‘The O.C.’: Ryan Atwood Was Almost Played by These ’00s Heartthrobs

The O.C. is best known by many for two things: the iconic Phantom Planet theme song and Ben McKenzie‘s character, Ryan Atwood and his famous line “Whoever you want me to be.”

Ironically, the young actor almost didn’t play Ryan in the FOX series. Find out which ’00s heartthrobs were almost cast in The O.C. instead of McKenzie. 

Ben McKenzie
Ben McKenzie | Chris Weeks/WireImage

Casting the adults on ‘The O.C.’ was just as important as casting the kids 

Creator Josh Schwartz did not take casting for The O.C. lightly.

“We wanted to make it very clear that the adults were going to be just as important in this world as the kids,” he told Daily Beast during a 2013 interview. By choosing the best actors for every role, Schwartz felt he would better be able to communicate to adult viewers that The O.C. was “a show for them as much as the kids.” 

Among the adult stars with staying power was Peter Gallagher, who played patriarch Sandy Cohen.

“[Gallagher] was the first person we cast because [we] needed a terrific actor with a great reputation,” Schwartz said. 

Kelly Rowan, Tate Donovan, Melinda Clarke, and Alan Dale were also part of The O.C.‘s adult ensemble. 

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As for the kids, Schwartz said they never looked at anyone aside from Adam Brody for the role of Seth Cohen. On the other hand, Mischa Barton and Olivia Wilde, who would later guest star on the show, duked it out for the role of Marissa Cooper. 

Additionally, Ben McKenzie had his work cut out for him when it came to being cast on The O.C.

Ben McKenzie loved playing Ryan Atwood

McKenzie, who is now better known for his role as Jim Gordon on Gotham, loved playing the street-smart teen Ryan Atwood when he eventually got the role.

“It was awesome,” McKenzie in 2014 during an interview with HuffPost Live. Prior to landing the role, McKenzie was driving a $500 car and “living on the floor of a friend’s apartment in the Valley.” 

McKenzie had a blast working on the show, calling his castmates “amazing.” But in reality, he wasn’t Schwartz’s first consideration for the role of Ryan Atwood.

Josh Schwartz wanted ‘Troy’ star Garrett Hedlund to play Ryan Atwood on ‘The O.C.’

During that same interview, Schwartz spilled a lot of behind-the-scenes information about The O.C. before it took off — including who they were looking to cast as one of the lead roles. 

“Garrett Hedlund was going to go in and test for Ryan,” Schwartz shared. “But then he got Troy” — you know, the mega-hit film starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom. 

Garrett Hedlund
Garrett Hedlund | Pablo Cuadra/WireImage

“So we were like, ‘Sh*t where are we going to find Ryan?'” Schwartz continued. At the time, McKenzie was reading for another show set to air on the UPN network. Knowing McKenzie was reading for “the fifth lead” on another series, Schwartz felt confident inviting him to read for Ryan Atwood.

And as they say, the rest is history.  

Chad Michael Murray also auditioned to play Ryan Atwood on ‘The O.C.’ 

Hedlund wasn’t the only person Schwartz and his team were considering to cast as Ryan on The O.C.

“Chad Michael Murray read for Ryan [too],” Schwartz said during his interview. At the time, he had just landed the role of Lucas Scott on One Tree Hill

Fortunately, the stars aligned for McKenzie, Murray, and Hedlund alike.