/Mischa Barton Says She Dated ‘O.C.’ Co-Star Ben McKenzie At 17 — And He Was 25

Mischa Barton Says She Dated ‘O.C.’ Co-Star Ben McKenzie At 17 — And He Was 25

Mischa Barton is opening up about how she felt in over her head on the set of her early aughts teen hit, “The O.C..”

On Wednesday’s episode of the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, host Alex Cooper asked Barton how she felt about being a 17-year-old actor on the set, and playing Marissa Cooper, the teenage love interest of the character, Ryan Atwood. Ben McKenzie played the teen character Ryan, but was 25 years old at the time.

“That’s a pretty big age gap,” Cooper said to Barton. “How did you feel about that romantic on-screen relationship?”

“Yeah, that wasn’t just on-screen, either,” Barton said. “I mean, that was kind of complicated for me.”

Elsewhere in the podcast, Barton says that her relationship with McKenzie was her “first.”

“And I had no idea what I was doing,” she said.

HuffPost has reached out to McKenzie for comment on Barton’s claim, but did not receive an immediate response.

Mischa Barton and Benjamin McKenzie at an event in 2003.
Mischa Barton and Benjamin McKenzie at an event in 2003.

Jeff Kravitz via Getty Images

Barton told Cooper that she and McKenzie “threw ourselves all into it very fast” and were seeing each other “at the very beginning of the show, like half-way through a season.” The show premiered in 2003 and ended in 2007.

“It definitely was tricky that it happened, like, right out of the gate,” Barton said, adding that their relationship “kind of set things off on the wrong foot” on set.

Apparently producers and crew members were concerned about a teenage Barton hooking up with an older man.

“I felt overwhelmed and not ready for any of that,” she recalled. “I remember they were like, ‘Mischa’s disappeared with Ben … she’s only 17 1/2, 18.’ And the producers went to my parents … and it was kind of like, a whole ordeal.”

Despite producers’ unease about her off-screen relationship with the “Gotham” alum, Barton noted that the producers initially encouraged her to get to know McKenzie for the sake of their characters.

“It kind of felt like a double-edged sword,” Barton said. “[The producers] were like, ‘Oh, we want it to seem like you guys are all really friends and that you have chemistry, and we need this to really work.’ And then you sort of get punished for it on the flip side. And they’re like, ‘Oh, but not so much that it affects our production.’ Or like, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Earlier in the podcast episode, Barton opened up about how it felt to be the youngest cast member on the popular Fox series by saying she had “felt like I needed to catch up, I think, a lot of the time.”

Barton with her “The O.C.” co-stars McKenzie, Rachel Bilson and Adam Brody at the 2003 Billboard Music Awards.
Barton with her “The O.C.” co-stars McKenzie, Rachel Bilson and Adam Brody at the 2003 Billboard Music Awards.

J. Merritt via Getty Images

“I went into that like a virgin, like a kid ― like, really feeling like I needed to grow up quickly,” Barton recalled. “Acting with people older than me was a bit like, ‘Oh, wow. They know what they’re doing.’ And there’s gonna be relationships on this show, and you’re gonna need to play that part, and I didn’t feel really ready for that ’cause I was always a really late bloomer in school, and I hadn’t really dated.”

This is not the first time Barton has spoken out about the discomfort she felt while working on “The O.C..” In a candid essay for Harper’s Bazaar U.K. in 2021, she wrote that she felt “like a fraud” playing her character, who she described as “fast and loose,” while Barton herself was “still a virgin.”

“The kids in the show were quintessentially rich, privileged American teenagers drinking, taking drugs, and of course having sex. I knew it was important to get this thing — my virginity — that was looming over me, the elephant in the room if you will, out of the way,” Barton recalled. “I started to really worry that I couldn’t play this character if I didn’t hurry up and mature a little. Did I ever feel pressured to have sex with someone? Well, after being pursued by older men in their 30s, I eventually did the deed.”

She added: “I feel a little guilty because I let it happen. I felt so much pressure to have sex, not just from him, but society in general.”

Barton’s character Marissa was eventually — and very infamously — killed off the show in the Season 3 finale, which shocked many viewers. Creator Josh Schwartz told HuffPost in 2013 that the decision to kill off such a major character was a “creative decision” and “a function of needing to do something big to shake up the show.”

“Mischa showed up every day and did her job, and did a great job and worked really hard so it had nothing to do with her,” Schwartz said.

But Barton has implied otherwise.

Barton told E! News in 2021 that she “felt very unprotected” on set and experienced “bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really shitty.”

To watch Barton’s interview in full, head over to the “Call Her Daddy” podcast.

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