he obviously has some affection for, but as he goes deeper and deeper into being a cop he has less and less to talk to them about. He’s less able to relate to them and they’re less able to relate to him and he starts to really develop an affinity for the other cops on the force. He starts to see them more as his companions and his compatriots as opposed to the folks that still live in that bubble of Beverly Hills and Bel Air. But I think that’ll just be something that he’s dealing with overall and won’t mean that he turns his back completely on his family. It’ll just mean that it’ll be more and more difficult for him to find any peace in that world of Beverly Hills where he knows on a certain level it’ll always ring false to him. It’ll always be fake, almost sort of grotesque. The way that they talk about the family that was murdered that he just saw that morning is so flippant and so done for entertainment value and done as a piece of gossip. It’s like talking about whatever, Paris Hilton or Britney Spears or whatever. It’s putting these terrible murders in the same breath as those things and it’s just deeply unsettling. I think it makes him feel incredible uncomfortable. It sets him off from another group in his life and he’s a solitary guy to begin with but when he’s at the dinner table with his family it’s not a good sign.

You talked about his relationship with Cooper. How is their relationship evolving in season two?

Ben McKenzie: Well, what’s interesting about these two guys, I’ve always thought it’s interesting that two people who couldn’t be more different personality wise are forced to be in a car together for six months. And because they’re forced to be in a car together they actually begin to respect each other and even like each other.
At the end of this they even start to at least become amused by each other’s personalities. I’m amused by his hard ass, unrepentant take on the world which is occasionally so extreme that it’s kind of comical. He’s constantly giving me grief and I think amused by how much money I come from and why in hell I would do a job like this that’s so difficult, why would I sign up for this willingly. So it’s kind of a cool dynamic that evolves between the two of us and then as we get into the season you’ll see a little bit more of us opening up to each other and talking about our personal lives more and understanding more about his use of pills as well as his sexual orientation.
I think it’s kind of nice that it’s not a smooth trajectory where each episode gets a little bit closer and they get a little closer to each other. It’s not that kind of standard thing. It’s very stop and start, very push and pull. They’ll take two steps forward and then take three steps back and then a few more forward and a few more back. They’re constantly kind of moment to moment and scene to scene, at each other’s throats in one scene and then finding a moment of peace later. But over time they at least develop respect for each other and admiration for their differences.

What about Sherman’s love life? Are there some new romantic interests coming up?

Ben McKenzie: There are some romantic interests. I think we’re still searching for the right person for him to have a long term thing with. I would like them to find that and I keep kind of asking them to do so but in the meantime there are some short term deals that we’ll get into, sort of sexual situations I guess you would say. There are two love affairs but I think it’s important to include that element in the show, not only is it good TV but it’s realistic to the release that cops need after a very intense and traumatic day on the job. They need someone there at the end of the night to give them some relief, either in a marriage or a long term thing or in a short term thing. You need to release some of that tension. We’ll see some of that as we go along.

How do you prepare for the role of Ben Sherman? Is there a process that you go through when you get a script? What about your relationship with Michael Cudlitz, how does that help in creating the character?

Ben McKenzie: Michael [Cudlitz] and I just have a real friendship. In addition to working on the show together we just sort of get along. I think we’re both pretty straightforward, no nonsense, no diva-esque behavior kind of guys. We appreciate that about each other. So that makes it a lot easier to do the work when you don’t have any of that drama around you because that always makes it a bit more difficult. We also aren’t competing with each other. We’re in different places in our lives and neither of us is a threat to the other in terms of taking the glamour away from the other. It works pretty great. In terms of training for the show, a lot of that was helped by the training that they offered us with the ride-alongs with the cops, the boot camp that we did. Going to the firing range and working on handcuffing skills and searching rooms and running through various sort of improvisational tactical exercises where we would be given a situation and have to act it out as cops, playing our various parts. It was all really useful and the nice part is that it’s ongoing. Any time we get the urge we can just call up our technical advisors who are actually ex-LAPD and they can hook us up with a ride-along in most parts of the city. We can just have another night out with the cops.

So you can cuff someone now?

Ben McKenzie: Oh, yeah. I can cuff. I can’t un-cuff you but I can totally cuff.

Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can talk about?

Ben McKenzie: I could if I had any but I don’t. We’ve been in this kind of limbo thing with ‘Southland’ for a long time. So I’m waiting to get some clarity on that. There’s a movie in particular that I’m attached to but I don’t think it’s happening unfortunately. So fortunately or unfortunately I’m on my own here but I’m optimistic that the show will go forward and we’ll be on TNT for a while and that’ll be the job.

Is there a show that you’d love to be a guest star on?

Ben McKenzie: I’d love to do ’30 Rock’. I think that show is hilarious and I think it’d be really fun. I don’t generally get to do comedy but I would love to do some. It just seems like a hell of a lot of fun to do. That’s my desire. Make it happen Tina Fey.