‘O.C.'s’ Rachel Bilson makes the jump

POISED: Rachel Bilson hopes her “Jumper” lead role helps her make a clean landing in movies.
POISED: Rachel Bilson hopes her “Jumper” lead role helps her make a clean landing in movies.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Special to The Times

IF you think that “Jumper,” a sci-fi thriller about teleportation, isn’t the obvious choice for the holiest of all love holidays, Rachel Bilson wants you to know that you’re wrong.

“It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day movie,” she says. “It has a love story and the action and all the bad-ass boy stuff, right? So it’s the perfect combination where the boy and girl can go together and each get their fix. And if it’s a girls’ night,” she pauses for dramatic effect, “you have Hayden Christensen.”

In “Jumper,” the latest sprawling big-budget action film from director Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “The Bourne Identity”), Bilson plays the girlfriend of Christensen’s character, David Rice, a guy who discovers that he has the power to teleport -- or jump -- to anywhere in the world, in seconds. He also discovers that he’s not the only one with this gift, and that a secret organization is committed to killing his kind.


Bilson says that, assassins aside, she wouldn’t mind having the power to teleport. The 26-year-old actress just arrived in New York after stops in London, Rome and Cairo, on a press tour that hits many of the film’s locations. “Just to be able to jump around to be wherever you need to be. No traffic, no airplanes. I mean, really -- after all the flying I’ve done this past week, I just want to jump to my bed.”

No one would look at Bilson, who’s best known for playing a rich, endearingly snarky SoCal girl on the teen drama “The O.C.,” and think action film. “That’s the idea,” says Bilson, “to try to do roles that show you’re not that character. Summer Roberts in an action movie? Well, no. It’s me. And hopefully people will catch on and see that “ ‘Oh, she’s an actress and can play other roles.’ ”

History shows it’s not easy for the queen bees or BMOCs of TV high schools to make the jump to bona fide movie star. For every Oscar nomination (“Dawson’s Creek’s” Michelle Williams), there have been dozens of Lifetime movies (practically the entire cast of “90210").

Though her four-year stint on “The O.C.” certainly gave Bilson the name recognition to draw tween, teen and probably even twentysomething audiences, she’s been particular about selecting her projects. Her first film was 2006’s “The Last Kiss,” directed by Tony Goldwyn and costarring Zach Braff, hot off his “Garden State” success. The film, a mopey relationship drama, didn’t connect with audiences. But with the high-profile “Jumper,” she just might make the leap to big-screen credibility.

Bilson’s back story is definitely more Hollywood than Orange County. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Her father is a writer and director, her grandfather is a director, and her great-grandparents were also in the business: her great-grandmother wrote screenplays and her great-grandfather was head of the trailer department at RKO Pictures.

It was her father, Danny Bilson, who encouraged her to pursue acting as a professional career. With just a few high school plays under her belt, Bilson dropped out of college -- “junior college,” she clarifies, “I can’t give myself that much credit” -- and began going to auditions full time. At 21, she landed her role on “The O.C.,” a new Fox show, produced by Liman, that would soon become a breakaway hit. ,

With “Jumper,” a lot of the appeal was working with Liman again, who courted her in September 2006 with a mysterious text message: “What are you doing this fall?” The director, who’d already replaced his original leading man (British actor Tom Sturridge) with the slightly older Christensen, needed to age-up his love interest as well. Bilson flew to Toronto, read with Christensen, and got the role on the film, also from Fox. That was the easy part. The hard part was juggling the film with her fourth and final season of “The O.C.,” which was simultaneously shooting in Los Angeles.

“My show and the people behind ‘Jumper’ worked really hard to make the schedules work, which is unbelievable,” she says. “It’s unheard-of for a series regular on a TV show to be a female lead in a movie that shoots in a different country at the same time. I literally was flying back and forth for three months, taking red-eyes to be on set the next morning. I didn’t have a day off for three months.”

Bilson -- who stands just 5 feet 1 and looks like a strong gust from the Santa Anas might knock her off her 4-inch Christian Louboutin heels -- isn’t a tough girl in the vein of Angelina Jolie or Franka Potente. But her character, Millie, gets dragged into David’s world, and Bilson was game to try stunts -- and not just harness work. “I couldn’t do everything, because they did want me to survive,” she says, laughing. “Hayden got really beat up. I think he split his hand open. He was always hurting himself. He’s a little accident-prone, in real life, as I found out on set. I only had bruises and scrapes, but I’d come home showing them off.”

Bilson won’t comment on rumors that she and Christensen are dating or on the photos of the two that have popped up on websites even this week. “I don’t talk about personal relationships,” she says simply. “But I’ll say that I’m in a really great place and really happy in all areas of my life. And I’ll say that I think Hayden is an amazing guy and I’m lucky to know him.”

Her conscious effort to keep her private life private has mostly kept her out of the harsh spotlight, unlike many of her Hollywood peers, including her former “O.C.” cast mate Mischa Barton. When Bilson appears in US Weekly, it’s not for “falling out of cars,” as she puts it, but for something she’s wearing (the stylish Bilson regularly tops best-dressed lists) or walking. Her much-photographed dog Thurman even gets gifts from fans.

“I try to stay out of all that,” she says. “I’m more about my career than celebrity.”