COP CRUSADER: BEN MCKENZIE
For most actors, it can be nearly impossible to live up to an onscreen alter ego – especially if said character happens to be an iconic do-gooder with nerves of steel – but apparently, this is news to Ben McKenzie… After all, less than 10 hours before our conversation, the former Southland star found himself needing quite a few stiches in his forehead after a fight scene went awry on the set of his highly anticipated new Fox drama, Gotham. Yet save for an Instagram post, and some subsequent ripples among the blogosphere, you’d never even know he was less than 100%.
It’s a page right out of Commissioner Gordon’s book—suffer in silence as you focus intently on the task at hand – but for McKenzie, as for Gotham City’s trusty head of police, that’s just par for the course. “I’ve always liked embracing the physicality of roles,” he tells me, ice pack practically glued to his head to soothe the constant throb. “And this one definitely embraces that action esthetic– a lot of big fight scenes, a little bit of wire-work. We try to do everything as authentically as possible, kind of throwbacks to old school action scenes where it’s just a guy and a bunch of bad guys fighting it out.”
The idea might sound like a novel one in our current age of automatic weapons and special effects wizardry, but if you’re going to reimagine the life of one of the comics’ most indelible superheroes, prior to his donning of the Batsuit, then it certainly pays to take it back to basics. “I was a huge fan of what Tim Burton did with his Batman, and I loved the Nolan films, but I think the great thing about doing an origin story is that we really are free to reinvent things as we go along.” And for McKenzie personally, that means moving away from other actors’ interpretations of Gordon (ahem… Gary Oldman): “You just play the given circumstances as you see fit and just do your work as an actor in the moment.”
It helps as well that Gotham (created by Rome and The Mentalist mastermind, Bruno Heller) introduces us to Detective James Gordon, a steadfast rookie who has years to go before assuming his status as the city’s police commissioner or as an irreplaceable link to the caped crusader. Naturally though, there’s shades of the man we all know and love: “Old fashioned hero is kind of the broadest but also simplest description of him,” McKenzie says proudly. “We’re in an age of the anti-hero, especially on television, and Jim Gordon is not an anti-hero. He’s a hero. He’s a guy who has built his entire life around fighting evil forces.”
The actor continues: “But Bruno and I are interested in what happens when you put a hero into an impossible situation where everything and everyone around him is so corrupt. James tries to be as good a cop as he can, but he’s in a town where no one else is really thinking about doing the right thing.”
A town very much unlike the gritty Los Angeles portrayed in his last hit cop show, Southland. “Gotham is New York, New York is Gotham. But then you have this whole stylistically over the top aspect, and you have to let the beautiful sets and huge action scenes, and all of the special effects—let them seep in and inform your acting style, which is slightly larger than life but still grounded in emotional realism.”
McKenzie has a little practice with this sort of thing having spent four years starring as wayward teen, Ryan Atwood, on Fox’s primetime soap, The O.C. (“I’d already graduated from college when I landed that part, but it still feels like the equivalent of high school in the sense that it was an informative experience business-wise). But it is his first time playing what he calls “the grounded moral center of a larger than life universe”… and that’s something that he’s loving.
Well, that and the fact that he gets to be part of this dramatic – DC Comics/fanboy – approved, of course – reimagining of the Batman Universe. This might in fact be the thing that excites him the most—making every bump and bruise totally worthwhile: “Everybody knows these characters to some degree, but no one knows them at this point in their lives.”
photography ALEKSANDAR TOMOVIC www.alekandsteph.com
styling TAYLOR SHERIDAN www.taylorstylist.com
grooming NICOLE WALMSLEY www.nicolewalmsley.com
photography assistant VANESSA VIOLA www.vanessaviolaphotography.com
wardrobe assisitant HOPE GRIFFIN
Production Bello Media Group | words by BRAD LIBERTI