Melinda Clarke, <EM>The O.C.</EM> Melinda Clarke, The O.C.

Love her or hate her, Julie Cooper is back, and things are finally heating up for Newport's rich-girl-turned-favorite-trailer-park neighbor. As Marissa and Kaitlin's mom on Fox's The O.C. (returning with new episodes tonight at 9 pm/ET), Melinda Clarke is finally getting story lines to rival her troublesome TV kin, and as such is having nothing but fun with her "roller-coaster" of a fictional life. TVGuide.com spoke with the actress about Julie's new digs, her relationship with Dr. Roberts (which will continue to develop), and what trouble's ahead for Marissa and Co. in this season's remaining episodes.

TVGuide.com: Your O.C. alter ego has been getting some really good story lines as of late  including scenes with Willa Holland's Kaitlin, and the multiepisode unfolding of Julie's relationship with Dr. Roberts (Michael Nouri).
Melinda Clarke:
Julie always gets fun story lines, doesn't she?

TVGuide.com: It's almost as if she is causing as much trouble as our favorite Newport teens!
Clarke:
She's definitely one of those characters the writers can do almost anything with. She's never at a loss for trouble in her life. [Playing that] is a lot of fun. I still really enjoy it.

TVGuide.com: Are you able to offer any feedback to the writing team as to the direction in which you want Julie to head?
Clarke:
You know, [the writers] are always open to things. They've knocked her down and they're bringing her back up. She'll probably always have that kind of a roller-coaster life because she's just so flawed. She can't seem to maintain relationships. Even though we all felt so sorry for Jimmy (Tate Donovan) when she divorced him, we now realize what a loser Jimmy is! She really did love him, but what a loser!

TVGuide.com: Is there a particular story line or episode that you're especially proud of this season?
Clarke:
The whole trailer-park thing is fun. I wasn't sure how they were going to do it and I kept thinking it was a little contrived, but it worked. I loved, loved Julie chewing Skoal and showing the red thong. That was my idea, by the way.

TVGuide.com: Do tell!
Clarke:
We had this scene where I'm supposed to be bending over to get something, so I said, "Oh, my gosh, why don't I wear these jeans and this red thong?" I had it with me, so I ran to my trailer and put it on and we shot it. I thought it was kind of cute. They've turned this character into a human being. At the beginning she was very superficial, but she's been forced to be humanized because of all the stuff that's happened. But I love it when Julie's funny. She's a funny person, and that's another part of what makes her a human being.

TVGuide.com: What kind of reaction have you gotten from the fans now that Julie's story lines have picked up?
Clarke:
Well, in the beginning I think they were like, "We hate this woman. She's terrible. We can't stand her!" Now I think people tune in because they can't wait to see what she's going to do, and because they feel sorry for her. I'm manipulating the audience. I'm making sure people sympathize.

TVGuide.com: Any thoughts on an ideal story line for Julie?
Clarke:
It would be funny for her to be the most powerful woman in Newport again, and to do it on her own  without a man. She needs to have a relationship with a man who doesn't have money. Like, with some young artist-type who just rocks her boat, but there's no future as far as she sees because he has no money.

TVGuide.com: Either that or Britney Spears could move into the trailer park next to Julie, right?
Clarke:
Yeah, right after Kevin takes all her money!

TVGuide.com: You could give Britney a run for her money in the singing department, seeing as you're also a trained vocalist. Any chance we'll see Julie become a lounge singer if her dating service with Kirsten fails?
Clarke:
[Chuckles] No. Everyone keeps saying that, but I was more of a light opera singer, not really much of a lounge singer. I don't know if you'd see [Julie sing]. You've seen Peter [Gallagher do it], and that's enough.

TVGuide.com: All kidding aside, will we see Julie search for a new suitor later this season?
Clarke:
I wish I could tell you, but they don't tell us anything. We know nothing about the episodes! [Laughs] I have no idea where the story line is, I have no idea where it's going to end.... I just know that the relationship with Neil is going forward very slowly.

TVGuide.com: Slowly, but surely.
Clarke:
But I have no idea how it's going to pan out. I have a feeling there's going to be a mystery somewhere in there. Our show is very tight about [plot twists]. They send out memos saying we're not allowed to reveal that kind of stuff. But I do think viewers are going to be shocked at what's going to happen with Marissa. Marissa's definitely not bound for happiness. Summer and Seth, though, couldn't be cuter.

TVGuide.com: Lastly, tell us a bit about your relationship off screen with the cast specifically Mischa [Barton] and Willa.
Clarke:
Oh, Willa! We're so lucky to have her. She's coming off so well, and I can't believe that girl is only 14 years old  it's really quite astounding. She's growing up too fast! Mischa's just a sweet, sweet lady. Put it this way: I'm not their mom at all. Maybe when the camera rolls I'm supposed to be, but I don't feel like it.