The bad boy from The OC is now on the right side of the law. Guy Davis took a tour of South­land with Ben McKenzie.

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Dubbed a “ raw and au­then­tic” look at law en­force­ment in Los An­ge­les, South­land is the kind of un­der­rated gem that can be hard to find but is well worth the ef­fort.

While it’s an en­sem­ble piece fo­cus­ing on a di­verse ar­ray of cops, one of the cen­tral char­ac­ters is rookie LAPD of­fi­cer Ben Sher­man, played by Ben McKenzie, best re­mem­bered for his role as Ryan on teen soap The OC.

What at­tracted you to South­land?

The script is in­cred­i­bly dense, in­tri­cate and beau­ti­ful. I can’t give away much about my char­ac­ter but you get a sense, pretty quickly, of the rea­son why he’s cho­sen to be­come not only a po­lice of­fi­cer but a very spe­cific pa­trol of­fi­cer, start­ing at the bot­tom and work­ing his way up. It has to do with other things go­ing on in his per­sonal life. There’s a lot to each char­ac­ter, and ev­ery char­ac­ter is not only who they ap­pear on the job but some­one who has a whole host of emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors go­ing on, be­hind the scenes, that in­form who they are.

You’re play­ing this new­comer, some­one through who we see this world un­fold. How did you get into char­ac­ter, and how do you view him?

I knew noth­ing about po­lice work be­fore tak­ing on the part, and one of the won­der­ful as­pects of the pro­duc­tion was the prep. They let us do ride­a­longs with of­fi­cers in pretty tough di­vi­sions such as South Cen­tral LA. And then they also took us through a primer on the use of hand­cuffs, on search pro­ce­dures, on all sorts of code stuff. It was like a boot camp but the ac­tual boot camp is a lot tougher for an ac­tual of­fi­cer. Ours was the flaky ac­tor ver­sion. [ Laughs] My char­ac­ter is the fo­cal point of the pi­lot, pri­mar­ily as a sto­ry­telling de­vice, to get view­ers into the world we’re en­ter­ing. We need to have some fresh eyes for the world, and he has the fresh­est eyes of any­body. It’s his first month on the job, and he’s in over his head a lit­tle bit. The se­ries will di­vert from that pretty quickly and tell a lot of dif­fer­ent sto­ries. But with the pi­lot you need a way to get into the world, and the way to get into the world is through a rookie like me.

Can you re­late to him?

Yeah, I ac­tu­ally 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, in a nice up­per-mid­dle class kind of ex­is­tence, and there are as­pects of Ben Sher­man’s per­son­al­ity – his am­bi­tion, his in­tel­li­gence and his work ethic – that I would cer­tainly like to as­pire to. I would cer­tainly like to be­lieve I share them 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. I didn’t grow up in Bev­erly Hills but I was shel­tered in the same way that a lot of peo­ple are shel­tered – you just don’t see this kind of stuff ev­ery day. Some of it’s very sad, some of it’s very dis­turb­ing, some of it’s very in­spir­ing and some of it’s very funny. It’s the whole gamut of emo­tions.

What sets South­land po­lice pro­ce­du­rals?

I think that the fo­cus on the char­ac­ters, not the crime, is ab­so­lutely a unique as­pect of the show. I also think the way that it’s shot – it’s filmed on lo­ca­tion, not in a stu­dio, so ev­ery­thing is meant to look and feel as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble. And I think the di­a­logue is more re­al­is­tic to the way that cops ac­tu­ally work, with the things they see and the sit­u­a­tions they en­counter. As op­posed to some of the as­pects of … well, I’m not try­ing to mock them but CSI or some­thing, where they’re 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, the but­ler did it. [ Laughs] I just think it’s more re­al­is­tic on all sorts of lev­els.

On the beat: Ben McKenzie, cen­tre and inset, plays rookie cop Ben Sher­man.

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