‘The O.C.’ Creator Explains Why Marissa and Ryan’s First Meeting Scene Is Still a Big Deal

California, here we come (again). 

August 5, 2020, marks the 17-year anniversary of The O.C. debuting on Fox. Even though the pilot aired back in 2003, the teen drama remains a pop culture fixture of the early 2000s.

Benjamin McKenzie and Mischa Barton smile for cameras at 'The O.C.' premiere party
Benjamin McKenzie and Mischa Barton at ‘The O.C.’ premiere party | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Ahead, find out the not-so-obvious significance of Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) and Marissa Cooper’s (Mischa Barton) first meeting scene. 

Ryan and Marissa are love interests from the start of ‘The O.C.’

The bad boy from a broken home who the Cohen family takes in, Ryan, immediately takes an interest in Marissa, the girl next door. From the start of the series, there’s romantic chemistry brewing between them.

But there’s a problem. Marissa is dating Luke (Chris Carmack) when Ryan shows up in Newport Beach, California. However, their paths keep crossing and they’re always drawn back to each other until they ultimately start dating.

Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody, Mischa Barton, and Ben McKenzie at the 2003 Teen Choice Awards
Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody, Mischa Barton, and Ben McKenzie at the 2003 Teen Choice Awards | Frederick M. Brown

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Ryan and Marissa along with Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson) and Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) make up what’s referred to as The O.C.’s “core four” or simply the four main characters. 

Marissa and Ryan first meet in the driveway

After exchanging glances in The O.C.’s pilot episode, they finally meet. Smoking a cigarette in the Cohen’s driveway, Ryan sees Marissa standing in her own driveway. After a moment of silence, Marissa asks Ryan, “Who are you?” to which he replies, “Whoever you want me to be.”

Confused by the remark, Marissa says “OK” then asks Ryan for a cigarette. He obliges and then proceeds to share how he ended up living with Seth and the rest of the Cohen family. Marissa doesn’t believe Ryan’s story and thinks he’s their “cousin from Boston.” 

Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) breaks up their conversation and Marissa’s ride, Luke, shows up soon after. It’s not a monumental scene in the grand scheme of the show but it’s the beginning of Ryan and Marissa’s love story. 

Josh Schwartz says it’s ‘the first and only time’ a teenager smoked a cigarette on ‘The O.C.’

Revisiting The O.C. in 2015 during an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Josh Schwartz, the show’s creator, broke down scenes from the pilot episode.

Providing details about Ryan and Marissa’s first meeting, Schwartz said it became a big deal because teens were smoking cigarettes. 

“It was also the first and only time we had a teenager smoking a cigarette on network television,” he said. 

Schwartz continued, sharing why the network agreed to the scene. 

“The deal with the network was: It’s a moment of Marissa showing a little bit of rebellion and after this, Ryan will never smoke again,” he said. “We were able to get it through that way.”

Josh Schwartz, Mischa Barton, and Ben McKenzie during a radio interview
Josh Schwartz, Mischa Barton, and Ben McKenzie | Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic for Us Weekly Magazine

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He also said Fox asked the show to film McKenzie’s part of the scene again “because they couldn’t the cigarette in the commercials.”

Despite the added complications of the cigarettes, Schwartz “felt really good” Ryan and Marissa’s scene. He recalled how an unforeseen gust of wind made it extra special. 

A wind picked up when we were shooting it, but only on Mischa’s coverage,” he said. “You know how some actors can always find the light? Mischa found the wind.”

Marissa and Ryan’s love story ends in ‘The O.C.’ Season 3

After they lit cigarettes and ignited their romance in the pilot, Ryan and Marissa’s will-they-or-won’t-they storyline continued until the end of season 3.

Barton wanted off the show and she pushed hard for Marissa not to get a happy ending. Ultimately, she got her wish: Marissa died in a car crash in the season 3 finale episode. 

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