Ben McKenzie talks young fame on 'The O.C.': 'Of course you make mistakes'

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

Ten years after The O.C. became nothing short of a phenomenon, fans are still dying to know what went on behind the scenes. Who let the fame get to their head? Was the set full of bagels, bikinis, and good times? And after Tate Donovan spoke to Vulture back in August about how some of the show’s young stars became “very tough to work with,” more rumors started swirling. Luckily, one of those “young stars” has now offered a bit of perspective from his years spent brooding, punching people, and stealing our hearts.

Ben McKenzie, who of course played Ryan Atwood on the hit show, recently went on the Nerdist podcast Making It With Riki Lindhome, where he talked about everything from growing up in Texas to the “whirlwind” that was The O.C.

After being cast “with maybe like a week or two” before the pilot was shot, McKenzie was quite literally thrown into the world of Josh Schwartz’s Orange County. “We wrapped on Friday, and we were picked up on Monday,” he tells Lindhome. “They started building sets, and we were on the air in August … and we did 27 episodes our first year.” As Luke so elegantly put it 10 years ago: Welcome to The O.C., bitch.

In addition to The O.C. being a huge hit, it was also McKenzie’s first TV gig. “I was so naive. I didn’t know what a mark was, really. I didn’t know that during a lighting setup, after you rehearsed, that you can step out because the stand-ins will come in. I just kind of stood there, and they’re like, ‘Wow, he’s so method,'” McKenzie jokes. But he got the hang of things eventually. “I learned a lot. The way I like to think of it is it kind of ended up being a bit of a graduate school in the sense of it was like four years.”

And when Lindhome starts talking about creator Josh Schwartz, who was also in his 20s when the show began, McKenzie admits, “We were all babies. Such babies.” So, as Lindhome puts it, “Did people turn into a–holes?”

“I certainly include myself, when you’re that young, you — and at least I had been through college — but you just, I feel like secretly you actually know that this is not, you didn’t quote-unquote earn this, so you weirdly feel guilty about it, which means you behave like a jerk,” McKenzie says. “There’s this weird thing. That’s my theory anyway. I’m not trying to explain it away at all, but of course you make mistakes, but that’s how you learn and you get better.”

Although, McKenzie clarified that he was “always on time,” despite going through what Lindhome describes as “that phase of ‘I’m pretty awesome.'” “You just don’t have any perspective,” McKenzie says. And about what you do next, the star explains: “You either spiral downwards forever and it probably doesn’t end up very well, or you realize at a certain point, ‘Hey, maybe shouldn’t be doing that’ or ‘Maybe this doesn’t represent who I actually am or want to be.’ And, you know, I think I figured that out relatively quickly.”

McKenzie goes on to discuss the hyper-speed plotting of the show and how, for “all the first-timers, it was such a huge learning experience that I’ll never forget, and I made some good friends.” So 10 years later, it seems McKenzie has ditched the brooding, but he’s still on that whole stealing-our-hearts thing.


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