Ben McKenzie (born Benjamin McKenzie Schenkkan; September 12, 1978)[2] is an American actor. He is known as Ryan Atwood in the television series The O.C. and as Ben Sherman in Southland. He appeared in the films Junebug[4] and 88 Minutes. His first starring role in a feature film was in the 2008 indie release Johnny Got His Gun.[5] Since 2014, McKenzie has been starring as James Gordon in the television series Gotham.

Early life

Benjamin McKenzie Schenkkan was born in Austin, Texas.[2] He is of Dutch-Jewish, English, and Scottish descent. He is one of three boys born to Frances Victory Schenkkan, a poet, and Pieter Meade "Pete" Schenkkan, an attorney.[6][40] His middle name, McKenzie, is his paternal grandmother's maiden name. His grandfather, Robert F. Schenkkan, was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and worked with President Lyndon B. Johnson on passing the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.[9][2] He is a nephew of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, Jr.

For middle school, he attended St. Andrew's Episcopal School, where he was friends and flag football teammates with future Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees.[11] He attended Stephen F. Austin High School, playing wide receiver and defensive back for the school's football team. From 1997–2001, he attended the University of Virginia, his father and paternal grandfather's alma mater, where he majored in foreign affairs and economics.[12] He uses his middle name as his stage name to avoid confusion with actor Ben Shenkman.[13]


From 2001 to 2003, McKenzie worked in part-time jobs and sought acting work in New York and Los Angeles before being cast as Ryan Atwood in The O.C. On August 5, 2003, Fox premiered the television series, about affluent teenagers with stormy personal lives in Orange County, California. The show became an overnight success and made McKenzie famous. His performance in The O.C. earned him "Choice Breakout TV Star - Male" and "Choice TV Chemistry" nominations in the Teen Choice Awards and "Choice TV Actor - Drama/Action Adventure" and "Choice TV Actor: Drama" wins. McKenzie reportedly earned between about $15,000 and $25,000 per episode throughout the show's run.

The O.C. was the first time McKenzie played what The New York Times later described as the "quiet, guarded leading man" role he would repeatedly portray. As a result of the show's success, McKenzie appeared in magazines including People, In Touch Weekly and Us Weekly. He was ranked No. 5 in Independent Online's "100 Sexiest Men Alive" and twice appeared on Teen People magazine's annual list of "25 Sexiest Stars under 25". McKenzie was also voted one of InStyle's "10 Hottest Bachelors of Summer" in July 2005. The O.C. dropped in ratings dramatically during its third and fourth seasons, and ended in early 2007.[15]

While appearing in The O.C., McKenzie made his feature film debut in Junebug alongside Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz. The film was nominated for "Best International Film" and "Outstanding Ensemble Acting" in the Amanda Awards and won the Sarasota Film Festival award for "Outstanding Ensemble Acting". It also received high praise at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.[17] According to Production Weekly, McKenzie was set to star in the thriller Snakes on a Plane, formerly known as Pacific Air 121, but later dropped out to film 88 Minutes, which starred Al Pacino.[19]

In 2008, McKenzie earned critical acclaim for his solo performance in the "live on stage, on film" version of Dalton Trumbo's 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun, his first starring role in a feature film. He stars as Joe Bonham, a role previously played by James Cagney, Jeff Daniels, and Timothy Bottoms.[20] The movie premiered at the Paramount Theater in Austin, McKenzie's hometown, while he was filming the pilot for Southland.

In 2009, he appeared on the short movie The Eight Percent. The movie won the Delta Air Lines Fly-in Movie Contest and entered as an official selection on the Tribeca Film Festival's Short film category.

McKenzie starred as rookie police officer Ben Sherman on the NBC drama Southland, which premiered on April 9, 2009. The show was canceled while in production on its second season. TNT bought the rights for the show and showed the seven episodes that had been produced. The show was subsequently renewed. However, the show was once again cancelled after the fifth season.

McKenzie returned to Fox in the Batman prequel television show Gotham, which premiered on September 22, 2014. In the series, he portrays James Gordon as a young detective new to Gotham City.[21] In the same series, he made his directorial debut with the episode "These Delicate and Dark Obsessions".[42]

Personal life

In September 2015, Morena Baccarin said in a legal declaration involving her divorce that she planned to marry her Gotham co-star, McKenzie, adding that she was pregnant with their child.[22][23] Their daughter Frances Laiz Setta Schenkkan was born March 2, 2016.[4] Baccarin and McKenzie announced their engagement in November 2016. They were married on June 2, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York.[4]


2005JunebugJohnny Johnsten
200788 MinutesMike Stempt
2008Every Monday MattersHimselfDocumentary
2008Johnny Got His GunJoe Bonham
2009Eight Percent, TheThe Eight PercentJohn KellerShort film
2011Batman: Year OneBruce Wayne/Batman (voice)Direct-to-video
2011Blisters: How Three Became Four, TheThe Blisters: How Three Became FourDaveShort film; also producer
2012Adventures in the Sin BinMichael
2012Decoding Annie ParkerTom
2013Goodbye WorldNick Randworth
2014Some Kind of BeautifulBrian
2002District, TheThe DistrictTim RuskinEpisode: "Faith"
2003JAGPetty Officer SpencerEpisode: "Empty Quiver"
2003–07The O.C.Ryan Atwood92 episodes
Lead role
2004MADtvRyan AtwoodSeason 9, episode 22
2009–13SouthlandBen Sherman43 episodes
Main Cast
2011Scooby-Doo! Mystery IncorporatedOdnarb (voice)Episode: "The Wild Brood"
2013Men at WorkBryanEpisode: "Tyler the Pioneer"
2014 – presentGothamCommissioner James "Jim" GordonLead role; 77 episodes
Director - Heroes Rise: These Delicate and Dark Obsessions
Writer - A Dark Knight: The Demon's Head

Awards and nominations

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResult
2004Teen Choice AwardsChoice Breakout TV Star – Male
The O.C.
Choice TV Actor – Drama/Action AdventureNominated
2005Choice TV Actor DramaNominated
Choice TV Chemistry (shared with Mischa Barton)Nominated
2012PRISM AwardMale Performance in a Drama Series Multi-Episode Storyline
2015People's Choice AwardsFavorite Actor In A New TV Series[4][4]
2016Teen Choice AwardChoice TV Actor DramaNominated

Further reading

  • Romano, Mary (2005). Benjamin McKenzie: Rising Star. Triumph. ISBN 978-1-57343-689-2.