Ben McKenzie can recall the exact moment that Econ first blew his mind. As a freshman at the University of Virginia, he was sitting in his Econ 101 class when his professor informed him that money... isn't real. We made it up. "I'm sitting in class thinking, why had I never thought about this before?!" McKenzie recalls with a laugh.
That realization kicked off McKenzie's love of the subject matter, which eventually led to him graduating with a degree in Foreign Affairs and Economics. It's a degree that, up until recently, the actor hadn't put to much use over the years, considering he made his way to Hollywood after college and wound up launching his acting career as Ryan Atwood, the brooding bad boy with a heart of gold, on Fox's The O.C. The beloved teen drama ran for four seasons before wrapping in 2007, after which McKenzie moved on to star on Southland, Gotham, and a number of other projects.
But when COVID struck in 2020, McKenzie, like the rest of the world, found himself looking for a way to pass the time. About a year into the pandemic, McKenzie honed in on crypto currency. "I started kind of paying attention to the markets in 2021. It was COVID, our business wasn't really back up and running yet, and I have this degree in Econ and I just couldn't make sense of what was going on."
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Ben McKenzie
So, he reached out to journalist Jacob Silverman to see if he'd be willing to write what, to McKenzie's knowledge, is the first major takedown of crypto. But the actor knew it wouldn't be as simple as explaining crypto to people, because frankly, who'd want to read that? Instead, the book, which was released on July 18, tells the story of McKenzie's experience with crypto, from how he learned about it to what it was like to report on it (and just generally, why he believes it's a terrible idea).
"If you don't tell it [from my perspective] then it's just like every other snooty economics book, very condescending, overly technical, all the things that quite frankly I always hated about economics," McKenzie says. "This seemed like our best chance at breaking through. At a minimum, we would get some O.C. fans to read the book, and it would give us our best shot at cutting through what is otherwise either totally skewed reporting on crypto or, almost even worse, a general apathy toward the whole thing."
It might sound odd, Ryan Atwood taking on crypto currency — then again, he never did like rich kids — and McKenzie gets it. Even he wasn't sure about his new role as reporter/author at first. "I had to summon the courage to reach out to Jacob, and I kept caveating all of my fairly serious research into the industry," he says. But Silverman helped him realize that his acting career was actually going to work to their advantage throughout the reporting process. "We were going to get into rooms that we probably had no business getting into, perhaps just because I come from TV," McKenzie says. "And sure enough, we did."
That access, combined with people underestimating McKenzie's knowledge of the subject — plus a little, you know, acting — helped him complete the reporting process and write Easy Money, which is already a New York Times bestseller. "At the end of the day I'm very proud of the book and I think it will hold up," he says. "I believe, broadly speaking, it will be proven right by history."
Now able to reflect on the experience — even as he's actively working on a documentary about the subject — McKenzie never anticipated the impact writing the book would have on him personally. "I was not appreciative of how much it would change my view of the world and open it up in a way that I hope gives me more of an appreciation for what I have," he says. "I'm thinking about going to El Salvador and seeing firsthand what they're going through, some of which has to do with crypto and a lot of which doesn't. It sounds cliché but the people I've met along the way really have changed me, I hope, and also helped put my regular career in perspective."
But don't worry, McKenzie isn't done with his regular career. "Nothing has given me a deeper appreciate for acting on television than having to write a book for two years," he says with a laugh.
As far as he's concerned, he's a storyteller, no matter which form the story takes.