As a University of Virginia grad sans a degree in drama (he balanced a dual major in foreign affairs and economics), the neophyte Hollywood thesp Benjamin McKenzie first cut his teeth on-stage, at the Williamstown Theater Festival. McKenzie went professional with a move to the City of Angels only a few short months after graduation (late 2001), where he traveled the road of most aspiring actors. He began small, with bit parts in various television series (including JAG and The District), but landed his big break with one of the main roles on Fox's teen drama The O.C. (2003), starring Peter Gallagher (sex, lies, and videotape), which quickly became a popular hit. As Ryan Atwood, the boy from "the wrong side of town" who shakes up the lives of the Cohen, Cooper, and Nichol clans, McKenzie made an indelible impression with audiences and became a series fixture.
McKenzie made his big-screen debut in 2005's indie comedy drama Junebug, appearing alongside Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, and Alessandro Nivola. The Sony Classics picture, about a worldy big-city art dealer (Davidtz) who grapples with culture clash when she first meets the family of her new husband, stole critics' hearts, and -- in time -- went down as one of the best-received sleepers of the year. McKenzie's performance as the irritable, repressed Johnny, Amy Adams' husband and the less intellectual of the family's two brothers, impressed viewers. McKenzie would next appear in the thriller 88 Minutes, starring Al Pacino, in 2006. He would go on to appear on the series Southland; when that show ended after five seasons, he quickly got another TV job, playing a young James Gordon on Gotham.