story / HEATHER SEIDLER
photography / JOSHUA SPENCER
stylist / Natalie Toren
makeup / Dina Gregg
hair / Ramsell Martinez
A household name by age seventeen, Mischa Barton first shot to fame with her role as Marissa Cooper on the hit teen soap opera The O.C. but there’s much more to her legacy: she’s starred in several acclaimed indie films, conquered theatre, modeled for the biggest names in fashion, and most recently has become a designer herself. Style icon, party girl, fashionista, It-Girl, call Mischa Barton what you will, but don’t dismiss her as just one of the beautiful people. Although beautiful is certainly an accurate word to describe the 25-year-old actress, few other young famous actresses have profited and suffered quite as much as Mischa from the explosion of internet exposure. No matter how the scurrilous tabloids have depicted her in the past, in real life she rapidly dissolves those preconceived notions. It was acutely evident when I first meet her that there is much more to Mischa Barton than meets the eye. Part West London/part NY/part LA, Barton happens to be incredibly likeable, openly candid, and irrepressibly enthusiastic about music. Best of all, she has a maturity that belies her youth.
In a world where people are finding love through the internet and reality shows, a world where tabloids judge people’s shortcomings for recompense, it’s refreshing to meet someone who recognizes life for what it is: complicated, a lot of work and ultimately wonderful.
Name one thing necessary to your happiness?
I would have to say music, actually. Music and books. My vinyl collection is imperative to my happiness. I love to just come home at night and put on an album. And first thing in the morning I put on an album, have a cup of coffee and just sit- that’s my downtime.
What are 5 Albums you can’t live without?
Def Leopard, America, Modest Mouse, White Stripes. I listen to a lot of old stuff too: Muddy Waters, Grateful Dead, The Doors; and new stuff: Radiohead, LCD Sound System. A big mixture. I love music, I am very particular about it, though. What I listen to depends on my mood. On a laid-back day it would be Muddy Waters or Otis Redding, but an upbeat day would be the White Stripes, the Black Lips or the Flaming Lips.
What was the last movie that made you cry?
BAD BLOOD, a French film. But I didn’t really cry. The last film I cried in was HARRY POTTER when Dumbledore died. That’s the kind of thing where I get attached to these characters. I don’t watch that much stuff. I’m not that up-to-date on movies.
Since this is our Crush issue, who was your first crush?
Joey Torgeano from Catholic school. He was an Italian/Irish boy and we went through First Communion together and had to walk down the aisle together in the church. I had such a crush on him. That was when I stopped listening to my parents for advice. That’s what turned me off of him. My mother would say, “Oh he’s so cute! He’s a little Irish boy—you should go after a boy like that.” And that was when I was like, “Ah I don’t like Joey anymore.” [laughs] Then I went for Max, this little crazy-haired Jewish boy.
What books are you crushing on now?
Well right now I’m reading Bill Bryson’s, A Short History of Nearly Anything. It’s a great book that I can dip in and out of. It’s nice and thick, full of substance that I want to really absorb. I’m really into philosophy and reading books about ancient philosophy. Illuminations by Rimbaud, he’s one of my favorite writers. There is so much comfort in buying your favorite books and surrounding yourself with them. I could spend so much money on books. All types of books—coffee table books, photography books, biographies. I really loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids and have a ton of books on her and Robert Maplethorpe’s photography.
Speaking of books, how do you feel about the iPad or Kindle?
At first I was really against it. There’s something nostalgic about actually holding the book you’re reading in your hands. But I think the accessibility behind them is a marketing genius. Especially in a place like Los Angeles. We’re always running around from place to place, it’s easy to just have a Kindle in your bag. But for me personally, I could never do it. I mean, I’m TERRIBLE with technology. I barely use my computer. Which hasn’t always been a good thing. I mean, the way the media chooses to portray you as a young actor, is left un-combated in the cyber world. That’s something I’m working on now, is getting my proper voice out to my fans on the Internet.
Are there any designers that you are crushing on right now?
I’m always into Miu Miu and Givenchy, I love the last season. Proenza always. I’ve been into some of the Prada stuff too. Mostly the last season’s accessories. I’m a huge accessory person.
You have a bag line right?
I have a bag line yeah! You can get them at mischabartonhandbags.com
What are your inspirations when you’re designing your handbags?
It’s kind of all over the map, really. I get inspiration from vintage bags. For example, I have a doctor’s bag design that’s taken directly from a vintage doctor’s bag I used to have. From the design, to the clasps and closures. It’s endless really. You can pretty much get anything done well these days, you just have to have a strong vision. I make lots of box bags, like old makeup cases, etc. I also have some classic designs that are catered towards the average working London woman going to work. Slouchy and small.
Mostly all of my bags are PVC [thermoplastic polymer], because it keeps the price down, which keeps it affordable and accessible. Coming off The OC, I have to keep in mind that a lot of my fans are the average person, so it would be a shame if I made a line that they could not access easily. You can easily fall into having a huge company for something and just attaching your name to it. But I really want the bags to be a proper representation of who Mischa Barton is and what my style is like. Prada is great, but the average person can’t afford that. Don’t get me wrong, I do make some high-end bags, a couple are leather, but most are PVC, which is vegan friendly. So not only are you getting a great bag, but you don’t have to worry about killing any animals, which I like. The bags still look and feel really good.
Do you look for a certain something in the movies that you do, or the characters that you portray when you choose a role?
Yes, absolutely! I look for a mix of things, some common identifying factor that I can relate and lend something to. Something that is going to push me to be something I would never get to be. That’s why I love acting. I was painfully shy when I was young and acting brought me out of my shell. When I got on stage I was able to really flourish because I felt that people were not judging me. I was putting a lot into the character and I was getting this respect from adults, which I was not ever getting from my peers. I mean the popular kids weren’t mean to me, but they definitely didn’t want me hanging around all the time. I was a loner and acting has been something I could hide behind. I gravitate towards relatively dark work, or heavily flawed characters.
What kind of people are you drawn to in your personal life?
Characters. People who are strong and independent. A little off-beat. Most of my friends are quirky and older than me. I have a lot of parent figures as friends. My family and background is quite reserved—me being English and born in London. When we moved to America, I wanted friends and people around me who were different from what I had always known. My friends are always there for me and I can really confide in them without out too much judgment. They’re very passionate and emotional.
I’m the only one in my family who gravitated toward acting. Everyone else does law politics and economics. But don’t get me wrong, I do have some friends who do fall into the same character as my family. All of my friends are very intelligent, and we have some amazing conversations. All of my friends are kind and thoughtful. My best idea of a night is a good dinner party with lots of good friends. I quite like it when they get a little heated in conversation. I really think people form a sort of bond over situations like that.
How do you feel about how you’ve been portrayed by the media?
[In 2009] I lived in Paris for a year, and living in France I got really used to good food and conversation. It was amazing. I don’t think anyone knew what I was doing or where I had gone. It was when things were getting bad with the press and I needed a safe place to be. The press kept on going on about me over here. It boiled down to me not having enough of a public voice. The entire time I was over in Paris living a healthy, completely different life then I was being given credit for. My life has never been as it has been perceived. There is a huge disconnect in the real Mischa and what people think is me.
Most people think I’m very Californian. I couldn’t be further from that. I moved to California for that show [The OC] at 17. I graduated early to do the show. I had NEVER been to Orange County. And I said that going into the character. The director said, “I know, that’s what I like about you. You have this European mindset with a New York sophistication. But you’re only 17 and we want to portray that in these young kids, to show that they are growing up too fast.”
When you settle down to have a family, do you want it to be in Europe, or America?
I like the European sensibility. I think the way the world is right now, America isn’t thriving. Artistically, I think London’s music and film scene is great. So it makes the decision easier. I’m English and I’m not sure I want to break that blood line yet. I would do what my parents did: being raised in London, and then moving to America young. If my dad didn’t come here for the World Trade Center, I would have very much grown up in this glass ceiling. America brought us all these opportunities, especially for me. We moved to America when I was six and by eight, I had found acting in summer camp and I ran with that. I was so lucky to have a career at such a young age, and I knew I was lucky. Being from a family with three girls, it was always an issue of identity. Acting gave that to me. I didn’t have to go through school questioning myself. I didn’t have to grow up wondering if I would be good enough to live up to the law and economics background that my father had.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Well it goes without saying, that at 25, I already feel more settled than most. I feel like a completely different person, in a very good way, compared to how I felt about myself and life even two years ago. I think those leaps are daily. Every day I am growing and becoming a different person. I’ve settled down so much. For so long I was just going, going, going—I was being pushed to work so hard by so many people, I had a difficult time ever slowing down in anything. Don’t get me wrong, between my movies and my bag line, I do work and travel a lot. But in my older age it’s more on my own time, which is nice. I’m a hard worker, so when you stop, you make up all these catch-ups. I just moved out of my parents’ house this year, which is very old for most people. I had so much dedication and work ethic within my world, the simple things you do as you grow up, were never pushed. I’m used to being alone, and in all this downtime, I’m really finding myself.
In five years time, I think I will be quite done with living in the city all the time. I hope to be living in the English countryside, starting a family. I will always keep a home in New York or Los Angeles to come back to. But for the most part I want to be tucked away in a charming home, focusing on the important things in life.
What other projects are you currently working on?
It’s strange. Everyone keeps asking me about what I’m working on right now. But it’s quite the opposite. It’s about what projects I’m turning down, which identifies me as the actor I want to be. I’m in this funny phase in my career, where it’s super important to not do a project unless I’m really passionate about it. What [roles] you choose to take is how people are going to view you. It is hard, though. The way you want to go isn’t necessarily the way you get to go as an actor. This industry is run by fear. When you go too long without working, you have people hassling you. The jobs I do choose to do will form who I am.
I do have BHOPAL: A PRAYER FOR RAIN coming out soon, the movie I did with Martin Sheen [release date TBA 2012]. It’s a drama based on Bhopal and the gas problem in India. We got really good Indian actors to play the characters.
For the right role, would you ever return to T.V?
Yes, for the right role. Although I’m more interested in guest star roles. Being on a television show that does well is very time consuming. You’re working twelve-hour days, for hopefully quite a few seasons. You really get sucked into this image and ideal of who you are and who you want to be. During The OC, I was so young, it’s really a shame how these adults in my life and the media were able to portray me. So yes, now that I am adult and know who I am, I would return to television for the right role. But I definitely would keep more control on the environment. Television has been good to me, but it’s so overly publicized.
The only reason I said I wouldn’t go back to TV is simply because I don’t have enough time to dedicate just to one thing. Television is a machine, and it’s pretty exhausting. You have to love it.