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The O.C. could have starred Chris Pine and Olivia Wilde, and more revelations

The O.C. could have been a Don't Worry Darling pre-union, according to Welcome To The O.C.: The Oral History

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The O.C. revelations
Olivia Wilde; Mischa Barton and Ben McKenzie; Chris Pine
Photo: Monica Schipper; Scott Gries; Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images)

The O.C. celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and to commemorate you can now read television critic Alan Sepinwall’s new book on the iconic teen drama, Welcome To The O.C.: The Oral History. The show became a juggernaut because of the core cast, which included Mischa Barton, Ben McKenzie, Adam Brody, and Rachel Bilson. But the series could’ve looked entirely different if producers had gone for Chris Pine and Olivia Wilde as the leads.

Pine read for the role of Ryan Atwood, and he “was really good,” casting director Patrick Rush says in the book. “I hate saying this, but it’s the truth: Chris Pine was at the age where he was experiencing really bad skin problems. 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 for Ryan, but got cast in Troy at the same time.)


Meanwhile, Rush preferred Olivia Wilde for the role of Marissa, “because I think Olivia was naturally a better actress. Not as experienced, just better.” Showrunner Josh Schwartz reflected, “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.” (Wilde eventually made it on the show as Alex, a love interest for both Seth and Marissa, in the second season.)


Jon Cryer read for Sandy Cohen (a role which would go to Peter Gallagher), while Andrew McCarthy was in the mix for Marissa’s dad Jimmy Cooper. “We had a really good conversation with Andrew McCarthy, who ended up not being Jimmy,” co-creator Stephanie Savage recalls. “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.”


Meanwhile, Adam Brody almost missed the cut entirely, due to an audition Rush characterizes as “obnoxious” and “disrespectful.” Schwartz agrees that Brody’s first audition “sucked,” but “He came back, and actually read the part as written and put some effort into it. And it was amazing,” Savage says.

Read on for some more revelations from Welcome To The O.C.

Sex and The O.C.

The O.C. certainly pushed the envelope for a teen soap, and sex wasn’t off limits. Chris Carmack (Luke) recalled an “uncomfortable” moment with Barton when her mom showed up to the rehearsal of their first sex scene. In retrospect, though, he says, “Good for Mischa’s mom, for looking out for her daughter. I think she deserves some respect for that.” (Barton was just 17 at the time of filming, while Carmack was in his 20s.)


They weren’t allowed to push the envelope too much, though: “Showing female pleasure of any kind was problematic. In an episode that I wrote, Summer had a line where she said that Seth didn’t have to do anything. He could just lie there like a buffet, and she’d serve herself. I think that line got cut. I was going to write an article for a magazine called ‘The Year Summer Never Came.’ There was an episode in the [show] bible called ‘As Autumn Comes, So Does Summer.’”

Marissa’s death

In some ways, Marissa’s death was a long time coming; according to the book, the original pitch for the first season saw the character driving off of a cliff while under the influence. However, FOX nixed the idea because of a similar storyline on another show. “I was like, ‘Really? What does it matter? They’re all fake things? We’re just making something to show that we have ideas for episodes.’ Then we had to go back and rework it, and it became an overdose,” Schwartz remembers. In fact, Marissa’s overdose cliffhanger was written because “wanted to have the ability to make a casting change.”


Except Mischa Barton became a breakout star of the show, and ended up lasting two more years before getting killed off in the finale of the third season. When they revisited Marissa’s end, “We had originally talked about a storyline where the car went into the water, and Ryan was trying desperately to open it, like a Chappaquiddick thing where Ryan is free of the car, and he’s trying to save Marissa as the car is filling up with water, and eventually has to let her go,” Schwartz shares. “And that was so horrific. And, frankly, quite hard to produce.”

Instead, the car went up in flames. “It was a little bit of a bummer,” Barton says in the book. “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.”


Savage and Kelly Rowan (who played Seth’s mom Kirsten) both remember feeling like Marissa’s death was a mistake for the show, while Schwartz says “the show did have a creative rebirth as a result of that. But was it worth it?”

“From the show’s perspective, messing with that foursome, it never recovered,” Rowan opines.


Ending with a whimper

It wasn’t just Marissa’s death that sucked the life out of The O.C. It was also a lack of interest from the remaining stars; McKenzie acknowledges the show was an “incredible opportunity” but felt a “restlessness” by the final season. “We were no longer having fun making the show—myself included,” Schwartz says in the book. “And again, I should have sat everybody down, and had individual conversations, and instead I just hid and tried to ride it out.”


Adam Brody’s apathy was so bad that the writers made his character into a pot head to compensate for it. “Brody just changed his delivery, his investment in it. His style shifted to such a degree that we felt like we needed to account for it creatively. That’s where ‘Kaitlin gets Seth hooked on pot’ took root,” Schwartz says. “We were like, ‘Well, how do we explain his lethargy on-screen? And at least if we can write that he’s stoned, then we’re not trying to write around it.’”

McKenzie adds that Brody’s boredom was “a challenge, and frustrating,” while Bordy admits, “I was polite to everyone. I liked the directors, and the crew and I got on really well and I didn’t keep people waiting. I would never scream or yell at anyone, or say anything fucking mean. But I think I very much let my distaste for the later episodes be known. I didn’t mask that at all, and I’m sure I openly mocked it a bit. So I’m not proud of that.”


He goes on, “I started to be creatively less interested. I blame myself for a lack of professionalism, and a disrespect to the work. In terms of engagement as a whole, I’ll just say that they’re different shows, Season One and [the later seasons]. Had the quality been the quality of Season One, I’m sure I would have been a lot more engaged ... I think the quality of it and my engagement went hand in hand.”