"The O.C." cast

Its characters might have experienced plenty of angst, but Fox's drama has brought its cast members nothing but joy.

Mischa Barton (Marissa Cooper)
Barton's role as the troubled Marissa Cooper catapulted the model-actress to a new level of celebrity, and the decision to write out her character at the end of Season 3 was a significant blow to a show whose popularity already was on the wane. "Marissa had already been through so much, there was really nowhere else for her to go," she says. Even so, adds Barton, "This show made my career, and I'll always be grateful for that." The 21-year-old actress has been busy since her departure, starring in several feature films that, as of yet, have no U.S. distribution, including "Closing the Ring," "Don't Fade Away" and "Malice in Sunderland." She also appears in MGM/the Weinstein Co.'s "Virgin Territory," due for release later this year.

Rachel Bilson (Summer Roberts)
For 25-year-old Bilson, "The O.C." was a valuable opportunity to "get comfortable with the camera" and live with the responsibility of a regular job. "I especially loved that I was able to have moments that were personally embarrassing for me -- like the show where I went to the prom and got really drunk and fell off the stage," she says. Bilson already has moved to the big screen with roles in director Tony Goldwyn's 2006 Zach Braff starrer "The Last Kiss" and Fox's planned 2008 release "Jumper" with Samuel L. Jackson, Hayden Christensen and Diane Lane. But she's still mourning the passing of a show -- and a job -- that she loved. "It changed me as a person," she says.

Adam Brody (Seth Cohen)
While "The O.C." is disappearing, Brody is not. He has roles in three indie movies due out this year: Warner Independent's "In the Land of Women," First Look's "Smiley Face" and ThinkFilm's "The Ten." Yet, he now describes himself as "an unemployed film actor" awaiting the next phone call after having left behind his days as a regular on a show that was "a grind" but "a memorable experience." Adds Brody: "If this is the top of the heap for me, I could live with that. I'm 27, I own my own home and I'm able to work in my chosen profession. But for now, I'm looking forward to not having to shave."

Melinda Clarke (Julie Cooper-Nichol-Roberts)
Clarke had appeared in scads of TV series prior to landing the role of Julie on "The O.C.," her first regular recurring role and, at 36, a coup that helped her move her career up. Although the character originally had been slated to only appear in the series pilot, the Orange County native worked her way into a steady opportunity. "The character just grew and grew as the show went on, and I felt like I had a part in that," she says. As for the future, Clarke has a part in director Jon Avnet's upcoming feature "88 Minutes" along with "O.C." co-star Benjamin McKenzie, as well as a role in Paramount's remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic "When Worlds Collide," tentatively set for a 2008 release.

Peter Gallagher (Sandy Cohen)
As his first-ever regular acting gig in a TV drama, "The O.C." introduced acting vet Gallagher, 51, to an entirely new audience. Gallagher, of course, had carved out a film career that has included roles in 1989's "sex, lies, and videotape," 1992's "The Player" and 1999's "American Beauty," but accepting the role of Sandy required the actor to face a new challenge, namely moving his family out to the West Coast from New York. "The experience was extraordinary," Gallagher says. "I loved every second of it -- well, except for some of the third season, which was tough. But the humor returned to the scripts in Season 4, and we're able to leave with our heads held high. For me, personally, it was terrific playing a good guy with a sense of humor who was also a good father. I don't get to play many role models."

Benjamin McKenzie (Ryan Atwood)
Then-24-year-old McKenzie was a complete unknown when "The O.C." launched in 2003. Now, he has a four-year TV series under his belt and roles in the 2005 feature "Junebug" and the upcoming thriller "88 Minutes" on his resume. Perhaps more importantly, though, McKenzie says he has the confidence that comes with the "tremendous blessing" of having held down a steady gig that put him on the acting map. "I've had a blast," McKenzie says. "I learned a lot about how the business works. I got a regular paycheck. I made a lot of great friends. It was fun to play a brooding teenage bad boy when I'm, in reality, a nonbrooding 28-year-old."

Autumn Reeser (Taylor Townsend)
While Reeser has worked steadily enough to make a living as an actress since 2000, the 26-year-old enjoyed what was easily her highest-profile job in joining "The O.C." during the show's third season -- she became a series regular during the fourth and final season. Of all the cast members, Reeser has to be the sorriest to see the show go, having arrived so late in the run. In keeping with California-set projects, Reeser next stars in director Brad Leong's dramedy "Palo Alto."

Kelly Rowan (Kirsten Cohen)
Rowan has been there for all 92 episodes of "The O.C.," portraying wife and mother Kirsten Cohen. And while it was her first regular role on a long-running series, Rowan, 41, has never had a problem finding work and, in fact, has started to move into production, executive producing two Lifetime dramas: 2006's "Eight Days to Live" and this year's "In God's Country." A little-known fact about Rowan is that she also had a three-episode stint on "Dallas" back in 1991 -- the same year she made her feature debut as Peter Pan's mother in Steven Spielberg's "Hook." Later this year, the Canada-born actress will be seen in the romantic comedy "Jack and Jill vs. the World," starring Freddie Prinze Jr.

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