The One to Watch: Mischa Barton

Loaded with an arsenal of hot roles, The O.C.’s original bad girl is about to take over Hollywood. Again.
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Loaded with an arsenal of hot roles, The O.C.’s original bad girl is about to take over Hollywood. Again.
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Smart money says it’s going to be a very big 2008 for Mischa Barton. Just five years ago, she was catapulted to obsessive worldwide superstardom on the teen megahit melodrama The O.C. The series lasted a few good, quotable years, until its creators jumped the shark and killed off Mischa’s pill popping, sexually promiscuous bad girl character, Marissa Cooper, in a fiery car crash. Since leaving her Southern California TV mansion, Mischa has dabbled in indie film roles (a certain nude scene in the comedy The OH in Ohio comes to mind), but now, with three big movies hitting multiplexes this year—St. Trinian’s, Virgin Territory, and Closing the Ring—it looks like she is finally going to transcend her teen actress past, both on-screen and off. We’ve dubbed her the One to Watch in 2008, and for very good reason. The Jessicas and Lindsays of the world better be quaking in their stilettos.

You’ve got three big movies coming out this year. Are you excited to be back in the limelight, or is it daunting?
I’m happy that I’ve been working constantly since The O.C., and that my career has been going the way I want it. As an actor, all I wanted was creative freedom—to be able to pick and choose movies. I couldn’t be happier.

Is it true you were discovered when you performed a monologue about turtles at summer camp?
That’s how it happened. I remember going to camp with my older sister, who completely ditched me because she was 16 and I was eight and I was uncool to have around. I ended up doing all these monologues, and it paid off, because some agent came up to my mom and said I should try acting.

Are you surprised you weren’t typecast because of The O.C.?
My theory on why I wasn’t typecast, other than being shockingly lucky, is because Marissa was so all over the place. They originally wanted me to play her like a Valley girl—a dumb blonde airhead. But I went against that. She was an alcoholic and into this and that...

Like that lesbian kiss.
There was that. She was a multitude of people, and that opened me up as an actor, even though it was hard for me at the time to handle that character. But it worked in the end, because I got to do so many emotionally gutsy things.

Were you surprised by the frenzied attention surrounding Marissa’s lesbianism?
A little, yeah. It’s weird to think that The O.C. was only four years of my life. It seems like so much more, because it was such a phenomenon at the time. But at least we didn’t have to go 10 years like 90210.

Marissa was crazy: she shot her ex-boyfriend's brother, got expelled, battled booze. How similar were you as a teen?
Very different. Even if I was a precocious teenager, it’s a New York vs. L.A. thing. I never experienced the “anything goes” chaos we sold on The O.C. I could relate on a fundamental level, in terms of the adolescent pain and anguish these characters were going through, but Marissa was a nut case. I didn’t have much in common with her. In New York I’d want to go out at 15 or 16, but I got it out of my system.

Still have run-ins with crazy O.C. fans?
Yeah, of course. That’s one of the best things about being on a television show. People genuinely loved the show, and they cried when Marissa died. Hysterical people would come up to me on the street and tell me how devastating it was for them.

Was it hard for you to let go of Marissa?
Not at all.

You didn’t shed a single tear when she died in that car wreck?
You have no idea how much fun I had doing that. I was on the set, yelling, “More blood! More blood!” I wanted a car crash. The writers were telling me, “Maybe Marissa should sail off into the sunset.” And I was like, “No! Certain death!” She needed to go out with a bang.

Your film work after The O.C. hasn’t been nearly as controversial, unless you count the nude scene in the Oh in Ohio.
Was that controversial?

Guess not. We just wanted an excuse to bring it up. Did you have any reservations about taking it off?
Not really. I take it project by project. In that film it was really quite necessary. You don’t see full boobs or anything. I was wearing underwear and pasties...not to be boring.

You’re breaking some hearts here.
Sorry. I don’t mind nudity. I just don’t do it that often. Well, you do see me topless in Closing the Ring. But I would never do full body.

Never?
Come to think of it, I did let Richard Attenborough get a brief behind shot in Closing the Ring. But that was it. It depends on the film and if I trust the director and if the context is emotional or just sexual.

You realize you’ve just sold us on seeing Closing the Ring, right?
There are many better reasons to see that movie than whether I’m naked in it. You know, sometimes that’s all people talk about...

Fine. In the thriller Homecoming, you play a woman who kidnaps her ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend. How did you get in touch with your inner jilted lover for that role?
She’s more of a psycho. She’s a bit more of a trashy character than I’ve played before. I want her to be a trashy blonde, something people haven’t seen me as. It’s going to be fantastic.

There’s been talk that you’ll be cast as Supergirl in the new Supergirl film. What qualifies you for the role, other than you’d look great in a leotard?
Besides the skintight leotard? Hmm. It would be pretty awesome. But everybody in Hollywood goes up for those films. I haven’t been offered anything.

You seem attracted to bad boys. Is the way to your heart by getting into a bar fight?
Ha ha ha. Absolutely not. Sorry, guys.