Barton opened up about “what was really going on behind the scenes” of the primetime soap before Marissa was killed off.
15 years ago today, Marissa Cooper died in Ryan Atwood’s arms as as Imogen Heap’s “Hallelujah” played in the background. As one of “The O.C.’s” leads, Mischa Barton’s exit in the Season 3 finale was a shock to viewers — and now Barton is revealing a bit more about what led to her character’s demise.
Marissa was killed off at the end of Season 3 in a brutal car crash. According to series creator Josh Schwartz, the decision was not Barton’s; he said it was on brand for the show’s “tragic heroine” and was a reaction to pressure from the network to shake things up and hopefully improve ratings for Season 4. Barton has maintained she did have some say in how she was written off, however, and chose for Marissa to die.
“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 told E! in a new interview. “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.”
According to Mischa, conversations about her leaving the show started “pretty early on,” with the actress saying the subject was “a bit complicated.”
“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—ty,” she told the outlet. “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.”
When asked when things started “to fall apart” for her, Barton said about midway through the show’s second season.
“When we started doubling up on episodes and shooting [became] so much harder, and again a lot of that was too much for me,” she explained. “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.”
She explained that the showrunners gave her the choice of having the character leave, while leaving the possibility open for her return, or to simply kill her off. She chose the latter.
“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,” she said. “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.”
She opened up about the mixed emotions she felt filming her last scene on the show, saying she was “really sad” at the time because the cast and crew were “like my family.” But, she noted, “there had also been some things that weren’t so cool and I would be lying to say I wasn’t a little bit relieved that I was going to extricate myself from that situation.”
“There were people on that set that were very mean to me,” she added. “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 said she was excited to get out and pursue new opportunities and still really loves that Marissa “had this epic death.” She added, “it’s memorable and it’s not just another flash in the pan.”
TooFab recently caught up with two of Barton’s costars, Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke, who sounded off on Barton’s exit while promoting their new “Welcome to The OC, Bitches” rewatch podcast. Bilson said Marissa’s death episode is one she’s “dreading” revisiting on the podcast.
“I’m dreading watching it. I know I’m just gonna have a crazy emotional reaction,” she said. “I don’t remember specifically being told it was gonna happen, or hearing it. I don’t think anyone knew where the show was gonna go, but her character had been through a lot. She definitely experienced so many different things, and yeah I don’t know. Still, looking back, it’s just pretty crazy to think that it actually happened and the show went on.”
“I know there was a lot of controversy. There was a lot of conversations about it, and in my research — which I like to do — there’s so many different interviews and I’ve heard that Misha, I don’t know if she wanted off the show or if she agreed with it, I’m not sure what happened there,” said Clarke. “I’ve heard that Josh might regret the fact that they killed her off. There was also a question of the show coming back for a fourth season. So, hopefully by the time we get to that episode in Season 3, we will have done a little more digging, and maybe we’ll be able to share a little more clarity on what was really going on behind the scenes of that decision. We had a new head at Fox, there was different things going on that weren’t just a storyline, probably.”
As for Barton, she told E! she didn’t watch the show at all after her exit.