Interview with Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy

Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy are co-stars in TNT’s hit cop drama “Southland”. The show is currently entering its 4th season, which begins January 17th, 2012. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Ben and Shawn about working on the show and what we can expect from this exciting season.

Adam Lawton: I’m wondering if you guys could 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: 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 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 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 season is just two kind of youngish guys in a car busting each others chops. We are 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 an accurate representation of what a lot of patrol cars are is just two guys kind of 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.

AL: Can you guys could talk a little bit about how the dynamic Lou Diamond Phillips comes into the season and affects your characters?
BM: Well, Lou is a brand new character, the character of Ferguson. He’s a patrol cop and he’s been for a long time, but he’s just kind of over it in a lot of ways. I mean, he is the less charming version of (Doey), or the uncharming person of (Doey).
SH: If that’s even possible.
BM: If that’s possible, yeah, exactly. Even though a lot of what he’s saying about how bad the neighborhoods are that we’re in and how kind of tough the work is, he’s just completely blown away by the pessimism and the kind of nihilism that Ferguson has and he 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 come to heads. You know, that’s a legitimate point of view, from a long serving police officer. I mean you sometimes get to those dark places and I think that’s what he’s there to represent.
SH: Yeah, and there’s not maze to this little puzzle of these gangsters and 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 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 BM: Right. Right. You can certainly see the appeal from Ferguson’s philosophy, because it just simplifies everything. You know, it’s us versus them. So you know why worry about them and let them kill each other, but you know of course that’s, from my way of thinking, that’s too easy. That sure the job is hard and the job’s tough, a lot of the people don’t have a lot of moral redeeming qualities, but at the same time you can’t just allow them all to kill each other. That’s not our job. We’re supposed to be better than that.

AL: Shawn, I wonder if you can talk about fatherhood on the show has changed Sammy?
SH: Well, this season that hasn’t really been been a focal point. I mean, I know that 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. If you’re asking me how it’s affected Sammy as a cop, I certainly believe that the danger aspect as things – as we see in that first episode, it’s definitely heightened and it puts him on high alert.

AL: Can you talk about filming the show and the action sequences?
SH: Well, you know, because I’ve been a detective for the past three seasons this is the first time, I’ve driven a little bit in the past, but 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 and we’re chasing people as fast as we can without killing each other, and it’s great. 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.
BM: Yeah. Yeah. I agree with that completely. Welcome to the show, man.
SH: Thank you. Thank you, it’s been a rough three seasons, but now, I’m here.

AL: So what is it like working together and with the rest of the cast?
BM: We really haven’t worked with the rest of the cast. I mean, I think that scene with Michael in the first episode, it might be our only interaction with either of the two partnerships thus far. So it really is, like always, it’s very partnership-heavy.
SH: Yeah, it’s so compartmentalized. That was the first scene I’d ever done with Michael Cudlitz and that was like Episode 25.
BM: It’s a ball working with Shawn. I’m having a blast.
SH: It doesn’t really feel like work, right? I mean, you just wake up…
BM: No…
SH: …and you just pinch yourself. It must be like, “What…am I dreaming?” This is the perfect job.
BM: 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 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, giving each other grief and busting each others chops and making jokes, and then going out and doing your work. We’re not at each others 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.

AL: How does shooting for this seasons compares to the previous seasons of the show?
SH: 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. But 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 what Southland is and what we always were meant to be. I’m thrilled and happy about it.
BM: just a continuation of what we’ve been doing, in terms of the style of the shooting. It’s probably even faster than it has been before because we’re – everybody’s worked together. A lot of the crew is the same from year-to-year. 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 the actors are the same, obviously, and the writing and the directors are largely the same, so it just feels smoother and more fun basically.

AL: With all the other new cop-type series coming out and with your guys’ 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?
BM: Because I think it’s more honest. I think it’s more real and I think it’s more honest. I think we’re actually where we say we are whenever we are shooting something. I mean 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 1 and 2. Shawn and I chase the guy down the street. The guy’s beating on the girl and I chase him into the backyard and with the gangsters and all that and that’s just outside of Nickerson Gardens in Watts. 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 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 Hollywood pretending like Lord knows what’s happening. I have no idea what those shows do exactly.
SH: Right and we’re trained. 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. 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.

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