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The O.C. became a TV phenomenon when it premiered in 2003. The beloved teen soap reeled viewers right in as troubled teen Ryan Atwood goes to live in the glitzy and privileged world of Newport Beach, California. Over the course of 4 seasons, fans watched Ryan and Marissa’s starcrossed romance ebb and flow, Seth and Summer’s relationship blossom, and the plethora of shocking twists. (Cue Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.”)
Welcome to the O.C.: The Oral History, written by Alan Sepinwall, The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, and executive producer Stephanie Savage, gives a glimpse into the show’s origins and what really went on behind the scenes. From the recognizable names who were up for key roles to the fallout of Marissa’s tragic death in season 3, Hollywood Life has the ultimate guide to this stellar and nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Olivia Wilde Was Up for the Role of Marissa
While Olivia Wilde would go on to play Alex, the Bait Shop employee who becomes romantically involved with Seth and Marissa, she was originally up for the role of Marissa Cooper. In the book, casting director Patrick Rush admits he wanted Olivia for Marissa instead of Mischa Barton.
“I was more excited about Olivia because I think Olivia was naturally a better actress. Not as experienced, just better,” Patrick says. Josh adds, “We thought she was phenomenal and really liked her. Ultimately, though, Olivia comes from a place of real strength. Marissa was someone who needed to have a real vulnerability to her. Ryan is stepping into her life and trying to help rescue Marissa from the dark forces that are swirling around her. And Olivia was somebody who did not need saving in any way, shape, or form.”
The O.C. team had “tons of auditions” for Marissa, including Kate Mara. Josh had a line in the script where Marissa is described as “the most heartbreakingly beautiful girl in the world and knows it, and is a little embarrassed by it.” He notes, “Marissa needed to be in this world where everybody’s attractive, but there’s just something about her that feels alien. That feels elevated.” And that’s how Mischa landed the role.
Andrew McCarthy Was in the Mix for Jimmy Cooper
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Tate Donovan as down-on-his-luck Jimmy Cooper. During the casting process, Brat Pack member Andrew McCarthy was in the mix to play Julie’s husband.
“We had a really good conversation with Andrew McCarthy, who ended up not being Jimmy,” Stephanie says in the book. “He said very interesting things about the character that we actually incorporated into the story. We had talked about Jimmy Cooper ‘doing the right thing,’ by marrying Julie when she got pregnant. Andrew McCarthy was like, ‘For Jimmy’s parents, ‘the right thing’ is getting an abortion. They do not want him to marry Julie, so if he’s marrying Julie, he’s doing that for another reason that’s not pleasing his parents. His parents want him to marry someone from his own social strata and have children in his thirties. They are not rooting for this.’ And I thought that was really interesting because Andrew McCarthy was the same age as the character and had gone through that echelon and experienced those values in a way that felt like what he was saying was true.”
Pretty In Pink star Jon Cryer read for the role of Sandy Cohen, which went to Peter Gallagher. “2003 was the year the Brat Pack was going to do TV,” Josh says.
Chris Pine Didn’t Get the Role of Ryan Due to Acne
Casting the role of Ryan Atwood proved difficult for the casting team. While Chris Pine had a solid audition, the casting director explains why he didn’t get the role.
“We saw Chris Pine, who was really good. I hate saying this, but it’s the truth: Chris Pine was at the age where he was experiencing really bad skin problems,” Patrick says. “And it was at that point where it looked insurmountable. And as a kid who grew up with horrible skin, it just broke my heart. But Chris Pine’s fine now. He’s all right.”
Garrett Hedlund was also in the running to play Ryan. “And then in the middle of that process, he got cast as the lead of Troy,” Josh reveals.
The Olsen Twins ‘Rescued’ Rachel Bilson
During the first season, the cast became household names. The “Core Four” started to get an overwhelming amount of fan and press attention. Rachel Bilson recalls accidentally leaving Adam Brody behind at TRL when he was “getting swarmed by a mass mob.”
She adds, “And the Olsen twins rescued me and threw me in their car. I left Brody behind because I was so nervous and didn’t know what to do. And they were like, ‘Don’t you need to get your boyfriend?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve got to go get him.’ He was being mobbed.”
The Paternity of Theresa’s Son: Ryan or Eddie?
The Theresa storyline is highly contentious among The O.C. fans, especially Ryan and Marissa shippers. At the end of the first season, Ryan goes back to Chino after learning Theresa is pregnant. In the season 2 premiere, Theresa fakes a miscarriage, which pushes Ryan back to Chino.
Fans have wondered for years about the paternity of Theresa’s son. Is the father Ryan or her abusive ex Eddie? Ryan visits Theresa in season 2, and her young son looks suspiciously like Ryan, which makes fans assume that Ryan is the father.
Both Josh and Stephanie maintain that Eddie is the father of Theresa’s son. However, Navi Rawat, who played Theresa, sees things differently. “I always thought that it was Ryan’s,” she says. “And Theresa didn’t want to tell him because she loved him as a friend, and because it was a decision that she ultimately made on her own. I think she did that in the spirit of their friendship, and in the spirit of loving him enough to set him free.”
Marissa’s Death Was the ‘Biggest Mistake’
Marissa’s gut-wrenching death in the season 3 finale changed the course of the show forever. Mischa admits that being killed off was “a little bit of a bummer. But it was sort of headed in the direction that it was becoming inevitable, I guess. The character was just doing too much. And I think they ran out of places for her to go. It was not the best thing in the world, [but] there wasn’t much you could do at that point. It was whether she could sail off into the sunset, or die. At that point, I guess it’s better to have the more dramatic ending.”
Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody, Mischa Barton, and Ben McKenzie in season 1. (Warner Bros Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock)
Kelly Rowan, who played Kirsten Cohen, says that she believes killing off Marissa was “the biggest mistake they were going to make. That whole foursome, the chemistry with those four actors, screwing with that, I thought was a big mistake. I don’t know the specifics of why that decision was made.”
Stephanie remembers “bawling” when she watched Marissa’s death scene for the first time. “I was like, What have we done? Not just that it was sad that Marissa died, but that we made a terrible, terrible mistake,” she admits.
Josh acknowledges that they could have revived Marissa in season 4. “That said, Season Four, the show did have a creative rebirth as a result of that. But was it worth it?” he wonders. Kelly notes that her daughter is now watching the show, and she asked her mom why they killed off Mischa’s character. “From the show’s perspective, messing with that foursome, it never recovered,” Kelly says. The O.C. ended in 2007 after 4 seasons.