The fictional precursor to the ‘rich kids have problems too’ reality shows that flooded MTV in its wake, The O.C. was the ultimate mid-00s teen drama. Set in the idyllic seaside city of Newport Beach, the Fox hit may have sometimes looked like one long commercial for the Orange County tourist board. But beneath the glossy exterior, there was a much murkier world of secret lives, love triangles and, of course, plenty of teenage angst.
Fittingly, the four-season wonder also debuted in the same year that Dawson’s Creek ended. But whereas its predecessor spawned a two-time Oscar nominee, two prime-time TV regulars, and the first Rachel Dawes, the cast of The O.C. have experienced somewhat mixed fortunes since leaving ‘Californyaaa‘ behind in 2007. From the gossip pages to Gotham City, here’s a look at what they’ve been up to.
12. Ben McKenzie – Ryan Atwood
As the troubled teen taken in by the wealthy Cohen family, Ryan Atwood was the heart of the show. Aged 24 when he landed the role, Ben McKenzie may have struggled to convince anyone that he was in his high school years, but he did manage to capture the sense of mystery that left viewers intrigued by his every move.
One of the show’s success stories, McKenzie went on to become the moral compass of underrated crime drama Southland as Officer Ben Sherman, star alongside Al Pacino in the thriller 88 Minutes, and take the lead in the adaptation of Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun. Three years after voicing Bruce Wayne in the animated Batman: Year One, McKenzie returned to the same crime-fighting world as police detective James Gordon in the Fox series Gotham, which was recently renewed for a third season.
11. Adam Brody – Seth Cohen
Described as a “Jewish nerd into obscure emo bands,” Brody’s Seth Cohen was the polar opposite to his brooding adopted sibling, but the pair still developed the kind of bromance that would make most fratboys green with envy.
Brody has certainly been keeping busy since The O.C. left our screens, building up an extensive filmography with supporting but pivotal roles in every genre imaginable. Appearing in everything from horror outings like Jennifer’s Body and Scream 4, to relationship dramas The Oranges and Sleeping With Other People, to indie comedies Damsels in Distress and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the now 36 year old has been all over the place. Recurring parts in The League, Burning Love, and Billy and Billie have allowed him to showcase his funny bone on the small screen as well. There was even a time where he was in line to play the Scarlet Speedster himself, the Flash, in George Miller’s since-canceled Justice League: Mortal, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
10. Mischa Barton – Marissa Cooper
One of those characters that audiences loved to hate, Marissa Cooper was the hard-partying spoiled little rich girl who tested the patience of everyone around her, before (decade-old spoiler alert) meeting a tragic end in a car accident at the end of season three — a death that ranks amongst the most shocking in recent small screen memory.
Sadly, in a case of life imitating art, the actress who portrayed her, Mischa Barton, has also become more renowned for her messy personal life than her career. After a promising start, her post-The O.C. work has been pretty much restricted to the straight-to-DVD market, while a couple of DUIs, a sectioning, and even a lawsuit against her own mother have all kept the star in the headlines for less than flattering reasons. Only 30 years old, Barton still has plenty of time to turn things around. Here’s hoping she does.
9. Rachel Bilson – Summer Roberts
The object of Seth’s affections, and Marissa’s best friend, Summer Roberts was initially written as a minor supporting character. But Rachel Bilson’s magnetic performance persuaded producers to flesh out the role, and by the time that the fourth season wrapped up with a flash-forward to her wedding, Summer had become the dominant and most popular female on the show.
Bilson, therefore, was expected to become one of the breakout stars, but after appearing alongside future husband Hayden Christensen on the much-maligned sci-fi Jumper, her big-screen resume has been restricted to the kind of forgettable fare that dominates the indie comedy section of Netflix (Waiting for Forever, Life Happens). Her return to TV with a leading role as Dr. Zoe Hart in the cozy Southern drama Hart of Dixie also received a mixed critical response, though it did enjoy a solid four season run on The CW.
8. Peter Gallagher – Sandy Cohen
With memorable appearances in Sex, Lies and Videotape, While You Were Sleeping, and American Beauty under his belt, Peter Gallagher had already established his acting prowess by the time he landed the part of idealistic public defender Sandy Cohen. It’s little surprise, therefore, that the roles have continued to flood in.
Heartfelt romance Adam, legal drama Conviction and unashamedly campy musical Burlesque have all utilized his talents, as have Broadway productions The Country Girl and On The Twentieth Century, while recurring gigs on Californication, Rescue Me and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and a four-season stint as field operative Arthur Campbell on Covert Affairs have also maintained his small screen profile.
7. Kelly Rowan – Kirsten Cohen
They say that opposites attract, which perhaps explains how self-made leftie Sandy Cohen ended up marrying Kirsten, the Democrat-supporting real estate heiress who initially opposes his adoption of Ryan, in The O.C. Admittedly, the character did soften as the series progressed, becoming a maternal figure to most of the show’s teens despite experiencing her own problems with alcohol abuse.
Unlike most of her co-stars, former model Kelly Rowan has largely stuck with television since the show’s end, guesting on the likes of Castle, CSI: Miami, and Murdoch Mysteries, playing Emily Osment’s mother in Cyberbully, and regularly showing up as Pierce’s imaginary friend Natalie Vincent in the crime drama, Perception.
6. Melinda Clarke – Julie Cooper
Described by Clarke herself as the original Real Housewife of Orange County, Julie Cooper started out as a materialistic schemer who would stop at nothing to climb both the financial and social ladder. However, just like frenemy Kirsten, Julie eventually found some semblance of a heart, giving Clarke the opportunity to prove she could do more than play the queen bitch.
One-off parts in Reaper, Chuck, and Ghost Whisperer followed, as did recurring parts in Entourage, The Vampire Diaries and Vegas, not to mention a brief reunion with McKenzie on Gotham as Grace Van Dahl. Clarke then returned to master manipulator mode when she starred as Amanda in the third and fourth seasons of action-packed reboot Nikita.
5. Tate Donovan – Jimmy Cooper
Ranked by Entertainment Weekly as the eighth worst dad in TV history, Jimmy Cooper was a serial womanizer and embezzler who bailed on his family — and troubled daughter Marissa, in particular — not once but twice. That the character still managed to be strangely likeable was a testament to Tate Donovan’s talents.
The already established actor continued to impress after bowing out in Season 3, with portrayals of real-life people in the Oscar-winning Argo and comedy drama Elvis & Nixon, multi-episode stints on Perception, Hostages and 24: Live Another Day, and a long-running gig as ill-fated associate Tom Shayes in the gripping legal drama Damages.
4. Alan Dale – Caleb Nichol
It’s probably easier to list the TV shows that Alan Dale hasn’t been in since (another spoiler alert) real estate developer Caleb Nichol suffered a fatal heart attack at the end of Season 2. The Australian actor, who moved to the US in 2000 to avoid being typecast as his most famous soap opera incarnation, has enjoyed regular stints in Lost, Ugly Betty, Entourage, The Killing, Once Upon a Time, Dominion and Hot in Cleveland, as well as guest spots on Flight of the Concords, Burn Notice, Californication, Person of Interest, House of Lies and The Mindy Project, just to name a few.
But Dale hasn’t neglected the big screen either, landing roles in Priest, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and blockbusters Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. No word yet on if he’ll be reprising his role as Rockwell, a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s World Security Council, in the latter film series.
3. Autumn Reeser – Taylor Townsend
Autumn Reeser only joined The O.C. cast in the third season, but made an instant impression as an annoyingly perky do-gooder often compared with Reese Witherspoon’s character, Tracy Flick, in Election. Upgraded to the second female lead in season 4 following Barton’s departure, Taylor then forged an unlikely romance with Ryan which helped to give the show’s finale it’s bittersweet taste.
Reeser went on to bag regular gigs on Valentine, Entourage (we’re sensing a pattern here), No Ordinary Family, Hawaii Five-0, Last Resort and Necessary Roughness, guest on Pushing Daisies, Royal Pains and Hart of Dixie, and appear alongside superstars Miley Cyrus in So Undercover and Tom Hanks in Sully. Suffice to say, she’s stayed busy.
2. Willa Holland – Kaitlin Cooper
Originally played by Shailene Woodley (the Divergent Series) in the first season, Marissa’s sister Kaitlin had a brand new face when she returned from boarding school in year three. That face belonged to Willa Holland, the stepdaughter of director Brian De Palma, who had to deal with a rather bizarre storyline which involved framing her mother’s new boyfriend for possessing clown porn, and being paired up with a character played by Chris Brown.
A five-episode stint in Gossip Girl suggested Holland wasn’t too concerned about distancing herself from the teen drama genre. But subsequent parts in apocalyptic action film Legion and the remake of Straw Dogs, as well as a leading role in Judy Blume adaptation Tiger Eyes showed she had more to offer. However, Holland’s most famous post-The O.C. role arrived in the shape of resurrected superhero Thea Queen/Speedy in Arrow.
1. Chris Carmack – Luke Ward
Water polo team captain Luke Ward was barely seen again outside of the first season, but his “Welcome to the O.C., bitch” line in the opening episode remains the most quoted of the whole show. Former Abercrombie and Fitch model Chris Carmack was the perfect choice to play The O.C.’s resident jock, and his career has continued to capitalize on his good looks.
Roles in ocean-based action sequel Into the Blue 2 and beachside horror Shark Night gave the star plenty of opportunity to show off his washboard abs, while Desperate Housewives and Drop Dead Diva have both cast him as the resident hunk for one-off episodes. But Carmack’s portrayal of Will Lexington — an emerging country singer struggling to accept his sexuality — in Nashville has shown there’s more to him than just a pretty face.
Which O.C. cast member do you want to see more of? Let us know in the comments section.