Although Hollywood attempted to embrace him as a disposable teen heartthrob, Benjamin McKenzie chose to follow the path of a serious actor instead, and his intense persona set him apart from his flash...
Made film debut in the southern independent drama "Junebug"; premiered at Sundance
Television debut as Ryan Atwood on the Fox drama "The O.C."
Cast as rookie police officer Ben Sherman on the drama series, "Southland"; premiered on NBC, but later moved to TNT
Co-starred with Al Pacino for the thriller, "88 Minutes"; also co-produced
Appeared in the off-Broadway play "Life is a Dream"
Earned critical acclaim for his solo performance in "Johnny Got His Gun"
Moved to New York to pursue acting
Although Hollywood attempted to embrace him as a disposable teen heartthrob, Benjamin McKenzie chose to follow the path of a serious actor instead, and his intense persona set him apart from his flashier peers. With only a handful of theater and minor television credits, McKenzie hit the Hollywood jackpot by landing the star-making role of bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold Ryan Atwood on the ultimate 21st-century glossy teen drama, "The O.C." (FOX, 2003-07). Instead of milking his teen appeal with lucrative and lightweight projects, McKenzie took a supporting role in the Southern family drama "Junebug" (2005). He jumped at the chance to work with his idol, Al Pacino, in the real-time thriller "88 Minutes" (2007) and tackled the ultra-demanding "live on stage, on film" solo piece "Johnny Got His Gun" (2008), where, completely alone, he believably channeled the spirit of a World War I soldier too physically damaged to communicate with the outside world, but whose mind remained poignantly vital. Interested more in honing his craft than in winning the fame game, McKenzie continued to make choices based on the work rather than on prestige, playing a rookie cop on the sprawling, challenging LAPD drama "Southland" (NBC, 2009; TNT, 2010- ) and appearing onstage in a 2010 revival of Tennessee Williams' classic "The Glass Menagerie." Although the career path McKenzie chose was more difficult and less glamorous than that of many of his peers, his was perhaps ultimately more rewarding.<p>Born Sept. 12, 1978 in Austin, TX, Benjamin McKenzie Schenkkan was the son of Mary France Victory and Pieter Meade Schenkkan. Artistry ran in his family; his mother was a poet, his uncle was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and his paternal grandparents were both theater actors. After playing football at Austin High School, he studied foreign affairs and economics at the University of Virginia, where his interest in acting began. Appearing in several theatrical productions, including "Zoo Story" and Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," McKenzie's passion gelled, and after graduation he moved to New York City to pursue the stage. He appeared off-Broadway in "Life is a Dream" at the SoHo Rep and in multiple productions at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, including "Street Scene" and "The Blue Bird." Soon Los Angeles beckoned, and McKenzie headed West to try his luck on the TV audition circuit.<p>The handsome young actor quickly found success, cutting his onscreen teeth with small appearances on the Craig T. Nelson police drama "The District" (CBS, 2000-04) and as a petty officer on the military legal drama "JAG" (NBC, 1995-96; CBS, 1997-2005). Ironically, an unsuccessful audition for a UPN sitcom put McKenzie on the radar of the casting agents who would change his life. "The O.C." (FOX, 2003-07) was already a highly buzzed-about project, a glossy teen drama with the distinction of being the brainchild of the youngest creator of a TV show in history, the wunderkind Josh Schwartz. Execs were struggling to cast the main character, Ryan Atwood, a troubled Chino teen from the wrong side of the tracks who gets taken in by the wealthy Orange County-based Cohens (Peter Gallagher and Kelly Rowan). McKenzie's electrifying audition convinced producers to take the enormous gamble of resting a brand-new television show on the shoulders of an unknown, and the hype machine kicked into overdrive with the actor's brooding mug soon becoming inescapable.<p>Happily, the show delivered on all fronts, becoming watercooler television that minted each of its lead actors as instant celebrities. At the center of it all was McKenzie, whose tough-but-secretly-tender Ryan had to adjust to his adoption into a wealthy new world, navigate a crush on the lovely but damaged Marissa (Mischa Barton), and find himself simultaneously the protector, hero and best friend/brother of the Cohens' dorkily adorable son, Seth (Adam Brody), who pined for the seemingly-shallow Summer (Rachel Bilson). Crackling with youthful energy and a cutting-edge soundtrack, "The O.C." was truly the "It" show of its brief moment in time, and McKenzie earned a slew of magazine covers, media attention and award nominations. A serious-minded individual and actor in his real life, however, McKenzie chose not to traverse the typical teen star trajectory; instead taking a supporting role in the indie drama "Junebug" (2005). The story of a dysfunctional Southern family seen through the eyes of a newlywed art dealer (Embeth Davidtz), the film gave McKenzie a strong showcase as Johnny, Davidtz's new brother-in-law, a frustrated young man who still lives at home despite being married to a sweet-natured woman (Amy Adams). Although his part was small, McKenzie shared several ensemble honors with the cast and earned good reviews opposite Adams, who nabbed an Oscar nomination.<p>Like so many cultural flashpoints, "The O.C." became a victim of its own success, and as quickly and brilliantly as it had flared to life, fell apart after only four seasons. McKenzie quickly moved on, however, with a supporting role alongside his acting idol, Al Pacino, in the real-time thriller "88 Minutes" (2007). The actor played one of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm's (Pacino) students, who may or may not be involved in a series of diabolically twisted murders. McKenzie next filmed any young actor's dream role: the grievously wounded soldier Joe Bonham in the "live on stage, on film" solo performance of "Johnny Got His Gun" (2008). As the only actor on screen, charged with channeling an American World War I soldier whose body is too broken to communicate with the outside world and only able to move or speak internally, McKenzie impressed critics in a role previously played by Jimmy Cagney, Jeff Daniels and Timothy Bottoms. Although this was not the type of production which launched actors atop the mainstream Hollywood pecking order, McKenzie always focused on his craft more than the stardom game, and he next appeared opposite Ashley Williams in a charming, award-winning short, "The Eight Percent" (2009).<p>For the second phase of his career, McKenzie chose a serious-minded role on a serious-minded show, "Southland" (NBC, 2009; TNT, 2010- ), a gritty look at LAPD officers and the city they patrol. McKenzie played rookie cop Ben Sherman alongside a talented cast which included Regina King and Michael Cudlitz. More of a dark, character-driven drama than a police procedural, "Southland" was a challenging, intense program, and NBC never seemed quite sure what to make of it - especially with the ensuing time slot brouhaha from Jay Leno's late night to primetime move on their hands. Cancelled after its first season despite excellent critical reviews for its adult storytelling, the show rose from the grave when TNT picked it up, demonstrating the new fluidity of the altered basic cable landscape. Although TNT imposed budget cuts and corresponding cast reductions, it proved willing to invest in McKenzie and "Southland" for the long haul. The actor returned to his theater roots in 2010 with a well-received turn as gentleman caller Jim O'Connor in the Judith Ivey-starring revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" in Los Angeles.