Ryan Atwood

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Ryan Atwood
The O.C. character
Ryan atwood.jpg
Benjamin McKenzie as Ryan Atwood
First appearance "Premiere"
(episode 1.01)
Last appearance "The End's Not Near, It's Here"
(episode 4.16)
Created by Josh Schwartz
Portrayed by Benjamin McKenzie
Full name Ryan Francis Atwood
Nickname(s) Chino (by Luke)
Atwood, Ry
Gender Male
Occupation Architect
High school student
(at the Harbor School; graduated)
College student
(at UC Berkeley; graduated)
Family Francis "Frank" Atwood
(biological father)
Dawn Atwood
(biological mother)
Sanford "Sandy" Cohen
(adoptive father)
Kirsten Cohen
(adoptive mother)
Trey Atwood
(biological older brother)
Cooper Atwood
(paternal half-brother)
Seth Cohen
(adoptive brother)
Sophie Rose Cohen
(adoptive sister)
Sophie Cohen
(adoptive paternal grandmother)
Caleb and Rose Nichol
(adoptive grandparents; deceased)
Hailey Nichol
(adoptive maternal aunt)
Lindsay Gardner
(adoptive maternal half-aunt)
Significant other(s) Theresa Diaz
Marissa Cooper
Lindsay Gardner
Sadie Campbell
Taylor Townsend
(ex-girlfriend; ambiguous)
Relatives Summer Roberts
(sister-in-law, via Seth)
Residence Newport Beach, California
Chino, California

Ryan Francis Atwood is a fictional character on the FOX television series The O.C., portrayed by Benjamin McKenzie. A troubled teenager from Chino, California, he is considered the protagonist of the show, beginning as an outcast and is brought to a lifestyle of luxury by the Cohen family and is given a second chance to pursue his life's goals and dreams.

The final line of the show is spoken by Ryan. At the very ending of the series finale, during a flashforward, Ryan leaves the construction site in which he works and as he walks towards his Range Rover he sees a kid in the same situation as he was in "Premiere". Ryan looks at the kid and says: "Hey, kid! Need any help?". The screen then fades out.

Concept and creation[edit]


"When Benjamin [McKenzie] came in, he wasn't physically what Josh had envisioned, but he inhabited the character unlike anyone we had seen. I think that the character of Ryan is a kid that always seems a little lost and has a sense of mystery and danger; Benjamin has all those qualities."
— Patrick Rush on the casting of Benjamin McKenzie as Ryan[1]

Rush found the role of Ryan Atwood particularly hard to cast[1] and only invited Benjamin McKenzie to an audition after Warner Bros had made them aware of the young actor after his unsuccessful audition for a UPN sitcom. McKenzie lacked working experience and later described his selection as "a tremendous leap of faith" on the producers' part.[1][2] Chad Michael Murray was originally offered the role of Ryan Atwood but turned it down for the lead role of Lucas Scott on One Tree Hill.[3]



Having been physically abused by his biological father and some of his mother's boyfriends, Ryan finds it extremely hard to get close to anyone. Born and raised in a working class family, Ryan knows the lifestyle and attitudes of people from his neighborhood of Chino, California and the dangers that occur if outsiders are influenced by its environment. He is tough, cynical and quick-tempered, yet compassionate and empathetic toward people in trouble and those less fortunate than himself. He at times appears burdened by an almost-compulsive need to rescue others, however, and is overly protective of Marissa and Theresa, his main love interests on the show. The fact that he rarely smiles is something of a running joke among other members of the Cohen household.

Ryan's favorite fruit is peaches, and his favorite band is Journey. Some of his other extracurricular activities include soccer during his sophomore year of high school (first year in Harbor). Ryan (by his own words) used to play soccer before going to Harbor and a soccer ball is sometimes seen in the Cohen's pool house. And despite the generosity of his adoptive family, Ryan repeatedly demonstrates he can earn his own keep by taking paying jobs around town, such as a busboy at the Crab Shack, a construction worker, an intern at the Newport Group, and a barback position.

Character arc[edit]

Season 1[edit]

When Ryan and his brother Trey are caught attempting to steal a car, his mother Dawn kicks him out. His attorney, Sandy Cohen, takes him into his home in Newport Beach, California, despite objections from Sandy's wife, Kirsten. Upon realizing his mother is unwilling to take care of him, however, Kirsten's maternal instincts kick in and she welcomes him to stay. Ryan becomes part of the Cohen family, living in their pool house, and becomes a brother to Sandy and Kirsten's son, Seth Cohen; even Sandy and Kirsten consider him their second son. However, even though he is accepted by the immediate Cohen family, Kirsten's father, Caleb Nichol, and the Cohens' neighbor Julie Cooper have reservations about Ryan. Shortly after meeting her, he begins a relationship with Marissa Cooper, his next-door neighbor.

Ryan's relationship with Marissa is interrupted by Oliver Trask, a deeply disturbed boy Marissa meets in therapy who becomes obsessed with her. Ryan becomes suspicious, which brings significant trust issues between the couple, eventually resulting in a breakup, although they remain friends.

At the same time, Theresa Diaz, Ryan's childhood sweetheart, comes to Newport, resulting in a rekindled romance between them. However, Theresa leaves Newport after her fiancé Eddie, one of Ryan's friends in Chino, convinces her to return to Chino with him. Ryan and Marissa resume their relationship shortly after, but this is complicated when Theresa returns after suffering domestic abuse by Eddie. Theresa reveals she is pregnant but does not know whether the father is Ryan or Eddie. She decides to keep the baby and return home to Chino to be with her mother. Feeling compelled to help her bring up the child, Ryan decides to go with Theresa, leaving Marissa, the Cohens, and everything else in his life behind.

Season 2[edit]

Having quit school and working in construction, Ryan lives with Theresa, but she realizes he is unhappy and encourages him to visit Seth in Portland, Oregon, where he ran away following Ryan's departure. He hesitantly goes, hoping to convince his friend to go home to his parents before the fall semester starts, but while he stays in Portland, Theresa notifies him through the telephone she has miscarried. Although Ryan is devastated and wants to return to her, Theresa tells him he needs to go back to Newport with Seth.

As part of Seth's idea of a reunion of the "Fab Four" (consisting of Ryan, Marissa, Seth and his girlfriend Summer Roberts), Ryan and Marissa are pulled closer together. When he overhears Marissa admitting to Summer that Ryan is the only one she ever loved and she misses him every day, he confesses his own lingering feelings for her. The two get back together, just as Ryan's brother Trey is released from jail. Ryan, along with the Cohens and Marissa, attempts to get Trey back onto his feet. However, during his trip to Florida with Sandy and Seth to pay Sandy's mother a visit, Trey tries to rape Marissa while intoxicated on drugs. Marissa does not tell anyone, causing tension with Ryan, who suspects she cheated on him with Trey. After he questions his brother, who hides at a bar in Chino and blames a drunken Marissa, Ryan bumps into Theresa and confides his problems. She tells him that out of the two, Marissa would never hurt him and she would be the one to trust. Following Theresa's advice, Ryan makes up with Marissa.

Meanwhile, Sandy becomes concerned with Kirsten's alcoholism and decides to stage an intervention. Ryan reassures Sandy he is doing the right thing. Ryan takes part, stating that, having lost his mother to alcoholism, he would not be able to bear it if he lost someone else he loved to the bottle. Following similar statements of love from the rest of the Cohens, Kirsten gives in and checks herself into rehab. When Marissa tells Summer about Trey's attempted rape, Summer informs Seth. Seth, knowing he cannot lie to Ryan, tells him, who prompts a confrontation with his brother. The brothers fight, and Trey almost kills Ryan. Marissa turns up and shoots Trey in the back with his own gun.

Season 3[edit]

Marissa's death in "The Graduates" (episode 3.25)

Trey survives the gunshot but remains in a coma. When he regains consciousness, Marissa's mother Julie blackmails him to place the blame on Ryan so Marissa's innocence will clear her reputation in society, but following Ryan's initial arrest, Marissa convinces him to tell the truth. With Ryan's charges dropped, Trey flees Newport, leaving Marissa expelled from Harbor High to instead attend public school. When she befriends amateur surfer Johnny Harper, Ryan becomes suspicious of their closeness, fueling their on and off relationship. After Johnny dies in an accident, Ryan questions Marissa's true feelings towards Johnny, ending their relationship. Following their split, Marissa begins spiraling down a disastrous relationship with Kevin Volchok, Johnny's former surfing rival, while Ryan develops his own rivalry against Volchok, including instances of blackmail, extortion and violence.

In the season finale, Ryan, Marissa, Seth and Summer graduate from high school, following their prospective futures; Ryan decides to attend Sandy and Kirsten's alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley. Volchok attempts to blackmail Ryan, threatening to inform the authorities of Ryan's earlier involvement in a robbery which he was forced to assist him with. In an effort to fulfill Volchok's ransom, Marissa gives Ryan her mother's graduation gift: pearls he can pawn for the money. Volchok doesn't accept the money, demanding more, including a talk with Marissa, which she refuses, instead staying with Ryan. While Ryan drives Marissa to the airport, Volchok, drunk and furious, attempts to crash Ryan's car. In a blind rage, he sideswipes Ryan's vehicle, knocking it over a barrier to roll down an embankment. Ryan sustains no serious injuries but discovers that Marissa has suffered severe head trauma; she dies in his arms on the side of the road.

Season 4[edit]

Following Marissa's death, Ryan moves into a storage closet at a bar where he works while avoiding the Cohens cage fighting to release the anger of his loss. Julie, finding any way necessary to cope with her grief, hires a private investigator to dig up evidence of Volchok's whereabouts, in hopes of exacting her revenge. She passes the information to Ryan, the only person who can truly understand the pain she feels, and suggests he do with Volchok whatever he wishes, as giving the police the information is too valuable a deal to pass up. Ryan heads to Mexico to finish the job, but Seth tags along to ensure Ryan doesn't ruin his life by committing murder. Seth warns Volchok to leave town before Ryan gets to him and advises that he take advantage of his lawyer father. His plan fools Ryan, who returns home; his relationship with Seth is severely compromised, however. Heeding Seth's advice, Volchok contacts Sandy to be his defense attorney, although Ryan discovers it. Sandy, knowing Ryan would never kill anyone, drives him to the hotel where he's housed Volchok. Inside, Ryan puts a broken bottle against Volchok's throat; he spares Volchok's life, however, leaving him for the police.

Ryan settles back down to life in Newport, determined to have an uneventful summer, until Taylor Townsend returns from France trapped in a loveless marriage, seeking a divorce. Ryan is reluctantly drawn in and, during a heart-to-heart conversation with Sandy, he is reminded that he's always been the one to help people when they need it the most. Ryan kisses Taylor in front of her husband's lawyer, who can grant a divorce only if one member was unfaithful and agrees that their kiss was heartfelt. Seth warns Ryan that Taylor is unstable and clings to anyone who shows her kindness; while Ryan appreciates the notion, he admits that he is not yet over Marissa and decides to confront Taylor; she initially denies her own feelings but later confesses that she is attracted to him. Following a second kiss, the idea being to discover if it sparks any feelings, he admits he does like her, except that he does not want anything too serious.

During Chrismukkah (a combination of Christmas and Hannukah celebrated at the Cohen house), Ryan discovers a letter in the mail from Marissa but gets distracted by Kirsten. While he's hanging decorations on the house roof, Taylor arrives with her gift to him; he is preoccupied by Marissa's letter, however, and acts coldly towards her. When she climbs the ladder he's working on to angrily give him his present, the ladder falls, along with the two of them, knocking them both unconscious. While in the hospital, Ryan and Taylor dream of being in an alternate dream universe of Newport, as if Ryan had never been adopted by the Cohen family. When Taylor misunderstands a conversation with a housekeeper from this world, she informs Ryan that Marissa is alive; Ryan says he never wants to wake up so he can be with her again. When he finds out about her arrival at an airport from Berkley and goes to meet her, he finds this world's version of Marissa's sister Kaitlin, who tells him that Marissa had died of the overdose he had saved her from. In the real world, Kirsten shows Julie Marissa's letter to Ryan, which she had written to Ryan before she left for Greece. In the letter, Marissa states that she had to leave because, even though she still loved him, they could not be together. After Julie sets the note beside an unconscious Ryan, it appears for him to read in his dream, during which he realizes he has to forgive himself for Marissa's death and to move on. Moments later, he regains consciousness.

Days later, Ryan finds out from Sandy that his biological father, Frank Atwood, is out of jail and wishes to see him. Ryan is hesitant, recalling the abuse he suffered at Frank's hands, but Frank convinces him by claiming that he has lung cancer. However, following dinner with the Cohens, a suspicious Sandy reveals that Frank lied about the cancer, and an embarrassed Frank leaves Newport, although he returns apologetically and with help from Taylor forms a tentative relationship with his son.

Meanwhile, Taylor's ex-husband Henri-Michel comes to Newport on a book tour for his best-selling novel about their marriage. Feeling insecure about Taylor's exotic life in France, Ryan breaks up with her, claiming they are "too different". A week later, Ryan decides he was wrong but discovers it might be too late as Taylor is already considering a reconciliation with Henri, who still loves her. Ryan upstages a poetry reading by Henri at a book store with a poem of his own, where he confesses he can grow to love Taylor, given time.

Series finale[edit]

To make up for giving a pocket dictionary for her nineteenth birthday, Ryan gives Taylor his original present of a bound book full of love poems that she translated. He admits he loves her, but as they reconcile, an earthquake hits Newport. The two survive, but Ryan is injured while protecting Taylor and is brought to the hospital for recovery. Six months later, Ryan and Taylor spend time together before she leaves Newport for college in Paris. Ryan thanks her for saving him from self-destruction, and he and the Cohens depart from their Newport home, damaged beyond repair, to Sandy and Kirsten's old home in Berkeley, California, while Seth leaves for RISD.

In a flashforward, Ryan attends UC Berkeley, where Sandy is now a law professor, and graduates. Ryan sticks around the Cohen home in Berkeley to help Sandy and Kirsten raise his adoptive sister, Sophie Rose. At Seth and Summer's wedding, he is best man and shares a smile with Taylor, the maid of honor (their relationship status is left ambiguous). Ryan achieves his dream of becoming an architect. As he walks away from a construction site, he notices a teenager down on his luck, seemingly in the same situation Ryan was when he was kicked out of his home. As he offers the youth help, Ryan's story comes full circle.


  1. ^ a b c "Backstage Pass - Production Notes". The OC Insider. Warner Bros. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  2. ^ Katner, Ben (2003-08-12). "The 411 on The O.C.'s MVP". TV Guide. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  3. ^ Banks, Andrew (2007-06-12). "Top movie role reversals". News.com.au (News Digital Media). Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2013.