The actress, who returns to TV in the revival of the Australian soap opera 'Neighbours', tells PEOPLE she recently 'reconnected' with her former 'O.C.' costars
Barton, 37, hasn’t had a recurring TV acting role since 2009’s The Beautiful Life, but she felt a pull to play Reece in the Neighbours revival on Amazon Freevee.
“I really like this character of Reece Sinclair,” Barton tells PEOPLE. “At this point, I think it really comes down to if it's a character that I feel I relate to and can play, something that I want to do. There's nothing worse than being put into something where you show up to work every day and it's a grind for you to play that character.”
Related: 'The O.C.' Cast: Where Are They Now?
U.K.-born Barton says Neighbours actually “offered me to come on a couple of times over the years and it wasn't the right timing and it wasn't the right characters.”
The actress explains that sometimes she picks roles because she can relate to the character on a personal level and “sometimes it's because it's as far away from you as possible or it's something you want to immerse yourself in.”
With Reece, “I felt like I knew people who she was in my life,” Barton says. “I've come across Reeces. She comes from a lot of money and has always had to be in control of everything and has an almost aloof, not very practical view on the world because she's just so busy constantly running companies and doing things. So, I had characters and people in my head that I wanted to base her off of.”
Barton filmed Neighbors in Australia and now says she's “fallen in love” with the country. “I got a little house while I was there, so that was really fun for me,” she shares. “I had my little garden and getting down to the Mornington Peninsula was lovely.”
The former teen star even plans to set an upcoming project in Australia.
“I'm in the process of developing this rom-com that I really think I want to do, and it takes place in that part of the world,” Barton says. “It is such a gorgeous part of Australia — you have to really see it to believe it.”
For Barton, an ideal day off includes a getting to “work out, read a book, hang out with a dog [and] cook something.”
But right now, she wants to focus on work.
“It's been work and travel and family, largely,” Barton says. “It's definitely not settling down or anything like that. Just being here in the U.K. with my family has been incredibly lovely for me.”
Barton has also reconnected with who she referred to on Instagram as “my OC family” thanks to the show celebrating its 20th anniversary earlier this year, Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke doing a rewatch podcast and the Welcome to the O.C. oral history book that comes out in November.
“We've been more in touch again lately just because of the things like that, the book, the O.C. podcast; we've all kind of reconnected,” Barton says. “I got to see Tate [Donovan] and Melinda in person not too long ago and did the podcast with Rachel, so we've been talking quite a bit. It's been great to talk to them lately and I'm really proud of them.”
The Hills: New Beginnings alum says she wishes she could’ve joined her costars on the picket line in support of SAG-AFTRA earlier this month but thought that “was really cute” that they came together for the cause. “A bit of FOMO, but what can you do?” Barton says.
Given the love that still exists for The O.C., Barton can never fully leave her character Marissa Cooper behind. “I get a lot of still people tragically upset about Marissa's death,” Barton says. "I get a lot of fashion fans who love the clothes and the hair and the makeup. But a lot of people who still cling on to the fact that Marissa died.”
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Neighbours is streaming now on Amazon Freevee.
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