It's Back to The O.C.
The Internet rumors last month weren't true—she didn't marry her boyfriend and costar, Adam Brody—but she did visit a honeymooners' paradise. "I had a very short vacation in Hawaii," says Bilson, 23, who plays spoiled party girl Summer Roberts. Mostly, she says, she felt obliged to keep in the public eye: "When a show's getting ready to launch, you've got to get your face out there." Off-camera, though, her relationship with Brody remains strictly off-limits. "Personal life is personal," she says. Meanwhile, on the show, Summer begins the fall torn between Seth and a jock named Zach (Michael Cassidy). "Considering how good Rachel looked in a Wonder Woman costume" in a Season 1 episode, says Cassidy, "she's definitely worth fighting over."
Adam Brody: Salack Attack
Strange...but the 24-year-old actor, who plays funny, insecure Seth Cohen, doesn't list Rachel Bilson among summer's activities. "I slept, watched movies, drank coffee, read comics, went to a few concerts. I was so lazy." (He did spend time wrapping up Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a romantic thriller.) Seth will have to be more energetic: With the new season, he'll have lost girlfriend Summer to a water-polo player, and he'll be working at a rock club to showcase bands that turn up on the show. "I was like 'Wow' around Modest Mouse," he says of their gig this season. "I'm not that cool!" Sure he is. The show's breakout star jokes, "I can no longer go to Wet Seal," the girls' fashion chain. "Too many people recognize me. I'm missing all the good sales."
Mischa Barton: Puppy Love
Barton, 18, who plays Marissa Cooper, a rich girl inevitably in the thick of The O.C.'s soap-opera plotting, spent a month in France with her family and signed on to the comedy The OH in Ohio. The rest of the time she could be spotted with boyfriend Brandon Davis, grandson of late billionaire Marvin Davis. She winces when asked about the relationship—"I'm not a very romantic person, to be honest," she said—but opens up about other needs. "I'm dying to buy a pet. A cocker spaniel is what I want." As for Marissa, she now seems to have a problem with alcohol and a thing for the gardener. "This time she's very different," says Barton.
Benjamin Mckenzie: Rebel With a Passport
During his three months of downtime after the end of the first season, "I went to China with my parents," says the 26-year-old actor, who plays sullen hunk Ryan Atwood. "That was really an amazing experience." Closer to home, he stumped for John Kerry (along with Rachel Bilson) and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and shot an independent movie, a southern comedy-drama called Junebug, in Winston-Salem, N.C. Viewers will be more immediately concerned about what's up with his O.C. character: The season ended with Ryan leaving the shiny affluence of Newport Beach to look after an ex-girlfriend, now pregnant, but he's returning to his rich adoptive family, the Cohens. And this season Ryan will have a better grip on anger management. "I am going to get into fewer fistfights," McKenzie says. "I'll probably wear just as many wife-beaters but may lose the leather cuff [that adorned his wrist]. By the end of last season, I had worn that thing so much and in such heat that it was really stinky." Whatever happens, "the second season will be a really important one" for the show, says McKenzie. "We have to prove we weren't a fluke."