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Ben McKenzie: Instant Stardom

In Hollywood, where every “overnight sensation” tends to take at least ten years to happen, Austin, Texas native Ben McKenzie is riding high on his newfound stardom in the role of Ryan Atwood, a troubled, working class teen encountering a life of privileged wealth in Newport Beach, California. I recently caught up with McKenzie on a break while shooting FOX’s new hit, The O.C. to find out more about his early success after living in Los Angeles for only a year, and how he is handling fame as television’s newest “It” boy.

Lance Avery Morgan: You’re a major part of one of the most popular new shows – is working in TV as cool as you thought it would be?

Ben McKenzie: I didn’t know what to expect. Although it is slower with more downtime on the set, it is still more exciting to shoot on location instead of being cooped up in a theatre. There is a relaxed environment with the crew that was a pleasant surprise – everyone gets along great.

LAM: Josh Schwartz, who created The OC said you’re like a young Russell Crowe to him – do you agree?

BM: If I possess any of his acting qualities, it is absolutely a compliment. Crowe is a terrifically accomplished actor. It is a little strange to be compared to him, though. He’s been doing it for much, longer and it is a little embarrassing.

LAM: Your co-stars are some talented actors who are older than you – Peter Gallagher and Tate Donovan – are you learning more about acting by working with them?

BM: Absolutely – they are the most seasoned on the cast. They are so knowledgeable about the craft of acting and its technical aspects like hitting the marks and not overlapping dialogue. I sit and watch them in the monitors on set – it is extremely useful. Everyday, I am constantly learning and involved.

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LAM: How has your transition been from NY to LA – are the paparazzi a problem already?

BM: It’s funny – Hollywood has a fascination with the lives of celebrities and I understand that on a logical level. But I’m fairly private. As a Texan, I think we are a friendly, but unassuming bunch.

LAM: What’s a night out in LA for you?

BM: LA has a very active nightlife. The restaurants are world class and sushi is a favorite. There are many beautiful theatres to catch a movie. And you can go listen great music from all over the world like Jazz, Blues, but not as good as Austin’s music scene. My co-star on the show, Adam Brody and I did attend party at the Playboy mansion once, though, which was kind of interesting.

LAM: When you are not working 14 hours a day all week long, what do you do to find balance in your life?

BM: Sound mind, sound body. I try to exercise by running on the beach or hiking in the mountains nearby. Reflection is nice, like sitting back at the end of the day to review what’s happened to make it easier tomorrow. I also like to listen to music to relax.

LAM: Do you have some good Texas friends there in LA? How do they keep you grounded?

BM: We have some Texans on the TV crew. Southern California attracts Texans because it is warm and sunny a lot here, too. It’s a relaxed attitude with plenty people to hang out. I’m an avid University of Texas football fan since my Mother and Dad’s family went there.

LAM: When you come back to visit your family here, what is one must-do thing for you? BM: I love BBQ, and going to music clubs like Antone’s and Stubbs, and eating at Las Manitas for Mexican food. I really like to run along the Hike and Bike Trail on Lake Austin.

LAM: What do you have in your place that reminds you of your roots in Texas while you are there?

BM: I have my photos of family and friends from back home.

LAM: Any plans for films in the future? What sort of roles do you see yourself in?

BM: Absolutely. I want to stretch myself into different types of roles, like bad guys roles. In later episodes of the show, we’ll see my character Ryan’s bad side. I’d like to play characters who are just different, whether it be comedy, romance, or drama to allow people to see that I am capable of other things.

LAM: Any advice you give our aspiring actor Texan readers about making it in showbiz?

BM: I am a good example that it is possible. Whatever one’s background, you should never feel that you can have success. Stay connected to your friends and family – you’ll need their support. Get an education you can count on because you may not love it once you achieve it. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and what’s important to me in my brief experience here.

LAM: What is the motto you live by?

BM: No motto, really. I believe in the values my family have taught me in Texas. Respect for others, respect for yourself, and hard work. I’m just a kid who's on a TV show at this point. Maybe [someday] I'll deserve that comparison."