"The O.C." Actor Says Young Co-Stars "Developed a Really Bad Attitude" After the Show Took Off
Tate Donovan remembers his castmates growing difficult after becoming teen idols.
In 2003, a new teen TV drama premiered that captured the zeitgeist of the early aughts and turned its young stars into huge celebrities. The O.C. ran for four seasons, and during that time, the four main cast members of the show—Ben McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Rachel Bilson, and Adam Brody—went from being mostly unknown to being hot teen idols. This was also the case for other young actors on the show who had recurring roles. When The O.C. premiered, McKenzie was the oldest of the main group at age 24, while Barton was the youngest at 17.
According to one co-star, getting so much fame so quickly and at such a young age had an impact on their work ethic. Tate Donovan, who played Jimmy Cooper, the father of Barton's character Marissa, said in an interview years later that the young actors "developed a really bad attitude" during the show's heyday, and that he noticed it the most when he directed an episode in Season 3. Read on to see what he had to say and to find out how one star responded to his candid comments.
Donovan called his young co-stars "tough to work with."
Donovan spoke to Vulture for the tenth anniversary of The O.C. in 2013 and was asked what it was like directing the younger cast members. "Umm, well. [Laughs]," he responded.
Asked to elaborate, the actor explained, "By the time I started to direct, the kids on the show had developed a really bad attitude. They just didn't want to be doing the show anymore. It was pretty tough; they were very tough to work with. The adults were all fantastic, total pros."
He blamed their newfound stardom.
Donovan explained that he understood why the actors playing the show's teen characters acted the way they supposedly did.
"But you know how it is with young actors—and I know because I was one of them once," the actor continued. "When you achieve a certain amount of success, you want to be doing something else."
He told a specific story about one castmate without naming them. "I mean, one of them turned to me and said, 'This show is ruining my film career,' and he had never done a film before," Donovan recalled. "You just can't help but sort of think that your life and your career are going to go straight up, up, up. So they were very difficult."
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He hinted that Barton was "a diva."
During an appearance on Watch What Happens Live, also in 2013, a caller asked Donovan who was the biggest diva on the set of The O.C.. When host Andy Cohen suggested Barton, Donovan confirmed the guess. "She was pretty… um…" He added, "They all started out great. The first year, those kids were fantastic. And then they just, all of them, fell apart."
Peter Gallagher also worried about his young colleagues.
In an interview with Metro in 2021, Peter Gallagher, who played Sandy Cohen, the father of Brody's character, shared similar impressions of the younger cast.
"To watch the organization build them up… I worried, because first fame can be deadly," Gallagher said. "You stop asking questions and you think you have all the answers and it can destroy the fabric of the thing we had created. But to their credit… We had a few discussions about how one should behave, but they knew I loved them."
One actor apologized to Donovan publicly.
Since 2021, Bilson, who played Summer Roberts, has hosted an O.C. rewatch podcast with co-star Melinda Clarke. When Donovan joined them for an episode, Bilson brought up his comments about the cast's behavior.
"You went on to direct us on The O.C. … and I know some of us kids were little [expletives]," Bilson said on the show (via Us Weekly). "And I hope I wasn't as bad as it's come off. I hope I wasn't—because I really, you know, you get influenced, I'd say, by your surroundings."
Donovan agreed that everyone can get caught up in their hype. Bilson added, "But I thought you were so wonderful and such a wonderful director and amazing human and all of it. So if I ever added to any of the [expletive], I want to apologize on record."
McKenzie owned up to his actions, too.
During an appearance on the podcast Making It With Riki Lindhome in 2013, McKenzie addressed the gossip about The O.C. stars and their attitudes.
"I certainly include myself, when you're that young, you—and at least I had been through college—but you just, I feel like secretly you actually know that this is not, you didn't quote-unquote earn this, so you weirdly feel guilty about it, which means you behave like a jerk," the actor, who played Ryan Atwood, said (via Entertainment Weekly). "There's this weird thing. That's my theory anyway. I'm not trying to explain it away at all, but of course you make mistakes, but that's how you learn and you get better."