Back in 2003, James Lafferty was just another fresh-faced 18-year-old and One Tree Hill was just another WB teen soap opera. But seven seasons later, both Lafferty and OTH are still on the air, having survived the move to The CW in 2006 and the show's loss of stars Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton in 2009. Lafferty's character, Nathan Scott, started out as the cocky star of Tree Hill High School's basketball team; now he's a husband, father, and professional NBA player. I spoke to Lafferty about Nathan's growth, his own growth, and perhaps most importantly, his hair.
TV.com: When One Tree Hill began, you were a teenager. How do you think you’ve changed over the last seven years?
James Lafferty: That’s a big question. I mean, how does anybody change from the time that they’re 18 till they’re 25? Everything kind of changes. You see the world much differently, and you get your priorities in order a little bit more. I think it’s been great that the show has been a constant in my life since I was 18. I’ve been able to learn and grow with the show. It’s helped me define my work ethic and turned me from a boy into a man. You know what I mean? ...And I’ve had opportunities to do things that I never thought I would do. I never thought I would direct television, and I've got a couple episodes under my belt now.
You were also closer in age to your character than the rest of the main actors on the show. Do you think that affected how you played him?
Oh, no. At the time, it didn’t cross my mind as much because I was still so young and green and learning as an actor. I didn’t really feel like I was doing a better job than anybody else because of my age. You know, I look back on it sometimes and I think visually, aesthetically, the way that I looked was so authentic. All the episodes run every day on Soap Network, so every once in awhile... I’ll come across it and see just what a little kid I was in those first few seasons. As an actor, I’m not really sure. I guess that’s for the audience to decide.
How do you think Nathan has changed over the last seven years?
It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride for Nathan. Obviously when we started out, Nathan wasn’t the best guy. I don’t think he knew how to interpret emotions that he had for certain situations in his life, so his default setting was to be this bully. He’s changed a lot. I think that Nathan’s life experience, character experience, and his experiences with Haley have really changed him and distinguished him. And the volatility of his family has changed him for the better. It turned him from a punk kid into a loving father and husband.
Where do you think Nathan is headed in the future and, specifically, in the season finale?
I’m not really sure what his future holds for him. Is he going to continue being in the NBA? Is he going to decide that that lifestyle isn’t fitting for a family man and try other things? I think it’s kind of wide open for him right now. Toward the end of the season, I think we’re going to see Nathan finally settle into his role as father and husband. He’s going to be the glue for the family. While Haley goes through this tough time with her mother, he really has an opportunity to be there for his family because it’s the off-season.
What do you like most about Nathan?
His loyalty to his wife and his child. And his loyalty to his passions and his dedication to pursuing what he loves, which is basketball, and not giving up. I think that that’s really what defines Nathan.
What would you change about him?
That’s a good question. I think I would change his hair, because I’ve always wanted wavier hair. I wish that Nathan had my little brother’s hair. My little brother has this Patrick Dempsey wave going on.
How have you liked working with Robert Buckley and Shantel VanSanten? What was it like to incorporate two completely new characters?
It worked really flawlessly. Both of them are so dedicated to what they do, and so focused. I think they brought a level of professionalism to the entire process, in terms of how prepared they were every day. That elevated everything. It was awesome. We’ve done a few things throughout the course of the show that have given us a little shot of adrenaline and enthusiasm both as a cast and crew, and I think it’s given our audience the same sort of feeling. This was one more of those things. We took a chance, and we didn’t know if the fans would be resistant to it. But I think [the new actors] fit in perfectly, and they did their jobs well. Hopefully, we get another season and they can continue to do their jobs well with us.
Why do you think fans react so strongly to this show?
I don’t know how to define the psychology behind that. [Show creator] Mark Schwahn is actually really great for those questions because he connects with the fans so well. I guess it’s something about his style of storytelling that engages people to a point where they invest themselves emotionally in the show and the storylines and the characters. It’s just a testament to what we do and what he does. It’s sort of like an anomaly. I’m so grateful for it because it’s what kept us on the air. As protective as [fans] are of the show, and as vehemently they defend the things that they want for the show, I think that it’s something that we should definitely be grateful for and we are.
Which character is your favorite?
Dan Scott (Paul Johansson), hands down. Jamie Scott (Jackson Brundage), close second. But Paul Johansson has just masterfully performed [the role of Dan]. When he comes on the screen, I’m glued because of the way he plays that character. There are so many different colors of Dan Scott. And [he's] written so well, first of all. That’s where it starts. Then you've got somebody like Paul Johansson who can execute it so well. Not everybody can play such a villain and, at the same time, get the audience to care for them. To emotionally invest in them. It blows my mind. I love Paul as an actor and a director and a friend, and I love the way he plays that role.
You and your co-stars, Bethany Joy Galeotti and Sophia Bush, have all had a chance to direct this season. How are your directing styles different?
I’m not sure. I think we all have similar approaches [in] the way we talk to actors because we are actors. And we’ve been working with each other for so long, so I think our styles are similar in approaching how we deal with the scene and set things up and work our way through a scene... I do know that both Sophia and Joy were very prepared coming into it. But I don’t know too much how we differ. I’m sure we have very different processes in our preparation for directing. Preparation is everything.
One Tree Hill airs Mondays at 8pm on The CW.