Whether you caught last week's premiere of Fox's fish-out-of-water soap, The O.C., you know very well who Benjamin McKenzie is — or at least you recognize the handsome 26-year-old. His mug has been featured in so many promos for the series that by now, even he is probably sick of seeing himself. Okay, maybe sick is too strong a word; the prime-time newbie is, after all, still pretty fresh off the turnip truck.

His landing the role of Ryan Atwood, a delinquent pauper transplanted to Orange County, home of countless poor little rich kids, "wasn't quite as smooth as me just sort of being dropped off on a bus in L.A. and getting the job the next day," says the lucky star. "But I've been very fortunate.

"[The producers] have really put a lot of faith in me," he continues humbly, "because you can look down my bio and, after about three seconds, you'll realize I haven't done anything. So for these guys to say, 'Listen, why don't we cast this guy in the lead of a new show?' is a tremendous leap of faith on their part, and very appreciated."

Happily for all concerned, the gamble seems to be paying off: The second episode of The O.C. doesn't air until tomorrow (at 9 pm/ET), and already, McKenzie has been anointed Hollywood's flavor of the moment. Inevitable comparisons to the likes of James Dean and Russell Crowe have, quite naturally, followed.

"It's very complimentary if I'm being compared to great actors like Mr. Dean and Mr. Crowe," the ultra-polite It boy demurs, "but I'm just a kid who's on a TV show at this point. Maybe [someday] I'll deserve that comparison."