Last June I did a TDW series called “Teen Drama’s Villainous Characters,” looking at the villains of each series. Included in part three was The O.C.’s Julie Cooper. (Though, oddly enough, I forgot to include her in my Biggest Vixens series!) But a recent interview with Julie’s alter-ego, Melinda Clarke, reminded me that there was also something endearing about Julie. As Clarke told the Los Angeles Times last month, “Julie Cooper, though flawed and motivated by the wrong things, strived to be the best parent that she could be.” I thought today, Mother’s Day, would be an interesting day to reflect on that.
In my own exclusive interview with Clarke, we discussed Julie’s series-long transformation, where she thinks the character might be today and how Julie might be connected to Clarke’s character on The Vampire Diaries. Clarke also dished on her CW pilot Nikita.
TeenDramaWhore: Do you remember what your audition for The O.C. was like?
Melinda Clarke: Oh, yes. Actually, my first audition was for the role of Kirsten Cohen [who ended up being played by Kelly Rowan].
TDW: Wow, I don’t think I knew that!
Clarke: I was younger than the character. I was younger than both the characters, actually. But it was a regular role. In the pilot, Julie was only a guest star. I read for [Kirsten] but I was asked to come back for the other character. When I came in for the Julie role, I made sure that [executive producer] Josh Schwartz and the casting director knew that I grew up in Orange County. I was literally going to the audition and then driving to my mom’s house down in Orange County. And, of course, it was a completely different world. I did not grow up in the “O.C.” world. I grew up in kind of a liberal artsy family and on the beach, which is beautiful. But it definitely wasn’t the Julie Cooper world. And I just remember having so much fun with the Julie role. She was clearly just such a money-digging whore. To me, it’s so funny now to see The Real Housewives of Orange County because you realize it exists and that’s what Julie was. Julie was obviously the original housewife. Except they have a lot more plastic on their bodies than Julie did! Thank goodness. And I remember when I got the role, it went down to the last minute. The casting director, Patrick Rush–I had actually been in an episode of Everwood.
TDW: I know! That was one of my favorite shows.
Clarke: He was able to show a scene or two from that to the network, so they could offer me the role. I was up for the role but I got a role in Battlestar Galactica, the one that Tricia Helfer ended up doing. And of course she’s a perfect, beautiful, stunning swimsuit model who can act her butt off. She ended up doing that role but they wouldn’t let me out of the contract. When you audition for a show, you sign a contract. And they can decide between however many people they want. They weren’t letting me out of the contract to do The O.C. It was literally down to the last hour before they finally let me go so I could go do The O.C. And the rest is history. It turned into a great role.
TDW: It did. When did you realize that the show was a hit?
Clarke: There were a lot of different reasons why people gravitated to it. It was a good script. It was a great script. We had Josh Schwartz writing great scripts. Great cast. We also had the advantage of being after American Idol on Wednesday nights. I think the first time we realized it was a really big hit was at a fan appearance down on one of the piers, I think down in Redondo Beach. We were each put into limos and driven up over the hill and down to the pier and there were thousands and thousands of kids and fans–and the show had only been on like a month or two. I think that’s when we all realized, “Woah! This is something that people are responding to. Very much so.” It was very soon.
TDW: When you look back on the show today, do you have a favorite storyline?
Clarke: The first thing that comes to mind is Julie living in the trailer park [in season 3]. Because it was just, would she do it or not? There’s one particular scene where Julie’s in cowboy boots, a cut-off jean skirt, a tank top, and a thong, chewing [tobacco] and watching Nascar …and Kirsten shows up [Episode 3.10, The Chrismukkah Bar Mitz-vahkkah]. That was one of my favorite scenes of the whole show. And the first season, I remember reading a script where she has this little affair with Luke [Chris Carmack] and she picks up the phone and calls him very stealth-like [Episode 1.20, The Telenovela]. It’s that scene in particular where she says like, “Meet me at the hotel. Knock twice. I’ll be there. And Luke, this is a booty call.” When I read that, I was like “I officially love this show!” The lines [in the show] were just fantastic. It’s so about creating culture instead of reflecting it. We were creating pop culture.
TDW: You were. You guys definitely left a mark.
Clarke: And there was a scene, I think in the same episode, when Caleb [Alan Dale] shows up late at night with the flowers and I say, “Is this a booty call?” And he goes, “What’s a boo-tee…call?” “When you show up unannounced with the crappy carnations from Ralph’s with the idea that I might just want (blank).”
TDW: Yes! So funny.
Clarke: And the last season, Marissa [Mischa Barton] gave me a lot to do emotionally. It was definitely an incredible arc for me as an actress to start with this woman who was so superficial but, of course, she’s not just one-dimensional, she’s multi-dimensional. Starting in her pink Juicy sweat suit outfit and then by the end she’s graduated from college and moving on with her life. She’s a survivor. And I miss her.
TDW: Julie was obviously very affected by Marissa’s death. Did you have any reservations about how that would go over with the fans?
Clarke: Oh my goodness, everyone was shocked. From what I understand, the official story is that they just felt like they couldn’t do any more to this character or any more with the character. She had been through hell and back. She’d been through so much. What more could they write? Or at least that’s what I heard. I don’t really know if it ended up being the best idea. It definitely gave me a lot to do, which was fantastic. I think the last season was really interesting. I don’t know. I think the show could’ve gone longer than it did. It didn’t even finish a full fourth season. But I don’t know. You’d have to ask those involved. There’s a lot of different reasons why people think it ended. We were also moved from Wednesdays at 9 after American Idol to Thursday at 8 against Friends. And then we were moved to Thursday at 9 against CSI. It’s a little bit tough to keep up with those.
TDW: As you said, the show ended with Julie getting her degree [Episode 4.16, The End’s Not Near, It’s Here].
Clarke: Which I actually have as a prop!
TDW: Oh, wow, you got to take that home?
Clarke: Yes. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone what it actually says, what she got her degree in.
TDW: I would love to know!
Clarke: It wasn’t ever part of the script but the prop guys had fun with it. It says she got a degree in psychology but she also double majored in paranormal studies.
TDW: That’s really funny. So, if you had to guess, where do you think Julie is today?
Clarke: Well, let’s see. They did the “years in the future” thing, so I think, chronologically, she’d still be getting her degree.
Clarke: But if you wanted to start from there, she’s probably…she’s probably still unmarried and dating when she wants but being a good mom to her son, who would have to be somewhere around 10 now or something like that. I think she probably opened her own business and has been very successful with it. I don’t know if she was able to do anything with her degree or not. Oh my goodness, maybe she’s a psychic now, like John Edwards!
TDW: You know, that would make her a great fit for The Vampire Diaries. You could just go right over.
Clarke: Kelly Donovan’s basically Julie Cooper now! But [unlike Julie], she’s drinking away.
TDW: On The Vampire Diaries, you worked with Paul Wesley [Donnie] and he appeared on one episode of The O.C. [Episode 1.05, The Outsider].
Clarke: Yes, it was very memorable.
TDW: Did you meet him back then?
Clarke: No, we actually met in Atlanta back in January. He’s good friends with Ben McKenzie [Ryan]. We said hello and I definitely remembered him, even though we never actually met. So we got to meet in Atlanta in 20 degree weather at night.
TDW: Ooh, that sounds fun.
Clarke: Yes. It is absolutely fun. It was an extreme winter in Atlanta this year.
TDW: Now you’re back in California, I hope.
Clarke: Yes. I was in Atlanta for two weeks, came home for a while, went back for another week, came back for a while, and then went back for two more weeks and them came back for a while and then went to Toronto for three weeks. So this California girl has definitely learned I can survive in cold weather but it’s not my favorite!
TDW: Were you already familiar with Kevin Williamson’s work on Dawson’s Creek and the Scream movies?
Clarke: Yes. I was fan of Dawson’s Creek. I was always very impressed with the characters on that show, their development and how smart he made the characters. Their conversations, their situations. They definitely had a very talented cast and a lot of them have moved on to do really amazing work.
TDW: I always saw The O.C. as the next step in the genre after Dawson’s Creek.
Clarke: There were things that Dawson’s Creek did that were a little more cerebral and The O.C. was a little bit more humorous. Very intelligent humor.
TDW: Right. I think the Dawson’s Creek had a philosophical intelligence whereas The O.C. had wit.
Clarke: Wit. Exactly.
TDW: With The Vampire Diaries, I have to ask: are you Team Damon or Team Stefan? Or, you can be Team Kelly, too!
Clarke: It was fun to work with Ian [Somerhalder] because there’s a looseness to him, to his character. He definitely brings a lot to the character. It’s not just lines on the page. And I think Kelly is similar to that. We don’t really know why Kelly is such a bad mother, why she does what she does, like drinking, and where she’s been. They definitely didn’t explain that so that leaves a lot to be explored in the future if she comes back.
TDW: That’s what the hope is. That we’ll see you again next season and delve into that.
Clarke: I’m not dead yet! I don’t think they have any intention of killing her. But it was definitely a little bit of a taste or a tease to have this character around to make her son’s life miserable but then ultimately leave town as a sacrifice, realizing she doesn’t make her son’s life any better.
TDW: You were cast in the pilot Nikita, which is also on The CW. So if Nikita is picked up, would you be able to do both shows?
Clarke: Technically, yes. Legally, yes. They’re both on the same network. It would probably be more of a scheduling situation. It would be up to the powers that be, the producers on Nikita, the producers on The Vampire Diaries. They’re such different characters and they don’t conflict as far as characters go but you would have to be within certain parameters. It’s more of a scheduling thing.
TDW: For those that aren’t familiar with the original La Femme Nikita show or even for those that are, what will this show be about?
Clarke: Well, Nikita was a runaway girl with no life, who was forced into becoming an assassin. There’s been different versions: a French film, American film, Canadian television show. This version is an updated version. Nikita is now not within the Division. She got out. She’s now played by Maggie Q. Brilliant casting. People may remember her from Mission Impossible 3. So she’s now out of the Division and she’s trying to make things very difficult for the Division. And we’ll also be focusing on the new young recruits who are trained to be assassins for the Division. But they’re essentially held against their will. They have to become an assassin or die. There’s a new young nikita and her character is played by Lyndsy Fonseca. People will remember her from Desperate Housewives but she’s now in Hot Tub Time Machine, which is a very cute movie. I think she’s in Kick-Ass, too. So she’s a hot actress right now. She’s our second lead. And my character is Amanda, one of the operatives and mentors within Division. She’s definitely not going down to the bar drinking shots. She’s a very strong and calculating and tough woman.
TDW: So are you doing action stunts?
Clarke: I would expect so. I would expect every single person on this show would have some action. It seems very alien [to the network] but there’s a lot of younger characters who will fulfill the CW demographic. I think the character of Alex, Lyndsy’s character, is supposed to be 19 years old. But there’s a lot of action, so I think young men will like it, too. Not just the young ladies.
TDW: Are you feeling confident about a series pick-up? Have you guys heard anything yet from The CW?
Clarke: Maybe I’m just jinxing everything by even talking about it. But, no, we don’t know. I have the highest of high hopes. Whenever you do a pilot and the network’s studios put money into the pilot, you’re going to hear positive feedback because they wouldn’t want to spend the money unless they’d like to get it on television. So hopefully this isn’t speaking before I should be talking about it but I think The CW is really behind it and I hope it does end up on the network, that they give us the chance.
TDW: I do, too. When you were cast in The Vampire Diaries, there were a lot of comments from people who were happy but who also want you back on their screen more permanently, not just guest roles.
Clarke: I like the ensemble situation [with permanent roles]. It’s nice to be able to have a life with my daughter and still work.
TDW: Right. And it means we’re seeing you regularly. We’re not waiting for the next guest role.
Clarke: I did one episode of Entourage last year but it was probably one of my favorite things I’ve done in a long time. It was a great scene with Jeremy Piven. I played myself. It was a brilliant thing. It was a fictitious version of Melinda Clarke. They had me come out of the Paramount lot and, of course, there’s these huge posters for my own television show. [The character] is a spy by night and a mom by day. I just thought that was very clever. I love that show. I would love to do a show like that more often. The industry is recovering from the single worst time in history. From the writer’s strike to the potential SAG strike. The lack of material. All of these things. The numbers of everything have gone down in every way, shape and form. It’s just a matter of finding the right thing and I’m really happy Warner Bros. and McG are producing Nikita and Danny Cannon from CSI is directing.
TDW: I forgot McG was doing it! He executive produced The O.C. as well. So it’s kind of like a little reunion.
Clarke: And, of course, he produces Chuck and Supernatural, [the latter of] which is on The CW, too. It all sounds like a wonderful recipe and I feel like Warner Bros. is behind it. Very much so. But you never know. You never know. Some great pilots never get on television. It’s a shame. But I think they feel good about this. And if it doesn’t go, you go after the next thing. Maybe I’ll go to Atlanta, Georgia more often.
TDW: Last question: There have been a few Twitter accounts claiming to be you and they’re not you. Can you just state for the record whether you’re on Twitter?
Clarke: I am not on Twitter in any way, shape or form.
TDW: Good, thank you.
Clarke: In fact, Kelly Rowan sent me a text not too long ago saying, “Did you know you and I are having conversations on Twitter?”
TDW: Yes! I saw that! There were two accounts that talked with each other, claiming to be you guys.
Clarke: We had a good laugh over that because neither one of us have the time for Twitter. Maybe we should. But I haven’t ever done anything like that.
Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!