Actress and Creator tell you everything you could want to know about the new season

The O.C., like Beverly Hills, 90210 before it, has been a force of nature on TV. Creating trends, styles and even new additions to the English language, this is a show that has very much tapped into the public zeitgeist. However all good things must come to an end and it was just announced that the upcoming Fourth Season of The O.C. would be it's last.

We recently had a chance to sit it on a conference call with The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz and one of the show's stars Rachel Bilson.

So how is it now with everybody, without Mischa on the set?

Josh Schwartz: I think it was certainly weird initially and she is definitely missed, but everybody understood the creative new direction that the show is headed in. I think everyone is having a lot of fun. But she was important part of the show and her character is an important part of the show and her character is honored I think in the beginning coming of this season. So she's missed but everybody is moving - is back at it. The show must go on.

I guess speculation suggests that the fourth season is probably going to be the final one. I know that's not official but that's what most people assume, and you know Grey's Anatomy success in the timeslot is certainly not helping at all in terms of a potential ratings rebound. So I'm curious how that sort of pessimism affects you as a producer on the show. Does it allow you to take more risks? How exactly does that impact what you do with the show?

Josh Schwartz: It's actually proved to be totally, creatively liberating. I think last year the show creatively was - decisions were made that weren't necessarily creative, but that were made in the sort of defensively, so as to not get cancelled. I think promotable events were dictating characters, plus the other way around. This year we've gotten very Zen about the fact that we are perilous to control those ratings, and out of that actually is real creative liberation. We're having a lot of fun, anything goes, and we're really doing the show that we are excited to do and that we think our fans will be excited to see.

I'm just wondering, is Chris Pratt going to stay on the show and become a possible love interest for Summer?

Josh Schwartz: Well yes - well I don't know about a love interest but he's definitely going to stick around. We had him originally slated for a handful of episodes and we just all enjoyed working with him so much and he's so much fun. He's really, "I think I'm the newest character," a lot, that we decided to extend it and bring him back for a few more. His character right now is really just as a Svengali, sort of a spiritual guru to Summer at college. I think if he was to have a romantic story somewhere further on in the season, it would be with someone you might not expect.

I have a question about Sandy and why you felt the need that he should have a guy friend. Why does Sandy - why does that bother Sandy?

Josh Schwartz: Well I think there comes a time in a man's life where he looks around and he realizes, "you know, I don't really have any guys to hang out with," and I think that can become a complicated thing as you become a dad and you're working a lot, the sort of the idea of just having like a friend, especially when you're Sandy Cohen and you're often solving people's problems. You know you're a great dad, a great husband, but like what about just having somebody to hang out with and have a beer with and watch the game. We thought that was sort of a smaller, more relatable kind of side to Sandy that we wanted to explore.

Will that, his friend, the character, become more of a bigger character or is it just sort of...?

Josh Schwartz: Well I think he's somebody that we can now fold into the show you know? He's a buddy for Sandy to have. They work together. It's a place to go in the show, and it was a story line that Peter was really excited to do as well and had a lot of fun with.

So in the past you've had sort of different sort of five or six episode roadblocks for Sandy and Kirsten, over the seasons - you know, Bill Campbell, Bonnie Somerville, Jerry, Ryan, etc., but that's sort of happy at the beginning of these episodes.

Josh Schwartz: Yes, I think it should be a roadblock free season for Sandy and Kirsten.

Well can actually give them enough to do while keeping them from being on the verge of divorce or alcoholism at all times?

Josh Schwartz: I think we can. I think that they work best when they're working together and they're on the same team. Certainly Ryan is going to keep them busy in the beginning of the season. As we get further on, Julie Cooper will keep Kirsten more than occupied.

I was wondering where the show will go with Kaitlin and Luke's younger brothers, and if she will at all kind of replace Marissa in a way?

Josh Schwartz: The idea was not to have her replace Marissa. The idea was just that she actually - especially in the beginning of the season, she really serves as a reminder - she serves as like a life raft to Julie to come back to reality. That when Julie is so despondent with grief over the loss of one daughter, that Kaitlin is there to say, "You still have another daughter. I'm still here. I'm still alive." She really helps to kind of bring Julie back and they work really great together as Mother and Daughter. The idea is not have her replace Marissa in anyway. She will not - Eric and Brad Ward, who are Kaitlin's - they're almost like her lap dogs I guess really, but she will have a romantic storyline in the second half of the season with Chris Brown.

I was just curious, what are the chances that Marissa will be back as either a ghost or a flashback or something like that this season?

Josh Schwartz: You'll have to watch and see, but like I said, her character will be very much in the fabric of the show, whether she herself is not back.

So what is ahead for Summer and Seth?

Josh Schwartz: Ah, well I think they're in a place where I believe a lot of couples have been in, in high school going into college. We were trying to do the long distance thing. Seth is left behind, where like, he's hanging out with the.... The highlight of his day is he had a turkey sandwich and his Dad wanted roast beef, and meanwhile Summer is 3,000 miles away at college reinventing herself completely. I think that's a struggle that all kids go through at some point in their life. That they're trying to take the high school girl friend with them to college. It's part of Summer's growth and it's part of Seth's growth to be happy for her, to be excited for this change, and just to make sure that she's changing for the right reasons, and not because she's trying to escape Newport or her past.

Will Ryan hunting down Volcheck be a big storyline for a while or does he go in a different direction?

Josh Schwartz: I think the sort of the aftermath of the season finale will play itself out in just a couple of episodes in the beginning of the year, about the first three episodes. Then Ryan will start to move into a new direction as he tries to heal himself.

Are we going to see any old familiar faces popping up on the show this year like maybe Jimmy Cooper coming back or the nanna?

Josh Schwartz: You definitely will. We'll definitely be bringing back some characters from previous seasons and maybe some you've forgotten about. Yes, you'll definitely see some, and Jimmy Cooper will be back for sure.

Is Autumn going to be a love interest for Ryan? It sort of looked that way at the end of the fourth episode.

Josh Schwartz: Well, Autumn is going to - Taylor will play a big part in the show this year. I think before she can be love interest for Ryan, first they have to become friends, but she is the ideal person, we believe, to help pull Ryan out of the darkness and towards the light. That she's just such a sort of force of nature and she brings out a really different side of Ryan. So their scenes together are a lot of fun and the actors are having a lot of fun doing them.

So given - as much as they made about sort of Willa's similarities to Mischa and sort of younger sister and all, are you conspicuously or consciously going to be avoiding having her go through any sort of similar downward spiral type arcs? Like is she going to find herself drinking soon?

Josh Schwartz: Yes, well she's a very different character than Marissa. I mean I think she's definitely Julie Cooper's daughter. I think Marissa always had a little bit more of the Jimmy Cooper side to her and Kaitlin is much more the strong, not so easily manipulative, not quite tragic figure. I think she's a very, very different character. She's much more innovative, a young Julie. So, no, I guess to answer your question.

What is Taylor doing there anyway? I thought she was going to Stanford? Do I recall that incorrectly?

Josh Schwartz: Taylor is actually headed to the Sorbonne in Paris. Something big happened to Taylor while she was in France and she might - she's back now with a secret, hiding out, which will slowly reveal itself over time. Rachel is now on the phone.

Rachel Bilson: Hi.

What big events can we expect to happen since we went through graduation and lots of big events last season? Is it going to be about big events again?

Josh Schwartz: It's not really as much about big events. I mean not to say that exciting things aren't going to be happening and every episode is going to leave you wanting more, but this year - I felt like last year, to some extent, big events were dictating character. I really want the stories this year to come and arise organically from the characters and have the characters really driving the story, so big things will be afoot. I don't think it'll be like necessarily milestones in people's lives. Although, Chris Micka will be back but - or these crazy tragic events occurring. It's more the stuff that hopefully will feel like life.

Now that Mischa has moved on, do you feel any extra pressure as the show's primary leading lady so to speak?

Rachel Bilson: I'm sorry, who?

Mischa.

Rachel Bilson: I'm just kidding. No, we definitely have a lot of strong single characters on our show. I would never think that my character is in that position because everyone does their fair share and has interesting story lines. We have a really good female cast, as well as male of course, but yes, I think everyone shares the limelight so to speak.

I'm just wondering how you feel about Summer this season and how she changes?

Rachel Bilson: I think it's really cool. I really like the direction they sort of pointed her in. Dealing with her best friend's death, she turns into sort of a tree hugger, which I think is nice to see on a TV show, especially with such a young audience that it might raise awareness and if they're not aware of these things, it brings it to their attention and maybe they want to get involved. So I think it's cool that it's that way as opposed to cage fighting or something like that.

Josh Schwartz: Hey, easy on the cage fighting, Bilson. We talked about a Summer cage fighting sequence but....

Rachel Bilson: Didn't fly.

Josh Schwartz: Didn't quite fly.

So do you anticipate being in Rhode Island the whole entire season or do you think you might make it back to see Seth some time?

Rachel Bilson: Well, O.C. is just a plane ride away, so she definitely manages to do her share of visits. So I don't know. Hopefully she'll get her experience at Brown and just come home when she needs to and he'll come visit her.

Josh Schwartz: Unless something happens.

Rachel Bilson: Of course.

I was curious, how does having a relationship with somebody off-screen impact your dynamic on-screen?

Rachel Bilson: I don't know. I can only imagine it would be hard, who knows.

Okay, so I'm basically going to redirect the question I asked Josh to you. You've heard - there's the pessimism. You've heard people talking about how this will be the final season. I'm curious, as someone whose big break was this show, how does that affect your morale on the set? What was filming like, knowing that this could be the final season you work with the various cast members you've grown to become family with?

Rachel Bilson: No, we don't know that it's the final season. We're just having a lot of fun and trying to make the best season we can and go from there. No one thinks it's over and doesn't want it to be over, because we have a really great thing and why would you want something like that to end? So we're just doing the best we can and having fun doing it.

Rachel, when you guys shot here - I guess actually you weren't in that episode, but when you shot here in Miami a couple of years ago, the guys made it pretty plain to me that they were very anxious to be graduating from high school. I wondered how you felt about that. Did you care or are you glad to...?

Rachel Bilson: No, I don't care, because it's fun to go back to high school and revisit it, but you don't have to stay there, which is nice. I look really young and I use it to my advantage and as an actress I think it can be very beneficial. So it's fun to do those high school situations because it's not real so I have fun doing it.

How will you find yourself necessarily distancing yourself from Seth? Do you find yourself doing that at all?

Rachel Bilson: My character distancing myself?

Yes.

Rachel Bilson: Well I think because dealing with the death of her best friend, she sort of distances herself from everybody attached to that or related to it, just because it's such a constant reminder. So in that way I think she is, but when it comes down to it, he's her boyfriend and they are going to have to deal with those issues eventually. So, yes, you know-

I'm just wondering, without Marissa and also the end of high school, the core group seems to be breaking apart. So I'm wondering how you think fans will find another way to connect with these characters, even though they're not all together.

Rachel Bilson: Right, well you know, it's funny because on set, they're like, okay, the foursome. Now you know Autumn Reeser has really stepped in and she's done such a great job and we're all having fun doing it. It's different, but we're just doing the best we can and having a lot of fun. So in a way it is different but it's also evolving and it's fun. So in a way - it's just a new exciting thing for everyone.

I was just wondering how you feel about - when you first signed-on to do the show, obviously your character was pretty one-level. Kind of the materialistic California girl and now that she's developed into a more deeper character, how has that challenged your acting and approach towards doing the show?

Rachel Bilson: That's a good question. You know what, I am so thankful to Josh Schwartz who is on the phone, because I was a guest star and didn't have that much to do. He just kept writing me great stuff and I had the opportunity to do that. It was honestly the best thing that could happen to me and it was definitely life-changing for me personally and professionally. So I'm just grateful for it all and I've had so much fun with the character. I love everything she gets to do and especially the comedic stuff. It's nice to practice your comedic skills once in a while, and so I think I'm very fortunate.

Josh Schwartz: I think this year you'll get to see the best stuff Rachel's done comedically, but also dramatically.

Rachel Bilson: Thanks.

Josh Schwartz: No problem.

You just booked a major film role the other day. When are going to start doing double-duty and have you figured out how your schedule is going to work?

Rachel Bilson: I actually already have started, and my schedule is pretty crazy, but I am so grateful that the show has given me the opportunity to do so. I'm going to work my butt off, but I couldn't be more excited about it.

I'm wondering if any of these new convictions of Summer's - if any of them are drawn from your own interests and causes that you might be interested in raising awareness about. Like caged chickens and stuff?

Rachel Bilson: Oh yes. Yes, definitely. I am a big believer in all of this stuff and I think that they've done such a good job with everything that she believes in. I have a pet bunny on the show, so that helps the awareness of cruelty to animals. I don't eat pigs because I love them, so there are definitely some similarities.

I'm wondering if there are any sort of specific teasers that you might be able to pass along, in that, you said it wasn't really events-driven this season. So if it's more character-driven, what sort of things will you be highlighting?

Josh Schwartz: Well I think in the beginning of the season, it's really a battle for Ryan's soul. I think you'll see the Cohens kind of all realigned, trying to help pull Ryan out of the darkness. At the same time, Summer has gone off to college to completely reinvent herself and to kind of escape from everything that reminds her of Newport and how that's going to play on the Seth/Summer story line. So I think those are probably the two major things to watch for in the beginning of the season. Then it will be about evolving relationships. How Taylor comes into Ryan's life and Che as Summer Svengali complicates her life with Seth and....

Rachel Bilson: Julie Cooper also....

Josh Schwartz: Julie Cooper has a lot going on.

Rachel Bilson: Yes.

Throughout the course of the show we've seen a few characters greatly change and a few characters have been relatively consistent.

Rachel Bilson: And die.... Yes.

Obviously I'm curious if the evolution of the Summer character to you has been realistic or if you feel it's been a little over-exaggerated over the past few seasons.

Rachel Bilson: No, I wouldn't say over-exaggerated. Maybe in the comedic area but that's fun and you want to do that that way, but no, it's been pretty realistic. She actually - I think it's nice because she became more human as the seasons have gone on. So in that sense it's very relatable and I liked how she sort of handled every situation and I think she's come the furthest. In this season, you get to see here really deal with real life situations and life in general and the comedy's there, but it's also the honest reactions to life itself.

Earlier I was asking Josh about having Chris Pratt on the show and I'm just wondering how you like having a story line with him and working with him.

Rachel Bilson: I absolutely love it. Chris is so much fun to work with. He's hysterical and I'm just so lucky that I get to be able to do these scenes. With him, it's honestly it makes work so much fun because he's so great and he's so great at the character and I hope he stays around forever.

I was hoping both of you guys could just give a quick rundown of what you have coming up next. I know, Rachel, you've got Jumper with Doug Liman going on. Josh, are you developing anything else right now?

Josh Schwartz: Yes, I have a couple of pilots I'm working on. One for NBC, one for the CW, and a movie - I work for Paramount, but called basically The Book of Looking for Alaska. Right now our focus and our commitment are to The O.C. season four.

The O.C. Season Four airs Thursday Nights at 9pm on Fox.

Dont't forget to also check out: The O.C.

Evan Jacobs