Mischa Barton left popular teen drama The O.C. fifteen years ago, when her character — Marissa Cooper — was killed in a car crash incited by her ex-boyfriend, causing her to die in her other ex-boyfriend’s arms as the haunting refrains of Hallelujah were sung by Imogen Heap. Keeping up?
At the time, it was speculated that perhaps Barton had left the show after three seasons to pursue bigger roles in the world of film or had even been fired due to bad behaviour, but the actress, now 35, has gone on the record to clarify her departure.
Speaking to E! News, Barton explained that, ultimately, the bullying she experienced in the series was behind her decision to depart the series.
“There were people on that set that was very mean to me,” she said. “It wasn’t, like, the most ideal environment for a young, sensitive girl who’s also been thrust into stardom to have to put up with.”
She elaborated further saying, “It’s a bit complicated. It started pretty early on because it had a lot to do with them adding Rachel [Bilson, who played Summer Roberts] in last minute as, after the first season, a series regular and evening out everybody’s pay — sort of general bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really shitty.
“But, you know, I also loved the show and had to build up my own walls and ways of getting around dealing with that and the fame that was thrust specifically at me.
“Just dealing with like the amount of invasion I was having in my personal life, I just felt very unprotected, I guess is the best way to put it.”
Responding to her claims, Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke — who played Summer Roberts and Julie Cooper on The OC and who currently host a re-watch podcast about it — expressed confusion about their co-star’s claims.
Speaking on the Everything Iconic podcast, Bilson said she never personally witnessed on-set bullying.
“That’s misinformation,” Bilson said. Where is she going with this, and what is she trying to say? I would actually like to talk to her and find out what her experience was from her perspective because I saw things a little differently.”
Clarke added, “We knew there was a lot of pressure on her, but if it was really that bad of an experience, that’s not right for any young person.
“But some of the comments were very, um, perplexing to me, so I don’t know what the truth is about that. I do know that, yes, this was an enormous amount of pressure for her. And for everybody.”
In 2017, series creator Josh Schwartz told The Daily Beast that Barton’s exit had been due to a multitude of reasons such as “creative, cast chemistry, ratings.”
“Mischa didn’t want off the show any more than any of the other kids wanted off the show,” he said.
“It was a complicated chemistry with the cast…but she certainly wasn’t actively seeking to leave the show.”
For her part, Barton acknowledged to E! News that she had her reasons for remaining quiet about her leaving for so long.
“I’ve always felt ashamed in a way to really talk about what went on behind the scenes because I’ve always been a very private person and very aware of people’s feelings,” Barton said.
“Now that we’re living in this era where we do speak out about our experiences and women do come clean about what was really going on behind the scenes and how they were treated, it’s a slightly different thing.”
Revealing that, in addition to working in a somewhat toxic environment, she was started to feel as though she didn’t know where her character was going, Barton said it all just got a bit too much.
“This has been said before, but they kind of gave me an option,” she said. “The producers were like, “Well, do you want your job and to sail off into the sunset and potentially you can come back in the future in some bizarre TV scenario or we can kill your character off and you can go on with your career that you want and what you want to do?” I was getting offers from big films at the time and having to turn them down.
“I had always been supporting in The Sixth Sense and any of those things. My dream was to be offered those lead roles, so that’s what happened. It just felt like it was the best thing for me and my health and just in terms of not really feeling protected by my cast and crew at that point.”
Barton told E! News that after she filmed her final scene, she felt a mixture of sadness and relief and that she had no idea her onscreen death would resonate with so many fans.
“People still come up to me to this day and they’re like, ‘I remember where I was when your character died!’ And they’re still emotional about it like it was really me,” the actress said.
“I think that that’s cool that people actually took something away from it. There were lessons to be learned from Marissa, for better or for worse.”