Mischa Barton has held court on both daytime soaps (playing little Lily on All My Children) and primetime sudsers (Fox's The O.C.). Fifteen after her iconic O.C. character Marissa Cooper was killed off, Barton is opening up about her exit from the hit teen drama.
She told E! News that conversations about leaving the show started "early on," explaining:
It's a bit complicated. It started pretty early on because it had a lot to do with them adding Rachel [Bilson] in last minute as, after the first season, a series regular and evening out everybody's pay—and sort of general bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really s--tty. 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.
I was working so hard, the longest hours probably out of all the characters. It wasn't an easy character for me to play because it wasn't me, which is why I think people liked it or thought Marissa was funny and latched on to her. They felt like this is entertaining because she's all over the place and who is this girl? It's like because this New York girl was trying to play this ditzy L.A. rich kid, you know?
Midway through the second season, Marissa was everyone's favorite tragic heroine...but Barton was struggling behind the scenes. The London-born star dished:
So halfway through season two I would say, when we started doubling up on episodes and shooting [became] so much harder, and again a lot of that was too much for me. I didn't know where the character was going. I look back on it pretty fondly, but there's stuff I think people did wrong and the way they handled it. So, I just didn't feel I could keep going.
This has been said before, but they kind of gave me an option. 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 does appreciate that Marissa's death was a big moment for the series, saying:
They made me feel like the show is going to go on with or without you and it is what it is. So I was just, like, OK, cool, then let's go out with a bang. I remember thinking it would be really funny when we were doing the scene after the car crash and, you know, taking the blood [from] the makeup artist and I was just like, 'Squeeze it all over me!' I wanted it to be as gory and as bloody as possible. I in no way want to glorify this accident or the ending of this, so I was just like, 'Go out with a bang!'