HOLLYWOOD Audition Surprises, Edited Kiss – The Hollywood Reporter

Audition Surprises, Edited Kiss – The Hollywood Reporter

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In Alan Sepinwall’s Welcome to The O.C.: An Oral History, which he co-authors with show creator Josh Schwartz and executive producer Stephanie Savage, fans of the hit series — the epitome of a cultural reset — are taken right back where we started from. 

The more than 350-page dive into one of TV’s biggest series captures in detail how the teen drama from the then-youngest showrunner to helm a network drama created a TV revolution before becoming a target of critics. No stone goes uncovered here, from the pitch and iconic pilot, all the way through that legendary soundtrack, memorable guest stars, rapidly shifting plot lines, on- and off-screen dramas, and the memes that followed.

With insights from creator Schwartz, producer Savage, the entire main cast (including Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Rachel Bilson and Benjamin McKenzie), notable guest and recurring stars, Fox and Warner Bros. Television execs and more all from interviews conducted by Sipenwall, it’s an honest and thoughtful look inside the teen drama that rewrote the genre, and catapulted Schwartz and Savage into the closest thing TV has to a modern-day John Hughes.

Released by HarperCollins’ Mariner Books imprint on Tuesday, the 20-year oral history will have fans rewatching The O.C. with a new set of eyes and a deeper appreciation for a series whose ups and downs not only tell the story of a bygone era of linear broadcast TV, but a generation of passionate viewers. 

From actors’ regrets and those almost spinoffs to a surprising moment while fiming the pilot and a Super Bowl controversy’s impact on a storyline, here are 10 revelations from Welcome to the O.C.: An Oral History that will inspire fans to go out and buy the book for themselves.

Sebastian Stan Was the Casting That Got Away

The oral history is full of casting tidbits, including an extensive rundown of how the core four were selected alongside guest and recurring characters like Chris Pratt and Olivia Wilde, the actors who didn’t get roles (including Chris Pine, who lost out over his acne) and even the show’s decision to re-cast certain characters. That includes Marissa’s (Barton) little sister Kaitlin — who went from Shailene Woodley to Willa Holland — and Ryan’s (McKenzie) brother Trey, who was originally portrayed by Bradley Stryker before Logan Marshall-Green was hired to play out a more extensive storyline. 

But in one of the most interesting tidbits, the showrunners and casting head Patrick Rush reveals that actor Sebastian Stan — who would go on to appear in Schwartz and Savage’s sophomore hit Gossip Girl before becoming a screen staple of the MCU — was actually up for one of the show’s most controversial characters: Johnny — the public school version of Ryan in season three that Marissa meets after being kicked out of Harbor School. Sepinwall reveals that, in a group chat, Schwartz and Savage admitted to having zero memory of Stan’s audition, with Savage texting, “wtf is wrong with us?” after jogging their memory. “I had seen Sebastian Stan audition from New York for some role, and they weren’t testing him. And I sent it to Josh and Stephanie, like, ‘This kid’s really good.’ And they flew him out to test, and still didn’t hire him,” Rush recalls.  

Schwartz told Sepinwall, “I said to Patrick Rush, ‘This is the worst thing to come out of this book. I hate us.’ He goes, ‘You can just tell him not to put it in the book.’ And I said, ‘No, the shame must be publicly shared. We cannot hold this inside.’” 

How That Athens Companion Series Came to Be and Why It Never Happened 

Schwartz has previously spoken about spinoff attempts surrounding the show, with he and Savage expounding on efforts to launch series centered around Anna (Samaire Armstrong) in Pittsburgh, Summer (Bilson) going to fashion school in L.A., and Pretty Things, which would have been set at a boarding school in Santa Barbara. (A version of that last attempt actually made it into a season three episode, where Marissa gets her little sister out of trouble with a classmate, and audiences meet her roommate Hadley, played by Lucy Hale.)

But the series with the most interesting story was a “spiritual companion” to the show, which was announced during the 2004 Fox upfronts presentation in New York, before Schwartz had even written a single page of the script. Dubbed Athens, the series was “set at a college in New England, and it was the story of this fuck-up young professor, and his relationship with this troubled kid, and about the kids that kid falls in with,” The O.C. showrunner said.

Fox put the show on its schedule and had the creator record a video pitch, which was just “Josh describing the show in an interview that was on a giant screen,” according to Savage. The show’s concept was at one point massaged into Anthem, which would have relocated Athens to the “Dirty South,” but still never got off the ground. 

While the early concept of a spinoff garnered enthusiasm from producer McG and Peter Roth, the then-president of Warner Bros. Television, there was palpable hesitation from several sources, including EP Bob DeLaurentis, who “pointed out that, to my knowledge, no one has ever developed a spinoff after a season one.” The ask was described as “stressful,” especially with Schwartz having just come off a grueling 27-episode first season. Fox programming executive Craig Erwich also revealed, “There was also a whole behind-the-scenes fight with Warner Bros. the night before the upfront over the license fee on The O.C. and whether we were going to actually announce Athens or not.”

“Finally, I had to go to everybody at Fox and at Warner Bros. and just say, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t figure out this script. It’s not working, and I’m not invested in [The O.C.] in the way that I need to be, because I’m so worried about getting this other show off the ground,’” Schwartz recalled. 

The O.C.’s Casting Director Says Hiring Shannon Lucio Got Him Fired From Everwood

One thing the oral history makes abundantly clear is how connected (and ultimately pivotal) The O.C.’s creators and team were to the larger teen drama ecosystem. Beyond featuring a bevy of rising and notable young adult stars — like Everwood’s Chris Pratt in The O.C.’s fourth and final season — Savage spent her second season juggling The O.C., duties at Wonderland and co-showrunning The WB’s short-lived series The Mountain, which would star Gossip Girl breakout Penn Badgley. 

That took place during the same season Ryan returns to Newport and, momentarily, sets his sights on Lindsay (Shannon Lucio), a brainy new kid. Rush, who had worked on Everwood and Party of Five, the casting director who describes himself as having notable experience in casting “pretty crying white kids,” landed on Lucio for the role. It was a character, according to Schwartz, that helped the show continue to explore “the story of Ryan as an outsider who is new to this world and who doesn’t quite fit in.” It would also lead to Rush’s firing from Everwood: “There was some talk of me giving them all the good kids,” he recalled. “I said, ‘You guys saw her and said she looked too much like Emily [VanCamp]!” And they fired me.”

Adam Brody Addresses a “Lack of Professionalism” During the Show’s Later Seasons

In what helps make the book insightful and thoughtful among modern oral histories, many members of the show’s creative team — and to varying degrees, its cast — reflect on how criticisms of The O.C.’s evolving storylines following a stellar and positive first season began to reshape off-screen relationships and the working environment. At one point, star Adam Brody — who arguably does the most reflecting of any cast member — addresses his own on-set behavior as the show moved into its later seasons. 

Brody said he stopped reading scripts after a time, with Savage noting they piled up outside his trailer and director Norman Buckley recalling a conversation with the actor about being more invested in his performance. Schwartz also reflects on his on-set absence as this was happening, from what fueled it to its effects on the production to his regrets about that time. 

Brody maintains he remained polite to everyone, didn’t keep his colleagues and crew waiting and “would never scream or yell at anyone, or say anything fucking mean.” But he does say he “let my distaste for the later episodes be known. I didn’t mask that at all, and I’m sure I openly mocked it a bit. So I’m not proud of that.”

At another point he says, “I started to be creatively less interested. I blame myself for a lack of professionalism and a disrespect to the work. In terms of engagement as a whole, I’ll just say that they’re different shows, season one and [the later seasons]. Had the quality been the quality of season one, I’m sure I would have been a lot more engaged.”

In his own reflection, McKenzie notes that his co-star was “not shy” about his feelings about the show’s turn in quality, but says that he wasn’t the only one expressing their disappointment. “It was too bad, because I think that energy is an amorphous thing. It grows and seeps in, and it does feed on itself. And so everyone gets in the feisty, feisty mood,” the actor said. “[It was] a challenge, and frustrating, and all those sorts of things. I think that at times each of us fell victim to that — except Rachel [Bilson] always had a good attitude.”

Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody, Mischa Barton, Benjamin McKenzie, in THE O.C.

WB / Courtesy: Everett Collection

The Cast Was Offered the Chance to Do a Late Show Top 10 List and ‘Got Milk?’ Ad

Welcome to The O.C.: An Oral History does a decent job documenting the wild and rapid rise to stardom the young cast experienced, and the opportunities (and challenges) that came with that. During season two, Schwartz reveals that as the cast navigated how they were going to promote themselves individually during that time, they began to move away from certain PR opportunities as a group.

“The cast collectively turned down a ‘Got Milk?’ ad that would have been the first cast to do a ‘Got Milk?’ ad since … the first cast ever?” Schwartz recalled. “They turned down the opportunity to do a Letterman Top Ten list. They would’ve been the first cast since The Sopranos to do a Letterman Top Ten List. I realize that to an audience today, a ‘Got Milk?’ ad and a Letterman Top Ten list are lost to time. But they were big deals then.”

Josh Schwartz Got Punk’d by Ashton Kutcher and It (Sort of) Led to That George Lucas Cameo 

In one of the show’s most memorable cameos, George Lucas appears during season two as part of Seth’s (Brody) Atomic County storyline, which saw him co-create a comic with Michael Cassidy’s Zach featuring superpowered versions of Ryan, Marissa, Summer and Seth. As Sepinwall reveals, the cameo followed an attempt to bring Ashton Kutcher on the show, with the That ’70s Show star set to portray an actor who wants to option and stars in the comic book’s screen adaptation. 

That casting attempt followed an earlier experience with Kutcher during season one, in which Schwartz was “inadvertently Punk’d” by him and McKenzie while out at a restaurant with McKenzie and Brody. The prank resulted in “one of the only acts of bravery I’ve ever demonstrated in my life,” Schwartz recalled of a faux physical altercation that saw him “put myself between Brody and this guy to preserve Adam Brody’s facial bone structure.”

While the effort to cast Kutcher ultimately fell through, Lucas — whose daughter Katie was a fan of The O.C. — seemed like a great (and now memorable) get. It also resulted in plans for an O.C. and Star Wars crossover commercial that would air during the episode, and saw Brody helping to promote Revenge of the Sith

But as the oral history reveals, the actor wasn’t as eager as his fellow cast or the crew about Lucas’ presence. “Everyone on set was so starstruck and so psyched to have like George Lucas there,” Schwartz recalls. “Brody was not into the prequels and therefore was not excited about acting opposite George Lucas. I was like, ‘Classic Brody.’ He required a little arm-twisting to ask him to shoot this commercial where he’s sitting on the bed with a Star Wars helmet and a lightsaber.”

The O.C.’s Original Pitch Featured a Leading Latina

The show has been harangued by some for its lack of diversity and casting choices, but in tune with much of Schwartz and Savage’s larger library, it initially featured a more inclusive story — specifically a Latina lead who would star opposite a white character with a familiar name. 

In this love story “anchored by two people,” there would be, “Lucy Muñoz, an outsider who wants in. The other, Ryan Atwood, someone born into the world who wants out, both driven by the sense that a life different from theirs must be better. And it’s finally a coming-of-age story for these two characters, about those choices and experiences that drive us out of youth to adulthood as they try to find the courage to make decisions that will set them different from their parents, different from their friends,” Schwartz recalled in the oral history. 

Muñoz was the daughter of a rich family’s gardener, who lived with her family in the guest quarters of the Atwoods. But despite the pitch’s universal themes that could speak “to any community in the country,” according to Schwartz, the characters were changed at the behest of the show’s studio, Warner Bros. Television. That’s because the studio already had other shows featuring interracial Romeo & Juliet-style stories at the time, Skin and No Place Like Home, in development. “There was no conversation — no version of, ‘Can’t we all develop in this area?’” Savage recalled.

That lack of racial inclusivity within its leading cast would come back to haunt the show in a way, when the network’s then head of scheduling used that as a reason not to air the show behind the then juggernaut American Idol. It’s a move talked about at length in the oral history for how it sealed the series’ fate in a highly competitive Thursday night time slot. 

“I did not want to put it on after American Idol,” Preston Beckman, head of scheduling at Fox, told Sepinwall. “The number one argument was it was too white. If we looked at the audience makeup of American Idol, part of its success was a larger-than-average Black viewership. So I wanted to keep The Bernie Mac Show there.”

Plans for a Bisexual Character and Kiss Were Thwarted by a Super Bowl Controversy 

While those early changes to The O.C.’s concept resulted in an all-white leading cast, the show did deliver one of TV’s first nuanced and overtly Jewish characters, Seth Cohen (Brody), and later in the run, an LGBTQ storyline featuring a Marissa (played by Barton) casting runner-up: Olivia Wilde. Wilde’s character, Alex, was initially approved by Fox for her storyline in which she dates Marissa, with writer-producer Allan Heinberg noting he was “surprised at how open-minded they were in terms of allowing Marissa to have that experience without any judgment. And letting Julie Cooper [played by Melinda Clarke] speak for the viewers who might have those concerns.” 

But the network’s affiliates had limits even as the network itself was pushing the show into telling more stories they deemed attention grabbing, according to Savage. “The marketing people wanted a story that they considered promotable — this titillating, sexy kiss. But then the affiliates were getting complaints that [their viewers] didn’t like this story. And then the affiliates were getting back to the network saying, ‘If this doesn’t go away, we’re not going to air your show anymore.’ So Fox was really at war with itself.”

With affiliates still pearl-clutching following the Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Super Bowl controversy — an event that landed Fox’s then-president Gail Berman in front of Congress — the network cracked down on specific storylines across their lineup. “I’ll never forget when we were forced to cut their first kiss way back before it aired. And then we saw the promo that they ran for the kiss episode, and they hyped the kiss up so much in the promo. I’m like, ‘What are we doing? Why are they doing that? They just made us cut this thing down to like a tiny little smooch,’” Schwartz recalled. “It was very confusing.”

“That was a story that could’ve had more and more complications and more twists and turns and ups and downs than it had the chance to do,” Savage reflected. 

Chris Carmack Got a Home Makeover for a Magazine Story

Welcome to The O.C.: The Oral History doesn’t shy from documenting the more complicated parts of the show’s run on- and off-screen, but it’s also careful to balance it with the right amount of humor. That includes a story from actor Chris Carmack during a “window where I was working on network television and living in a run-down shack.”

The actor, whose character Luke Ward delivered one of the show’s most iconic lines (“Welcome to the O.C. bitch!”), was living in a “house that probably should have been condemned, and had no business hosting living beings,” when he received news that a magazine wanted to come to his house and take photos of where he lived. 

“I thought, This is hilarious. Sure! Come show what squalor new actors are living in. This will be great,” he recalled. “And they showed up, were horrified, and immediately went to Target and started staging the house.”

They didn’t only upgrade his home for the shoot, but according to Carmack, “used a picture in the magazine of a bathroom that was not even my bathroom,” before (mis)representing that he lived “by the ocean with ocean breezes in a charming California bungalow.” What they failed to mention was that Carmack “had plastic nailed to the ceiling, so that when it rained and the water came in the ceiling, it would shuffle over to the sink and go down the drain.”

Director Doug Liman Jumped Off the Side of a Boat While Filming the Pilot

Sepinwall’s chapter dedicated entirely to the show’s pilot is one the book’s best, if only for its excruciating attention to detail about a process that went from good to bad to chaotic — to one of the best pilots in history. 

Part of that chaos was due to the director Doug Liman of Go, The Bourne Identity, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith acclaim, whose attention was being pulled multiple ways during filming. Liman, who took over for O.C. executive producer McG when he had to back out of filming the pilot, was then facing the wrath of a studio and its executives following public comments he made about a major film he had directed. So he had turned his attention to TV and landed — thankfully — with The O.C. pilot in his hands. 

But despite his feelings that his career in film was done, Doug found himself working on pre-production for 2005’s Mr.& Mrs. Smith. The result was a director with split attentions. Schwartz says every day producer Simon Kinberg visited set with Akiva Goldsman, the producer of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, for a meeting about the movie. For much of the time, The O.C. had Doug’s attention, until one specific day. 

“We were shooting in the middle of the water, when Seth takes Ryan out on the Summer Breeze for the first time. We’re all on a crew boat, attached to the Summer Breeze,” Schwartz recalls. “Doug finds out that he is late for a Mr. & Mrs. Smith meeting, and all of a sudden he just jumps off of the boat at sea and swims to shore to go to the meeting. And is basically like, ‘The actors know what they’re doing, and the DP knows what he’s doing, and you’ve got this.’ That was incredible.”

Welcome to The O.C.: The Oral History is out in bookstores now.

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