The OC: Then and Now — What the Cast is up to in 2023, Nearly 15 Years After the Cult Show Ended
It’s been 20 since the cast of The OC first appeared on the airwaves, becoming your first crushes, getting in fights, and essentially being a glorified Hollister ad.
And you know what? It still holds up.
Perhaps it’s that the creator Josh Schwartz (who is also the man that brought us Gossip Girl) really just knows how to do teen TV.
It had all the elements.
- Hot parents who were just as broken as their kids,
- A bad boy with a heart of gold from the wrong side of the tracks
Good weather, drama, and a slew of young up-and-coming cast members… what more could you want?
The OC cast was ahead of it’s time. Even Seth (in his own way) who was a hot nerd, before nerd culture was in vogue.
Or maybe it’s this scene:
And if nothing else, I am convinced The OC was a cultural phenomenon because of the theme song f*cking bangs:
I hear the first five chords and suddenly I too am looking out the window of my public defender’s backseat as we pull up to a mansion in Newport Beach thinking to myself how the hell did I get here?
Where Are They Now: The Cast of The OC
It’s true when they say, “Welcome To The OC Bitch!”
Some cast members of the cult show have moved on to have pretty successful careers and some are still living in the glory days of The OC.
But one thing is for sure: EVERYONE LOOKS THE EXACT SAME ALMOST 15 YEARS LATER.
Don’t believe us? Here’s proof of what The OC cast is up to today (and how beautifully they’ve all aged.)
Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood
Ryan Atwood is the *backbone* of The OC.
He’s a troubled teen! An outcast! From Chino of all places! At the beginning of the series, Ryan is on a fast track to prison (grand theft auto) when public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) takes him in and gives him another chance at a new life in Orange 👏 County 👏.
Ryan is tough and brooding but also a good listener, which pairs well with his captain save-a-hoe complex.
He falls in love with his hot, rich neighbor Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton)—but spoiler alert she’s got an entire series-worth of baggage!
Marissa’s riské behavior gets her in all sorts of sexy trouble that Ryan can be *protective* over. And so it goes.
Ben McKenzie landed the career-catapulting role after *everyone’s 2000s hot guy crush* Chad Michael Murray (who still has me blocked on Instagram) declined the role in favor of playing Lucas Scott on CW’s One Tree Hill.
Garrett Hedlund was also slated to play Ryan Atwood only to drop out three weeks before filming in favor of playing Patroclus (aka Brad Pitt’s cousin) in Troy.
McKenzie says The OC Creator Josh Schwartz took “a tremendous leap of faith” casting him, as McKenzie lacked basically any on-set acting experience at that point.
Since The OC ended, McKenzie has found success in a variety of TV roles, joining the cast of Southland (2009-2013) as LAPD as Officer Ben Sherman.
McKenzie then landed himself a spot in the DC Universe as detective James Gordon in FOX’s crime-drama Gotham (2014-2019), centred in the Batman universe.
McKenzie later made his directorial debut in Season 3 with the episode “These Delicate Dark Obsessions” and wrote two more episodes in Season 4 before the series wrapped in 2019.
In 2017, McKenzie tied the proverbial knot with his Gotham costar Morena Baccarin—who coincidentally, had a 3-episode arc in Season 3 of The OC!
The couple welcomed their second child together in 2021.
McKenzie also made his Broadway debut in 2020’s Grand Horizons, and appeared in Amazon Prime Video’s 2022 rom-com I Want You Back.
His forthcoming book on the subject, Easy Money, will be released on July 18th, 2023.
Mischa Barton as Marissa Cooper
Marissa Cooper is the *main character* of The OC which is probably why the series dropped off after she left the show, in what has got to be, the most dramatic TV death, teen soap operas have ever seen.
After three seasons of the “will they/won’t they” in which teen dramas are founded on (they inevitably *will*), Marissa and Ryan finally get together!
Only to be torn apart!!
By her attraction to a bad boy surfer/unemployed guy Kevin Volchok (Cam Gigandet) who she falls for despite his obviously bad qualities because he watches The Sound of Music with her once.
Marissa then takes her adult boyfriend to prom who steals $5,000 from the Prom Committee prompting Ryan to threaten Volchok, “if he ruins prom for Marissa he will beat him up”—the absolute Chino of it all!
At some point, Volchok makes out with another teenager who isn’t his girlfriend at prom and Marissa ends their relationship, once and for all.
Volchok calls Marissa a nasty name and then Ryan puts him in the hospital via fist fight. The cops arrive but Volchok doesn’t snitch that Ryan nearly beat him to death and then blackmails Ryan into STEALING CARS FOR HIM (full circle) as penance.
Volchok tries to get Marissa back but she refuses, prompting this man to drive the car Marissa is in off the road?!
Marissa *dies* in Ryan’s arms as the car explodes in spurts like the 4th of July behind them.
Look, The OC was a wild time.
In reality, actress Mischa Barton had asked to be written off the show in order to pursue opportunities outside The OC‘s rigorous shooting schedule.
However, it was Barton’s personal life that would be making the headlines in her post-OC life.
Barton unwittingly became prime tabloid fodder for her “party girl” ways. Barton’s career prospects dwindled after a string of several scandals in 2007, including a DUI arrest and being placed under a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold.
Over the next few years, Barton was the subject of paparazzi stalkings, scrutinized for being placed in a psych ward in 2009, and her extreme weight fluctuations. Retrospectively these incidents were all warning signs of Barton’s failing mental health, likely the result of the stardom thrust upon her at such a young age.
Since leaving The OC the former It Girl‘s IMDB page sports a handful of Lifetime-esque film credits and a stint on Season 22 of Dancing With The Stars.
Barton will be starring in the 30th-anniversary reunion reboot of Australian soap Neighbours, and fans have their fingers crossed that it gives her the comeback she’s been waiting for.
Adam Brody as Seth Cohen
Seth Cohen was everyone’s favorite boy next door and the third member of The OC core four (aka Ryan, Marissa, Seth, and Summer).
Seth’s dad (Peter “Eyebrows” Gallagher) moves Ryan into their pool house and even though it may seem Ryan would have a bad influence on Seth, really he just makes closet-nerd Seth cooler, and helps him land his dream girl, Summer.
Adam Brody played Seth Cohen for the show’s full four-season run.
Since the series ended in 2007, Brody’s kept busy starring in films likeJennifer’s Body, Ready or Not, Shazam!, Promising Young Woman, and the critically acclaimed Hulu Miniseries: Fleishman’s in Trouble.
But the internet’s favorite obsession?
Adam Brody’s relationship with Leighton Meester aka the TV marriage crossover of everyone’s dreams: The OC’s Seth Cohen and Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf (even more ironically both series were created by Josh Schwartz)!
The couple were linked together back in 2011, co-starring together in the indie film The Oranges alongside Hugh Laurie. However, the couple didn’t make their first public appearance until 2013 at the premiere of Some Girl(s), a film in which Brody plays a successful writer who travels across the country on the eve of his wedding to reconnect with all his ex-lovers to make amends for past relationship transgressions (weirdest bachelor party ever).
Brody and Meester obviously aren’t as entertained by their relationship as their fans are, because every time it’s brought up Meester has this look on her face as if to shame the interviewer by making her have to address this dumb correlation in earnest.
The couple share two children together, but prefer to keep their personal lives low-key.
Rachel Bilson as Summer Roberts
Rachel Bilson played the spoiled but lovable Summer Roberts, Marissa Cooper’s long-time best friend and the forever crush of Seth Cohen, who spoiler alert, she ends up with…on-screen and off-screen).
Brody and Bilson dated for the first three seasons of The OC—in real life—before the couple called it quits in 2006 (devastating) ahead of the show’s series finale.
In 2007, Bilson began shooting the film Jumper and started dating her co-star, Canadian heartthrob Brian Adams (kidding). It was Hayden Christensen.
Christensen and Bilson were on and off for the following 10 years. Christensen—best known for playing Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the Star Wars prequels, proposed in 2008. The couple went through an on-again, off-again relationship, had a child together, and then called it quits for good in 2017.
In between all that, Bilson was linked with comedian Bill Hader (random) after they co-starred in the Rom-Com The To-Do List where Bilson plays protagonist Aubrey Plaza’s hot older sister—and Plaza is trying to lose her virginity to Friday Night Lights Alum Scott Porter—who is coincidentally Rachel Bilson’s love interest in Hart of Dixie!
And in the midst of it all! Bilson managed to continue a successful career in network television landing her very own CW Show called Hart of Dixie, where she plays the title character Zoe Hart: a New York doctor forced to relocate to Bluebell, Alabama to take over her estranged father’s medical practice in the wake of his death.
Peter Gallagher as Sandy Cohen
Sandy Cohen is in the TV Dad Hall of Fame right beside Danny Tanner and Phil Dunphy. Sandy Cohen is the public defender who rescues Ryan Atwood from the pits of Chino!
But of course, Sandy Cohen isn’t like those other rich rats in Orange County. He earned his keep, getting his law degree at Berkley after growing up in The Bronx with a single mom (classic come-up).
Imagine that Berkley Law School was so down with The OC they have a Sandy Cohen Public Defender Fellowship in real life!
Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows are still killing it.
Gallagher’s breakout role in Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) was only the beginning. Since the end of The OC Gallagher’s had a whole onslaught of Film and TV roles starring in Californication, Covert Affairs, The Good Wife, Law and Order: SVU, New Girl, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Kelly Rowan as Kirsten Cohen
Kirsten Cohen was Sandy’s wife who grew up in Newport Beach clutching her pearls! Like her adopted son, she also harbors a crush on her neighbor (Jimmy Cooper) but at the end of the day, she is a compassionate character who navigated the ups and downs of life in Newport Beach with elegance, grace, and covert alcoholism.
After The OC, Rowan starred in the TNT crime-drama Perception and didn’t really do anything else. y
You don’t need to feel bad for her, though. Rowan was engaged to the 10th richest man in the world, billionaire David Thomson, 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet (yes that is his full title). Even though they didn’t end up getting married, the couple had a child together, so she’s financially set for life.
For some reason, she used her pocket change to produce a Lifetime movie called In God’s Country (2007).
Tate Donovan as Jimmy Cooper
Jimmy Cooper was Marissa’s dad who secretly went bankrupt because of money laundering, left his wife, tried to kiss his neighbor’s wife, and then moved to Greece when the going got tough.
He’s in the bad Dad’s Hall of Fame alongside Dan Scott and Tywin Lannister.
Tate Donovan was “gutted” when he got a call from The OC producers that his character was going to be phased out, but the actor has had no shortage of work since starring in the Best Picture Winner Argo, Manchester By The Sea, and several other acclaimed shows like Man in the High Castle and Masters of Sex, since leaving The OC.
Melinda Clarke as Julie Cooper
Julie Cooper started off as the ultimate almond mom, but as the series evolved, so did she.
While she starts off as a self-obsessed, vapid, villain, we learn Julie grew up poor and even though she’s clearly only with Jimmy Cooper for his money, we’re supposed to feel for her.
Even when she hooks up with Marissa’s ex-boyfriend Luke (aka “Welcome to The OC, bitch”), she then marries Kirsten Cohen’s rich father Caleb Nichol (Alan Dale) and has his kid—to secure the bag.
After The OC, Melinda Clarke landed the series regular role of Amanda in Nikita, and made several guest star appearances in shows like Entourage, The Vampire Diaries, Gotham, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Dallas.
The actress married Adam Farmer in September 2015. She shares a daughter with ex-husband actor Ernie Mirich.
In 2021, Melinda Clarke and Rachel Bilson started their podcast “Welcome to The OC, Bitches!”
Autumn Reeser as Taylor Townsend
Taylor Townsend is introduced as an adversary of Summer and Marissa’s, but we later learn Taylor’s poor behaviour stems from her mom being mean to her.
However, her character evolves through the series and she later becomes a part of the main group — and it’s adorable.
Since the end of The OC Autumn Reeser has become Prom Queen of the Hallmark Channel starring in films titled: The Wedding Veil, The Wedding Veil Unveiled, The Wedding Veil Legacy, The Wedding Veil Expectations, The Wedding Veil Inspirations, The Wedding Veil Journey.
I’m guessing it’s like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants…but for wedding veils.
Cam Gigandet as Kevin Volchok
Kevin Volchok is the bad boy.
He’s Marissa’s adult boyfriend— he doesn’t have a job and bullies Marissa’s teenage friends (aka Ryan).
He’s also responsible for the strangest sting operation of all time—what begins as Volchok trying to “get Marissa back” ends with her dead via hit and run with Volchok absolutely nowhere to be seen.
Since The OC, Gigandet starred as the villain “James” in Twilight, which is forever his most iconic role.
Olivia Wilde as Alex Kelly
Alex Kelly is a bartender at the “bait shop” aka the local bar the teens go to /Marissa’s lesbian girlfriend for one *crazy* kiss.
Alex is not just a “bad girl” though—she’s bisexual and in Season 2 manages to date both Seth Cohen and Marissa Cooper.
On an episode of Welcome To The OC Bitches, creator Josh Schwartz revealed Olivia Wilde was almost cast as Marissa Cooper:
In the end, Wilde lost out on the role, with Schwartz adding Mischa “just had a bit more of that tragic air to her,” which was needed for the story.
In any case, Wilde left a great impression and was written into Season 2 with a 13-episode arc.
Wilde has since taken off starring in films like Her, The Change-Up, and TRON— arguably the show’s most successful post-OC star.
More recently, Wilde made the tricky transition from acting to directing.
Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart (2019) was well received and soon after followed by Don’t Worry Darling (2022). The main takeaway from Don’t Worry Darling was that Olivia Wilde was dating Harry Styles after a very public divorce with husband Jason Sudeikis with whom Wilde shares two children with.
Why 20 Years Later, The OC Still Holds Up:
The OC box set should have a place in the Smithsonian, along with Carrie Bradshaw’s typewriter.
20 years later, the show is still bringing in a new generation of fans.
Even though it’s easy to dismiss The OC as 2000s Teen Soap Trash, the show defined a new era of young adult television that transcended the 2000s.
Believe it or not, there’s a correlation between critically acclaimed shows like HBO’s Euphoria, Skins, 13 Reasons Why and yes—The OC.
Where 90s staples like Beverly Hills 90210, dipped their toes into the private lives of “sophisticated” teens, The OC dived head-first.
The series was one of the first to explore the secret inner world of teenagers. While their serialized “problems” were dramatized for plot points (because duh, that’s show business baby) the character’s feelings around their struggles were not just grounded, but obviously relatable.
I think that’s why after all this time, The OC is still bringing a new generation of fans.
On a meta-level, the show’s premise is founded on the “parentification” of teenagers.
Characters like Marissa Cooper, are left to fend for themselves in a mature world they were brought into too young. A world in which their adult caretakers—who are money-launderers, cheaters, and covert alcoholics—are no better equipped to navigate than they are.
Perhaps this is why these kinds of series (The OC, Gossip Girl) lean so heavily on hidden substance abuse. On the surface, these plot points come off as being written for ‘shock value’, but a closer look reveals it’s more than that. These addictions and “isms” are but one visual example of the coping-mechanism-coin’s flip side.
There’s a perceived sense of power young adults receive, when they are continuously overexposed to “adult content”, by which I mean— put in positions physically, spiritually, or emotionally that are beyond their years.
For the teenager, being “mature for your age” is often one of the highest forms of praise. This “compliment” gives the child a perceived sense of power (that they have some kind of command over their environment), but what ultimately follows is a painful experience of “powerlessness”. The realization that the child does not in fact have control over their environment, can be incredibly damaging (if not fatal).
Ultimately, being mature for your age is an empty consolation prize for the fallout trauma.
Without fully knowing it, these young, “parentified” adults tend to marshal forces against themselves, as they operate in an adult world, with what they perceive to be an adult sensibility— but in a teenager’s body*
On a meta-level, it’s interesting to note, that so often we see the actors who play these characters, have parallel experiences off-screen—only in the case of Mischa Barton, instead of the antagonistic forces being a life of aimless affluence in Newport Beach, it’s the fame that’s a result of playing aimless affluence in Newport Beach.
And yet, when you have an average of 9.7 million people tuning in per episode, for a show about “rich kids” in Newport Beach (a California seaside town with a population of 80,000), it’s clear the circumstances aren’t what’s relatable…it’s the characters.
And then when you play the tape forward 20 years, and those same characters who will stay forever 17, are flitting around Newport Beach in outdated fashion trends sporting dead technology—and somehow their fictional lives—the quintessential glossification of youth that is the spoonful of sugar to make the message go down —is managing to speak to the graduating class of 2023
And that does really get you thinking.
Because even though Euphoria opts for the fictitious lower-middle-class suburb of “East Highland”, and Shameless settled for the working-class Southside of Chicago, it really did all start in Orange County.
More “Where Are They Now” From Goalcast: