McKenzie still running as third season of “Southland” debuts tonight on TNT

“I did more running in 13 episodes than an average LAPD officer does in an entire career!” “Southland” actor Ben McKenzie told us last summer during a visit to Atlanta. Season Three of the gritty ensemble cop show TNT saved from cancellation begins tonight at 10 with  “Let It Snow,” a typically taut episode that will no doubt endanger many viewers’ cuticles.
Last year, after airing 13 episodes that were originally shot in 2009 for NBC, TNT picked up the option for a third season and the show went back into production last fall on location in L.A. for 10 brand new episodes exclusively made for TNT.
Retaining the services of “Southland’s” impressive cast, including Regina King, Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Kevin Alejandro and Tom Everett Scott, was easy, according to McKenzie. “We were all still under contract,” he cracks.
The still-boyish actor, who first shot to fame on the Fox hit “The O.C.,” says the cast understands what a unique opportunity they have being on a show that has connected with a small but passionate audience.
“We’re all incredibly grateful that TNT stepped up after NBC let the show go,” he says. “It’s a testament to everyone involved at TNT for having the foresight. This is a series that deserves to have a life.”
Still, shooting “Southland” on location in some of Los Angeles’ dodgiest neighborhoods is far from the air conditioned comfort of other TV show sets. “It truly is like guerrilla filmmaking,” McKenzie explains. “We’re shooting three, four or five locations everyday. Using a digital handheld camera allows us to be flexible and portable. You’ve got to be on top of your game. You’ve got to have your lines memorized and you have to react to what ever might happen out on location.”
And yes, as rookie cop Ben Sherman, that means a lot of running for McKenzie. In a wool uniform in L.A. heat with 20 pounds of gear strapped to him. In tonight’s premiere, Ben’s life doesn’t get any easier as he and his prescription drug abusing partner John Cooper (Cudlitz) get pinned down by gunfire after responding to an “officer down” call.
Says McKenzie: “The main beat of the scene is that location and you never know what to expect. For an actor, that’s an incredible rush.”