A chat with SOUTHLAND’s Ben McKenzie!

You know I spend a lot of time talking about the greatness of SOUTHLAND, right?  It’s smart, it’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s shocking, it’s exciting, and it’s one of my favorite shows on TV.  When NBC canceled the show before Season 2 even began, I was speechless.  Thankfully, TNT stepped in and saved the day.

Last night, the first season finale aired on TNT, and next week (March 2, mark your calendars), it’s FINALLY time to see the season 2 premiere that they shot what seems like years ago (and I promise you guys will not be disappointed)!!  In celebration of the upcoming premiere, I had the chance to chat with a good number of cast members and I have to say that I want to go to work on SOUTHLAND after spending time with these folks!  So charming!  I’ll share the interviews over the next few days – starting today with Officer Ben Sherman, played with quiet intensity by Ben McKenzie.  The former Chino-bad-boy is now more than just a rookie and he has a bet he wants to make with all of you out there!

Talking about Southland – how happy are we all that we are actually going to see the episodes you shot for season 2?
I don’t know how we all are, but I am very ecstatic.  I’m really ecstatic.  I don’t know what America’s collective thoughts are, I guess it probably varies a bit, but, the people who have made the show, myself included, are really, really happy.  It is great.  It is great that it gets to be shown.  The episodes I think are very strong.  I have seen three of them now,  three of the six, you know they are as good if not better than what we were doing last year and I think what we were doing last year was pretty good itself, so I am just excited.  I’m really excited.  I am very proud of the show and I hope that whatever number TNT is looking for in terms of our ratings I hope we can get that so we can do…my dream is to do a full 13 episodes.  In our experience of it, it seems like it has been such a long and difficult stretch that we have been on.  It has been a year and a half and we have done almost more than that, we have done thirteen episodes of show that is not cancelled but not renewed.  But it’s been on two different networks.

Usually you don’t get the two different networks until you’re a couple of years in…
Yeah, yeah, and usually you don’t get the renewal and then the cancellation in the same season.  It’s such a weird set of circumstances, but I love making the show and I hope it all works out in the end.  I found out they want it to and I know we want viewers to watch…we need to get everybody to watch.

Exactly.  I tell everybody I can to watch it.
We are on Facebook as well, that is another barometer we like to use.  Please advertise our Facebook page.

Absolutely, we definitely will.  How do you describe the show to maybe people who haven’t watched or people who aren’t 100% sure of what the show is and don’t know if they should tune in…what are you saying?
I’d say it is a show about the members of the LAPD, it’s a show about law enforcement in Los Angeles but it focuses a little bit more on the characters then it does on the crimes that are committed.  There are crimes and sometimes they are solved and sometimes they are not.  But, the emphasis of the show is on the emotional impact that witnessing these crimes, dealing with, policing the hardest city in the world to police.  That’s definitely a way to describe it in some form or fashion.

And what you said too…that it focuses more on the emotional impact of the crime.  A lot of other crime shows out there or cop shows are going to show you just the detectives or the cops trying to solve it and it’s not even about that.

I have seen the first two episodes, the two new episodes, and I think you’re right on target, better, you know as good, if not better than the first six that we saw.
Oh great, I am glad you agree.  I am glad you agree.  I think they are going to send you the third one too at some point, which is one of my favorites because it is a lot about me.  I’m in it a lot. [laughs]  Good, I’m glad you liked it.  We certainly don’t waste our time do we do we? We sort of just jump in and get down to the thick of it.

And you trust the viewer.  Other shows you need the set up.  You trust the viewer to jump in and follow along and know exactly what is happening and the show is done so smartly, so well done that I think that comes along easily.
Thank you, thank you…we like to think so. You know we are always toeing that line of are we being so aggressive in our story telling that people are going to be lost, but hopefully, we are able to have our cake and eat it, too.  We are able to keep pushing the show forward, plot line wise and people are able to follow it and appreciate the fact that we are not going to dumb it down for anyone, we are not going to give you the answers and like the answers that exist are not easy answers themselves.  You know nobody..,there is a line we are using the trailer on TNT where Micheal Cudlitz says a line to me you know. “The world is in black and white, we live in the gray” and that is kind of like what the show is explores is that.  With my character, who I think, coming into being a cop viewed the world in black and white, but there was wrong and there was right and he was going to be on the side of the right in terms of good guys and he was going to fix these things.  He was going to make the world better and unfortunately as a cop, you ask any cop and they will tell you, it’s not that simple.  A lot of things you can’t change.  A lot of things you can’t make better.  Sometimes you don’t even know what the right answer is because there is just a lot of morally ambiguous situations you find yourself in, and I think it is fascinating stuff for TV shows but it does require the audience to think a little bit, and you’re not going to spend the hour on a who done it, on a “Ah it was the butler in the library”.. I knew all along when they entered minute 15…he seemed a little suspicious with that mustache.  You know we are not going to do that.  If we can pull it off , its been a high wire act, but if we can pull it off, then I think the viewers, who ever sticks around, you know we are not going to get 29 million people, we are not going to be a big massive hit like that. But the people who do stick around and do pay attention, I think will be rewarded with a more richly satisfying experience.

That leads kind of to another question I had – how is the character of Ben different these next couple of episodes versus what we saw in the first season.
Well, he is not a complete total utter rookie anymore.  When we started the show he really was, he was only out of the academy a month.  So he is about as green as green can be and as we go forward, or as we pick up season 2 this year it has been several months, at least, if not maybe six, he has been around, he has gone through the shooting, where he improves himself a little bit, riding in the car with John Cooper for six months, no easy task, without killing him.  So he has been around a little bit, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have any challenges.. The new challenges are many, one of them coming up in episode three is getting passed on to the last level of probationary period and as you go along you will start to see new challenges in the third episode, which I think they are sending you eventually.  It is called “U-Boat” and that is when an officer is running around in a patrol car all by himself. John Cooper saying, I can handle something else, you can do this on your own.  It’s things like that, smaller, not smaller, the challenges are different.  The stakes get a little bit higher in a way because I am given more responsibility, because I’m just the guy walking behind the training officer, trying to remember all of the things he is telling me and then occasionally pulling out a gun and saving lives or whatever.  I never seem to get enough credit, but this time you know I start to become a member of the team and capable and doing my own work. So that is kind of what we are seeing a little bit of.  And there is some personal stuff.  There is some romantic interest stuff and there is some family stuff, but unfortunately we were going to get into that in the latter thirteen episodes that were ordered but then they cancelled. SO we will have to do that if TNT picks us up!

What we started to see in the first couple of episodes back, that you know your character is picking up with what is going on with John, you know what is happening, he has the pills and how did he learn, or does he learn more about the personal life there.  They do get more on a personal level versus just trainee, trainer?
Yeah they do, that dynamic evolves in a kind of interesting unpredictable way.  What I love about the dynamic is that these are two people, although that they have both decided to enter the same profession, they are so completely and totally different from each other that if they weren’t forced to be in the same car together, they would never associate and yet now that they have been forced to be in the same car together, they are starting to develop a mutual respect.  They are starting to sort of like each other, they are kind of like oil and water.  They actually kind of, like, appreciate how different they are from each other and so as the show goes on a little bit you will start to learn a little more about his personal life. You will start to learn things that he really hasn’t talked about much and if we go forward there may be situations where the roles are reversed and I have to kind of take care of him, but we haven’t quite shot that.  We were about to shoot that.

Did you guys have scripts all the way out or was it just kind of the next couple of…
I’ve had conversations with Ann Biderman, and the writers about where we were going with it.  And then the shit hit the fan.

It’s kind of bittersweet that [LENO] ended last night on a certain other network and now you guys are getting ready to premiere!
I know, and now they are buying pilot after pilot, trying to fill 10 o’clock and it’s like, “guys, what are you thinking?” but anyway we have moved on! TNT is actually a great fit for us.

The promos we’ve seen… there is so much promotion and they are standing behind the show…
Yeah absolutely.  It’s clear that TNT didn’t buy it to burn it off.  They really want it to work and we really want it to work and if it does work on TNT it’s sort of the way it should have always been.  You know they are not going to be making these character based, gritty 10 hour dramas on network TV anymore.

Yeah exactly.}
And they will make soap operas and they will do all the reality shows and all that stuff, but the grittier you know character based stuff has gone to cable and we may have been the last one of a dying breed.

So you touch on some romantic interests.  Maybe it’s me imagining this, but I kind of sense something with Ben and the Chickie (Arija Bareiks) character. Is there something to that or is that just me?
I think that is open for debate.  I think that it is a bit, it’s one of those kind of you know she is an attractive women, I am a young guy on the make and we spend time with each other and there is a certain amount of attraction but there is also a sense of how different our lives are.  She is a little bit older and how inappropriate it might be, you know I think it is one of those things that will maybe always be flirted at and never actually acted upon, because I think that would cause more problems.  Both characters are smart enough to know it would cause more problems.

Excellent…One last question! Tell people why they should be tuning in?
Because our show kicks Fucking ass…it really just kicks all kinds of ass!  I will say this. I will bet anyone out there, I will just bet them, like a gentleman’s agreement.  Watch that first episode that we shot this year and if you don’t think it is at least more, you know literally grabbing, it doesn’t have more sort of a visceral, in your face nature than most of the stuff that you might be watching on other networks, then I have lost the bet and I apologize for taking an hour out of your time.  But just trust me when I say, it may not be your cup of tea by the way, you may not like it, I don’t know, but it is just feels more real to me. And now I watch these other shows that are on, with no disrespect to them, they are way more popular than we are.  We envy their ratings, but they don’t do things like what we do.  We went out into “The Jungle” and we staged a riot, and we hire the folks from the neighborhood to play the rioters and they get into it!  It makes for great television; it makes for a more realistic experience.  The only thing I can say is give it a shot!  Come on over, check it out.  If you don’t like the first episode by all means go back to whatever else you’re watching, but give it a shot…check it out! It’s worth an hour!

You heard the man – don’t back down from his “give it an hour” challenge!  And let us know what you think!

One comment

  • denisem

    I just finished watching season one on your recomendation. I love it but how could they end the season like that!! Thank goodness that season 2 starts next week!!