There are two kinds of The O.C. fans: those who think Marissa is annoying as hell, and those who actually loved her and perhaps even related to her teenage angst. But regardless on where you stand on the polarizing character, we think all O.C. fans can agree that her death on season 3 was the show’s most tragic moment, and marked when it all started going downhill. For years, it’s been rumored that Marissa’s death was actually Mischa Barton’s idea, as a way to exit the show. The show’s creator Josh Schwartz said at the ATX Television Festival in 2016 that “there were a lot of factors involved” in deciding to kill off the character” with “a lot of reasons, both creative and cynical.” It’s an extremely vague answer that led nowhere. But now that it’s been over a decade since the show ended, Barton has explained the reason behind the gruesome death.
In a new interview with E!, Barton explained that the conversations about her leaving The O.C. 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 shitty.” She didn’t specify if that meant being bullied by her male co-stars or Schwartz himself and the other producers. She also added that with the public’s immense interest in her personal life, she felt “very unprotected.” When asked when things started to fall apart, Barton said that it began halfway through season 2, “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 added, “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.”
But when the producers noticed Barton wasn’t enjoying the work, they gave her 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?’,” recalled the actor. “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 didn’t quite end up having the film career she was expecting. After The O.C. , she starred in indie flicks like The Oh In Ohio, Closing The Ring, and St Trinian’s, slowly fading into obscurity until 2019, when she joined The Hills’ cast in The Hills: New Beginnings. It was a very meta way of reviving her career, as she was joining the reboot of a spin-off of a reality TV show based on The O.C. But despite the option of leaving The O.C. permanently perhaps not being the best choice, we’re all still talking about Marissa’s death over a decade later, so Barton will always be reminded of how important her character was to fans.