Ten Years Later, the One Tree Hill Cast Is Setting the Record Straight
Ten years after the finale of One Tree Hill, the actors Hilarie Burton Morgan, Sophia Bush, and Bethany Joy Lenz have never been closer. Despite their shared experience growing up on screen, the trio— who played Peyton Sawyer, Brooke Davis, and Haley James in the heartland-set high school soap for nine seasons—were kept largely isolated from one another during those years.
That distance began to dissipate with age, and when the #MeToo movement alerted the actors to some of their common experiences while working on One Tree Hill. In their new weekly iHeartRadio podcast Drama Queens, the three actors unpack the moments—nostalgic and traumatic alike—that unfolded behind the scenes of the wildly popular drama. To celebrate the podcast’s success, Burton Morgan, Bush, and Lenz joined us for a bit of reminiscing. —BRIAN ALESSANDRO
HILARIE BURTON MORGAN: Sophia, you were the person that called me about a podcast. What was the catalyst for you to be like, “It’s time”?
SOPHIA BUSH: When we first finished the show, I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to touch it. I didn’t want to be close to it. And then as time went on, and we all started being able to get together, and share stories, and talk some shit. We all finally told each other the stories we’d been afraid to share — I wish we’d been able to have the friendships we have now back then! — and hearing everyone’s stories really made me so furious. It lit that fire in me, and I thought “well, we just have to burn it down.” But, I also had to remember how much our fans love the show, and to realize that despite so much that was insidious we also had fun. We’ve shared stories about what was painful and hard, and I think especially because of what you were put through, I wanted to call you first and just say, like, “Does this idea feel triggering?” You said “No, this feels quite cool.”
BURTON MORGAN: What was your first reaction, Joy?
BETHANY JOY LENZ: I was definitely hesitant about more One Tree Hill anything. But the more we talked about it, I was like, “Wow, this is actually a chance for redemption.” Also, I don’t want to throw shade on the show that did give us amazing opportunities. I always try to temper my frustrations with a good bit of gratitude. But as for the bad stuff, I really do love the opportunity to redeem that. Some of it was us being young and stubborn twenty-year-olds, but a lot of it was the people around us who were using our youth and naïveté to keep us from arguing back. It was always, “Joy, you’re the odd man out. Sophia, you’re the odd man out. Hilarie, you’re the odd man out.” So we never reached out to each other. I’m incredibly grateful for the relationship I with you amazing women now.
BURTON MORGAN: I left the show first, and it was the divorce of my life, because I’d committed so much to being the good soldier. “I’ll do whatever press you want. I’ll go on whatever mall tour.” And so, the loss of that was traumatic. But the next relationship I got into professionally was with White Collar, and the best person I could have ever encountered was Tiffani Thiessen, who was an icon to me. She told me right out of the gate, “Don’t bad mouth the show that got you started. Defend your character, forget the bad guys, take what’s good.” That was such great advice. She was someone whose opinion meant something to me, because she’d been a teen idol of mine. Who were some women on TV that that you felt like we were trying to emulate while we were doing the show?
LENZ: I don’t think I ever really knew how to process it. I actually feel like I missed a lot of the excitement because I kept asking myself what it all meant.
BURTON MORGAN: I was the opposite! I like experience. But I made terrible choices.
BUSH: I’m with Joy. Now, I over intellectualize everything because back then, I was always soaking up all the experiences and I got my ass handed to me. So now I’m like, “What does it mean? What is it all?”
BURTON MORGAN: How many years out are we now? Like 17 years out from the first year?
LENZ: I don’t even know how to process that.
BURTON MORGAN: 18 years out? Jesus, we could have children in college at this point. Why do you think people still care?
LENZ: Comfort food. I mean, that’s it, like especially now that there’s so much content. I can only speak from my experience, but when I settle in to watch TV, I will spend 20 minutes scrolling before saying, “You know what, fuck it,” and turning on Frasier. And that’s what I watch because I know those characters, and I just want that familiarity. I honestly think the over-saturation has played a huge role in our fans’ need for One Tree Hill.
BUSH: And I would also say that there is something about how — as outlandish it got at times — there was also a lot that felt honest. People write to us about how they feel seen, how they feel represented, how they see their own struggles in our show. When I meet new people who are just discovering it and I think, “You could be watching anything! Why? Thank you?”
BURTON MORGAN: Honestly, having an older kid, and seeing the things that he’s drawn to, he loves watching TV shows from our era. Probably the same reason I loved watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie and What’s Happening – it’s retro. They’re mystified by it because there’s no social media on our show and so people are actually talking to each other. You actually had to show up at Karen’s Cafe to have that important conversation. It’s a wish fulfillment for these younger kids where they’re like, “Oh, my life doesn’t look anything like that.” We are the time warp, which is super fucked up.
LENZ: And we were also the last show that was doing, dare I say, wholesome content? I mean I know our show, like, jumped the shark several times in many regards, but in terms of the“hometown kids, middle of America, just dealing with regular emotions and life stuff,” those shows became very rare. Everything that came after us was like rich kids—Gossip Girl and The OC, and then it was all brought to a high-concept place like the Vampire Diaries, Riverdale stuff. And I don’t know that there’s anything out there that’s kind of gotten back to the roots, like One Tree Hill.
BURTON MORGAN: Can you imagine pitching One Tree Hill now? Like, “it’s about some kids. Two of them play basketball, and the rest are just moody.”
BURTON MORGAN: What episodes are we all excited to review the most? Some of them are cringey as hell.
BUSH: I’m sure a lot of them will be.
BURTON MORGAN: I like the Halloween episode we did at Tric [the “all-ages” nightclub]. That was batshit. It was 1000 degrees in there and everyone was dying and miserable and we’re dressed up like cartoons.
LENZ: I know. The one with the car, where they made me fucking siphon off gas.
BURTON MORGAN: That was fun cause that was really the first time the three of us were put together.
BUSH: Having to pretend to be high on pills when I never had been, I was like, “I’ll try!” Hilarie, your wedding episode was…
BURTON MORGAN: Christ.
BUSH: That was such a shit show, man. You said the Halloween episode — you’ll cackle when you see we did a Halloween episode after you were gone. And I had to be dressed up as one half of A Clockwork Orange, but was abandoned in my costume, and I was written to be dressed as a giant orange and Carol (Cutshall, costumer) papier-mached a workout ball and drilled armholes in it, and I had to wear it. AND I directed that episode!
BURTON MORGAN: That’s perfect! That’s a chef’s kiss.
BUSH: I had little T-Rex arms, being like, “well, if you go over there” – And they’d say “Where?” And I’d be like, “I can’t show you! I’m stuck in an orange!” It was, it was so humiliating. But when I think back on it, great comedic fodder.
BURTON MORGAN: What is your favorite keepsake from the show?
LENZ: I have the Julius Caesar book that Haley gives to Lucas in the pilot.
BURTON MORGAN: I have the leather jacket that Peyton takes after Ellie [Sheryl Lee] dies. That was an intense crying scene for me. My body has a physical reaction to that jacket.
LENZ: What’s yours, Soph?
BUSH: I have, like, a bin.
BURTON MORGAN: You have everything!
BUSH: There’s like this sad episode where Brooke celebrates her birthday alone in her room with a cupcake. I have the photo album from that scene, which is very sweet because it’s all photos of you and I, Hilarie…
BURTON MORGAN: You have that?
BUSH: Oh yeah, I took that immediately. There are real pictures of us from growing up, because it was this story of these friends who grew up together…
BURTON MORGAN: Joy, we’re gonna photoshop you in.
BUSH: Honestly, we should just make a new one. Of all the stuff that feels sentimental, that “Brooke Davis for President” pin kills me. It’s up on the wall in my office, because it makes me laugh. When I think about why that’s the one thing I’ve displayed—next to a photo of the three of us— it’s because it symbolized something that at the time really embarrassed me, but now I respect. Brooke Davis took the thing she was made fun of for, and turned it into an anthem. She was this bad bitch who owned her shit. That’s something I’ve tried to emulate.
BURTON MORGAN: One thing that I keep thinking is, “we deserve this.”
LENZ: Because we do! It’s hard to say that as women, I think.
BURTON MORGAN: What makes you two feel like we deserve this?
LENZ: Because we’ve worked our asses off, and because it’s beautiful to experience friendship with each other in a way that we were robbed of in our younger days.
BURTON MORGAN: We were really good girls. I’m excited to set things straight.