File this under "Things That Never Happened to Ben McKenzie While Working on ‘The O.C.’” "I’ve had people ask me for directions,” McKenzie says, "thinking I’m a cop. They ask me for directions or help with a problem or something.”
McKenzie has left behind the bangs, leather choker and tank top associated with working-class "O.C.” hero Ryan Atwood in favor of a crisp, short haircut and a dark-blue uniform to star as Los Angeles Police Department rookie officer Ben Sherman in the NBC police drama "Southland.” The show will premiere at 9 p.m. Thursday. And he didn’t even have to change his name. "It wasn’t intentional,” McKenzie says. "They didn’t write the part for me. I didn’t ask to be called by my actual name. It’s just a coincidence, I guess. "As long as he’s not called Ryan. It makes it easier to stay in character.” Created by Ann Biderman, "Southland” — which is what local newscasters call the Los Angeles area — comes from John Wells Productions, which just wrapped the long-running medical drama "ER,” whose time slot "Southland” has inherited. Like "ER,” which blended medical and character drama in the highly charged if claustrophobic setting of a Chicago emergency room, "Southland” uses the seemingly endless sprawl of Los Angeles to tell the stories of uniformed police officers and detectives. "The show is not ‘crime of the week,’” Wells says.