We’ll be flat-out honest with you: Sometimes interviewing famous folk is a complete crap shoot. For example, when “Southland” actor Ben McKenzie rolled into Atlanta last summer to film his TCM Guest Programmer segments with TCM host Robert Osborne, we were dubious to be sure.
After all, the guy first shot to fame on the sudsy teen TV phenomenom “The O.C.” which wasn’t so much an acting job as an excuse to wear wifebeaters to work and react to withering one-liners like “Welcome to the O.C., bitch.”
But then McKenzie followed up the high-profile TV gig with the quirky indie comedy “Junebug” and now a riveting role as rookie cop Ben Sherman on TNT’s “Southland.” Intel opted to roll the celeb interview dice and met McKenzie in Turner’s Innovation Room for a chat. We quickly learned that McKenzie is bright, passionate about acting and has a disarming sense of humor.
And his eclectic taste in films, meanwhile, will keep TCM viewers guessing tonight when his evening of film selections with Osborne opens at 8 p.m. with the 1973 thriller “Badlands” with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Long before he played President Bartlett on NBC’s “The West Wing,” Sheen played a bad ass in director Terrence Malick‘s edgy drama about a couple of kids on a killing spree that’s more reminiscent of well, Charlie Sheen.
“I first saw it as a student at the University of Virginia,” McKenzie recalls. “I was an economics major at the time. But I was thinking about acting. This really helped me turn the corner. Malick does a brilliant job of creating this parallel world that tonally fluctuates between darkness and an odd sweetness. It showed me the promise of what film can do.”
The sports film nut follows up with 1963’s “This Sporting Life,” an unflinching look at a rugby player’s life in the U.K.
“I loved the book the film is based on,” he explains. “I love that it’s such an unsentimental look at the sport. Richard Harris plays this guy as a bit of a savage. Rugby is an incredibly brutal game and the film is really unsparing in showing that side of the game.”
For thoughtful laughs, McKenzie selected 1933’s political satire “Duck Soup” starring the Marx Brothers. “Everything is on the table here,” he laughs. “Along with my somewhat weightier picks, I wanted something that is just no holds barred, nothing is sacred. And yet, what they’re tackling is war itself. It was incredibly brave for its time. It’s the kind of film that you wonder if it could be made today in today’s modern political landscape.”
McKenzie’s Guest Programmer nightcap is director David Lean‘s eye-popping 1957 epic “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Cracks McKenzie: “The cinematography is inspiring and you have to respect any filmmaker that takes two and a half hours to build a bridge only to blow it up and kill the entire cast!” Whoops, spoiler alert!
Ben McKenzie’s TCM Guest Programmer line up begins tonight at 8 p.m. with “Badlands,” followed by “This Sporting Life” at 10 p.m., “Duck Soup” at 12:30 a.m. and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” at 2 a.m. For details, go to the official TCM website.