London-born Barton says she was flummoxed by life in L.A. during the Fox melodrama, and that she prefers
working in indie films and theater
It’s been a long strange trip from “The O.C.” for Mischa Barton.
The classically trained, London-born, New York-raised actress — whose range of credits in theater and indie films barely survived her brush with teen stardom on the hit Fox network melodrama — says she’s much happier to be flying under the radar.
“That was a foreign world to me, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it or feel much at home there,” says Barton, 27, of the show that aired from 2003 to 2007. She now stars in the dark, brooding and cerebral romantic ghost story “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” opening Friday.
The actress, who got her start in heavy dramas (including the critically lauded “Lawn Dogs,” with Sam Rockwell) and drew critical attention for a scary turn in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense,” was thrown into a reality show-like world as “The O.C.” made her a star. Her character, Marissa Cooper, was a prototype of teen angst in the new millennium.
“I had no idea of what I was getting into when I moved to L.A.,” Barton says. “I was a real New Yorker. It wasn’t my culture. I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t even know how to handle [acting on] television. We shot out of sequence, we’d shoot barely written scenes.
“I prefer a more logical approach.”
The lack of logic in Barton’s professional life led to a real one spent party-hopping with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, and tempestuous relationships. Then the parties got the better of her, and led to a 2009 breakdown and involuntary psychiatric hold by Los Angeles police.
But in the years since, she has produced an impressive array of work, and an even more impressive ability to stay out of the spotlight. Barton did stage work (Tony Kushner’s “Slavs!,” and “Twelve Dreams” at Lincoln Center) and moved to England.
“Living in London was a deliberate choice,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity to return to theater and thrive in my element. I’ve sought out solid projects, and been lucky enough to find them.”
She puts “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” in that category, likening it to supernatural suspense classics like “Rosemary’s Baby.”
“This film is so well-written, it goes into a spiritual, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ kind of space,” she says. “It’s a love story that takes a dark and interesting turn that challenges your beliefs. It’s the kind of work that gives me a real chance to act.”
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turn in a role indelibly linked to a Hollywood superstar, Shelby in “Steel Magnolias,” a character made famous onscreen by Julia Roberts.
“That was hard to do because everybody thinks of Julia in the role,” Barton says. “But it was a great movie, and an even better play, and I was able to do my own thing.”
Lately, her thing has been seeking out an array of parts in indie films. She stars opposite Martin Sheen in the upcoming retelling of a real-life Indian industrial tragedy, “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain,” and will star in a romantic comedy titled “Mining for Ruby.”
“I like acting in indies,” Barton says. “I get to see scripts that you don’t find anywhere else. You try to build a varied track record and weed out the junk.”