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By Suzanne

Ben McKenzie and Regina King

Interview with Ben McKenzie and Regina King of "Southland" December 10, 2010.

Moderator: Erin Naman
December 10, 2010
1:00 pm CT

Operator: Good day and welcome to the Ben McKenzie and Regina King conference call. Todayís conference is being recorded.

At this time I would like to turn the conference over to Erin Naman. Please go ahead.

Erin Naman: Hi everyone, thanks for joining today's Southland conference call with Regina King and Ben McKenzie. Season three of Southland premiers Tuesday, January 4 at 10:00 pm Eastern and Pacific on TNT. A transcript of this call will be available on Monday.

Iíll now turn the call back over to our moderator to give instructions on how to queue your questions.

Operator: Thank you. If you would like to ask a question at this time please press the star key followed by the 1 on your touch-tone telephone. If you are on a speakerphone please pick up your handset or deactivate your mute function before signaling. Once again, that is star-1 to take a question.

And our first question is going to come from David with the McClatchy Newspaper. Please go ahead.

David Martindale: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to do the call.

Regina King: Thank you.

David Martindale: Yes, I watched the screener of the Return episode this morning. Itís the feel-good episode of the season, lots of teasing. But I find it interesting that over the past decade or so - decade of CSI and the forensic crime dramas that - you know, squad officers and detectives and crime shows have kind of taken a back seat while many of the crime scene analysts and medical examiners and their techniques have taken over.

Itís almost like the powers that be determined that cops stopped being interesting and Southland is, you know, one of those rare shows that confers that, yes, actually cops still are very interesting.

For both of you, have you thought about this? Do you think the show is offering a unique point of view in that way? Do you get feedback from your life counterparts that suggest they feel like theyíve been kind of - had their thunder stolen by the CSI-types and so on?

Ben McKenzie: I think thatís a good point. I think youíre right. I think for whatever reason, I donít know if thatís - they simply think the technology has evolved enough to where they can make a show like CSI with all the sort of fancy graphics and computer angles and stuff, camera angles, interesting, whether thatís the reason for it or whether the template of the old, you know - shows about black and white and, you know, two guys and a police cruiser were getting stale but whatever the reason is I think that Southland is fairly unique because itís very much the antithesis of those kinds of shows that are more focused on the visual.

This is really about on the ground, kind of boot level view of policing a big, crazy city like Los Angeles in the 21st Century and how kind of a grittier, rougher look at what itís actually like on a pretty human scale and how what the cops see affects them in their personal lives. I think thatís the other thing thatís missing from, like, CSI and Law and Order is itís much more about the crime, solving the crime, and catching the bad guys at the end of the episode and every kind of - being able to turn off their TVs and sleep soundly in their beds.

And Southland doesnít really do that ever. Often, we donít catch the bad guy if there is a bad guy. And even when we do itís such a disturbing ride that youíre not exactly sleeping quietly home at the end of the episode. Itís a brutal look at the kind of rough world that the cops encounter. So I think it definitely has a place in society and I think itís not going to appeal to everyone. I donít think weíll ever get the kind of numbers that CSI or Law and Order get but itís not really the point.

The point is to build kind of a slice of life for - what cops go through and I think that will appeal to certain sort of sophisticated viewer who wants something thatís a little more honest in his portrayal of Los Angeles and police officers.

David Martindale: And Regina, do you wish to weigh in or do you want me to go to the next question?

Regina King: Iím not - he hit it pretty well.

David Martindale: He did a good job. Will you start with the answer to this? Does playing a cop make you more vigilant, more cautious, more paranoid even about putting yourself in dangerous situations in daily life?

Regina King: Gosh, I donít think paranoid but I definitely would say that - I think all of us are a little more aware of our surroundings and aware of things that are going on when youíre not paying attention. People have - what weíve learned in all of our boot camp and training that weíve done or just with officers and detectives, how they solve a lot of their cases, how they end up in situations where theyíve caught a criminal before an actual report was made.

Itís just because they have this ability that they were trained to acquire to check out body language and tones of your voice. And all those things help an officer determine, you know, whether a person is guilty and just kind of speak to those gut feelings that you have as an officer.

And I wouldnít go as far as that, you know, weíve got this gut feeling that this lady thatís in the car next to me is, you know, a criminal but I would say that when I am in public situations I am more aware of - like, I donít know about you Ben, like you can catch somebody that you can tell is high that you might not have paid attention to before - before we started this whole two-year journey on Southland.

Ben McKenzie: Right, right. I agree with that. I think youíre more aware of your surroundings and a little more - just more aware thereís bad stuff out there.

Yes, yes, I agree with everything you said.

David Martindale: Is that a good thing that you have that in you now or do you find sometimes maybe you wish you didnít have that in you sometimes now?

Regina King: Not be, I feel like itís just made me not so - because I tend to sometimes be, you know, the nice girl when I really shouldnít be. And itís just kind of helped me to pay more attention to peopleís ulterior motives.

David Martindale: Okay, I know there are other people that will ask questions so Iíll bow and let them ask questions. Thank you very much.

Ben McKenzie: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. And our next question will come from Thomas with the Laist. Please go ahead.

Thomas Lewis: Hi. Hello? Great. I had a question, first for Regina. Detective Lydia Adams, the physicality that youíre bringing to her is pretty amazing. It looks like weíre going to get more of that this season. What Iím wondering is if weíre going to see traits of her that are maybe a little less perfect because she seems so perfect. It is, you know, super fit. She is chasing people down. Sheís always trying to do the good thing but it seems like compared to the other characters sheís so perfect. Are we going to see some chinks in that armor?

Regina King: I think youíre definitely going to see a less-perfect side of Lydia but I think whatís interesting about how the writers have - how theyíre playing it is that you see a less perfect side as she discovers the less-perfect side of herself.

Thomas Lewis: Okay, great. And as I was saying, weíre seeing, you know, you doing this amazing stunts this season in the opener at least, which was what you were doing in all of last season, just really getting this kind of physical perspective of doing the job. Was this part of your training, the boot camp that youíre talking about?

Regina King: No, that part of it - the boot camp, most of the training that we were doing - that was gun handling, handcuffing, and just the overall command presence that law enforcement has. I think - whatís been kind of like the added plus, I think where the studio got more bang for their buck is that they got an entire cast that is pretty frickiní fit.

We kind of, like, make a joke, like, if there was a competition of us against another show weíd take anybody down. You know, weíve got a really, you know, conscious group of people. Like, weíre always on the set, like, looking at the treats. Like, Iím going to walk away from that cupcake. Somebody pull me away. But I think thatís just, like, an added benefit.

Thomas Lewis: Thatís great. Well, thanks so much. And really quick Ben, we saw a little hint you made in the season opener, a little allusion to the past season I think with a cousin getting married. Are we going to continue to see Ben Sherman try to burry his privileged past this season or are we going to have it encroach on his police work?

Ben McKenzie: Youíll see his past but only really - in terms of what weíve already shot, what I know. In Episode 3, the guy who rapes my mom gets out of prison and that affects me pretty severely and I go a little haywire because of it. But in general, no. In general weíre not really going to dig.

I think the producers made sort of a collective decision that whatís most interesting - the original intention of the show was to talk about cops on the job and have a little bit of their personal lives sprinkled throughout but to be very focused on the cops, what they see on the job, and how it affects them and only them in their personalized.

And not focus too much on sort of secondary, kind of more atmospheric stuff about, you know, for my character, you know, my sister whoís getting married and, you know, my father whoís a jerk and all this - high-profile defense attorney, all this stuff thatís a little secondary to the specific focus of the show, which is cops and what they see on the job and how it affects them.

So I donít think weíre going to get at too much of the kind of Brentwood-cocktail party circuit. I thinking weíre going to stick to boots on the ground and police work.

Thomas Lewis: Great. Thanks so much. Loved the show and thrilled youíre back. Thanks so much for talking to us.

Regina King: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. And our next question comes from Earl with Wireless Magazines & Digital Journals. Please go ahead.

Earl Dittman: Hi guys, how are you all today?

Ben McKenzie: Terrific.

Earl Dittman: I have to say, Southland is one of my favorite shows and Iím not just saying that because you are here. Itís one of my - it really, really is something I have to sit and I wait for it every week just to see. So it was great to watch this opening episode. And I have to say the two of you play some of the - two of the best characters on the show, the most - thereís just interesting to watch.

I guess my first question is, were both of you shocked by the fact that TNT picked it up? Did you think after the first season that it was dead and gone or did you think it had that second life, that someone would see it and go, weíve got to get this back on the air?

Ben McKenzie: Regina?

Regina King: I felt like we were - that it was not the end. I always felt like thereís just no way that all of these people, and I say all of these people I mean the crew as well and the people behind the scenes that make it a possibility to put this much work into something that turns out so great - that has turned out so great, that that just be it. I just donít feel like the universe works that way. I feel like the universe wants, you know, good to prevail. You know, I kind of have a fairytale mind like that. So I never thought that.

Earl Dittman: And you?

Ben McKenzie: I donít know. Maybe Iím not as optimistic as Regina. I just - at the end of the day it was out of our hands so I just sort of...

Earl Dittman: You were kind of thinking the worst.

Ben McKenzie: No, not the worst. Just that, you know, I have no affect on the outcome of this situation which is the truth of the matter. And the truth of the matter is that none of individually on the show did. You know, John went around and shopped the show. TNT went out of their way to express interest in it and came up with the best offer. And weíre very grateful that they did. And I think quite frankly itís due to TNTís interest and the interest of the fans who were pretty vocal who expressed themselves online and in letters and, you know, all over the place. Thatís why weíre back.

Earl Dittman: Great, one last question and Iíll let you run. You went to the cop camp I guess weíll call it. Have either of you actually gone out with actual cops and driven with them, spend any time with them on the street?

Ben McKenzie: Yes.

Regina King: Yes.

Earl Dittman: And what was that like? And if you did, what was it like?

Regina King: Ben, Iíll let you quarterback that one.

Ben McKenzie: You donít want to answer? It was fun. It was really fun and Iíve been to different parts of the city, a Newton division which is a pretty rough area in South LA, then in the Valley and in West Hollywood or West Latte as a lot of the cops like to call it, not particularly tough. And each different ride-along - each ride-along was different and each gave me a different perspective on kind of what the cops do. And yes, I got something out of each of them.

Earl Dittman: Sounds great. Regina, did you get the chance?

Regina King: I got the chance but mine was not as colorful as Benís. Ben got the opportunity. I think everyone except for myself and Shawn got a chance to kind of see some interesting things and you heard Ben refer to West LA as West Latte and thatís where Shawn and I went so we kind of got to see a more laidback...

Earl Dittman: Cleaned up side.

Regina King: Yes.

Earl Dittman: Thank you guys. And thanks for a great show and Iím glad youíre back. And so this is 13 episodes weíre seeing?

Ben McKenzie: Ten.

Earl Dittman: Ten, okay great. Anything we can do to help you out weíre going to do it. So thanks again.

Regina King: Thank you.

Ben McKenzie: Thank you very much.

Operator: Thank you. And our next question will come from Danielle with the LA Examiner. Please go ahead.

Danielle Turchiano: Morning guys, thanks for taking the call.

Regina King: Good morning.

Danielle Turchiano: So the subject matter of your show is obviously much, much heavier than a lot of network cop-dramas these days. And Iím wondering - I mean youíre in your third season, does it ever get any easier for you when you open that script and you read the case that youíre going to be exploring?

Ben McKenzie: Sometimes it does actually. Sometimes the thrust of each episode will almost always be the A-storyline on any tab so itís almost always going to be pretty hard-hitting and pretty - kind of brutal. But thereís often a B and C storyline that are much lighter and much more funnier that is there for comic relief. And thereís a lot of humor in what cops see and do.

I mean they are such crazy situations all the time that - some pretty bizarre, funny stuff happens. And it sort of rotates amongst the cast who has those bylines but I think weíve really found a lot of humor in the show. I think whatís interesting about it - and I think this will be very evident in the episodes that will air on TNT this year but thereís a lot of unexpected humor, you know - a serious situation that has a really, really funny thing at the heart of it.

And I think itís funnier than a lot of the, you know, sitcom stuff out there because itís more honest and more disturbingly funny that - you know, thereís a scene that youíre aware of - Iíll just talk about it. Iím not sure if I can or not but what the hell. I show up with Shaky, Iím running off a female cop with a guy whoís bleeding from his arm and he says his girlfriend has cut him. And they - where sheís just in the car down the block, and we go down, and itís a blow-up doll.

And heís got a ((inaudible)) and the guy is - if you want to say a little crazy and he says he got in a ďargumentĒ with his girlfriend and they were arguing about the outfit that she was wearing and all these guys looking at her. And heís clearly fine and he cut himself. And, you know, thereís funny stuff in that but itís also - sort of disturbing and I think thatís kind of the line we walk on this show a lot.

Danielle Turchiano: Right, and I mean do you find that when you get your script youíre hoping for those scenes, the ones that do many have those comical elements or do you want the gritty, A-story hard drama all the time?

Ben McKenzie: I donít want either all the time. I donít know about Regina. Do you?

Regina King: I totally agree. I donít think the audience wants either all the time.

Ben McKenzie: Yes, balance is good.

Danielle Turchiano: Good it. And just in the opener, in the season premier, thereís that great scene done with you where you guys are coming up to Hollywood and Santa Monica and thereís a shooting. And what you did with the car, the way you put the vests over the windows and everything, I felt like - that was, like, the essential inside look at how these officers would work in a situation like that.

And Iím wondering, how much prep work goes into that? Did you rehearse that with actual officers on the day of the set? What kind of inside-look did you guys get in terms of making that scene as real as possible?

Ben McKenzie: Right, that is a tactical maneuver that the LAPD does employ in certain situations because the body of the car is bullet-proof but the windows canít be bullet-proof completely so you do throw the vests over in order to bullet-proof the entire side of the car when youíre driving and trying to pick up an officer whoís down and trying to bullet-proof an entire side of the car thatís taking oncoming fire. So we have worked on that before. We actually - all of us collectively, ran through an exercise. Was that first year, Regina?

Regina King: God, I want to say it was second year, Ben.

Ben McKenzie: But weíve done the thing together.

Danielle Turchiano: So itís almost second-nature now that you guys are comfortable.

Ben McKenzie: Yes, well, actually we havenít done it in a long time so I was a little bit nervous about it but it actually - even as complicated as you think, basically, you know, take off the shirts to get down to the vests and throwing the vests over the windows, overlapping the vests so that thereís no holes in it and shut the door. I mean itís actually not as complicated as it may look. I donít know if it even looks that complicated but itís actually relatively straight-forward. The trick is, you know, youíre doing it while youíre being fired upon so you have to be, you know, a little bit - you know, you have to play the reality of that situation.

Regina King: I think the beauty of that particular scene that youíre talking about, the fact that it shows this brotherhood that law enforcement has, you know, and the sacrifice that theyíre not only making for us, civilians, everyday but the even extra mile that theyíll go to sacrifice - you know, to put themselves in jeopardy for one of their one.

Ben McKenzie: Right.

Danielle Turchiano: Absolutely. Great, well, thank you guys so much.

Ben McKenzie: Thank you.

Regina King: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. And our next question will come from Fred with Please go ahead.

Fred Topel: Hi, nice to talk to both of you. Where do we pick up your characters and how do you feel about what time is past since the last season?

Ben McKenzie: Regina?

Regina King: I think, you know, when you come to this season it is definitely clear that some time has past but not much. I have a feeling that only a few months have past, you know, like, six or seven months have past since the last time youíve seen our heroes. And I think we kind of pick up - I think especially for specifically Ben and I, our characters, because weíre so by the book and we so want to do our job well, you start - in this season, are going to see how we are a little more flawed than what you might have thought in the prior seasons.

Fred Topel: What are some of those flaws youíre enjoying exploring?

Regina King: For Lydia specifically, that she may not be the easiest partner to work with contrary to her belief. And you kind of see her discovering that through this new partner that sheís working with.

Fred Topel: Is there a pivotal case for Lydia this year?

Regina King: Yes, there is. Thereís one that takes place that starts out seeming to be like itís going to be another murder case that sheís picked up and turns out to go way beyond just being a murder case.

Fred Topel: And Ben, were you mentioning a new partner for your character?

Ben McKenzie: No, no, I donít have a new partner. Iím running around with John still, my last state of probationary period. By the end of the season - the end of the season will mark the end of that period. But no, Iím still running around with John Cooper. I guess - sorry, the one episode I referenced is one episode we switch partners. I ride with Shaky and a female cop and John rides with Dewy because nobody will ride with Dewy so it ends up being the short stick having to ride with Dewy.

But for my character, itís kind of what Regina was saying that ((inaudible)), youíre going to see both Lydia and Ben more human than perhaps seen them before. Ben has an episode, like I said before, where the guy who raped his mom gets out of prison and we finally talk about that, forced to talk about it. And I think it will shed some light on who this guy is deep down underneath a lot of the armor that he puts up.

You know, I think most of what you see is a pretty stoic guy out there, kind of just observing the world and taking Johnís flack - taking a lot of grief from John, but inside thereís a lot of other stuff boiling underneath and youíll see that come to the surface in that episode. And that will probably - should inform more of who this guy is. Heís - I mean heís almost sort of obsessed with the notion of justice and thatís kind of what heís been pursuing his entire life. And when that changes in his episode you see him kind of change and grow up and mature a little bit into a different kind of cop.

Fred Topel: Well, it sounds like great, intense stuff that we love from Southland - and that blow-up doll story, thatís classic.

Ben McKenzie: The blow-up, yes - I mean, you know, thereís a lot of stuff - yes, thereís just a lot. And almost everythingís taken from actual cop stories. Youíre dealing with just a lot of strange situations. Iím trying to remember what. I know youíve had...

Regina King: Thereís - you guys have a lot more than the detectives do and thatís just because of the nature of the position. Youíre the first ones there.

Ben McKenzie: Right, right. Because you have an episode that we just shot where youíre having to deal with two detectives who arenít very good at their jobs and youíre having to shepherd - youíre basically having to baby-sit two grown men who are detective ((inaudible)) who are just terrible at their jobs and youíre having to, like, fix it for them. And, you know, that kind of stuff - thereís a lot of humor in that and itís also a very, unfortunately, very realistic.

And I think more of that in the show is a good thing. Weíre not trying to be an oppressively, down-beat show. Weíre just trying to open up a whole new world that isnít really shown on law enforcement shows out there. Not everything is sort of beautifully shot, clean, crisp, you know, CSI-file, law enforcement. In fact, thatís not real at all.

Regina King: Iíll say it, not real.

Ben McKenzie: And even in Miami people donít look like that and itís not always shot on an 85 millimeter lens.

Regina King: But itís great. Itís great to be on TV and have both.

Ben McKenzie: Thatís true.

Regina King: And thatís what weíre offering. Weíre offering, you know, a side thatís a little more gritty and honest.

Fred Topel: Yes, well, thank you.

Ben McKenzie: Yes.

Regina King: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. And our next question will come from Holly with Please go ahead.

Holly Bowmaster: Hi, thanks for talking with us this morning. What is it like working with the other cast members on the set? Are there - is there a certain cast member thatís the joker of the group?

Regina King: Cudlitz.

Ben McKenzie: Cudlitz, is a joker.

Regina King: Yes. Shawn has kind of, like, that sardonic-type wit.

Ben McKenzie: Yes, Shawn doesnít - yes, itís a dark interior sense of humor. Itís not a laughing joke, yes.

Regina King: Itís kind of like an hour later, that was a joke, right?

Ben McKenzie: Right, right. Regina and I are just two bumps on a log taking it all in.

Regina King: Taking it all in, making them feel good about their jokes.

Ben McKenzie: Thatís right, we play the audience.

Holly Bowmaster: Regina, can you tell us a little about Lydiaís new partner this seasons and how the dynamics between them are going to work out?

Regina King: Well, Lydiaís never worked with a partner, with a woman before. And itís - the character is a woman thatís been on the force longer than Lydia. Sheís a bit older than her so there is that dynamic that - itís not said but the tension is felt where you have one person that, you know, is really good at their job and feels like, you know, Iím this good because - Iíve reached the level of success that I have because Iíve been this good.

And then you the other one thatís like, Iíve been here longer - itís kind of like - a little similar to what goes on with John Cooper and Ben Sherman but the only difference is Lydiaís been around longer than Ben Shermanís character so sheís a little more vocal about not liking the way her partner does her job. Like, Ben Sherman definitely does not agree with all the stuff that he or John Cooper say but itís his training officer so you kind of catch his disdain for some of the things that Cooper expresses in his looks where Lydia actually is more vocal.

Ben McKenzie: Thatís it, yes.

Holly Bowmaster: And Ben, what was your favorite thing about playing your character? Was there something specific that you like about him?

Ben McKenzie: Sorry, you cut out there in the middle. What about my character?

Holly Bowmaster: What is your favorite thing about playing your character? Is there something that draws you specifically to him?

Ben McKenzie: Yes, I just think heís - I think he chooses his words very carefully and he says less than he feels. And I think that kind of reserve nature is powerful on camera, not that he doesnít see a lot. Heís a pretty sharp guy. He takes in a lot. He just doesnít speak his mind. Heís not glib. He doesnít speak his mind all that much and he canít because of the nature of the dynamics between a training officer and a ((inaudible)). He has to bite his tongue a lot.

But youíll see a lot of opportunities in this upcoming season for him to be funnier I think, be a little bit - take that piss out of himself and John, kind of mess around a little bit. And I think thatís a good thing. I mean I think if you spend 12 hours a day for a year in a patrol car with somebody else you - at some point you get a little punchy and you just want to crack up a little and you want to just, you know, have some fun.

And I think John and Ben felt that kind of comradery. They already laugh at certain situations that situations are that absurd. So I donít know. I think as you go along I find new angles to play and new things to - new ways of playing scenes that are sort of similar on the face of them with John where heís, you know, ((inaudible)) me for some mistake Iíve made. I think thereís always new ways to play those scenes because Benís growing up and evolving and their relationship is changing.

Holly Bowmaster: Thank you.

Operator: Thank you. And our last question comes from Sylvia with the Please go ahead.

Sylvia Franklin: Good morning to both of you. Actually my question is for Regina King. I just wanted to find out - you play a character, a woman, whoís on the police force. What do you think some of the challenges are, the stereotypes that may persist about a woman working in a male-dominated profession?

Regina King: Well, I think, luckily, weíre where we are now. A lot of those barriers and challenges that women on the force had to face has been overcome, a lot of - there are more men on the force now that believe women - itís necessary to have female and male officers that law enforcement is stronger with both because women have a certain sensibility that men donít have and vice versa. And that reality is shared with more officers now than, you know, even 15 years ago. So I think that thatís one of the things thatís kind of great about doing this type of show in this day and age because we are not dealing with all of those male versus female things, thatís kind of a story that, you know, we see that a lot in all industries and itís not something thatís - I think itís only been like even a C storyline for us, maybe even once.

And when I say a C, more like a C- storyline. It was just kind of touched upon, that one officer, you could tell, has - and actually he comes back with it still. He still has that idea that women should not be officers. But we donít hit the nail on the head. And I think that that makes - itís a better representation of how law enforcement is now.

Sylvia Franklin: And what do you enjoy most about your role as a detective, Lydia Adams? What has she taught you as a character?

Regina King: I guess right now Iíve just - I enjoy as an actress playing her, the idea of getting to know her more. Iím still at the place with the character that Iím anxious to see where she is going to go.

There are - the thing thatís really cool about all of these characters, that theyíre - you get just a little bits of them each time you see an episode that one of us may be a little more heavy in. That gives you more of a window, that opens the window more to who these people are. And itís really interesting. Itís going to be really interesting to see Lydia, you know, eventually have more fun. You know, sheís a pretty uptight person now so just how that journey - how sheíll get to that place is interesting to me.

Sylvia Franklin: And one last question, and this is for Regina King, earlier, I would say a few months ago, you posted a letter to the Huffington Post about the disparity of acknowledgement for actors of color who werenít being nominated and for a couple other grievances you had around that time. Do you feel that this TV season is sort of on its way to correcting that?

Or do you feel that - like, say with the demise of that series Under Covers, are we still going to end up in the same place with the 2011 Emmy Awards?

Regina King: Well, I mean I think the reality is, you know, Univisium is the number one network in the country. So that being said I think that the future of TV and movies - being more the way real life is, you know, being more of a mirror-imitating life is probably more a reality that weíll see sooner rather than later just with, you know, that statistic alone I think is a good indicator that - I, people of color, are not the only ones that feel that way.

Sylvia Franklin: Okay, thatís it for me. Thank you.

Regina King: Thank you.

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