Hometown: Los Angeles
Current gig: Playing Marissa Cooper’s mischievous younger sister Kaitlin on The O.C.
She’s living her dream
“I was the happiest person on earth,” says Holland of winning the role of Kaitlin Cooper. “I’m a huge, huge, huge O.C. fan.” Mischa Barton, who plays big sister Marissa, is “a sweetheart,” Holland says. “Whenever Mischa walks into a room, she just looks phenomenal. You can’t help but get a little inspiration from her.”
Of course, as the youngest actor on the show, Holland had to deal with some good-natured ribbing. “They did treat me in the beginning as the rookie,” she says of her costars. When she started, she didn’t know camera left from camera right – and Benjamin McKenzie (Ryan Atwood) has kidded her about it ever since. “He’s always like, ‘Willa, go to school and learn left from right for me.’ ”
Still, Holland wasn’t immune to her male costars’ charms – at least when she was a viewer. “During the first season, I did have a crush on Adam Brody,” she admits. “But I used to always say I was on the fence, because who doesn’t like a little bad boy like Ryan Atwood?”
She loves getting in trouble – onscreen
In real life, the actress, who’s in ninth grade, has a curfew (11:30 p.m. on weekends; 9 p.m. on weekdays) and her mom, former ballerina Darnell, “likes to keep the ground rules,” she says. But on The O.C., Holland gets to run wild as her character, who’s been away at boarding school, returns to wreak havoc at home. “It’s so much fun to play the bad girl,” says Holland. “Everybody has that little side of them they never really get to get out.”
She knows how to work it for the camera
Though she’s relatively new to acting (her only previous credit is a guest-starring role on Lisa Kudrow’s HBO comedy The Comeback), the 5’7″ Holland has been modeling for years. A family friend suggested to Darnell that then-7-year-old Willa try it, and after a visit to Ford Models in Los Angeles, she was signed and soon posing for Vogue Bambini and doing commercials for Pepperidge Farm and other clients. “I went to New York, Hawaii – one year I missed about 50 days of school,” she says.
Now the home-schooled teen (who has two sisters – Piper, 9, and Brianna, 17) gets her lessons on the O.C. set and says she doesn’t mind missing out on being a regular high schooler. “I’m going through a completely different experience that very few people get to go through,” she says.
Showbiz is in her blood
Holland, who grew up in Los Angeles and London, had Mission: Impossible director Brian De Palma as a stepfather for several years, so hanging around the likes of Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg was the norm. “I didn’t get starstruck at all,” she says.
And now that she’s on The O.C., Holland would like to move into films. “I’d love to work with Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp or Dick Van Dyke,” she says. Dick Van Dyke? “I love Mary Poppins – when I was little I was obsessed with it.”