Welcome to the fictional Northwest Washington University, bitch! Benjamin McKenzie, best known for playing Ryan Atwood on The O.C., occasionally pops up as a smarmy forensics student in 88 Minutes, the Seattle-set Al Pacino thriller in theaters this Friday. We caught up with Ben to see if he’d be more generous with his spoken words than Ryan. And he was!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You filmed 88 Minutes back in 2005, right?
BEN MCKENZIE: Yeah, we filmed it a little while ago. We were shooting The O.C. in L.A., and they were shooting the movie up in Vancouver, but they were on a Wednesday-to-Sunday schedule. So I was able to basically go up on weekends. It was two months of seven-day work weeks. Never worked that hard.
Was it strange going back and forth?
It was very weird. It felt half the time like I was daydreaming, like I wasn’t really working with Al Pacino and it was all in my imagination.
When you found out you were working with him, were you terrified?
Absolutely petrified. I had some time to rehearse with him a little bit before we started shooting, when I first got up there. I was just doing a wardrobe fitting and at the last minute, the director [Jon Avnet] calls me up and says Al wants to rehearse. So it ended up being just me, Al, the director, and the photographer in this huge lecture hall. I was fumbling all my lines, but he was so gracious and nonchalant about it.
There’s one scene where it’s just you and him — you’re on a motorcycle, and he’s walking in front of you the whole time. That must have been weird.
That was weird, and that was another thing I was worried about. I hadn’t learned how to ride a motorcycle before, and because I was working on The O.C. and also shooting the movie, I didn’t get as much time to learn how to ride as I would have wanted. We kept pushing the date back for when we were gonna shoot the scene on the bike. So right before we start shooting, I’m having a hell of hard time changing gears and shifting and getting it in the right place, and I’m literally convinced I’m gonna hit the gas when I should be hitting the brake or something, you know, and kill Al.
Oh god, you’d be the guy from The O.C. who killed Al Pacino!
Yeah, I would never work in Hollywood again. Once you kill Al Pacino, you’re pretty much done. It wouldn’t even be the guy from The O.C., by the way. It’d just be like, ”that one guy.” Like, ”You know that guy, he killed Al Pacino that one time? He totally killed one of the greatest actors ever?”
Anyway, Al saw how bad I was on the bike, and we took a break, and when we came back to shoot it after rehearsing, he used a stunt double for just the opening shot of me pulling in.
Well, I’m glad you didn’t kill him…or the stunt double.
No Al Pacinos were harmed in the making of this movie.
I feel like if Ryan Atwood had stayed in Chino, he might’ve eventually been tooling around on a motorcycle.
You’re probably right. Not the cycle I was riding around on, which was like, Italian. He’d probably be on some sort of muscle bike, like a Harley. But yeah, if I’d been true to my Ryan Atwood self, I would’ve already known how to ride.
As an [O.C.] fan, it was pretty hilarious for me to watch you play this loudmouth, know-it-all college student.
Yeah, it was nice to play a slightly older, more verbose character…who doesn’t just respond in monosyllables.
I was a little surprised that you were only in 88 Minutes for, like, eight minutes.
I know. Well, scheduling-wise, it wasn’t easy to work out, so it kind of ended up being what it was. Watching the trailer, I thought it slightly exaggerated my role. But you know, they called me and they were like, ”Most of your scenes are with Al Pacino.” And I just said, ”Absolutely.” That’s the reason I did it.
Were you happy with the way the movie turned out?
Yeah, I’m basically happy with the way my stuff ended up. To be honest with you, because of the way it was set up, we were kind of all doing our little parts. Al did every scene, but the rest of us weren’t really around for the rest of it. So it was all new to me. Watching it for the first time, it was like, ”Oh, that’s what the movie is.”
NEXT PAGE: ”It got to the point [on The O.C.] where we were repeating ourselves and telling similar stories. So in that sense I think it was a natural place to end, before it went onto, like, 90210 levels, like 10 years later. Like, they all live together or something. That’s kind of ridiculous.”