Hollywood ‘it girl’ Mischa Barton heads to Ramsay Street

One of California’s young brat pack in the early 2000s and the star of iconic teen drama The O.C., British-born US actor Mischa Barton has resurfaced Down Under to guest star in the Neighbours reboot.

Barton, 37, has endured the highs and lows of celebrity in Hollywood, and now she’s rubbing shoulders with the Ramsay Street cast playing a mysterious American woman called Reece, a character “who’s not quite who she appears to be”.

“I think the character of Reece is going to be a great role for me to explore and play with,” Barton said on Tuesday, in an Amazon statement.

Neighbours executive producer Jason Herbison said “[the character] is dynamic and unpredictable, and will have an instant presence on Ramsay Street”.

“We are beyond excited to have an actor of Mischa’s calibre join us for the beginning of this exciting new chapter,” Herbison says.

Why Neighbours?

Snapping her up for a guest appearance (IMDb lists her for just episode 1), is no doubt a strategic move as Amazon Freevee, Prime Video and Fremantle Media launch the revitalised show in North America.

Barton was one of the most sought-after actors of her generation.

The O.C. gave her international stardom and she was named “it girl” by Entertainment Weekly. She was Hollywood Life‘s Breakthrough Actress of the Year and won several American Teen Choice Awards for the show.

The announcement sent social media fans into a frenzy, with some expressing complete surprise, question marks and “I did not see this plot twist coming” comments.

Barton says she’s looking forward to being back in Australia, a place she says she knows and loves after several visits.

She first came to Australia at age 16 to film a movie on the Gold Coast, exploring Far North Queensland, and in 2012 was one of the big celebs in the Emirates marquee for her first Melbourne Cup.

She told Vogue at the time she’d been going to the races since she was a child with her English father, Paul, who worked in finance (her Irish film producer mother Nuala was her manager for several years).

Sex symbol at 13

In a wide-ranging candid essay in Harper’s Bazaar in 2021, Barton wrote about her experiences in front of the camera and behind-the- scenes over two decades.

Although she loved acting, some chapters throughout her career haven’t been that much fun.

“My movie debut, Lawn Dogs, explored themes of child molestation, and – while the crew did everything to ensure that I wasn’t exposed to the realities of what all that meant – when I did press for the film, it became clear that it was very mature content.”

She then starred alongside Burt Reynolds in Pups: “Lead roles in coming-of-age films are always directly tied to sex and sexuality, and this was a prime example.”

The film was a big hit in Asia, and at 13, she was a sex symbol.

Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Melinda Clarke, Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Benjamin McKenzie, Samaire Armstrong and Rachel Bilson (centre) at an OC fan event. Photo: Getty

It was her iconic role as Marissa Cooper in the hit television series The O.C. [2003-2006] that launched Barton to superstardom.

Her portrayal of the troubled, yet loveable character resonated with audiences worldwide, cementing her place as a pop culture icon and earning her widespread critical acclaim, with critics praising her nuanced portrayal of a complex character.

The price of fame

The paparazzi started hunting her, especially as she started dating a well-known Los Angeles identity, and she reveals she fought for a long time “to be unfamous”.

Photographed out with Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Britney Spears (she told FM radio hosts Fitzy and Wippa in 2019 it was really only Richie), she revealed she “had a few breakdowns”.

Mischa Barton during her The O.C. days. Photo: Getty

In an exclusive interview with People in 2013, Barton opened up about rehabilitation, body bullying and her trip to the psychiatric ward: “I’ve been through the wringer.

“It was a full-on breakdown … I was under enormous pressure,” she said at the time.

“What happened gave me PTSD. In the years afterwards, cameras would bother me; any noises that sounded like a shutter would give me a panic attack and make me extremely paranoid. I‘d have full-blown panic attacks,” Barton wrote in her HB piece.

In 2017, a neighbour filmed her behaving erratically in her backyard. She released a statement saying she had been drugged and told Dr. Phil: “The paramedic said that I showed all the symptoms of GHB and that I was drugged.”

In 2019, she did a brief reality TV crossover with The Hills.

In recent years, Barton has supported the #MeToo movement and  shared her story to help other young women, lending her voice and support to a variety of charitable causes such as Save the Children and One Water.

Barton has worked on independent film projects like Papa, Ouija House and The Toybox, and stars in mystery-thriller Invitation to a Murder, currently in post-production.

The cast of Neighbours. Photo: Prime Video

Cast and crew get to work

Meanwhile, the new chapter of Neighbours officially started production on Monday, with 450 cast and crew turning up to work in Melbourne.

The series will launch later this year and pick up with all the regular cast after the finale in 2022.

It will premiere for free, exclusively on Amazon Freevee in the UK and US and will stream on Prime Video in Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Ten retains first-run rights in Australia and episodes will be available and free on Prime Video in Australia seven days later.

Neighbours ran for more than three decades and had millions of fans across the globe. It also launched the careers of many household names such as Margot Robbie, Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe.

After her 2021 essay, Barton spoke to The Guardian about future roles in TV and film.

She didn’t mention Neighbours, and her most recent Instagram post five weeks ago reveals a hair colour change for a new film role starting at the “end of the month”.

“My manager is smart about what roles he sends me and he knows exactly what it is I want to play.

“They do have to have some sort of depth to them because, you know, I’ve lived quite a wild life, I’ve been through a lot and so that sort of vapid 20-something … I didn’t even like playing it [in The O.C.] when I was that age, but even less so now.”

Herbison is convinced the loyal viewers of Neighbours “are going to love her, locally and abroad”.

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