Return to Tree Hill

We all have at least one TV series that we are passionate about, driving us to binge watch it time and time again or even memorize episode scripts. In my case, that fervent obsession is One Tree Hill, a show about basketball players and half-brothers Nathan and Lucas Scott, as well as the relationships and roadblocks the face throughout the course of nine seasons. Having watched the series diligently for the past year, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of me was lost when I finished the final season at the end of the summer. However, my sadness was resolved when I heard that I would be traveling to EyeCon’s Return To Tree Hill Convention in Wilmington, North Carolina, an event featuring cast appearances, panels, and parties.

The eve of the convention, ‘Dan’s Beach Party’ took place at the actual seaside house that Dan Scott—Nathan’s murderous father on the series—lived in. Paul Johansson, the actor who plays Dan, attended the celebration, chatting with fans and even hopping up on the table to dance at one point.

The following day, before arriving at the convention center, I hit up some of the local One Tree Hill filming spots to get in the spirit of the show. I visited Tree Hill Café, the Karen’s Café/Clothes over Bros location, the bench on the Riverfront where Nathan proposes to Haley, and the iconic bridge that Lucas runs across in the opening sequence.

The first activity upon my arrival was a photo-op with James Lafferty, the actor who plays Nathan Scott. Since I was one of the first people in line, the photographer ended up having to take our picture four times to make sure that the lighting was adjusted correctly. As a result, Lafferty and I had a lengthy conversation about my trek from New York to North Carolina while the cameraman fixed the photos!

Next up was a photo-op with Stephen Colletti, the actor who plays Chase, a ‘Clean Teen’ turned bar manager on the show. I wanted to reenact a classic prom photo, and he was more than willing to comply.

Next up was the ‘Naley’ photo-op with both James and Joy Lenz, who plays his musician wife Haley James Scott on the series. I complimented Lenz on her adorable outfit: a chic, camel-colored duster coat with black jeans.

Then, the MC on the main stage announced that Johansson would be doing his meet and greet. When I walked up to Johansson, he read the logo on my jacket, which said ‘Tree Hill Cheerleader’ and asked if I was a cheerleader in real life (FYI, I’m a dancer—not a flyer). As I left the room, he presented me with another query: “Are you afraid of Dan Scott?” I replied with confidence and a wink: “Nope."

Next up was the Scott Brothers photo-op, with James and Chad Michael Murray, who plays basketball player turned playwright Lucas Scott. I invited them to pose Charlie’s Angels-style with me, and they seemed happy to “switch things up a bit” from the classic hugging shot. 

Once the photo-ops concluded, the panels on the main stage kicked off with Lenz and Johansson. At one point, Johansson even ordered a child in the audience to come on stage for a music lesson with Lenz; the boy drummed on the table as she sang "Halo," one of her most famous songs from the series.

At Murray’s panel, he discussed how difficult it was to learn basketball in order to take on the role of champion player Lucas Scott. “I had never played or touched a basketball in my life before the show,” he admitted. “I was a hockey guy, so it was stressful. Every day before the pilot, I would just hoop it up. Fortunately I picked it up quick, but still, it was so difficult for me. [I’m] not a basketball guy.”

In the evening, EyeCon hosted their biannual banquet, where ticket holders chose their favorite cast member to dine with. I wanted to sit at a table with Murray since he’s also a writer and I wanted to get his advice. When I told him about my book series, I was amazed by his kindness as he listened intently and stared intensely with his beautiful blue eyes. Murray told me how impressed he was and left me with a poignant piece of advice: writing should always come naturally—never force it. Additionally, in the middle of dinner, cast members Tyler Hilton and Kate Voegele—who play musicians Chris Keller and Mia Catalano—performed a special acoustic rendition of “When the Stars Go Blue,” originally sang by Hilton and Lenz on the series. It was an unexpected, unforgettable moment.

But the night was still young. The festivities continued with a Halloween Party, featuring another performance from Hilton of his new song, “City on Fire.” Attendees dressed in their fave costumes—including cast member Drew Seeley who was clothed in a kilt—and Johansson, Lafferty, and Colletti danced the night away with fans.

The next day kicked off with Lafferty and Colletti’s panel, filled with lots of laughs. One of the most memorable moments was when Colletti described what he would put in his character’s iconic Brain Blaster drink in real life: “tequila, soda, lime, and blue Curaçao."

Next, I traveled to another location—the Brooklyn Arts Center—for Lenz’s private meet and greet. A small group of people gathered in her green room and asked her questions as she sipped tea. Lenz discussed world issues such as the water shortage in South Africa, as well as how she yearns to tour with Billy Joel one day.

As the convention drew to a close, it was time for the final activity of the weekend: the concert. Lenz, Voegele, Hilton, and other supporting cast members gathered one last time to perform for their passionate fans.

In the end, I had the opportunity to interview multiple cast members personally about their experience on One Tree Hill and what they’re currently up to. Read their exclusive responses below:

How did you come to be on the show?

“When I got the script for the audition, the show was actually called Ravens at first. I read about half of it but there were other things I was focused on, so I passed on it. They shot the pilot with somebody else. Then they said they were recasting my part, and I told my manager,‘No, I don’t like the script.’ She said, "No, no, no. Watch the pilot, they're gonna send it up." They sent me a video tape and I watched the pilot. When it was over I said, ‘This cast is so good.’ I went in for my screen test and that was it.”—Joy Lenz (“Haley”)

“My audition process was pretty crazy—it was the longest audition process I had ever had. It was probably five to seven auditions over the course of two days. The last hoop I had to go through [before getting cast] was playing one-on-one basketball against [producer] Brian Robbins in his producing partner, Mike Tollin’s backyard. He wanted to make sure that we could actually play basketball because, you know, actors can say they can do things they can't actually do for the jobs. So we played one-on-one, and I let Brian score the first couple points—I was nervous because I was 17-years-old. He said, 'You know you're playing for your job right now?’ I was like, “Okay, alright, Brian Robbins.” And then I beat him. And I got the job. So it was a pretty unorthodox, weird experience. But it was a great memory.”—James Lafferty (“Nathan”)

“I remember the first time I auditioned for the show was for a different role early in Season 4. I don't even know if the role wound up making it on the show. I remember I got close, and I thought I was getting it, and then it just kinda went away. It was interesting because I remember in my audition, there was a line about the show Laguna Beach [that I was on]. I was like, ‘This is weird, they're not gonna hire me. They're making fun of Laguna Beach. I'm screwed.’ Anyways, I went away and then a few weeks later, another role came up—it was Chase. I went in and auditioned and it went well. I thought I got the job but I didn't hear anything for a few days, and then I heard, ‘Hey, they want you to come back in because the network wants to see you standing up. You were sitting in a chair the whole time so they need you standing up and moving around.’ I was so nervous because I felt like I was really close to the job that I wanted so badly. I just nervously paced around, but there was good energy in the [audition] room and I got the job. I felt like the role was built for me. Chase sounded like a name I wanted to play!”—Stephen Colletti (“Chase”)

“Just through a normal auditioning process in Los Angeles. Then, every time after that, they would check to see if I was available to come back, so I didn't have to go through the auditioning process again. They would just call, check my availability for the next coming episodes that they were writing, and then I'd go back to North Carolina.”—Lindsey McKeon (“Taylor”)

“When I got the role [of Xavier], I was living in Longton. I just went through the regular audition process; I had an agent there at the time and I auditioned for the casting directors. It was supposed to be just a one-off role, but a couple of months later, I got a call and was asked if I wanted to come back to the show and be written in as a character. I was like, ‘Yeah, of course, that would be awesome.’ It was a total surprise. I mean, it was literally supposed to be one little episode playing that little part. I was just supposed to be the guy that was robbing the gas station and then it turned into a two-season story arch.”—Devin McGee (“Xavier”)

“It's a long story. My sister actually wanted to be an actress, so my mom took me and my sister to the open call. [The casting directors] ended up liking me and not my sister, so she got a little mad at me. My mom actually was supposed to audition for the role of Chuck's mom in the show, and she was like, ‘I really think Mike could do this, he's a little bit older than they say in the script, but I think he can do it.’ I read for it and they loved me. I was only supposed to be in one episode and they just kept writing me in, so it turned into a great role for me.”—Michael May (“Chuck”)

“I responded to a newspaper ad that almost everyone in town told me about. I came home one day and my mom told me about it, too!”—Vaughan Wilson (“Fergie”)

“I first auditioned for the Nathan Scott role...actually, quite a few times. But I can’t play basketball to save my life, so the right man got the job. But I guess they liked me enough that they brought me in to play Vegas during the first season. I drove back and forth from Orlando and Wilmington to audition. After enough times, it happened.“—Drew Seeley (“Vegas”)

“Joy, who plays Haley on the show, wrote a musical based on a book and I ended up playing Noah in that. Out of support for her, [creator of One Tree Hill] Mark Schwahn came to see the musical. I guess he was casting my role at that time. It was one of those right place, right time kind of things.”—Paul Teal (“Josh”)

What was your favorite part about being on set?

“The days that Jackson [Brundage] was there—when he came onto the set, there was never a dull moment. He was always such a happy kid, always playing around and bringing his toys to set. I liked stealing his bike, hanging out with him, and playing games and stuff. For me, that was really the first time I've ever spent an extended period of time with a kid in my whole life. I truly learned how to be around kids from him.”—Lafferty

“Everybody on One Tree Hill just felt like a family instead of going to work. I've worked on a lot of different projects and some just feel like business, but One Tree Hill really felt like fun. The great thing about the show was that there was a real dynamic between all the people on the show. The cast was able to actually connect with each other before just being characters.”—May

“The adult in me liked to do the wrap parties. They were always fun, where everyone got to cut loose and put their hair down.”—Colletti

“It would have to be, you know, the other cast members, the people that we were working with. It was such a family environment.”—Wilson

“A couple of things. Being in Wilmington, being in the south, a place where everybody is super's really beautiful. Also getting to know some of the girls and just being able to play Taylor and do these crazy things that a person would never do in real life.”—McKeon

“The catering truck. No, everybody was really nice. The vibe was very relaxed and cool. It was early on in my career, so I was just excited to be part of something that was actually major and happening. Before that, I was mostly in school plays and that kind of thing. And I was like, ‘Wow, I'm in the big leagues now.’ One Tree Hill was sort of my big break, if you will.”—Seeley

“The cast, but also the fans because I got to experience firsthand the people literally standing in the street at one o'clock in the morning just to get a glimpse of the magic of the cast filming. Also, coming into a show that had already been running for six seasons, I felt like the new kid on the block, but everyone was just so welcoming and gracious.”—McGee

“I mean, the food was pretty good. No, it was my first real time being on set, and the whole experience was just so new. I got to know everybody and made lots of connections, so I guess is the people is the short answer.”—Teal

Was there a particular cast member you enjoyed working with the most?

“All of them. Everybody is like an absolute blast and a genius to work with.”—Wilson

“Joy, without a doubt, although we obviously kind of had known each other from working together in the past. She knew how I was fresh and nervous because I was 19 or 20, and she really did a lot to make me feel comfortable. She directed the first episode that I was in.”—Teal

“Definitely Sophia [Bush] because that's who I primarily had most of my scenes with. Also Austin Nichols—great dude, super talented. He actually directed one of the episodes I was in. Great actor, all-around great guy.”—McGee

“I got to work with Stephen Colletti and Tyler Hilton the most, so probably those two guys. They were super great to me and always helped me out with acting tips.”—May

“Shantel [VanSanten] and Joy are definitely my faves. James, meh. I love my sisters.”—McKeon

“I remember Joy being really sweet. And Chad, he's a good dude. He's super kind and cordial. Even though we didn't really spend too much time on set together, I know he’s a really solid, good guy.”—Seeley

Any funny moments from being on set that you can recall?
“One time, I accidentally poured a Mountain Dew down Hilarie Burton's back between takes. She wasn't too happy about that. I guess I was nervous and I turned the wrong way. But it happens. They cleaned her off, gave her a new shirt, and it was all good.”—Seeley

“When I got to drive the bulldozer in the camping episode. That was crazy because I was around 11-years-old. They were going to have a stunt double do it, but then decided, ‘Michael, I think we can actually have you drive it.’ And I was like, ‘Are you sure you want me driving this, with all the equipment?’ That was pretty fun.”—May

“We had so many funny moments. I mean there were too many to count. There are probably at least 500.”—Wilson

“I had a scene with Joy and we were fighting and yelling at each other. I think we pushed each other or something. Actors use subtext sometimes under the lines to write what they really mean, although the line is saying something different. I said out loud what my subtext was, which was, "Why don't you love me?" That was not the line. It was funny. I was embarrassed. It was pretty funny.”—McKeon

“There was a scene when Jana [Kramer] catches me, the elevator doors open, and she catches me kissing a guy. The first time we shot that, the doors opened and I couldn't keep it together. We both just busted out laughing. That was probably my blooper for the series.”—Teal

“I would probably say the most awkward moment was the scene where Sophia and I were talking about [the character] Sam, which was just a really weird scene to begin with. In between takes, we were just cracking up because it was just such an awkward conversation.”—McGee

What are your future plans?

“Right now, I'm moving to Atlanta and working on a theater show in December there. Everything else is kind of open. I'm not really sure yet.”—Teal

“I am writing and pitching my own TV show right now, a reality show with a girlfriend of mine. I’m also producing movies and doing my podcast. My podcast on iTunes is with one of my best friends, Rachel Paulson. It’s ridiculous and crass, called Gay vs. Straight ******. It's super fun and relatable.”—McKeon

“I'm still doing acting but I'm also focusing on music. I just had a new single come out last week on Spotify and Apple Music called “Give Her Up” so everybody should check that out. But yeah, just working on music now. I'm living in Nashville and just focusing on my music.”—May

“Right now, I am a drummer in a really awesome band called Sons of the Bold in Los Angeles. It's kind of a new band but we're hoping to be more well-known by the first part of next year. We're putting an album out and we're gonna be doing some touring. I'm also writing a vampire comedy series with my dad; it’s about a dysfunctional family of vampires that moves in with their estranged daughter in a trailer park in rural North Carolina. It's called The Death of Me. We're about to start shopping that around the network to see if we can get the show picked up. And I start filming a horror film next week called The Look-See, which is based on the series that's on Crypt TV of the same name. I’m really excited about that.”—McGee

“I've got a couple movies coming out this fall. One is released on November 16th on Lifetime called
Deadly Hack. And then a Christmas movie I’m in called Christmas by the Book will air on Hallmark in December. I'm also doing a musical in Wilmington, Delaware starting next week going through the end of the year called Silent Nights.”—Seeley

“Just to continue on and continue on. New projects, line them up, knock them down.”—Wilson