Whippet thin with dreamy cornflower blue eyes, Mischa Barton has become synonymous with the kind of California girl for whom the word 'dilemma' means choosing between the Gucci and the Prada on prom night. In fact it's a testament to the British-born actress' talent that fans end up blurring the lines between her and the LA princess she portrayed on the 'trouble in paradise'-themed show The OC.
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When Mischa's character Marissa Cooper was killed off after three years, a cri de coeur went up from the young starlet's admirers on the internet - with one even declaring that she was The OC. But for Mischa it was a welcome opportunity to reclaim her identity. "People assume I'm from Orange County," she commented. "Marissa hasn't seen much outside her bubble, but I like people to discern that I'm an English-Irish girl who grew up in New York and moved around a lot with her dad's job."
Born on January 24, 1986, in the west London borough of Hammersmith to a Mancunian father and Irish mum, Mischa moved to New York as a five-year-old. US citizenship was only granted to her ten days after her 20th birthday.
The precocious performer began treading the boards in the Big Apple at the age of nine, taking the lead role in Slavs!, a brooding meditation on the fall of the Soviet Union by Pulitzer prize-winning dramatist Tony Kushner. Mischa followed this with a move onto the silver screen in 1997's Lawn Dogs, a quietly successful coming-of-age movie, proving herself a major league charmer in the process. Small but significant parts in The Sixth Sense and Notting Hill also came her way.
By 2004, when Mischa graduated from the Professional Children's School where she was reportedly a straight A student, the rising talent had already made an indelible impression on The OC. Despite some of the series' more outlandish storylines and her regular appearances on the young Hollywood social circuit, Mischa was keen to reiterate her commitment to developing a serious career. "I do intelligent roles," she insisted. "I don't want to be labelled as doing silly movies. I'm more mature than kids my age because I'm constantly surrounded by adults."
Fascination with Mischa's off-screen life is unlikely to die down, however. Celebrity friendships with pals like Nicole Richie keep her in the public eye. Meanwhile fashion columns detail every bag or bikini she sports.
Her girl-about-town status has also been sealed through relationships with oil heir Brandon Davis and Cisco Adler, the son of legendary record producer Lou Adler. And her increasing profile has brought the actress a string of modelling contracts for Calvin Klein, Neutrogena and Accessorize.
A willingness to ink lucrative commercial deals doesn't mean the talented beauty is any less committed to her art, however. And in the summer of 2006 Mischa took a sabbatical from Tinseltown, coming back to her former homeland to study at London's prestigious RADA institute, declaring that her next move would be a return to the "dark, offbeat, quirky characters" that characterised her early years.