I first came across Ben McKenzie on The OC. It wasn't the sort of show I would normally watch, but there was something about his portrayal of the Ryan character that just really drew me in.
The more I watched, I realized it was because he felt very real. He had this very subtle, complex way of acting that I think the average person may miss if not paying attention, but when someone does pay attention, they are very touched by his character.
It is clear that Ben is an intelligent guy who put a lot of thought into how the character would be played.
For those who think Ryan wasn't portrayed well, I genuinely think they missed the entire point of his character. He was portraying a kid who was abused and abandoned growing up but who had always inherently been a good person. Not a bad boy, but rather a good person who always tried to do the right thing.
Abused kids often play the role of the adult to their peers (or it goes to the other extreme and they act as a delinquent, but Ryan was an example of a very mature kid who always tried to do right). They often have difficulty expressing their feelings or emotions. They often try to live in the context of others and hide behind everyone else hoping to remain unnoticed. They often stay quiet and at times can lose their temper all of a sudden and can appear both angry and vulnerable at the same time.
Ben portrayed these things beautifully.
His body language and facial expressions, especially the sideways glances (which are powerful because it shows how observant Ryan was but also how scared he was to be noticed by others and how difficult it was to trust people), his shy half smile that rarely meets his eyes--showing how he's scared to express happiness and contentment, the breathy whispery voice he used to often use when greatly upset about something, the way he often looks down at his feet and looks up again shyly, the way he wraps his arms around his torso when he's upset, the way his jaw visibly clenches and unclenches when he's angry and trying to hold back his anger, the way his eyes can often be so expressive showing how much is weighing on his mind, yet he has the ability to shut off the rest of his facial features so that his face is completely blank other than his eyes. I also love the way he slumps his shoulders visibly when he's upset, the way you can always see the sadness in his "puppy dog" like eyes, yet also the happiness and contentment during the moments he's genuinely happy. I love how passionately he makes love on the show and how gentle he is with his caresses and the kissing on the cheek and the nose and the neck, etc.
Moreover, Ben made the character funny. His facial expressions were often the punchline to Seth or Sandy's jokes.
Ben's acting is just so subtle and powerful in every way, and I honestly think that people who miss out on that watched a different show. It's such subtle and good acting for a character of his background. He became the character.
Watch an interview with this guy. He is absolutely nothing like Ryan Atwood in real life.
The people who expected him to show his emotions differently on The OC really make me feel that they don't understand kids of Ryan's background or who Ryan was supposed to be and I find some of the anti-Ben comments on here quite shallow. They clearly couldn't see good acting if it stared them in the face.
Since The OC, I have gone on to see Ben in Junebug, where he is absolutely fantastic and shows a wide range of emotions, JGHG, and of course Southland.
He is said to be wonderful in the theater as well and he's one of the few TV actors that I've seen that has ever gotten such incredible theater reviews.
I think in real life, Ben seems to be a humble, intelligent, and witty guy and I wish him the best of success in his career and hope to see him in many more things to come.