"The script [for The O.C.] showed up and I thought, 'This is exactly what the country has been waiting for,' " says Peter Gallagher

By Aili Nahas
February 12, 2020 08:30 AM
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It’s been 13 years since the series finale of The O.C., Fox’s seminal teen drama, but star Peter Gallagher retains many fond memories of his experience.

“We really had something with that show,” Gallagher, 64, tells PEOPLE. “And the audience felt the same way.”

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On The O.C., which ran for four seasons, Gallagher played Sandy Cohen, an altruistic attorney living in Newport Beach, California, with his family, who takes in a needy teen, played by then-newcomer Benjamin McKenzie. The series, which inspired reality show Laguna Beach, also launched the careers of Rachel Bilson, Mischa Barton and Adam Brody.

Peter Gallagher
| Credit: Joe Pugliese

For Gallagher, the timing of the series was perfect.

“The script [for The O.C.] showed up and I thought, ‘This is exactly what this country has been waiting for,’ ” says Gallagher. “It was just post 9/11 and people were drumming up a xenophobia, a fear of the outsider. I thought it was giving into our worst instincts, and it was entirely un-American.”

The O.C. cast

Gallagher’s character, Sandy Cohen, was “this Jewish guy from the Bronx, a public defender, living in a gated conservative Republican community, and he doesn’t change,” says the actor. “He throws his arms open. And people responded to that character because he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t afraid to love his kids, or other kids or his wife, or to do what was right.”

Gallagher’s new show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (new episodes stream Feb. 17 on NBC), felt surprisingly familiar.

“I responded to Zoey’s in a similar way that I responded to The O.C.,” says Gallagher, who plays a father with a rare neurological disease whose daughter can hear the thoughts of others through song. “There are so many efforts by people to divide us, but Zoey’s is about what connects us. Everybody has a story, and there’s no way you can know what that story is by looking at them. I love it when I get to do something that has a place in the world that we’re living in.”

Jane Levy and Peter Gallagher in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
| Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Getty

And despite their busy schedules, Gallagher says he’s managed to keep up with his O.C. costars all these years later.

“We try to get together, but it doesn’t quite work out, because someone has to go somewhere,” he admits of catching up in person with Bilson, Barton, McKenzie and Brody. “But I love those kids. And I root for them, always.”