The O.C. debuted in 2003, and after five episodes, quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. The show was a soap opera like 90210, but it was also dramatically different. The O.C. was injected with a lot of funny one-liners, had a knowing and self-deprecating tone, and a snarky attitude that always winked at the audience. For example, when Seth vomited “like that girl from The Sixth Sense,” it was an inside joke as Mischa Barton played that very girl in the movie.
The O.C. made stars of Ben McKenzie, Adam Brody, Rachel Bilson, and Mischa Barton. The show was such a success that even a politician in Orange County thought the enclave would be a more appealing spot for tourists if it renamed its airport, the John Wayne Airport, to “The O.C. Airport.” Seriously.
Even a law school ended up propping The O.C. The University of Berkeley Law School established a “Sandy Cohen Public Defender Fellowship.” It’s also called “The Sandy” or the “Sandy Cohen Public Defender Fellowship for Lawyers Who Dare to Dream.”
Josh Schwartz, the creator of The O.C., was only 27 when the show first appeared, making him the youngest TV creator ever. After The O.C. ended, Schwartz most notably co-created Gossip Girl, a show that was in tune with a teenage audience, had a hip vibe, and a heavy influence on the cultural landscape.
So where are the cast of The O.C. now? Keep reading to find out what happened to our favorite characters since the show was canceled in 2007.
11. Tate Donovan – Jimmy Cooper
Tate Donovan played financial planner Jimmy Cooper who, in the first season, almost went to jail after a series of bad investments that eventually led him to siphoning money out of his clients’ accounts. Jimmy and Sandy didn’t get along because Sandy believed Jimmy still loved Kirsten. After all, Jimmy was Kirsten’s ex-fiancée.
Donovan has always found success in TVs and movies. In 2005, Donovan was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for his work on the movie Good Night, and Good Luck. In 2007, Donovan starred as a series regular in the hit TV show Damages alongside Glenn Close. His character was killed off after three seasons.
10. Ben McKenzie – Ryan Atwood
Ben McKenzie played the lead on The O.C. as Ryan Atwood. McKenzie was the outsider, the guarded brooding bad boy who lived on the wrong side of the tracks in Chino until he was adopted by Sandy and Kirsten Cohen. Ryan was a fish out of water in the tiny California enclave of Newport Beach where the Cohens lived, and developed a tumultuous relationship with Marissa Cooper, the girl next door (literally). The two dated and broke up with each other in what seemed like every episode, just as almost every episode ended with a party where someone inevitably got punched in the face.
After The O.C. ended, McKenzie found success in two popular TV series. He starred in the critically-acclaimed Southland, which premiered in 2009 and lasted five seasons. In 2014, he landed the role of James Gordon, a young detective in Gotham City in the Batman prequel, Gotham. The show is now in its second season.
9. Rachel Bilson – Summer Roberts
The O.C. worked because the characters kept evolving. Nowhere is that more prominent than in the character Summer Roberts, played by Rachel Bilson. In the first few episodes, Summer’s lines were relegated to one line. That, of course, was “Eww.” A beautiful, popular bimbo, Summer was a shallow sidekick to friend Marissa Cooper. But she turned out to be more than a pretty face who liked jocks. We learned that Madame Bovary was her favorite book in Season One. She never thought she’d fall for geeky Seth, but she did.
Along with McKenzie, Bilson has had arguably the most successful career after The O.C. ended. She wound up in a handful of movies but most notably played the lead role in The CW’s Hart of Dixie, which teamed her up again with Josh Schwartz, the executive who produced the show. The show lasted for four seasons, ending in 2015. In her personal life, Bilson dated Hayden Christensen on and off again and gave birth to their child in 2014.
8. Adam Brody – Seth Cohen
Adam Brody’s character Seth Cohen was a comic book-loving, socially-awkward, hyper-articulate outcast who would rather die than miss Comic Con and was known for his quick quips and his many pop culture references. He would’ve continued to remain a nerdy wallflower until he became best friends with surrogate brother Ryan and, to the shock of his classmates, started dating Summer. That’s when Cohen’s cool factor kicked in and he became an unlikely leading man.
Brody found little success in films after The O.C. He mostly played small roles in movies that no one ever saw. One exception was Scream 4. He’s currently filming the movie CHIPs, based on the 1970s television series of the same name.
In his personal life, Brody is married to Leighton Meester, the star of Gossip Girl, a show also created by Schwartz.
7. Mischa Barton – Marissa Cooper
Mischa Barton, who played the beautiful but unstable Marissa Cooper, turned out to be the break-out star of The O.C., which led to lucrative endorsements like her starring in commercials for Neutrogena. The year after The O.C. ended, she won the InStyle “Icon of the Year” award, given to her by Karl Lagerfeld, who said she was a “fashion role model for an entire generation.”
Barton’s character died in a car accident after being run off the road by Volchok at the end of Season Three. Many believed Barton was killed off because she was unprofessional, but Schwartz maintained that her character’s death was merely a “creative decision for the show.”
But we still smell a cover-up. That’s because, if you recall, Barton revealed to Access Hollywood an hour before the episode aired that her character would die, ruining the show’s cliffhanger for many. No axe to grind, right?
After The O.C. ended and the endorsements faded, Barton was never able to recreate the popularity she earned while on the show. Instead, she got into trouble and got committed. She was charged with a DUI and for driving without a license in 2007. In 2009, under a 5150 that allowed a psychiatrist to involuntary commit a person who might be a danger to him or herself, Barton spent two weeks in confinement. The reason for the commit was that she was rumored to have had a mental disorder, but nothing was made official. So, yeah, Barton’s rise to fame then shame has made her life and career trajectory resemble Amanda Byne’s. Sorry, Mischa!
6. Autumn Reeser – Taylor Townsend
Autumn Reeser first appeared as a guest star on The O.C. in Season Three. She played Taylor Townsend, the neurotic, over-achieving, over-competitive, off-putting super-smart perfectionist and manipulative nemesis of Summer after she tried to take the social chair away from Marissa. Ah, high school angst! The one thing Taylor didn’t have was friends. That soon changed when Seth accidentally overheard Taylor’s mother berate Taylor for creating a mandatory high school lock-in because that was the only way she’d be able to make friends.
Reeser was responsible for breathing new life into the show when she became a series regular in Season Four. That was because everything Taylor said was funny or witty. She was neurotic, and her hyper-articulate, rambling self-references and her on-the-nose pop culture bon mots like her name dropping James Frey and French philosopher Derrida, made us all laugh.
Since The O.C. Reeser has been busy, mostly starring on hit TV shows for several episodes. From 2009-2010, Reeser had a recurring role on Entourage and from 2010-2011, she was on the show No Ordinary Family. She also starred in seven episodes of Necessary Roughness in 2013. She’s married to Jesse Warren and has two kids.
5. Samaire Armstrong – Anne Stern
Samaire Armstrong played Anna Stern, the quirky, snarky socialite from Pittsburgh, a place which Summer called “Eww.” Stern’s most noted for her crush on Seth. Her most famous moment was when she left the show. She was at the airport to return home as Seth ran after her. “Confidence, Cohen,” Stern said, and, as she left, a cover of the song, “If You Leave” by Nadasurf played in the background. Fans rushed to buy the song on itunes, and it forever remains tied to Stern’s farewell.
After leaving the show, Armstrong made a memorable appearance as an assistant to Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage (was everyone on The O.C. on Entourage?) and starred in the short-lived ABC series Dirty Sexy Money in 2007. In 2011-2012, she had a recurring role on the hit show The Mentalist.
4. Melinda Clarke – Julie Cooper
Clarke played Julie Cooper-Nichol, the scheming socialite whom we loved to hate. Julie’s most noted for despising Ryan, whom she thought was not good enough for her daughter Marissa.
Her original role on the show was as a guest star, but her popularity led her to become a series regular. Sure Julie was cunning and manipulative, but in the end she always did the right thing. When she tried to kill husband Caleb, she changed her mind at the last second.
Melinda Clarke found success after The O.C. on TV. She had a guest starring role on CSI, played a version of herself on Entourage (Yep, every actor from The O.C. was on Entourage!) and from 2010-2013, she had a lead role in Nikita, The CW drama that was cancelled in 2013.
3. Peter Gallagher – Sandy Cohen
Peter Gallagher played Sandy Cohen, TV’s most beloved father. He was the moral compass of the show, the justice-seeking public defender who represented the underrepresented, like Ryan. He had a good sense of humor and cracked jokes in the kitchen, only to be continually reminded by Seth that his eyebrows were out of control.
Gallagher had a successful movie career before joining The O.C. He starred in the independent film Sex, Lies and Videotape, which made director Steven Soderbergh famous. The film was also responsible for bringing independent movies to the mainstream when it came out in 1989, and won the Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. He also had memorable roles in the Sandra Bullock movie While You Were Sleeping and in the hit American Beauty. Since The O.C. ended, Gallagher found steady work on TV and has appeared in Californication, Rescue Me, and Covert Affairs.
2. Chris Carmack – Luke Ward
Carmack played Luke Ward, the popular Abercrombie jock who dated Marissa. In the pilot episode, Luke uttered what is arguably the most famous line of the series,
Welcome to The O.C., b*tch!” after kicking Ryan’s butt. In the first half of the first season, Luke picked fights with Ryan and kept calling Seth “queer.”
Like other characters, Luke also changed. After learning that his father was gay, Luke experienced what it felt like to be made fun of, and he turned from a villain to a friendly slobbering dog who ended up becoming friends with Seth, Ryan, and Summer.
After The O.C. Carmack had guest spots on Desperate Housewives, Lost, Ugly Betty, and NCIS. In 2013, Carmack had a recurring role on Nashville, and was promoted to a series regular in Season Two.
1. Kelly Rowan – Kirsten Cohen
Kelly Rowan played Kirsten Cohen, Seth’s mother and the adoptive mother of Ryan. Kirsten embraced her family and put up with Julie Cooper’s antics. She was the antithesis to the superficial “Newpsies,” the women of Newport Beach who gossiped, shopped, and went to spas. With husband Sandy, they were TV’s most beloved couple. But their marriage was far from perfect. Kirsten ended up an alcoholic in Season Two after fearing that Sandy might have an affair with his ex-girlfriend.
Rowan found success in bit parts on TV shows after The O.C. ended. Her most notable role was playing the lead in the TV show Perception. She starred as Eric McCormack‘s imaginary friend and psychiatrist. The show started in 2012 and was cancelled after three seasons in 2015.