SOUTHLAND Shawn Hatosy & Ben McKenzie Interview

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I spoke with Shawn Hatosy and Ben McKenzie about SouthLAnd.   Shawn plays Officer Sammy Bryant and Ben plays Officer Ben Sherman.  Sammy went from being a detective to an officer and Ben is finding his footing as a new officer.  The season premiere shows their new partnership and Sammy is trying to open Ben’s eyes to the reality of the streets. It was an honor to speak with both of them.  They were a fun duo to have on the phone. Don’t miss the season premiere of SouthLAnd Tuesday night on TNT.


Lena Lamoray:  The season four premiere is incredible.

Ben McKenzie:  Thank you.

Shawn Hatosy:  Thank you.

Lena Lamoray: You’re welcome. I love the way Southland is shot.  Can you talk about filming the show and the action sequences, because you guys do a lot of running.

Shawn Hatosy:  Well, you know, because I’ve been a detective for the past three seasons this is the first – I mean, I’ve driven a little bit in the past, but I – not like this. I mean, now we’re in the cars and I’m experiencing the real Southland, and it’s fun. I mean, we were driving the other day and I looked at Ben and I said, “This is the greatest part of our job.”  They lock off streets for us. They put cameras in the car. We’re carrying real guns, you know, and we’re chasing people as fast as we can without killing each other, and it’s great, man. It’s the dream job. When you’re a kid and you’re like, “I want to do that.” I mean this is it, man.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah. Yeah. I agree with that completely. Welcome to the show, man.

Shawn Hatosy:  Thank you. Thank you, it’s been a rough three seasons, but now, you know, I’m here.

Lena Lamoray:  What is it like working together and with the rest of the cast?

Ben McKenzie:  We really haven’t worked with the rest of the cast. I mean, I think that scene with Michael in the first episode, the premiere, is – might be our only interaction with either of the two partnerships thus far. We’re on Episode 5, is that right?

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah.

Ben McKenzie:  It – so it really is, like always, it’s very partnership-heavy.

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah, it’s so compartmentalized. I haven’t – that was the first scene I’d ever done with Michael Cudlitz.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah.

Shawn Hatosy:  And that was like Episode…

Ben McKenzie:  And it blew your…

Shawn Hatosy:  …25, you know?

Ben McKenzie:  …mind, didn’t it?

Shawn Hatosy:  He was great and…

Ben McKenzie:  It’s just his eyes.

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah, he just – he’s so…

Ben McKenzie:  It’s a ball working with Shawn. I’m having a blast. I…

Shawn Hatosy:  It doesn’t really feel like work, right? I mean, you just wake up…

Ben McKenzie:  No…

Shawn Hatosy:  …and you just thank – and you pinch yourself. It must be like, “What…

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah.

Shawn Hatosy:  …am I dreaming?” This…

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah.

Shawn Hatosy:  …is the perfect job.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah, it’s pretty great and it’s kind of – the partnership that we have is a little bit like I always imagined the show to be a little bit more less like – less fraught with tension in every single relationship and more a little bit, what I believe from the ride-alongs and interactions I’ve had with the cops, more like what life is like in the natural patrol car, which is often, particularly if it’s two guys, kind of a ball-busting parade.  I mean, it’s just a constant, you know, giving each other grief and busting each other’s chops and, you know, making jokes, and then going out and doing your work, but it’s not – you know we’re not at each other’s throats all the time. That’s the nature of our relationship. I think towards the season you’ll start to see some of the tension just kind of flame up, but right now it’s more just having fun.

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah, and it really does feel like you get the – I mean, we spend so much time together that…

Ben McKenzie:  Right.

Shawn Hatosy:  …you get to know every last thing about the guy that you’re riding with. Almost…

Ben McKenzie:  Right.

Shawn Hatosy:  …you know, almost too much. I mean, you get so…

Ben McKenzie:  Right.

Shawn Hatosy:  …involved in their lives they become, you know, like your – you know your family.

More Conference Call Interview Highlights:

Q:  Could you guys talk a little bit about what it’s like for Ben and Sammy as partners going forward. What is that dynamic going to look like?

Shawn Hatosy:  Well, didn’t you love my hair? This is Shawn Hatosy here. Didn’t you love my hair in this episode?  Well, I think it’s particularly strong this season…and we’re going to focus on that a lot.

Ben McKenzie:  Wow, the most random start to a conference ever. I love it. That’s fantastic, Shawn. Keep going.

Shawn Hatosy:  This is basically what our new season has been like. We just kind of get in front of the camera and we try to have as much fun as possible, and I think there’s it’s – there’s – it brings a certain levity to Southland that might have been lacking, and certainly from Sammy’s point of view last season, it’s nice to be in a car with somebody and having fun.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I think that’s – it’s not that we won’t go to more serious places, and we do certainly in the first episode you see that, but a lot of this seasons is just two kind of youngish guys in a car busting each other’s chops, you know, having fun and kind of having that sort of fraternal bond that I think is weirdly has been somewhat absent on the show.  Even though we’re a cop show and that’s, I think, what – an accurate representation of what a lot of patrol cars are is just two guys kind of, you know, in partnership. But, with the exception of Sammy and Nate we really haven’t seen that yet, so that’s kind of more what this partnership is about, at least for the first few episodes.

Shawn Hatosy:  And you come in, you know, being a – (booed) the first, you know, three seasons in the car with Michael’s character, you know, it was played so beautifully that kind of, you know, he was the superior and you’re sort of always learning and making mistakes. And now it’s nice because, you know, we’re both making mistakes together and there’s you know, Sammy outranks you, but there’s not a whole lot of – you know not a lot of conflict as far as all that goes.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah, it’s not a, you know, mentor, mentee kind of thing, it’s more a peer-to-peer, which is nice.

Q:  Ben, it seems like, at least from the first episode, more than ever, Ben is really starting to look around him and notice the way that things are being done that he doesn’t necessarily like, especially with Ferguson. Is that going to come into play in future episodes since he is maybe rethinking not just being a cop, but maybe trying to go a little more political, in terms of either internally on the force or kind of a larger scope?

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah, that’s a very astute observation. Yeah, he’s – I think the producers have kind of told me that their idea for the season for Ben is that it’s him – now that he’s past probation and he’s on the force, you know, full fledge, it’s now, “Okay, what kind of – all right, I’m a cop, what kind of cop what do I want to be?”  And that includes all kinds of things. It includes, you know, how you conduct yourself, you know, your personality and your – the way that you conduct yourself, you know, professionally or unprofessionally, and Ferguson is a good foil for that in the first episode. But then, throughout the season he’ll be constantly kind of, you know, sort of tested. He’ll make mistakes.  You’ll see in Episode 2 he makes a pretty huge mistake that kind of makes him infamous, and that’s kind of what – you know what we hear from officers on the force is that a lot of your (P2) is you think you’re on top of the world because you finally are no longer a rookie and you finally are “equal” with the other members on the force. But, you’re still really young and kind of naïve about things and you’re still going to make a lot of mistakes. Step on your meat, as Officer Cooper would say, so…

Shawn Hatosy:  You know, there’s no person better to bounce it off of either because, you know, Ben’s character’s sort of straddling the fence of what kind of cop he’s going to be, what sort of decisions he’s going to make.   But Sammy has been shaped so much by, first of all, by being a detective in the world of the gangs, but then also with losing Nate he has a an opinion about these people that he’s arresting and it’s very obvious and sort of in your face, and Ben is kind of – you know kind of having to figure out what sort of cop he is going to be.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah. Absolutely.

Q:  Could you guys talk a little bit about how the dynamic of Lou Diamond Phillips’s character comes into the season and affects your character?

Ben McKenzie:  Well, Lou, you know, is a brand new character, the character of Ferguson. It’s kind of a burnt out, or nearly completely burnt out, what is he Sammy – or Shawn, is he – I guess he’s a (P3)…

Shawn Hatosy:  I’m assuming, yeah…

Ben McKenzie:  …or he’s just a (P2)…

Shawn Hatosy:  …he must be.

Ben McKenzie:  …he would have to be.

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah.

Ben McKenzie:  Anyway, he’s – you know, he’s a patrol cop, he’s been for a long time, but he’s just kind of over it in a lot of ways. I mean, he’s – he is the less charming version of (Dewey), or the uncharming version of (Dewey).

Shawn Hatosy:  If that’s even – if that’s possible.

Ben McKenzie:  If that’s possible, yeah, exactly. And he’s, you know, even though a lot of what he’s saying about, you know, how bad the neighborhoods are that we’re in and how kind of tough the work is and how it can seemingly – that seemingly our jobs make no difference, even though that can be a kind of an understandable point of view, like it’s not as though that is a rookie and he’s just completely, you know, blown away by the pessimism and the kind of nihilism that Ferguson has, he’s no – and is no longer in that place.  But at the same time, Ferguson’s taking it way too far and he’s doing things that are, quite frankly, you know from my point of view, from Ben’s point of view, and moral certainly and ethical, and so we – you know we come to heads. But, beats Ferguson gives to the locker ((inaudible))… (How we’re there to keep the streets clean). You know, that’s a legitimate point of view, from a long serving police officer. I mean, you know, you sometimes get to those dark places and I think that’s what he’s there to represent.

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah, and there’s not maze to this little puzzle of these gangsters and…

Ben McKenzie:  Right.

Shawn Hatosy:  …it’s not a case that you can solve. In fact, the principle behind their attitude, which is that, you know screw these guys. They make life more difficult for us. Let them kill each other. It makes it’s a lot easier because then we don’t have to chase them down and do an investigation. And also, they’re constantly killing our witnesses, even when we do have somebody come forward.  So it’s really – it’s a tough job and I think that Lou’s character captures that attitude perfectly. And I think Sammy’s a lot more close to Lou than he is Ben at the beginning, as far…

Ben McKenzie:  Right.

Shawn Hatosy:  …as what he believes in, what kind of cop he is.

Ben McKenzie:  Right. Right. You can certainly see the appeal from Ferguson’s philosophy, because it just simplifies everything. You know, it’s us versus them. You know, they’re — excuse my French — they’re pieces of shit, so you know why worry about them and let them kill it – kill each other, but you know of course that’s, from my way of thinking, you know that’s too easy. That’s too easy.  That sure the job is hard and the job’s tough, and yeah, you know, a lot of the people don’t have a lot, you know, moral redeeming qualities, but at the same time you can’t just allow them all to kill each other. That’s not the – that’s not our job. We’re supposed to be better than that.  There’s a part of Ben that can’t let that go, that you know won’t let that go. I think that’s important to who he is as a person is even though he is certainly not as naïve as he was when he came it, there’s no way he’s going to become so jaded that he’s just going to simply give up all hope that things can be better and that quite frankly that his job has meaning and the problem…

Shawn Hatosy:  But the concept, I believe, is that this season will show…

Ben McKenzie:  It’ll test that.

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah, well, it’ll test it and it’ll be there pulsing all the time pulling you to that side, and I think Sammy is also like, “Come live in ((inaudible)). Come live, you know, be a cop with us. Be – you know join Copland.” And you know, you’ve got your choices, buddy. They’re out there and can’t wait to see what good old pretty boy Ben does.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah, it’ll be – I mean, I think…

Q:  Shawn, can you talk about how fatherhood on the show has changed Sammy?

Shawn Hatosy:  Well, I don’t – I mean, we – this season hasn’t really – that hasn’t been a focal point. I mean, I know that he’s there in the – he’s there in that – in the first episode and we talk about him, but we’re not going to have many episodes where we spend with Sammy and Baby Nate going off to daycare, at least thus far. I think that then part of that is being in a relationship with somebody that’s difficult, and another part of that is we’re exploring this partnership. That’s what the writers are focusing on.  But, I think that, you know, if you’re asking me how it’s affected Sammy as a cop, I’m – I certainly believe that, you know, the danger aspect as things – as we see in that first episode, it’s definitely heightened and it puts him on high alert.

Q:  The dynamics have changed, the addition of Lucy, and Lou, you all have hit the perfect beat. Not that the rest doesn’t work, but it just seems like you all have really kind of (cut) your stride that this was what you were working towards. Do you feel that in a way?

Shawn Hatosy:  Yeah.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah, I do. The first thing I said when I saw the premiere episode is it feels like a very confident show. It feels like a show that’s comfortable in its own skin and knows what it’s trying to do, and what it’s not trying to do. And I – yeah, I absolutely agree with that. I think the show is very comfortable in its own skin. It – we know what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do, and what we aren’t trying to do and…

Shawn Hatosy:  Yes, I mean like, it’s like no other show and, you know, some people enjoy the procedural where you solve a case every week and that – if that’s your kind of cop show this – you know, we do solve cases, but this is an action packed show and it’s about relationships and it’s about finding the truth, and this first episode displays that. It executes it perfectly.

Q:  Ben, do you have any films coming out during your hiatus or anything we should look for?

Shawn Hatosy:  Ben was in Junebug. He was in Junebug, which was a great movie.

Ben McKenzie:  Oh, thank you.  I did a movie – I did a little part in a movie that’ll hopefully come out next year right before we started shooting Southland, so hopefully – you know hopefully (I’ll be doing more).   Decoding Annie Parker, It’s about a – yeah, it’s a true story about the – a woman named Annie Parker who suffered breast cancer multiple times and beat it and simultaneously a – the true story of how the team of researchers on one of them decoded the human genome to find the gene that actually causes a significant portion of breast cancer.  You know, a significant portion of breast cancer cases are hereditary and they actually track down the specific gene so that women can be tested to see if they have the gene, and whether they’re susceptible to getting breast cancer genetically. So it’s a worthy project. It’s a great cast; Samantha Morton, Helen Hunt. It’s a good cast. So hopefully that’ll be out next year.

Q:  How does shooting for this seasons, how do you guys think it compares to the previous seasons of the show?

Shawn Hatosy:  Well, I think the style and the system we use to shoot is all the same, but the different partnerships they bring a new feel to it, especially particularly for me being that I was a detective before and now I’m – you know now I’m back in – on patrol.  But, you know, it feels right and it feels just this, as Ben was saying, this partnership and sitting in the car together and being a couple of guys, it’s – it – for me, it’s what Southland, what we always were meant to be. And I’m thrilled and happy about it.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah…just a continuation of what we’ve been doing, in terms of the style of the shooting. It’s probably even more – it’s probably even faster than it has been before because we’re – everybody’s worked together. You know, a lot of the crew is the same from year-to-year. They – we have a really tight group and they reserve the time in their schedules to come back to work with us.  So the camera and lighting departments are largely the same and, you know, the actors are the same, obviously, and the writing and the directors are largely the same, so it’s – it just feels smoother and more – you know, even more fun basically.

Q:  With all the other new cop-type series coming out and with yours being in its fourth season now, how do you think that it continues to stand out and differentiate itself from the other similar shows on television right now?

Ben McKenzie:  Because I think it’s more honest. I think it’s more real and I think it’s more honest. I think we’re – you know we are actually where we say we are whenever we are shooting something. I mean, you know, if we say we’re going to be in Nickerson Gardens, which is a housing projects in Watts, then we actually go there and that’s where we are in Episode 2.  Actually, that’s where we are in Episode 1 and 2. That’s when I chase the guy to the backyard. Shawn and I chase the guy down the street, you know, the guy’s beating on the girl and I chase him into the backyard and – with the gangsters and all that. That’s just outside of Nickerson Gardens in Watts. We go there into Nickerson Gardens in Episode 2.  You know, we’re actually where we say we are. We’re taking stories that are from cops. What cops actually tell the writers, in terms of things that have actually happened to them and we’re able to improvise and change things as actors to fit the reality of situations. So I think, you know, it’s that we’re never perfect. We’re always striving to be as good as we can be, but I think it’s a far more honest show than it is to do a kind of a cop show where you’re inside on a set in, you know, Hollywood pretending like Lord knows what’s happening. I have no idea what those shows do exactly.

Shawn Hatosy:  Right and we’re trained. I mean, we’ve spent so much time researching and learning the protocol and what it means to work on the streets and how to actually do it. And the one thing that ((inaudible)) been, which is completely unique, is that on other shows, yes the write things and you’re still married to the script that even when they write something that might not be – you know, might feel false, you shoot it on another show, and then it just – you – that’s how it plays and that’s how it edit it – that’s how they edit it, and that’s what the audience sees.  But on our show, we have freedom to make it real, and especially for the actors. If it’s not working what they wrote or a simple action sequence in a certain area, if it doesn’t pan out the way it’s written we find the truth of the scene and we always capture it.

Ben McKenzie:  And you know like you said, we don’t – we’re not always perfect, but we do the best we can, and I think the audience responds to that.

Ben McKenzie:  Yeah.

Shawn Hatosy & Ben McKenzie Interview, “Officer Sammy Bryant” & “Officer Ben Sherman”
SouthLAnd Season 4 Premieres Tuesday Night, January 17th at 10 EST on TNT
December 16, 2011
Lena Lamoray

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