Mischa Barton’s passion for cars was ingrained in her from a young age. A former child star, the actress spent the majority of her childhood on film sets surrounded by cars new and old. In fact, Barton was just 11 years old when she learned how to drive on set (an old Ford pickup truck, if you’re curious).
“I’m always that girl who’s friends with the transpo department and trying to borrow cars and take them out for a spin,” Barton, 30, tells ET with a chuckle.
In Esquire Network’s new six-episode car enthusiast show, Joyride, Barton indulges in her real-life car obsession as one of four celebrity co-hosts, opposite rapper T-Pain, professional race car driver Brian Vickers and actor Oliver Trevena.
Barton’s infectious enthusiasm for fast cars may be surprising to those who know her solely from her acting roles -- The O.C.’s Marissa Cooper is the character she’s widely associated with -- and she admits there was initially some doubt over her level of fanaticism.
Rest assured, it’s 100 percent authentic: “It’s one of my side passions, I’d say,” she says matter-of-factly.
“When they hit me up, they were like, ‘Does she really love cars? We know she has a vintage Cadillac obsession, but does she really love cars?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’” Barton recalls a conversation with producers this past summer. “I’m not a race car driver, but I’ve been taught by stunt drivers and I’m pretty good. The cast came together really last minute and it was really fun. It was a nice mixture of serious and funny.”
Unlike other shows targeted toward gearheads, Joyride infuses a dose of comedy, suspense and entertainment, combined with a pinch of info for the car addicts -- without being too inside baseball.
“What’s funny about this is, I think everybody might give it a watch to see the perspectives of these completely different people,” Barton says of the eclectic cast, laughing at the prospect. “It was a dream job, I’ve gotta tell you. We couldn’t believe we were getting paid to race cars and wreck them, although we weren’t really supposed to be wrecking them.”
In the premiere episode, Barton teams up with T-Pain, an avid car collector, and the two become an unlikely duo as they test out several cars -- a cerulean ’67 Ford Bronco and a fire engine red Porsche 911 GT3 among them. In another episode, she gets behind the wheel of a DeLorean (“That car couldn’t make it five feet down the street without stopping,” Barton notes).
“T-Pain and I really hit it off in terms of chemistry just because we’re both a bit goofier. It was 100 degrees out on these racetracks and they’re handing over the keys to a Maserati or a Lamborghini, so we’re going to goof around and we’re going to get a bit jokey by the end of it,” Barton says.
“There was one time the car just ran out of gas on us on a racetrack,” she continues. “After a couple of experiences like that together and then he really trusted me to drive on the track with him because it’s a completely different thing when take somebody else’s life in your hands. We ended up having some funny moments together and I’ve got to go to Atlanta and check out his shop, I can’t wait to see it.”
Though there were certainly unplanned moments while filming Joyride, Barton likes to think she was one of the better drivers out of the group.
“I’m not going to brag but I didn’t do so badly,” she says with a laugh, adding that Vickers really pushed things to the brink. “Brian will just scare you, like, he’ll just terrify you -- you’re never actually going to crash with a NASCAR driver but he’ll just make sure you’re screaming. I got so nervous with Brian I couldn’t talk or make noise anymore. I would just get the giggles and complete fear takes over.”
As for what’s next for Barton professionally, she’s hoping to get into the producing side of the TV business, and already has a project she’s working on with a close pal.
“I’m trying not to work too, too much and do projects that I’m passionate about and also get some of this producing stuff off the ground -- that’s where I’m at personally,” Barton says of her career. “That’s why it was so fun to do [Joyride] at the end of the summer. These are my passions. I’m now getting into my 30s and it’s fun to sit back and choose more carefully the roles I want to do moving forward and have a lot more fun with it.”
Joyride premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Esquire Network.