Ten years ago today, The O.C. aired its final episode—which means that it’s officially been a decade since Taylor Townsend graced our TV screens. While the soapy Fox drama that introduced us to Orange County’s coolest high schoolers has been off the air more than twice the amount of time it was on, Seth Cohen, Summer Roberts, Marissa Cooper, Ryan Atwood and co. will forever hold a place in our hearts (and, quite frankly, pop culture history). And for Autumn Reeser, who played the overeager Taylor in the series’ final two seasons, the show was a total game-changer.
“I signed on for four episodes, and that's what I thought I was going to do,” Reeser recently told InStyle. “So I was very, very lucky in terms of the direction the show ended up going.” That direction, of course, was shaped by the fact that Mischa Barton left the show—and the death of her lead character, Marissa, provided the perfect opportunity for Reeser’s role to become permanent. Fans had a love-hate relationship with Taylor—as did bad boy Ryan (Ben McKenzie)—but there’s no denying she made her presence known. After hanging up Taylor’s preppy high school outfits for good when the show ended in 2007, Reeser went on to star as junior talent agent Lizzie Grant in Entourage. And for her latest role, the 36-year-old actress is back on the same fictional career path.
In E!’s new drama, The Arrangement (premieres March 5 at 10p.m. ET), she plays yet another talent agent. But her turn as Leslie Bellcamp—who represents the young actress contemplating a contract marriage at the series’ central plot—is actually nothing like her past role as Lizzie. “On Entourage, I played a junior agent—but this one is pretty much in charge of the company,” said Reeser. “She's more like the Ari Gold, and she’s way more outspoken than Lizzie, who was manipulative and just trying to get ahead behind the scenes. With Leslie, it's all out there because she doesn't need to manipulate anyone—she says it exactly like it is, and she's not afraid or not being liked. She knows what she's doing and she doesn't need to apologize to anyone.”
Here, Reeser dishes more on her latest project and reminisces about Entourage and The O.C.
What first drew you to this role?
I think the project is sort of a modern-day Cinderella story. It's one of those secret wishes were you get whisked away to this magical fantasy life, and I think that's really fun. I play Christine Evangelista’s character’s agent, and she’s a total badass. I tend to be drawn to strong, professional female roles, and this one is no-nonsense. She is pregnant, due any day, but still kicking ass at work. I loved that aspect, because that's what I did during both of my pregnancies—and I loved seeing that on screen.
Your character’s client, Megan Morrison, is a young actress trying to do whatever it takes to make it in Hollywood. How do you relate to her, from your own personal experience in the industry?
Well, nobody offered me a contract marriage at the beginning of my career. But I think what I do relate to is that sense of confusion that she feels, of ‘How do I move forward and get my foot in the door?’ My character's point of view is that Christine should absolutely take the contract marriage offer, and that it will do amazing things for her career. I enjoy playing a character who has a really strong point of view about that, because it’s juicy, but I don't think things would be as cut and dry for me if I was really in her situation. I think I would probably advise someone not to do it. So it's fun to get into my character's head about that and to try and convince this young girl that this will be good for her career. She basically turns into Alice in Wonderland, because she gets dropped into this radical world of excitement and confusion and everything suddenly turns topsy-turvy.
Last time you played a talent agent was, of course, on Entourage. What was your favorite memory from filming that show?
There are so many. Entourage was the show I wanted to be on. I was a huge fan, so that was an incredible experience—I guess The O.C. was the same, where it was a show that I really wanted to be on and then was lucky enough to have that experience. But on Entourage, getting to go head-to-head with [Jeremy] Piven, there's nothing better. He's a great actor. He's so much fun to work opposite. That was a career highlight, for sure.
It’s officially been 10 years since The O.C. went off the air. When you first signed on for the show, did you ever think that Taylor would end up with Ryan?
No! They're such opposites. But I think that was part of the appeal, that they brought certain things out in each other. I was very happy that they ended up together, and I like that the show left it open. It felt really appropriate to see Summer and Seth's relationship end with the wedding and it also felt appropriate that we don't know what happened with Taylor and Ryan. That felt like the right decision, to me.
Looking back now, what are your thoughts are on Taylor's preppy outfits?
Oh god. Heinous. Character-appropriate, but no thank you.
What do you imagine that Taylor would be doing today?
I think she'd be running a company—something in a leadership position, for sure. She was always in that kind of position, and she enjoyed it. She was a very smart, capable girl and I'm sure she took that into the rest of her life. She probably has a great sex life, too. She had that even in high school so, you know, kudos to her.
Would you be down to reprise your role if a reunion ever took shape?
For sure. I mean it depends on the situation, of course. I did Hart of Dixie with Rachel [Bilson] a couple years ago, so I saw her. Ben [McKenzie] has come and done the stage show that I do called The Thrilling Adventure Hour with us a couple times. And then we did an O.C. musical a year ago and the show’s creator Josh [Schwartz] and more people from the cast and crew were there, so that was a mini-reunion.
How do you think Leslie and Taylor would interact if they ever met in an alternate TV universe?
If it was high school Taylor, I think Leslie would probably mentor her and whip her into shape in some way. I think grown up Taylor…I don't know. Leslie's whole world is Hollywood, and if the other person wasn't in that world, I don't think they would have very much interaction. And I don't think that would be where Taylor ended up. I don't think Taylor went into show business.