Mischa Barton on Joining Australian Soap ‘Neighbours’ and Celebrating ‘The O.C.’ 20th Anniversary

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“The O.C.” alum Mischa Barton guest starring on a reboot of long-running Australian soap opera “Neighbours” was probably not on anybody’s 2023 bingo card. The show was cancelled last spring, but — in a twist that could rival the soap’s melodramatic storylines — it was brought back from the dead by Amazon Freevee eight months later.

The reboot has given the show a new lease of life, and as well as welcoming back many of the old cast members it has also embraced some new ones – including Barton.

Ahead of the “Neighbours’” launch on Sept. 18, Barton sat down with Variety to discuss how she wound up joining the show, her next project and whether a reboot of “The O.C.” could also ever be in the cards.

How did you end up as a guest star on “Neighbours”?

Over the years they’ve asked me a couple of times and tried to get me for different roles. Jason [Herbison, an executive producer] had been saying, “Oh, it’s not the first time but this just happened to be the right timing and the right role.” So this character, Reece, felt like a good fit for me. It was serendipitous. They had asked me years ago, probably like in my mid-20s or something, and it hadn’t worked out then so I’m glad it did this time.

As a soap, “Neigbours” didn’t used to get a lot of celebrity guests. Were you intrigued by the offer?

It was intriguing. Obviously, this is different, it’s a reboot, so it makes a lot more sense. I probably should have been even more cautious going into something that had been running for so long but everybody was so nice to me. And it was actually really heartwarming and really moving to get to watch these people get back together when they were so convinced that this was completely over — to the point where a lot of them had moved, sold their houses. And then to watch them bring me into the mix and invite me in was a wild ride. It was very sweet.

Xavier Molyneux (as Byron Stone) and Mischa Barton (as Reece Sinclair) on “Neighbours” Ray Messner/Amazon Freevee

How did you prepare for the part? Did you watch any previous episodes?

I watched a couple of things. But honestly, I realized quite early on it wasn’t going to be that beneficial to me because the storylines were going to be picking up in a completely different place. It’s almost better to not psych yourself out trying to understand what these characters have been doing over the years, since their storylines move so fast, when really I was just concentrating on what Reece is doing, coming into the story and how she introduces herself.

What can you tell us about Reece?

You don’t really know exactly why she’s there at first and what her real motive is, but she gets sidetracked by love and then wakes up and realizes that she probably hasn’t been doing what she’s supposed to be doing and needs to redirect her focus. And therein lies the drama.

Is her arc left open at the end for a return?

Nothing crazy happens to me so yes, it’s possible.

A lot of “Neighbours” alumni have gone on to work in the U.S., including Kylie Minogue, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce. Did you get any advice from any of the show’s former stars about going on the show?

Stefan [Dennis, a longtime “Neighbours” cast member] has been a guiding light through all of this and I found out about his pop music career far too late into filming. I wish I had known right off the bat. But he really helped me and guided me through what the experience is like and what to expect and what’s changed now in terms of the way that they film it. Alan Davies [who played Mischa’s grandfather Caleb on “The OC”] was also on “Neighbours” and Stefan worked very closely with him for years. So they talk about me all the time!

What else are you working on at the moment?

“Invitation to a Murder” came out while I was in Australia filming earlier this year, so that was cool. None of us got to do really any promotion for it but it was such a cute 1930s whodunnit, Agatha Christie-type of thing. And you can’t get me out of Australia now; I’m developing a rom-com. I play American but the other lead [will be] Australian. That would be fun because I haven’t really done romantic comedy.

Mischa Barton and Benjamin McKenzie on “The OC” in 2006 (© WB / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

This year is the 20th anniversary of “The OC.” Are you marking it in any way?

We did the [“Welcome to the OC, Bitches!”] podcast finally for everybody and that seemed to make people happy. And it’s sweet [the cast] have been out picketing. I wish I could be there with the whole fam. It’s a tricky one with “The OC” because it’s just not that easy to revive. But I mean, I finally agreed to participate in the book [“Welcome to the O.C.: The Oral History,” which comes out in November]. So there have been quite a few things going on marking the 20th anniversary of it. But any specific chance for us to get back together right this second with all that’s going on with the strike? Probably not.

It took you a long time to agree to participate in those things. Do you feel differently about the show now as an adult?

Sure. I mean, there’s a lot more time and space between the actual events of the time and like, we’ve all matured and grown up. I was talking to Tate Donovan and some of [the others] about it. All our attitudes have softened towards the whole thing. Now it does have a certain sense of nostalgia to it and you’ve put some distance between the events of the time and now. I think it’s just really heartwarming to see this generation during lockdown watch it again and see young people watching it. It’s nice to know that people still get a kick out of it. And it was really fun to see [the cast] again, and to go to dinner with them and get to reconnect in that sense with some of them. It’s been nice.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

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