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TNT is Ben McKenzie's new beat

Peter Mongillo
Ben McKenzie plays a Los Angeles police officer in 'Southland,' which was picked up by TNT after NBC declined to renew the hourlong drama.

Austin native and "The O.C." alum Ben McKenzie returns to television Jan. 12 on "Southland," the gritty Los Angeles cop drama that was picked up by TNT after NBC decided not to renew it last year. Starting Jan. 12 at 9 p.m., TNT will air the pilot and other episodes that originally ran on NBC, in addition to six new episodes that never aired. We recently talked with McKenzie about what to expect from the new episodes and what his experience has been like so far.

American-Statesman: It must have been disappointing when the show wasn't renewed by NBC. Were you surprised when the show was picked up by TNT?

Ben McKenzie: We were very disappointed and it came as quite a shock when NBC canceled us before we premiered. I didn't want to get my hopes up that someone would come along and rescue us, because it's very rare for that to happen. At the same time I've always been convinced that the show is of high quality and is unique, because it's a different kind of cop show. It's a show about what kind of people become cops and how what they see on the job affects them in their personal lives.

What can fans expect from the six remaining episodes?

The premiere is full of action, and a lot of high stakes for various characters in the show. If you were a fan before, I think you'll become even more engrossed in what's going on in season two.

What's the biggest thing you've learned from your experience on the show so far?

One of the great things about working with (producer) John Wells' company is that he takes great pains in hiring great people who are right for the job, and trusts them with the responsibility of doing good work. It's both a blessing to be given that freedom and a responsibility that you have to take seriously. I think it's allowed me to mature, to grow into the actor that I want to be and give the performances that I want to give without worrying about whether I'm pleasing the right producer or network.

You did some hands-on training in actual police tactics to prepare for the role. What fictional police shows or films have influenced you?

I like shows that feel that they are actually out on the streets, because that's what police work is. It's not stale and antiseptic, it's out on the streets interacting with all sorts of people all the time, and it's a bit of a roller coaster ride, because you'll be going from call to call. One call can be funny and the next can be life-threatening. "The Wire" is a show that is not just about a specific crime. It's about larger trends, crime as a reflection of the needs and desires and faults of the society the crime occurs in.