Mischa Barton Reflects on "Healing and Changing" 20 Years After The O.C.'s Premiere

Twenty years after The O.C. premiered, Mischa Barton—who played Marissa Cooper on the show—shared what the series meant to her.

By Elyse Dupre Sep 19, 2023 8:49 PMTags
Watch: Why Mischa Barton REALLY Left "The O.C."

Mischa Barton is heading right back where she started from.

In fact, The O.C. star took a trip down memory lane while reflecting on the beloved teen drama's legacy two decades after its premiere. And that included recently catching up with her onscreen family Melinda ClarkWilla Holland and Tate Donovan—with her expressing how proud she is of them for standing in solidarity with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actor's Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) amid the strikes.

"It was really fun reconnecting with them recently and getting to talk to them again," Mischa said while discussing what the show meant to her in an exclusive interview with E! News that aired Sept. 18. "It feels like a lot of stuff to do with that has come full circle as it should after 20 years of your life. I mean, these things are supposed to."

"It's been interesting discussing it again and with the book coming out hearing what Josh and Stephanie had to say about it," she continued, appearing to reference the book Welcome to The O.C.: The Oral History by creator Josh Schwartz and producer Stephanie Savage, "and yeah, seeing them all on the picket lines. It's been a long time, and I think there's been a lot of healing and changing going on. So, yeah, it's all positive. It's all been positive, which is a good thing. And yeah, can't wait to see them."

Famous The O.C. Guest Stars You May Have Forgotten About

Mischa—who played Marissa Cooper on The O.C.—has previously spoken about her complicated relationship with the Fox series—telling E! News in 2021, without naming names, that while she loved the show, there was "sort of general bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really s--tty." (E! News reached out to Warner Bros. TV and Fox in 2021 but did not receive any comment).

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In adding to reconnecting with her Newport Beach crew, she's joined a new TV family. After all, the actress plays American Reece Sinclair—the eldest daughter of the wealthy Sinclair family—in Amazon Freevee's reboot of the Australian series Neighbours. And on this show, Mischa's dealing with a whole new kind of drama.

"She's actually the one that runs most of the companies underneath dad," she explained while promoting the show. "She's sent to Australia to check in on some of their hotel chains. She's got another more personal reason as well why her father has sent her there, but we don't find that out at first at all."

However, Mischa makes it clear that her character does find time for romance, too.

"She also manages to get quite distracted by sleeping with the bellboy or having an affair—like a fling—with one of the people there," she added. "She falls for someone local, and then it all kind of unravels what she was originally supposed to be doing when she got there and tries to get her head back in the game." 

Neighbours is now on Amazon Freevee. But if you also now feel like rewatching The O.C., you can keep reading for facts about the show.

1. Seth Needleman?! It almost happened, as Schwartz revealed during an in-depth interview with Uproxx, "When I first wrote the script the Cohens were the Needlemans."

2. The first actor cast on the series was Peter Gallagher as Sandy Cohen, the patriarch of the central fam. C'mon, who could resist those eyebrows? "We wanted to send a very clear message that this was a show as much about the parents as it was about the kids, and we had this acclaimed film and stage actor in the lead role, heartthrob himself," Schwartz said. "And somebody who was a terrific actor who was going to ground the adult world with a lot of credibility."

3. You can basically thank Brad Pitt for Ben McKenzie landing the role of Ryan Atwood, the brooding young lead. After all, Garrett Hedlund originally got the part role but had to back out weeks before filming began. "He was gonna go in and test for the studio," Schwartz explained, "and then he got Troy, and was suddenly not available and off to have a movie career."

4. Chad Michael Murray also turned down the show to star on One Tree Hill

5. As for the poor little rich girl next door Marissa Cooper, it was between Mischa Barton and Olivia Wilde, with Barton ultimately landing the role because "Marissa was obviously a character who Ryan needs to save, and Olivia Wilde needs no saving," Schwartz said at the ATX TV Festival in 2016. "She's pretty tough."

However, they always knew they wanted to bring Wilde back and ended up casting her as Alex, Seth and then Marissa's eventual love interest, in season two. 

6. Originally, Bilson was cast as a recurring character, given three lines in the pilot. She ended up in every episode of the series, being upped to series regular midway through season one with Summer becoming the heart of the series. So not ew!

7. While Brody made Seth Cohen one of TV's most beloved characters, Schwartz initially did not want to cast him. "With Seth, we saw a lot of kids. And Adam, when he first came in...he didn't bother to learn basically any of the lines for his audition scene," Schwartz recalled in his Uproxx interview. "I was even like, 'What scene is he doing; is this from our show? What is he doing? I hate this kid; get him out of here.' And then we couldn't find Seth and our casting director, Patrick Rush, was like, 'We should bring back Adam Brody. I'm telling you, there's something special about that kid.' He came back in and did a really great job."

8. Fox wasn't exactly as in love with Seth Cohen as viewers were. "I was told at one point that they really did not like the Seth character early on in the pilot process," Schwartz admitted. (And Seth wasn't even included in the first posters for the series.)

9. The infamous "Welcome to the O.C., b---h!" line wasn't in the original script.

10. While the show helped put bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Rooney on the map, and major groups like U2 and the Beastie Boys eventually reached out to debut their new songs on the series, there was one band that refused to let their music be on the show: Arcade Fire

11. One of Schwartz's biggest regrets was not doing more with Luke (Chris Carmack) and Anna (Samaire Armstrong). Admitting their early exits were "not smart" on his part, he told Uproxx, "If I could go back in time and do it all over again I would have for sure kept Anna and Luke in the show."

12. In fact, the writers' room even talked about pairing the two up for an opposites-attract relationship. Other relationships they always considered but never actually acted on? "We always talked about Ryan/Anna. We always talked about Luke/Summer," Schwartz revealed. "There's all those kind of combinations—Seth/Marissa, we flirted with the idea." Can you imagine?

13. After the monster success of season one, Fox wanted Schwartz to work on a spinoff. "They wanted it to be about Anna," he said, before eventually deciding just to focus on the main show. 

14. There was almost a crossover episode with Arrested Development, as they both aired on Fox and were set in Southern California. "[Arrested Development creator] Mitch Hurwitz and I actually spoke at some Fox event together and had even talked about how, at one point, he wanted to have some of The O.C. actors on Arrested Development playing themselves as the actors from The O.C.," Schwartz said, adding he ultimately felt it was "too meta" to actually have come to fruition.

15. While Fox tried to tease the major death in the season three finale, the victim herself, Barton, spoiled Marissa's passing in an interview just before the episode aired. "My character has been through so, so much, and there's really nothing more left for her to do," she told Access Hollywood. Oops!

For Schwartz, he called the decision to kill her off a difficult one. "It was born out of a number of issues," he told the Daily Beast, "creative, cast chemistry, ratings."

16. So did Barton want off the show? "Mischa didn't want off the show any more than any of the other kids wanted off the show," Schwartz admitted with a laugh. "It was a complicated chemistry with the cast...but she certainly wasn't actively seeking to leave the show."He then added, "I think they had mixed feelings about their fame emanating from a teen drama on Fox. It wasn't how they sort of imagined their careers going, so that was challenging for sure."

17. While Shailene Woodley originally played Marissa's little sister Kaitlyn in season one, Willa Holland took over the role when an older, troublemaking Mini-Coop resurfaced seasons later...even though Holland is only five months older than Woodley IRL.

"Well, she felt older," Schwartz explained to Uproxx. "Five months is a lifetime at that age."

18. The O.C. almost didn't land its fourth and final season. "There was a version of the show not coming back in season four. We had a new network president," Schwartz recalled in the same interview. "They had kind of moved away from doing programming like The O.C., and there was a shot that there was no season four."

19. At one point, The CW's then-president Dawn Ostroff was "extremely interested" in airing a fifth season.

20. You can thank The O.C. for reality hits like Laguna Beach, The Hills and The Real Housewives of Orange County.

"You're welcome, America. Yeah, the accidental legacy," Schwartz joked. "You know, I would have liked to have a piece of the Real Housewives franchise, that's for sure...You know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess is the expression, and so are reality shows based on your show. I'm flattered."

21. Brody and Bilson dated for most of the series' four-year run, breaking up during the filming of the final season, which ended with their characters getting married. Years later, Brody would marry Leighton Meester, the star of Schwartz's other hit teen soap, Gossip Girl, in the crossover of fans' dreams!

22. Seth and Ryan only hugged twice throughout the entire series: in the pilot and in the series finale. Awww.

23. Berkeley Law School was so proud of having Sandy Cohen as one of its fictitious graduates that there was once a "Sandy Cohen Public Defender Fellowship."

- Reporting by Rebecca Ray

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