Mischa Barton Says She Secretly Dated Her 'O.C.' Co-Star Ben Mackenzie

'The O.C.' aired for four seasons from 2003 to 2007.

Mischa Barton says that her onscreen romance with her co-star, Ben McKenzie, on The O.C. extended offscreen as well.

"It wasn't just onscreen," the 38-year-old actress said on the Feb. 21 episode of the Call Her Daddy podcast. "That was my first -- I had no idea what I was doing." 

Recalling the challenges she and McKenzie faced, Barton acknowledged the complexities that arose from their relationship, especially considering their rapid immersion into fame. Barton played popular high school girl Marissa Cooper on the hit Fox series, while McKenzie portrayed new student Ryan Atwood.

"I think that kind of set things off on the wrong foot, too, because we threw ourselves all into it very fast," she told podcast host Alex Cooper. "And then, you know, when you break up, and things don't work and they see you dating different people -- notoriously there was a lot of inter-dating on that show -- it was definitely tricky that it happened like right out of the gate."

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One significant detail that added another layer to their relationship dynamics is the age gap between Barton and McKenzie. Barton was around 17 years old when she began dating McKenzie, who was 25 at the time. The actress recounted the concerns raised by show staff about their relationship, leading to involvement from her parents and producers. "It was kind of a whole ordeal," Barton recalled.

Reflecting on her experience on The O.C., Barton highlighted the pressure she felt to mature quickly, particularly as the only high school character who was actually a teen at the time. "I went into that like a virgin, like a kid," she explained. "I felt like I needed to grow up quickly to feel like I could portray acting with people older than me."

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In an October interview with The Times, she opened up about the lasting impact of her early fame, stating, "You can go to therapy every day for the rest of your life, but there's just a certain amount of trauma [from] all that I went through, particularly in my early 20s, that just doesn't go away overnight."

"I don't think I was fully prepared for that level of fame," she confessed. "Because it has never been something that I have sought out. I really would much rather be anonymous."

Both Barton and McKenzie have previously denied dating rumors, with the actress even describing them as "terribly weird" in a 2004 interview with Cosmopolitan magazine.

The O.C. aired for four seasons from 2003 to 2007.

Barton's tenure on the show concluded with the season 3 finale, which debuted in May 2006.


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