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Mischa Barton talks about returning to TV for ‘The Beautiful Life’

We all know that “The Beautiful Life: TBL” star and embattled tabloid fixture Mischa Barton had bad dental work done this summer and that it may or may not have landed her in a psych ward. We also know that said dental work may or may not have made her face temporarily puff up.

What we don’t know is why she decided to come back to television. After playing Newport Beach’s most tragicomic teen, Marissa Cooper, for three years, she famously left “The O.C.” — her character perishing on-camera after she’s run over by a crazed ex-boyfriend — to pursue a career in film full time.

The good news is that Barton, 23, was only too happy to talk to Show Tracker at length about her reasons for coming back to prime time — Her new character? A famous, troubled, jaded model — and why things are different for the actress this time around.

What made you decide to return to television?

The fashion world is something I don’t think anyone’s ever examined in a really realistic way, and I thought this show would be a good fit for me because I get to play a real character, and a lot of people associate me with fashion like I’m a fashion icon already.

Mike Kelley [a writer on "The O.C."] wrote the pilot and wanted me to play this model, Sonja, who is a pretty interesting girl. She’s a little bit bitchy but also kind of nice. I’m having a lot of fun playing her.

Were you actively looking for TV projects?

Yeah, I was reading scripts. I was checking out what was going on, and this project seemed really interesting for a major network. It’s edgier. It’s not a show that’s being remade, again …

Ha! ['The Beautiful Life' is airing on the CW, also home to the '90210' and 'Melrose Place' reboots.]

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! (Laughs) But for me this was new material. And Sonja’s a good character. There’s a lot you can do with her. I think if she’s well written and we’re lucky enough to keep Mike, then we’ll be good. We can make a cool show.

You left TV to do film. Did anything change that made you want to come back?

Well, yeah. There are a few things. For starters, I think a lot of people associate me with television. Since I left “The O.C.” I worked a lot in film, and none of it, even the movies that I really liked, like “Assasination of a High School President,” they never came out. Everybody said I wasn’t working or I wasn’t doing anything. That’s something that really [upset me] because I was doing nothing but working.

So I really felt like it was a good idea to go back to television because it’s a steady job. And it feels so good to wake up every day and know you’re going to make a good paycheck and have a job and get to actually act and not just sit around while you figure out if the next movie you make is even going to come out. It started to get infuriating.

Mischa talks about how things have changed, how playing Sonja is therapeutic, and why she didn’t participate in the show’s naked ad campaign … after the jump …


How does it feel so far?

This time around, TV feels better, and “The Beautiful Life” feels like a better fit for me as a television show. It’s a much happier experience because I’m older and I can see everything for what it was now. I was 16 when I went to do “The O.C.,” and it was a great experience, it changed my life. It made me famous and everything. But this time around I can actually sit back and enjoy the experience and know what’s coming and just have a good time with it. I think it’s cool to see the younger cast members enjoying it for the first time.

Was the instant and massive popularity of “The O.C.” overwhelming at the time?

Yeah! I was younger than all the other kids, and it was just me and two boys in the beginning. Rachel Bilson came in eventually, but in the very beginning of that show it was just me and the two boys who were season regulars. It was really overwhelming to have all that press on me. But this time I’m sharing it with people, and it’s much more laid back. And I’m filming in New York, which is also very laid back. It’s just an easy experience.

The ad campaign for “The Beautiful Life” included (mostly) naked pictures of the show’s stars, but you didn’t participate. Why not?

I was there for most of the publicity. Not all of it. I wasn’t around for that. That’s something that some of the cast members chose to do. I never got around to shooting that campaign. I think it’s quite an interesting, edgy campaign. It’s funny. People come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to do it?’ Whatever, it’s fine, I wasn’t there that day. That’s a moot point, I suppose. I do think it’s clever, and I’m sorry they didn’t use it a bit more. But they didn’t do it with all of us, so they couldn’t do a full push for it.

Tell me more about Sonja. She’s keeping some big secrets in the first episode.

When we originally shot the presentation pilot, Sonja was quite an edgy pill-popper. She was really quite bitchy. As the project progressed, you find out why.

The thing is she’s already famous and the only one who’s an established model. She’s got her guard up about everything in life, but she’s just a normal girl. She’s just supposed to be tainted by the paparazzi and the whole scene. We definitely draw parallels and do tongue-in-cheek things with my life and celebrities’ lives in general.

How so?

Just things that would happen with me and the paparazzi, and things that people would say about me. We work it into the scripts. Mike’s quite clever about the way that he writes it, because he’s read the stuff that runs about me. But Sonja is not anything like me — she’s completely fictional. But because she’s famous, she is a good viewpoint for it.

Is it therapeutic for you to play her?

Yeah, actually it is. I really do enjoy playing her. I don’t know why I like it so much. I think because she is kind of bitchy and troubled. But at the same time, she’s a fleshed out character and really believable, especially for a television character.

In terms of the fashion industry, how real would you say the show is?

I think it’s pretty real right now. We’ve got really great designers. The hair and makeup are amazing. The clothes are phenomenal. Like I’m so jealous of my character’s wardrobe, it’s pathetic. She wears Rick Owens jackets and Helmut Lang shirts. These incredible boots. I want all of it. She wears all black. It’s perfect.

I don’t know, though. We’ll see if people get the show. It’s high fashion, and I don’t know if people care about that. Personally, I think that’s a world that no one has ever looked into properly. It’s hard to pull off. But if we get the right people on the show and continue to represent the world correctly, I think it’s going to be an interesting series.

I think there’s definitely interest given the success of shows like “Project Runway” and “The Rachel Zoe Project.”

Yeah, it’s the same kind of idea, I guess. I don’t watch television, so I’m very bad about making comparisons.

Would you watch “The Beautiful Life” if you weren’t on it?

I’d be curious about it because what I don’t get sometimes is the idea of fashion on certain other shows. Like this is my idea of fashion. This is really interesting clothing, and I’d watch it to watch the clothes.

“The Beautiful Life: TBL” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW.

– Denise Martin

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