The inspiration for Ben McKenzie’s literary debut came from a place where many great ideas have emerged: getting out of a relationship. “I took some edibles, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll write a book,'” the actor says over Zoom from his Brooklyn apartment. Like most ideas, it sounded great at the time, but by morning he realized he didn’t exactly know how to write a book. “So I got high again, and I summoned the courage,” he laughed.
McKenzie wasn’t starting completely from scratch. In the summer of 2021, he fell into the crypto rabbit hole just as the digital currency was going mainstream. But unlike many of the high-profile celebrities who were making investments in different currencies – remember the Doge coin? – via their social media channels, the actor came out on the other side asking, “Is this a giant Ponzi scheme?” Just in case, he felt he had to do something to inform the public about the potential pitfalls of the currency. “There were so many famous and influential people, without even giving it a second thought, to shilling crypto,” he says, shaking his head. “For me, instantly, the people I saw skimming it, people I knew, I was like, ‘I don’t buy this’.”
So why didn’t he fall for the growing encryption platform when others did? McKenzie’s skepticism came from past experience. In his twenties, his friend Dave gave him “the worst financial advice of my life”. He encouraged the actor to invest in an obscure company, and both quickly lost their money. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was enough to remember. “He came back to me in 2021 and said, ‘You have to buy Bitcoin,’” he recalls. “That was my ‘what is this?'” He knew something was off.
After coming across an article written by journalist Jake Silverman titled “Even Donald Trump Knows Bitcoin is a Scam,” McKenzie followed him on Twitter. Eventually, he worked up the courage to DM him. They ended up grabbing drinks, and McKenzie pitched a book idea to Silverman. “He was about to go on paternity leave,” recalls McKenzie. “I was very lucky that he was about to be free and that he was willing to do it.”
McKenzie knew he would have to prove he was more than a “random actor,” especially if he was to co-author a book debunking crypto. So he and Silverman began writing articles together. “We started writing articles to do the research, but also in practice, to prove that we can,” he explains. They published their first article in Profilesand then stories for The Washington Post, The Interception and The New Republic before. Now, they have officially written their first book with Easy Money, Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud.
As McKenzie grappled with the over-promise of encryption, he failed to get a reversal from his evangelists. “I got vitriol from the bros, of course. I got a lot of hate from the crypto people, but I knew that going in,” he says. But what about the famous people he knows? “I love that the general public think that all the famous people know each other – we just go to the weekly meetings and hang out,” he said. “I think I’ve met some of the people who do crypto skill, but I’m not, that I know, close friends with anyone.”
While McKenzie wanted to delve into crypto as a whole without mentioning too many celebrities, he did make a point to discuss some of the most notable hawkishness for the controversial currency – Kim Kardashian’s promotion of Ethereum Max and the SEC charge and the penalties she had to payMatt Damon on Crypto.com’s famous ad and Jack Dorsey and Jay-Z’s Bitcoin Academy. The latter, specifically, is a matter of satisfaction for him.
“The first thing they did was go to where Jay-Z grew up [at Marcy Houses in Brooklyn] to sell this predominantly Black working neighborhood and convince them to invest in this highly volatile, unregulated investment,” he says, referring to Bitcoin Academy. “I was like, this is gross, dude. It’s so horrible.”
But celebrities are not the central problem, he says. “They are just a megaphone that the Ponzi needs to spread,” he says. “The bigger the thing gets, the more celebrities you have to spread it further.”
He should know: after all, McKenzie has been in Hollywood for over two decades. Almost 20 years ago, the 44-year-old actor got his big break in the lead role on The OC where he played Ryan Atwood, the bad boy with a heart of gold from Chino swept up in the rich people drama on Newport Beach. “I’m very grateful for it,” he says of the role. “I think it’s a complicated thing. Your first job, which it really was, for me and a lot of the young team, when it blows up—I know it’s champagne problems—but it’s never mind.”
Since it was successful The OCMcKenzie has starred in a handful of films, including the 2005 drama Homecoming Junebugas well as an action thriller Duty Line and last year’s rom-com, I Want You Back. But it’s his TV roles that have kept people talking – as LAPD officer Ben Sherman Southland and as detective James Gordon on Gotham. For McKenzie, it was not important for him to be typecast.
“I love actors and I love acting, but I don’t want to be defined by one thing,” he notes. “Writing the book was honestly a huge help, because one of the things I hated being pigeonholed was Ryan Atwood or James Gordon, or my beloved character Ben Sherman. Southland, which is my favorite show I’ve done, but it’s the least watched.” But his dream role is in a different capacity – directing. “The role I’m doing right now is putting together a documentary where I went down the rabbit hole with crypto,” he says.
Although McKenzie never thought he would write a book, he was very pleased to combine his economics degree with what he has learned over the past 20 years in showbiz. It is an added bonus that he mixes in his passion for true crime. “My favorite genre of true crime is what I like to call ‘stupid crime’. Cohen Brothers esque crime is my favorite thing to read about.” Writing a book on crypto, he says, was like doing “Fargo for the digital age.”
Although he doesn’t have a specific topic, McKenzie is thinking of writing another book again. “I’m interested in human stories because they cross economics, but also politics and things. I don’t know what will happen,” he explains. But he will not write another for now.
“It’s kind of like having kids,” he laughs. “Maybe a little break, then later.”