Even though it’s been nearly two decades since The O.C. debuted, the fandom for Newport’s most famous crew with impeccable indie-rock taste — Ryan, Marissa, Seth, and Summer — has continued to grow. Perhaps a longing for nostalgia combined with truly great TV writing, The O.C. has lived on as one of the best teen soaps — not of the early aughts but of all time.
For Rachel Bilson, who played Summer Roberts, the Juicy sweatsuit-sporting, bubbly brunette who went from b*tchy mean girl to prom queen with a heart of gold, the show has remained a constant. But now, it’s more relevant than ever. Alongside former O.C. co-star Melinda Clarke, who played Marissa’s conniving and surviving mom, Julie Cooper, Bilson will be launching a new podcast, Welcome to the OC, Bitches!, where they’ll be rewatching and recapping old episodes of the series with behind-the-scenes stories from crew and cast members and a cohort of other special guests.
From her home in Pasadena, Bilson spoke to NYLON about the possibility of an O.C. reboot, Seth Cohen, and how Hart of Dixie was supposed to end.
You have made fans very happy by starting an O.C. rewatch podcast. Why did you and Melinda decide to start it?
Well, it was kind of brought to me, [to see] if I had interest in it. We talked about it a year ago, to be honest. I think it was last May that we had the first conversation, so we’re super excited that it’s now happening. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun and a really great way to work and be able to work from home, be with my daughter, and just to revisit it. And I thought, Melinda [and I], we got along so well, and I thought we kind of had the same beginning and a similar experience. We were both guest stars in the beginning, and then Josh Schwartz and the writers, they just really liked writing for us, and I guess they were happy with our performances, so we became series regulars during the first season. We both were kind of the b*tches of the show at first, and we all evolved, of course.
Can you drop any hints about the guests you’ll have on the podcast?
Yeah, some we’re not going to say and they’ll be a surprise, but we’ll definitely have cast members, people behind the scenes, writers, directors, and also fans of the show. Hopefully [we’ll have] some celebrity fans. [It’s] definitely a mixed bag.
So, how far into your rewatch are you?
We’re still in the first season. We’re almost halfway. We’ve kind of mixed [it up] and jumped around a little bit [depending] on who we’re talking to and which episode we’re going to cover, so we’re not totally chronologically watching, but we’re probably midway through.
I know you’re still rewatching, but what’s your favorite O.C. episode?
I know the episode with the Spider-Man kiss is a good one. I think that’s in Season 2, and we’re not there yet. I’m looking forward to watching that again. Let’s just go with that one. That was a great episode.
Do you have any untold stories about filming the first season you can remember?
We had a lot of fun the first season. We were all getting to know each other. We were hanging out outside of work, as well. That was definitely fun. I’m trying to think of any stories... Mischa introduced me to flavored lattes at Starbucks during the pilot. She said, “We can get lattes.” I was like, “We can do that?” She’s like 16, and I was like, “Oh, my god.” It was 18 years ago, so it’s hard to say. I know we had a lot of fun and we all really liked each other.
Now that you’re in the midst of your rewatch, what do you think has aged well versus what hasn’t on the show?
Obviously the fashion in the early 2000s is so crazy, but it’s a trip to see some of it resurfacing, like the Juicy Couture tracksuits. I feel like they’re having a resurgence and everyone’s in matching sweatsuits or tracksuits now, especially during the pandemic. So, that’s pretty funny. The makeup, the bronzer is very intense. I think some of it definitely will stay in the early 2000s. I don’t think I’ll be wearing bikini tops as shirts, but it’s pretty crazy to see it all.
Summer had a ton of amazing outfits throughout the series. Do you have a favorite?
The Wonder Woman outfit is probably the one that’s like, “Oh,” and Little Miss Vixen. God, if I think about it, those were crazy costumes they put me in. Recently, there was an episode with the candy striper outfit. There were a lot of actual costumes, and then there was a golfing one. We went to Palm Springs. She was fully golfed-out. The costuming stuff stands out in my mind more than the everyday clothing.
Looking back on The O.C., what was your favorite Summer plotline or episode to film?
This is kind of a generalization, but what I am admiring in Summer is how fearless she is and how she’s always herself. Even though she’s a little b*tchy or whatever in the beginning, I feel like for girls watching, there’s something cool about the fearlessness to her — sticking up for her best friend and just totally being unafraid to say whatever is on her mind. I know it’s not a storyline, but it’s a character trait that I’m into while watching it. And I have a daughter, so I’m like, “All right, well, that’s cool.” I like how much she grew — where she started and where she ended. There could not be more growth.
Do you have any untold stories about the direction of the plot or Summer’s character storyline?
Well, it’s interesting because Josh Schwartz is really into paying attention in real life to all of us and then writing it in. There was an episode where Summer and Anna sing The Golden Girls theme song and are really into The Golden Girls, and that came about because I loved The Golden Girls, and Josh was always listening. All of that stuff would get written in, especially music. [It] was such a big part of the show. Adam Brody introduced everyone to Death Cab for Cutie, and I feel like he introduced everyone to Bright Eyes, as well. There’s just a collaboration of personal things crossing over into the show, which I think was pretty cool.
Was there anything about Summer’s plotline that you always wanted for her that didn’t happen or something she didn’t get to do that you really did wish she did on the show?
You know what’s funny? Josh was teasing me the other day. He’s like, “I really regret not ever exploring Summer [and] Ryan.” He was joking, but it’s kind of funny. I feel like Summer did so much. I couldn’t say something she didn’t explore. Like I said, watching it back, Jimmy Cooper. I mean, there could have been a moment.
Now that you’re older and are rewatching The O.C., who is your favorite character or characters now?
God, watching it I’m just so impressed with how good everybody is. Adam just really steals anything he’s in, and Ben [McKenzie] is so good. And everyone, every single character I’m watching them like, “Wow, everyone really brought it and brought something special to it.” I feel like it worked because of the natural chemistry and people’s talents, and it’s fun to see that. My favorite character, that’d be hard to say. When we get later in the series, Chris Pratt was on as Che with my character at Brown. I just have the fondest memory of how he’s probably the funniest person I’ve ever worked with, and [Che] was such a funny character and brought so much to the show.
One of the most controversial plot points is Marissa dying on the show. What do you think about that storyline now?
I feel like Josh Schwartz has said she probably shouldn’t have died, but I feel like her character just went through it all. I don’t know if they knew where else to take the character. Obviously I think the show would have been a lot different had she not died on it, but I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened. It just went in such a different direction after that, [so] it’s hard to say, but it was interesting to see all the characters go through the grieving process and have to accept it. I’m not there yet during the rewatch, and I’m scared to get there because I know I’ll just fall apart.
Obviously music was such a big part of The O.C., and you talked about Adam kind of bringing Death Cab and Bright Eyes in. What was your favorite musical moment of The O.C., whether that be a song or band that was featured on the show?
Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” was definitely a big moment and just such a cool song. I remember hearing it at the time. You’re just like, “Oh, my god.” Like, “Oh, sh*t. This is something.” But there’s just so much good music on the show. In the pilot, there’s a Mazzy Star song that’s just so beautiful, and it’s not like her main song that everyone [knows], “Fade Into You,” but that was definitely something. And Joseph Arthur’s “Honey and the Moon,” which is in the pilot. Josh said he basically wrote the pilot to that song. Our music supervisor, Alex Patsavas, who’s incredible, she just did an amazing job.
You and Adam Brody had been dating during the show’s filming. What was it like dating your cast member during the time that your characters were dating on-screen?
Because of what the show was and how young we all were, going through it with someone experiencing the same thing and having that kind of support was really awesome. I’m actually grateful that I did have it. It was definitely a unique experience and I don’t think anyone else could have really understood it had they not been in it, so for that reason, it was super helpful and supportive, and I have total gratitude for the whole experience.
Who have you kept in touch with from the cast over the years?
From the cast? Not many people. I actually recently was texting with Ben, which was so nice and he just welcomed another kid into the world, but I’m super close with Josh Schwartz. I mean, he’s my brother, basically, so I’ve always been around him. But not really anyone from the cast. Now Mindy [Melinda] and I obviously are close again, which is awesome, but we’ve all talked about getting together, so we’re hoping that happens sometime soon.
Oh, man. I would die for a reunion.
I know. We just want to get together, get all the kids together. It’s just so crazy. Everyone has kids, or a lot of us do, anyway. It’d be a trip for sure.
Where do you think that Seth and Summer would be today?
Man, you know what’s so funny? I have been asked this and like, “What happened at the end?” And it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we got married.” I would say they have little Seth and Summers, I would think. I would like to say that I’m sure they’re still together and have a family.
As a millennial, growing up, Seth was one of the main crushes in pop culture. What do you think of Seth Cohen now?
He kind of started this whole genre of crushes — the kind of nerdy cool emo guy. I think that he’s totally crush-worthy and he kind of opened that door for not the typical crush like Ryan. He’s funny. A sense of humor goes a long way.
It’s funny rewatching it because I had a huge crush on Seth Cohen, and rewatching it, I was just like, “Oh, my god. He’s so selfish.” As an adult, I’m like, “OK, Sandy Cohen.”
I know, like rewatching, I’m like, “Hm. Jimmy Cooper.” You watch it older and it’s like, “Wait a second.” But you’re right, he did act selfishly with Summer and Anna in the first season. And you know what’s funny? I’m watching it, and I’m rooting for Anna. In the beginning where they’re at the carnival, and he wins her the sock monkey, I’m like, “Oh, no! Go for Anna.”
There’s a Gossip Girl reboot happening, and I know you're close with Josh. Have you guys discussed an O.C. reboot? Would you do one?
You know, I’ve always said anything that Josh and Stephanie [Savage] want to do, I’m on board for, but it’s kind of hard to figure out what you’d do with the characters and where they would be. I will say if they ever wanted to do it, I would do it. But I just don’t know where you go [with the plot].
Continuing on the nostalgia beat, it’s the 10-year anniversary of Hart of Dixie, which I also loved. What made that kind of the ultimate headlining role for you to take post O.C.?
So Leila Gerstein wrote on The O.C., and she created Hart of Dixie, and it was also with Josh and Stephanie, as well. It was just a group of people I loved and trusted. Leila’s so talented, and I just thought Zoe was so much fun because it really turned into more of like a rom-com series than a medical drama by any means. The character, she was great. I loved her so much, and I loved everyone doing it, so it was kind of a no-brainer.
Did the role of Zoe appeal to you because she had echoes of Summer in her, or did it feel completely different?
I mean, they’re definitely different, but there’s also that fearlessness. I feel like that definitely was the same because Zoe, I mean, she’s worse than Summer just saying whatever’s on her mind. But there’s definitely that brave, fearless female character thing going on, which I’m always OK with taking on because it’s good to portray that, I think.
When I was watching Hart of Dixie, it seemed like the show’s direction changed when it came to Zoe’s love interests. Was Wade always supposed to be endgame for Zoe?
No, [he] wasn’t. It was definitely going to be George and Zoe. What’s so interesting is that it really went the other way. I think just the vibe with Zoe and Wade was just strong, and it was just based on the acting and the characters and the writing, and it just kind of went that way. It was not planned. So, it’s just funny how things can just totally go in a different direction.
Have you ever discussed doing a Hart of Dixie reunion or reboot?
Yeah, we’re all still in touch, too, and I love everyone dearly from the show. We definitely would do it. We all really had a good bond and a good time together, and I loved playing Zoe. I mean, it was such a nice show because it was one of those shows I felt like you could escape to. It was so lighthearted, and I feel like, especially nowadays, it’s nice to have something like that. But, yes, I would definitely do it again.
Obviously Hart of Dixie aired on The CW first, but how did you see the fandom for the show change once it went on Netflix?
I would see more messages about it on Instagram, and I think people discovered it more once it was on Netflix, which is cool. I was happy that it kind of had this second life for people to discover because, personally, I really like watching things when I can start it and binge it. It’s nice in that way to discover it a little later.
I’ve talked to a lot of women who grew up as young actors in Hollywood. Things were definitely more challenging in the late ’90s and early aughts. Looking back, did you feel like you were mistreated by the media or paparazzi?
No, I think I felt like everything was fine, more so because I grew up in LA. I kind of grew up around it, so to speak. I don’t know. I didn’t really let that stuff affect me too much. The paparazzi was, of course, a big, weird thing that happened, but I kind of always had the attitude of like, “It’s none of my business what other people think of me,” and it’s kind of like, “Do your thing, be yourself, and hope for the best.” But I think it was really cool that there was no social media then. I think that was probably helpful, especially for the younger ones of us. We were all pretty young and not having social media, I think, was definitely an advantage.
At this point in your career, do you have any dream acting roles in mind?
It’s so hard to say, especially after this past year. I’ve always been in mom mode, but even more so I’m like, “I have to be in LA. I don’t want to be away too much to take on this whole other thing.” But I’m just a big fan of working with nice people, and if it’s something that speaks to me, I’ll want to do it. I don’t really have any limitations and things like that, so I’m pretty open.