Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Celebrity Sibling

Junior Zachary Schenkkan’s older brother is the star of TV’s The O.C., one of the most popular shows around campus.

By Mark Kendall

Watching the hit teen soap The O.C. is a weekly ritual for many Pomona students, who gather around the tube in dorm lounges and the campus center. But Zachary Schenkkan ’06 (seen at right) tunes in for more than the teen intrigue, beautiful people and sharp writing.

His older brother Benjamin McKenzie is the star of the show, playing Ryan Atwood, a misunderstood teen living in a tough neighborhood (Chino, if you can believe that) until a wealthy Newport Beach family takes him in. Atwood gets the girls but also plenty of trouble from the rich Orange County kids because of his rough-edged past.

The O.C. debuted on Fox in August 2003, just as Schenkkan (pictured at right) was beginning his sophomore year at Pomona. He remembers how odd it was to walk around campus one night and hear the show’s theme song blaring from dorm rooms and lounges. All those people were watching his brother.

“It’s definitely a little strange to see him every week on a television show and have people talk about him and overhear people talk about him,” says Schenkkan.

He also recalls his first time watching the show on campus. Schenkkan searched around for an unused TV, winding up in Harwood Lounge. Schenkkan was watching by himself when a first-year student arrived, disappointed that the lounge was taken.

“What are you going to watch?” he asked.
The O.C.,” Schenkkan replied.
“Oh, great, great that’s exactly what I wanted to watch,” said the student.
That set off a debate in Schenkkan’s mind: Should he tell the guy his brother is the star or would that be weird? He decided it would be weirder not to tell him.

The O.C. is set on the Orange County coast.
“I told the guy and he just like flipped out, just went crazy, and ran and got two or three other first-years to come watch,” recalls Schenkkan. “That was my introduction to O.C. culture on campus. It would only grow from there.”

Zachary and Benjamin weren’t especially close growing up in Austin, Texas, a fact Zack attributes to their six-year age difference. (There’s a middle Schenkkan brother, Nate, who is an actor working in theatre in New York.)
But the pair have grown closer now that they both live in Southern California, and they hang out about once a month. Zachary typically goes to see Benjamin in L.A. To hang out in public, McKenzie has to go unshaven and wear a baseball cap to avoid being recognized and asked for autographs, though that doesn’t always work Often, the brothers just hang out and watch videos as McKenzie is exhausted from the demands of shooting a TV series.

McKenzie hasn’t come to campus since he became famous; Schenkkan says it just wouldn’t be practical. McKenzie visited before the pilot for The O.C. aired, and, Schenkkan says, “everybody kind of freaked out” when they learned he was going to be on TV.

Benjamin McKenzie of The O.C.
Having a celebrity brother has its awkward moments. Some people ask Zachary if they can meet his brother (answer: no “it’s just too strange”) or ask for autographs, something he has only done in a few special cases. Many students know about his brother, and Schenkkan takes his share of ribbing from friends.

But Schenkkan has a full life of his own. He just finished up a year in the important role of Head Sponsor in the residence halls, he serves as a student representative to the curriculum committee and is a member of the Pomona Student Union. He also has appeared in Pomona plays such as Angels in America and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So, yes, Schenkkan has the acting bug like his brother, but the history major also is interested in writing. He sees the two interests as complementary. “It’s good because, you know, when you’re unemployed as an actor you’ve got a lot of time to write,” he says.

His brother may be a good source of advice on the ways of showbiz, but having a sibling reach fame so young also poses a friendly family challenge. “He’s the pacesetter now for all of us,” says Schenkkan. “We’re gonna all be playing catch up with him for the rest of our lives.”
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by Pomona College
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