The two discuss ideas for a potential revival, Marissa Cooper’s death, how the show changed their lives and those Tate Donovan comments.
It’s been 14 years since we last checked in on the lives of Newport Beach’s elite on “The O.C.,” but stars Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke are headed back to the aughts with a new podcast revisiting the series.
Debuting April 27, “Welcome to The OC, Bitches” finds the two looking back at a new episode of the Fox series every week, as they’re joined by fellow former cast members and creators who share their own stories from the set and dive into the show’s impact on pop culture.
Among the confirmed guests so far: Sandy Cohen himself, Peter Gallagher, series creator Josh Schwartz and Tate Donovan, who hasn’t spoken so highly of some of his costars in the years since the show ended. Speaking with TooFab, Bilson and Clarke confirmed he will address some of his past comments — which, in case you forgot, included him saying the “kids” on the show “developed a really bad attitude” and were “very tough to work with” after the show launched them to a new level of success.
“We did have Tate Donovan on already, who is full of stories and plenty of tea, tea with Tate we like to say,” said Bilson. “There were some things that Tate has said — you know, that have been kind of out there — and we talk about it.”
“The O.C.” launched on Fox back in 2003 and was a massive success in its first season, which aired in the summer for a whopping 27 episodes. In those episodes alone, the show packed in enough storylines to last several seasons — including multiple love triangles for the core four teens and their parents, an ill-fated trip to Mexico ending in an overdose, crazy Oliver, a pregnancy scare and the introduction of “Chrismukkah.” Its quick success also made superstars out of its young cast, including Bilson, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody and Benjamin McKenzie.
“For me, I was 21. So, I was pretty young — definitely it was a surreal moment to be on something that had such success and people were really liking and watching,” Bilson recalled, saying it “kinda became this weird, surreal thing” when they started getting recognized in public. “It was nice that we were all going through it together at the same time and having the same experience,” she added, “I feel like that was super helpful.”
“I think the kids obviously got so much attention, and rightfully so,” added Clarke. “You guys had so much attention thrown at you. I had a 3-year-old at home … I can’t imagine the amount of attention and the spotlight that was put on you guys at such a young age. It must’ve been a little bit, you know, overwhelming. I would imagine?”
“Misha was 16 when we shot the pilot,” said Bilson, “I can’t imagine being that young and being thrown into the spotlight like that, but she handled it with such grace, you know, and she was so beautiful. I just can’t imagine, if I would’ve been 16, I would’ve been a mess. It’s a lot.”
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Both Bilson’s Summer Roberts and Clarke’s Julie Cooper began as supporting characters, acting as friends and foils to Mischa’s Marissa and Kelly Rowan’s Kirsten “Kiki” Cohen. As the show grew in popularity, so did their roles and it wasn’t long before both Summer and Julie started pulling focus their way.
“What’s interesting about the show and talking with Josh Schwartz, it was very clear to me that going to work everyday and showing up on time, and knowing your dialogue, but also taking risks, adding a little bit of something in myself, making some choices everyday, it inspires the writers to continue to write for you,” said Clarke. “My first dialogue, or first line that kind of caught their attention was, ‘Honey, did you get my fro-yo?’ Just in that moment it was like, ‘Ooo, we need more of that.’ And then, right then that was your first glimpse of the ‘Real Housewives.’ That was really rewarding.”
“She went through so much, her character, and I really am proud of where she ended up, and such a crazy arc,” Bilson said of Summer. “There’s not much to say other than it was really cool to see Summer evolve to that capacity, and to end up with Seth!”
As Clarke pointed out, their characters also got even more screen time after the death of Barton’s Marissa, who was the daughter of Julie and best friend to Summer. “Rachel and I had much deeper, richer storylines with the death of Marissa,” she explained, “It wasn’t all comedy, so we were able to stretch ourselves as actors and it was definitely a learning experience, education.”
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Marissa was killed off at the end of Season 3 in a brutal car crash. According to Schwartz, the decision was not Barton’s; he said it was on brand for the show’s “tragic heroine” and was a reaction to pressure from the network to shake things up and hopefully improve ratings for Season 4.
Bilson said her death episode is one she’s “dreading” revisiting on the podcast.
“I’m dreading watching it. I know I’m just gonna have a crazy emotional reaction,” she said. “I don’t remember specifically being told it was gonna happen, or hearing it. I don’t think anyone knew where the show was gonna go, but her character had been through a lot. She definitely experienced so many different things, and yeah I don’t know. Still, looking back, it’s just pretty crazy to think that it actually happened and the show went on.”
“I know there was a lot of controversy. There was a lot of conversations about it, and in my research — which I like to do — there’s so many different interviews and I’ve heard that Misha, I don’t know if she wanted off the show or if she agreed with it, I’m not sure what happened there,” said Clarke. “I’ve heard that Josh might regret the fact that they killed her off. There was also a question of the show coming back for a fourth season. So, hopefully by the time we get to that episode in Season 3, we will have done a little more digging, and maybe we’ll be able to share a little more clarity on what was really going on behind the scenes of that decision. We had a new head at Fox, there was different things going on that weren’t just a storyline, probably.”
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Revisiting the show has also brought them back to some of the horrific fashion in the early 2000s — a time filled with chunky hair streaks, velour track suits, crop tops and more style choices that, unfortunately, will probably come back around any day now.
“Let’s hope not all of it,” said Bilson with a laugh. “Let’s definitely leave some of that stuff permanently in the early aughts.”
“Julie’s a little bit too much, but some of the hairstyles like the cotillion hairstyle and some of these kinds of updos that are appropriate for mother of the bride wedding type,” added Clarke. “There’s an episode Rachel coming up in the Bait Shop where you did a — I think you did clip on bangs (below).”
“Oh my gosh, Josh Schwartz was so mad that day,” said Bilson. “It was a last minute thing where they clipped on these bangs that were — honestly, it’s pretty horrendous if you look back and it looks totally opposite — and he was like, ‘What were you thinking? Where did the bangs come from?!’ He’s like, ‘No bangs!'”
As ratings continued to decline and despite a stellar final batch of episodes, “The O.C.” was canceled after its fourth season. While it may not have gone out on the same high note it began, the series still changed the lives of everyone on it.
“It was a personal journey for me as well. Doug Liman directed the pilot and when the show was ending I did a little movie with Doug that introduced me to my daughter’s daddy. So, like in that sense, it’s changed my world tremendously,” said Bilson, referring to Hayden Christensen, with whom she shares daughter Briar Rose. She also went on to star on “Hart of Dixie” on The CW, another series from Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage and Leila Gerstein, who all worked on “The OC.”
“It really was such an amazing platform and an amazing way to start that gave me so many opportunities that I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the entire experience,” Bilson added. “It was my first kind of thing and, for me, it was just the most incredible experience and amazing thing that could’ve happened to me, especially at that young of an age.”
Clarke also found continued success in TV by staying in the Warner Bros. family, going on to star on “Nikita” and “Vampire Diaries” for The CW. “Who knows how it all works,” she added, “I have no idea, just grateful when we do get work.”
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The show also had a lasting impact on pop culture. First, MTV cashed in with “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” and while “The Real Housewives of Orange County” was reportedly inspired by “Desperate Housewives,” it’s hard to imagine the Fox drama didn’t have something to do with its inception as well.
“It’s funny because — like I said, I’m doing a lot of research — and I realized that in Season 2, Episode 9, when Julie Cooper’s doing the Newport Living [magazine], she has a line of dialogue that says — and this is Season 2, before any of that,” Clarke explained. “She says, ‘Well, why wouldn’t America be fascinated with the lives and loves of Orange County’s rich and fabulous? We’re all beautiful. We’re all dysfunctional. Surf, sex, and scandal, it’s a recipe for a cultural phenomenon.'”
“Woah, talk about Josh being a fortune teller, right?” she exclaimed.
We ended the interview by putting Rachel and Melinda’s own fortune telling abilities to the test, asking them what they believe Summer and Julie would be up to now, if the show were to get a revival. “We’ll just say it’s all on Josh,” said Bilson when asked about the chances of a new season, maybe somewhere like HBO Max.
“There could be kids in high school, like a new crop of OC little children,” she continued, after we pointed out how both Julie and Kiki welcomed babies in the season finale.
“Right. My son is Ryan’s half-brother. And if I married — well Julie didn’t get married, but he would’ve been the step-son,” added Clarke. “There’s a lot of ways you could go.”
“Summer and Seth could’ve had a baby right away and that kid would be of age-ish, right? Math’s not my strong suit,” said Bilson. “It’s TV. They’re the same age, miraculously.”
When the subject of Julie’s graduation in the finale came up, Clarke revealed her degree was actually for “paranormal studies.” She added, “That’s what the prop master wrote. I don’t know if you can get a degree in that?”
Julie Cooper, Ghost Hunter, coming soon to HBO Max? We can only hope.
“Welcome to The O.C., Bitches” debuts April 27 on YouTube and wherever you listen to podcasts. “The O.C.” is streaming in full on HBO Max now.
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