No longer in ‘The O.C.’

Natalie Smith

Benjamin McKenzie is a self-proclaimed low-profile star, which is hard to believe given the recognition this Texas native garnered from his successful run on FOX’s hit show, “The O.C.”

He was even voted as one of InStyle’s “10 Hottest Bachelors of Summer” in July of 2005, which is nothing to smirk at.

But five years have passed since McKenzie’s debut as Ryan Atwood.

While he is grateful for the jumpstart the starring role gave him, the actor is now looking to new horizons filled with big screen ideas that will leave Atwood far behind.

“TV is a very powerful medium,” he says.

“And to be on a show that had some success and kind of permeated the pop-cultural zeitgeist, to a degree I think, makes people sort of associate you with that character more than they might if it were just a film or a more short-lived experience,” he says.

But will McKenzie have a problem leaving Atwood and the warm sunshine of Orange County behind?

The memory of both still clings to McKenzie as tightly as the signature white T he is usually depicted wearing-but probably not.

This young star is talented enough to let his acting carry him in new directions and prove he is far from one-sided.

“Since ‘The O.C.,’ I’ve basically picked things that are in my mind quite different, whether it’s ‘Junebug’ or this movie with Al [Pacino],” he says. “I’ve tried to do things that aren’t perhaps the sort of film version of ‘The O.C.,’ whether it’s a teen thriller or teen comedy.”

Currently he is waiting for his new movie, “88 Minutes,” to open nationwide tomorrow and show the world exactly what can be expected from him in the future.

While McKenzie’s part in Jon Avnet’s newest film is somewhat smaller, it was not a role to be turned down.

“They said, you know, Al Pacino’s doing this movie,” McKenzie remembers.

“You don’t really say no to that opportunity.”

One of the selling points of “88 Minutes,” aside from Pacino, is the concept that the movie virtually takes place in real time-hence the title (actual running time is 105 minutes).

“You did have to be kind of aware of the fact that pacing-wise, the movie needs to start ramping up pretty quickly, and it needs to start at a certain level, which is already relatively high, as soon as Al’s character is getting the phone calls,” McKenzie says, on filming differences in attempting to shoot a film to look like it occurs in real-time.

“It needs to start at that level, but it needs to get more and more sort of intense and faster and faster-paced as you go along,” he says.

“So we sort of always had to be aware of the fact that it was taking place within a very limited time span, taking place theoretically live for the audience.”

McKenzie plays one of Pacino’s forensic psychiatry students who is faced with mounting evidence of his professor’s guilt in the suspected murder of another classmate.

He ultimately confronts Pacino’s character in a memorable scene where Pacino explodes as only Pacino knows how.

“For someone like me, who was in college four years ago studying [Pacino’s] films and his performances, it’s hard to stay in character when you’re two feet away from [Pacino] in the middle of a scene and he’s yelling at you,” McKenzie admits.

We can only imagine.

“I think one of the things that I’ve learned just from working with Al briefly is that there is a lot to learn from those kinds of people,” he says.

“You can learn a lot just from sort of studying them, both the way they act onscreen and the way they dedicate themselves off-screen to what they’re doing,” he says.

McKenzie hopes that one day he will be a powerhouse in the movie industry similar to Pacino and Avnet.

But for now, he is happy to sit back and learn from the wealth of knowledge each veteran has to offer.

“Maybe I’ll just hole up in a cabin somewhere for a few years and chop some wood, work on my horseback riding or something,” McKenzie says.

Maybe, but we certainly hope not.