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Mischa Barton looks back on ‘The O.C.': ‘People lived and died by those characters’

Break out your old Phantom Planet CDs, Death Cab For Cutie t-shirts and Captain Oats replicas: We’re going back to California.

We’ll admit, we were surprised to see “The O.C’s” Mischa Barton on the list of attendees at the 2011 Reality Rocks Expo. She’s not an actress we usually — or ever — associate with reality TV. It turns out Barton was in the house to promote her self-titled line of handbags, which is only available in the UK.

Being huge fans of “The O.C.,” we here at Zap2it knew we had to sit down and chat with the actress who played our favorite poor little rich girl: Marissa Cooper. Who didn’t swoon when Ryan (Ben McKenzie) ran through the door at the nick of time on New Year’s Eve to kiss Marissa? Who didn’t tune in and freak out when Marissa decided, ‘Hey, I’m a lesbian now!?’ And don’t you dare tell us you didn’t shed a tear (or, um, 40) when Marissa tragically died in Ryan’s arms at the end of Season 3. Not cool, Volchok. Not cool. Who ever would have thought a spoiled, alcoholic high school girl would end up being one of TV’s most tragic characters?

Lucky for us, Barton was more than game to answer all of our “O.C.”-related questions, including her favorite episode, when she knew the show was a cultural phenomenon and how she related to Marissa’s darkness. We also found out if Barton would ever be interested in gracing the small screen again.

So cue up “California” on your iPods ’cause nostalgia here we come… via Zap2it

You’ve spoken before about how shocked you were when ‘The O.C.’ became a cultural phenomenon. No one can ever really prepare for that. Was there a specific moment when you realized just how big it was?

it was really hard for me because I was 17, so I really didn’t look at it like that. I remember being really shocked though like, the day after it aired, we went to this FOX event that we thought was going to be nothing. We literally thought it was the empty lot next to this craziness. We were like, ‘Oh, what’s that for? All those crazy screaming fans. We want to go there, that’s a party!’ They were like, ‘That’s where you’re going.’ All of these people bombarded us and I was like, ‘Oh my god. It’s barely been on the air.’

It’s funny to look back on those things — the heightened drama and stuff that was going on at the time; Just all these young people coming together on a show and the awkwardness of it and just how it was going to pan out. None of us knew at the time, we were such baby dragons. Well, that’s a weird term that I use, but we were so innocent in a way to what goes on in real episodic TV like that once you become a hit. Let’s face it, a lot of people lived or died by those characters for awhile. It was kind of creepy just because people obsess over you.


Do you have a favorite episode or moment from the show?

I really like the Christmas episode ["The Best Chrismukkah Ever"] where Marissa gets drunk in that Chanel dress and acts like a ridiculous human being at that party. I also really like a couple of the lifeguard stand scenes. Looking back, the stuff that I hated doing the most for it — like the being freezing cold in a bikini at 4 a.m. at the Redondo Pier — now, it’s some of the most beautiful stuff about it. It’s like, well, that was grueling but it’s beautiful. Nobody knew how cold and miserable the idea of it was, but I think those are the iconic moments of the show.

What was your favorite thing about Marissa? We always felt like she stood out on the show as she wasn’t the quintessential California girl. She was darker and kind of tinged in sadness.

Well, that’s what McG [executive producer] kind of wanted I think. He moved me out from New York to do that show. I mean, he’s a great guy. Once he decides he wants something though, he definitely goes for it. He was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to play Marissa because you’ve got this weird sophistication.’ Looking back, it was probably quite a clever decision of his, but it was just really awkward for me because I moved to L.A. from New York for that show. I had never been to Orange County in my life and had no idea of that world. I did try to understand it for the show and get into it.

We messed around with the accents a lot in the very beginning. We didn’t know if she was going to have this annoying Southern California drawl or what. Then I was like just, ‘Hey guys, that’s just not me, it’s going to be very difficult.’ Doug Liman [executive producer] really wanted me to do this Valley girl stuff and when you’re doing a grueling show like that — eight day episodes, working all day long — it’s very easy to make that kitschy and not good after a quick minute. I was like, ‘Let’s do something a little closer to home and incorporate me in it.’

So do you feel like there was a lot of Mischa incorporated into Marissa?

That’s where a lot of that darkness and weirdness comes from. I think that they realized my emotional range laid kind of more in the despair and weirdness of the situation with her family and stuff. They pushed that so much in Marissa that it became ridiculous because like, I can drunk-cry at the drop of a hat as an actress. I am very emotional so then they just made the character overly emotional, but then that’s what people liked about her in the end. They didn’t mean to do that, they were just trying to keep the drama going. It all ended up making her like she’s a lesbian, she’s angry, she’s happy, she’s sad. It was interesting how it developed, I guess.

Now that it’s been about five years since you were last on the show, how do you look back on “The O.C.”?

It’s one of those things where I look fondly at it now. During it, it was confusing for me. It’s not something that I look at negatively, necessarily, but I’m not the kind of actress that likes to be torn apart and dissected. It was very difficult for me to start to embrace that. Now, I think it’s funny and great that all these people do know me from it and kind of had to see me grow up and did see me grow up and go through all that ****. Now, I think people will come around to who you are as an actor and a being and get on your side, so I’m glad that that show — in a way — exposed me. It definitely established me as an actor and I think you can only embrace that.

Would you ever consider working on TV again?

TV is not something that I’m looking at right now for a second, just because I’m really at a restful place in my life. I’m really just taking my downtime. I’ve seen a lot of other girls who just kept going and kind of spazzed out and I’m just really grateful to be settled right now and not working and not doing anything but working on myself.I just feel really blessed with a convergence of really good things going on right now so I’m not in a rush to do a project. I think television is grueling and this year there’s been such an uproar with like the Charlie Sheens of actors — well, I think he’s amazing — but I just think it’s not the time for me to be on television. I’ll just a wait a second on it, but I do like TV. It’s a good forum.

We know you’re here promoting your line of handbags, how did that come about?

It’s a British company RI2K who I started working with. My mom helps out, too, but we mostly work together to design them in the UK. They send me all of the possibilities for hardware, swatches and fabrics and we’ve tried to get a few core shapes down that we really like in the beginning. I spend a lot of time in England so I usually just do that when I’m over there and then everything else is just kind of long-distance. It’s cool. We have them in Japan as well. I tihnk what really works for them is that we’re really able to keep the price point quite low, but still funky and cool. Some of them are not supposed to last forever. They’re more like fun bags, and then we have the more serious ones. We’ve been working on the proper like, doctor bags, the ones that do last a long time.

What’s the inspiration for your line?

I really like just finding vintage shapes and bags of mine. In the beginning, we just did a lot of sourcing bag styles that I like and want to remake. I think handbags are a great area to work in because you can do anything with them. They can really change an outfit. You always look at girls’ bags and you don’t want to spend a fortune on them. You want them to be functional, have pockets and work, but you don’t want it to be a piece of crap. I don’t want to spend a fortune on crazy of-the-moment handbags. If it’s going to cost me like $600 to get a handbag of-the-moment then I’m probably not even going to bother to do it. I just have my classics that I like.

Obviously people focus on what you wear a lot, have you ever considered a clothing line?

I have with different friends. I do have people, but it’s very difficult for me when I vibe with someone’s style. My style is such a juxtaposition between like, really high-end stuff and quite clean-cut in a way and then a totally different English classic. I’m obsessed with vintage, like I love my ’20s, ’40s, ’60s, ’70s pieces. You name it, I got it. I’m even into ’80s stuff now, like Popkiller stuff. I just change my mind about things a lot, but I do have a fundamental style which is just functional and I do certain silhouettes that I stick to that work for my body mostly now.

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5 Responses

chrisea34 Says:

It’s a very interesting interview, looking to the past and future :-)

Caleb Says:

So she isn’t working? I guess then Apartment 1303 isn’t happening with her?

rafa Says:

i miss Mischa and the OC! :( good to hear she’s happy right now!! :D

maira Says:

i love mischa and her as an actress. i’m glad that she seems like happy… mischa, your fans loves you!!

ij Says:

I think she speaks very eloquently here. She comes across as very intelligent and erudite. I think she could write a really good autobiography one day.

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