Depending on your perspective, 2006 was the best of times (who can forget Tara Reid being left out in the cold while Paris and her assistant Kim Kardashian breezed past the paparazzi and in to Hyde?), or the worst of times (Britney’s impromptu buzz cut). Perez Hilton was busy scribbling semen on celebrities’ faces as the post-Bennifer (and post-Brad-and-Jen) age saw the rise of the current “squad” mentality, from the socialites and fledgling actresses on the Sunset Strip to the cast of The Hills.
Mischa Barton was both a central player and outlier in the nightlife scene—unlike Paris and Nicole, she was the lead on a hit TV show, The OC, but she was also dating Brandon Davis, the ne’er do well of the Hollywood party scene, best known for nicknaming Lindsay “firecrotch”—classy. But in a move that can only be described as ill-advised, Mischa left The OC midway through season 3 in 2006, even though the show had garnered her a healthy amount of it-girl buzz and prestigious magazine covers (think of her as an early version of Blake Lively). From that point on, it was a series of unfortunate events: a driving under the influence charge in 2007, a 5150 hold (otherwise known as a psychiatric confinement) in 2009 and a breach of contract lawsuit over unpaid bills.
Her work life wasn’t very fruitful either: instead of building an award-winning career, she worked on largely unseen projects, like her failed CW series The Beautiful Life. She decamped to London and opened a boutique, but seemingly resisted the urge to go the “international DJ” route (like Paris Hilton) or the “international girlfriend” route (like Lindsay Lohan). It appeared that we had lost Marissa Cooper for good when a 2013 People cover story said her life “spiraled out of control.”
But just a few years later, we’re starting to see signs of a comeback, albeit in fits and starts. In 2015 Mischa sued her mother/former manager for financial improprieties—getting a derailed career back on track always requires a bit of housekeeping. Then, earlier this year she took the plunge in earnest by signing up for Dancing with the Stars, a move that can lead to a lot of public and media goodwill, or an embarrassing fall (literally). She didn’t last long in the competition, but it put her back in front of a TV audience (and she even got a “good luck” shout out from Summer!). She’s slipping back into the fashion world, too, recently attending a Frame Denim dinner hosted by power player Jennifer Meyer Maguire, as well as the Alice and Olivia show in LA. Paps also recently caught her posing in a beach photo shoot (because some 2009 habits die hard).
With three films in post-production, she could be one indie flick or TV pilot away from revitalizing her career. Is there a Mischa Miracle around the corner? Don’t write her off just yet—even Britney’s hair grew back eventually.