Jimmy Cooper didn’t stick around The O.C. for long — much to the dismay of Tate Donovan. The actor, who played Marissa Cooper’s dad on the teen drama, was notified early on that he wasn’t permanently sticking around.
“I got a phone call. We were about to do some press for the next season, and I got a phone call from the producers, and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna phase your character out.’ I was bummed. I was gutted,” Donovan exclusively tells Us Weekly. “I wanted to be around more. I didn’t want to leave at all.”
Much like his daughter, Jimmy had his ups and downs. He dealt with the unraveling of his tumultuous marriage, made bad investments and oh, got punched in the face at Cotillion Ball.
“It wasn’t just the money laundering. I was like the worst dad in television history,” Donovan jokes. “I mean, I was a horrible dad. And the worst part about it is that I thought I was a good dad, right? Or at least the producers thought I was a good dad. I left the show, and my speech was like, ‘I’m gonna go to Hawaii. I’m gonna sail to Hawaii because I want to be a better dad.’ I mean, what dad becomes better [like that]? Marissa eventually ended up dying I think a couple episodes later, or a year later. Not the best dad.”
Even Donovan’s own family didn’t think highly of his character. “It was very funny. My sister at the time had three teenagers, and she kept calling me week after week saying, ‘You are the worst father I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, they just left Marissa drunk on your doorstep. Are you’re not upset? Are you not waiting for your daughter to bring her in, and yell at those kids? I mean, what kind of father are you?’” he recalls. “I would literally go to the producers and say, ‘Hey, you know, this dad is terrible.’ They’re like, ‘No, no. Jimmy is great. He’s a great dad.’”
Ultimately, Donovan “wanted to be a better dad” on TV. “I wanted to me more involved in my kid’s life, but they shipped me off to Hawaii,” he adds. Even more, he was shocked when he wasn’t invited back to Newport Beach to address Marissa’s death following the season 3 finale.
“I was totally surprised [she was killed off],” the Blood Fest actor tells Us. “They didn’t let me know. I was surprised they didn’t have a funeral. And I didn’t come back. I was like, ‘Come on, man. I mean, I’m her dad. I think I would have been back for the funeral.’ But they were like, ‘Oh, we’re not having a funeral scene.’”
Check out the rest of Donovan’s Q&A in our Now and Then series:
Us Weekly: Does it feel like it’s been 15 years since the pilot?
Tate Donovan: Oh, gosh. You know, time is very funny. Yeah, it does feel like ages ago when I did that. But it also could have been three years ago in a certain regard. It was a great, great experience. I really lucked out at getting that show. I don’t think any of us had any idea how much it would sort of move people, and how long it would last. I still get people coming up to me, mostly Italians. It’s really funny. I was in England, and anyone that was Italian was just like, ‘Hey, Jimmy Cooper, Fantastico. I love it. I watch it all the time, Jimmy.’ It was hilarious.
Us: What was it like watching the four young actors — Mischa Barton, Ben McKenzie, Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson — become stars overnight?
TD: It was great. They were just really talented, so talented. When we did the pilot, I was just like — these kids are amazing. Adam Brody — I thought he was gonna be the next Tom Hanks, and he still may end up being the next Tom Hanks. He’s really, really a super likable funny dude, and just so relaxed around the camera. It’s amazing. And I had met Ben McKenzie before because we were both in a theater festival, the Williamstown Theatre Festival. And he’s a super smart guy. I started directing on that show and I always felt as though he was an actor that would become a director eventually too because he’s a very, very bright guy. You sort of wouldn’t know it from the role, but super smart, very well-educated dude.
Us: Did you test with any of the actors during auditions?
TD: No, I didn’t. I didn’t test with any of the actors. I tested with actors who didn’t get it. It’s funny. Julie Cooper [Melinda Clarke] — she didn’t start off as being a regular. She just started off by having that one line, you know about getting froyo in the pilot. And she was just so great to work with, and so much fun, and such a great character that she became a regular pretty soon after the pilot. And I was so glad because she was fantastic to work with. I loved doing scenes with her.
Us: Where do you think Jimmy and Julie would be today?
TD: Oh, let’s see. Jimmy is an alcoholic. He’s lost everything. Watching Fox News, that’s basically, that’s what Jimmy is. He’s definitely kind of a pathetic case. He lives in Orange County. He’s a tragic figure, for sure. And he just sort of doesn’t have a lot of friends. He got kicked out of the country club, and is drinking a lot.
Us: Have you tried to keep in touch with the cast?
TD: Yeah, Peter [Gallagher] and I keep in touch. Melissa and I keep in touch. I’ve run into Ben. We used to play volleyball every weekend together, a group of actors played volleyball on the beach. It was really fun. And I’ve run into him in New York a couple times since he’s started Gotham. He’s a really good guy. But other than that, I haven’t really run into anybody, no.
Us: Do you think that the show could have gone on for more seasons?
TD: I left after the first season basically. But I was lucky enough to sort of keep hanging around. I started shadowing, and directed an episode. And that was the first time I ever got to direct anything, and that was really, incredibly generous of those guys because it sort of led to a pretty fun career in directing television. But I don’t know. I guess not. It’s a bummer that it didn’t last longer.
Us: Did you ask to direct?
TD: Yeah, I did. I was really interested in directing, and they said, ‘OK, you’ve got to shadow.’ I shadowed three directors. Literally from day one of prep to the final, all through production. Every single scene I was there. Early in the morning ’til late at night. I was the first one there, and the last one to leave. And then I went all through the editing process, and it was fascinating. I loved it so much. I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. Basically, I just did that over and over, and over again, and eventually they were like, ‘OK, we think you’re ready to have an episode.’ And was forever grateful to those producers for giving me that job. And I worked with them afterwards. I worked with them on Gossip Girl, and hopefully will work with them on their new shows.
Us: Did you take any memorabilia?
TD: No, they don’t let you do that. But I do have a surfboard because we won the Teen Choice Award. At the time, I was like, ‘Geez, what am I gonna do with this stupid surfboard?’ But it’s probably the coolest thing in my house right now. I had it in my laundry room, and people just flip out over it. They think it’s the greatest thing in the world.
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