Don't call The O.C.'s Benjamin McKenzie an overnight sensation: The heartthrob at the heart of Fox's unexpectedly witty new primetime soap opera was in Hollywood for a whole year before being anointed an It boy. As a result, he graciously accepts the "burden" of his newfound popularity. After all, being asked for an autograph beats the heck out of being asked for a menu!

Being recognizable "can be tricky," the 27-year-old tells TV Guide Online, then adds sarcastically, "I'm not going to say, 'Oh, [my castmates and I] are so huge, we can't go anywhere and my life is terrible.' [The loss of anonymity] is slightly unfortunate, but also pretty flattering. I mean, no one ever comes up to me and, like, slaps me or, you know, calls me an a--hole."

On the contrary, face to face with Ryan's handsome portrayer, many an admirer can't make any remark at all, never mind a disparaging one. Take, for instance, the O.C. devotee who recently made a pilgrimage to the set on the occasion of her 16th birthday. "I don't think she could say anything," McKenzie chuckles. "She wasn't hyperventilating, but sort of, you know, speechless — like, classically without speech."

No doubt, the rising star's fan club will grow exponentially as he follows in the footsteps of teen-idol forebears Johnny Depp and James Van Der Beek, and begins appearing in features. Nothing is set in stone yet, or even written in pencil. However, he admits, "I have been able to get into meetings [with producers] that I definitely would not have been able to get into six months ago. Hopefully, I can put something together."

In the end, McKenzie is less concerned with headlining a Thanksgiving 2004 blockbuster than he is with avoiding any association with a turkey. So if it takes him a little longer to rise to the ranks of his idols, quirky leading men Edward Norton and Sam Rockwell, that's just fine with him. "I'd much rather sit out [a hiatus]," he insists, "than jump into a bad movie that I end up regretting." — Additional reporting by Shawna Malcom