Mischa Barton: Growing pains

Mischa Barton was too cool for school in 'The OC'. Now she's donning a gymslip for 'St Trinian's'. But it's about time she graduated, she tells James Mottram

Mischa Barton is the calm at the centre of a storm. While her mother Nuala fusses in the background, Barton is readying herself for a trip to Belfast for the premiere of her latest film, Richard Attenborough's Closing the Ring. "I'm so excited to go to Ireland tomorrow," she says. "I don't get over there enough. I'm going to see Richard for the premiere." This is the first surprise of the day: the hippest 21-year-old in Hollywood, and former star of the cult teen show The OC, now gets her kicks from an octogenarian director-cum-peer of the realm. "I just really love hanging out with really old people," she cries. "They're the best dinner dates you could ever have. All that life experience and understanding..."

On the surface, Barton could easily be dismissed as just another one of the beautiful people. First seen on screen as an 11-year-old in Lawn Dogs, followed by small parts in Notting Hill and The Sixth Sense, she has since taken Hollywood or at least its party scene by storm. As a child she was at the same modelling agency as Lindsay Lohan, while more recently she dated oil heir Brandon Davis, a friend to Paris Hilton. Last year, there were reports of Barton collapsing at a barbecue in LA after mixing cocktails and antibiotics, yet she maintains that her party-girl image has been manufactured by the media. "I take it with a pinch of salt. It is what it is." Does she find it all rather amusing? "Yeah. Kind of."

The last time I saw Barton was in July on the Moscow set of Roland Joff's coming-of-age drama You and I (Finding tATu), one of a slew of films she has coming out in the wake of being written out of The OC in 2006. Looking for all the world like your typical Hollywood diva the ultra-chic designer shades, the burly security guard outside her trailer, the yappy mutt in her arms she was acting like one, too, refusing to do any press. But today she's in a more accommodating mood. Having also just worked with the veteran producer Dino De Laurentiis on David Leland's drama Virgin Territory, set in Florence at the time of the Black Death, Barton evidently wants to be taken seriously. She certainly bewitched Lord Attenborough, who believes "her ability to convey pain and sadness, hopefulness and fear, is riveting".

Spanning two continents and half a century, Closing the Ring might be best described as an old-fashioned love story. Barton plays young Michigan lass Ethel Ann, who watches her airman lover Teddy, along with two friends, head off to fight during the Second World War. While Attenborough's assessment of her talents might be overselling a contribution hampered by a stilted script, she lends her character a beguiling vulnerability.

Barton's segment of the film unfolds concurrently with the tale of Ethel Ann in her twilight years (played by Shirley MacLaine), as she makes a pilgrimage to Belfast to find out the truth behind the disappearance of Teddy. Barton says of her co-star: "The Children's Hour [MacLaine's 1961 film] is one of my favourite movies, and she's such an idol to me. It was great. She shot her whole part of the movie first, so I was able to watch her footage and draw on that and see what she does and see her mannerisms and try to figure out how to compliment that as a younger version of her."

With Barton also in a cameo as a former head girl in St Trinian's, the raucous update of the black-and-white series, it seems as if she's intent on rediscovering her roots. While her mother is Irish, her father, Paul, is from Manchester. His job took the family to New York when Barton was six. "It's a big change at that age," she says. "I think it was shocking for our parents to see how different it was. It was a huge adjustment for the whole family." Does she consider herself British or American now? "I'm such a strange mix," she reflects. She has dual passports, but lost her British accent long ago and spent her entire youth in the US high school system. "I've experienced the whole American childhood, I guess."

Yet she's an Anglophile at heart. Her older sister Zoë, who stayed behind to finish her education in England when the family moved to the States, now lives in London, working as a barrister. After starting her theatrical career on Broadway in Tony Kushner's Slavs!, Barton went to Rada last year, and she clearly enjoys the elite social scene the capital can offer, even dining at Kensington Palace. "I feel very at home in London for some reason," she says. "It feels like I should move there soon and spend some time there." She's also a pub girl at heart, she claims. "I love a good pub but there are no good pubs in LA," she says.

Despite owning a home in Los Angeles, Barton admits that she's more comfortable in New York, where her family home is, not least because the paparazzi there are less bothersome. "I've made a thing of not letting it change me at all," she replies. "I just love to be able to be in control of my life. I do whatever I want and I figure I just have to learn to live with it and work around that. It's nice to be in New York more and more these days because you get a bit more anonymity and it's not an issue. You can just live a normal life. In LA, you can't avoid the paparazzi they're everywhere. It's become a whole thing now. I still go back there all the time. I just go out less and stay at my house."

Not that being a "shut-in", as she calls herself, helped when a naked picture of her on-off boyfriend, rocker Cisco Adler, turned up in Paris Hilton's belongings and then on the internet. She currently has no man in her life "I'm so happy I'm single" though perhaps she just doesn't have time: she has four films ready for release in 2008, including Assassination of a High School President with Bruce Willis (she plays the "popular girl", as you might expect) and Walled In, a thriller based on Serge Brussolo's novel. She is also currently producing her first film, Homecoming, in which she plays a psychopathic girl "who tortures this other girl to get her ex-boyfriend back".

She is evidently keen to keep a tight reign on her career; playing the tumultuous Marissa Cooper on The OC taught her that. "You don't have any creative control and you're at the mercy of what everybody else wants. You work terribly long hours and a difficult schedule. Sometimes, we would shoot two episodes at once. The only other show to do that was [rival soap Beverly Hills] 90210." When Marissa died in a car wreck as a ratings-booster at the end of season three a shock to all, including Barton, who admits she cried when she found out the show floundered and was canned midway through its fourth year, proving what a hit she was. Does she miss the show? She nods. "It's a bit like high school. You wouldn't want to do it again. You get nostalgic about the experience."

With an assurance that belies her youth, Barton says that she'd go back to a long-running TV show if the part was right. "It's not that I dislike doing television at all. It would be interesting having more creative control over where the storylines go or the characters. But for the right thing, of course." Certainly, as long as she graduates from playing high school girls to films with a mite more maturity she should have one hell of a career on her hands. "I've grown so much as an actress," she says. "There's been times I've thought: 'I don't want to be an actress forever', and there are times when I feel I can't live without it because I love it so much." She has a glint in her eye. "It's a wild ride."

'St Trinian's' opens on Friday; 'Closing the Ring' opens on 28 December

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain