The female cast members of One Tree Hill have been open about their complicated relationship to the series and its showrunner Mark Schwahn. On a new episode of the recap podcast Drama Queens hosted by Sophia Bush, Hillary Burton, and Joy Lenz, the trio recalled the mind games played by Schwahn and OTH higher-ups to coerce the women into posing for Maxim in 2006.
“Because Brooke had been so sexualized on the show, and the whole idea of this ‘Hometown Hottie’ was Rachel’s storyline, I was like, ‘Look, if the girls want to do it, that’s great. I don’t. I have gone to battle trying to make Brooke less of this thing that you guys tried to force me into. I don’t want to do it,’” Bush shared (per Entertainment Weekly). “I literally got told, ‘If you do not go and shoot this cover with your costars, we will guarantee you that you will never be let out for a press day, a movie, an event, any of your charities. We will keep you here forever.’”
“It was such a profound threat and a threat to being able—honestly, even to have the ability to escape for a weekend, a place that at this stage, this season, I was leaving every chance I got. I would come into work, do my job, and then I wanted out,” she continued. “I wanted to go home, I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to be with my friends. I did not want to be on our set, it was not a safe place for me. This was such a threat to safety.”
Schwahn (referred to as “our boss”) had a different tactic to get Burton to sign on, telling her, “’Look, all the other shows have been on the cover of every single magazine and no one wants you guys. No one wants you. And you finally have someone that wants you, and you’re really gonna turn your nose up at that?’” She was led to believe that “the studio wants to cancel your show,” and “’If you don’t start to generate some buzz, and attract these male numbers, we’re dead and all your friends are going to lose their jobs.’”
Lenz, meanwhile, was cut out of the shoot entirely for equally horrific reasons: “They told me that they didn’t come to me because I was too fat. I just wasn’t a hot girl on the show anymore.” Burton and Bush recalled being told that Lenz turned the opportunity down, putting more pressure on the others to participate: “They scapegoated you to tell the three of us we couldn’t say no. They threw you under the fucking bus,” Bush said.
As you’d imagine, all of this carried over to the shoot itself. “We look uncomfortable, but in the room, I remember being like, ‘I’m looking at my friends, who look stunning, who do look like these ‘50s pin-up girls, and this should be so fun but it’s miserable cause we didn’t choose it,’” Bush reflected. She went on to point out the odd, mismatched Photoshop applied to her body in the photos.
But the horror story doesn’t stop there: the co-stars also remembered Schwahn turning up to the shoot with a personal gift for Burton—that he delivered in front of Bush and Danneel Ackles. “It was an iPod that he had loaded with music he thought was applicable to me. He wanted Sophia to see it to put her in her place, and he wanted Danneel to see it to try and make her jealous. Who does that with a pack of 24-year-olds?”
Bush called the moment “scary and uncomfortable,” adding, “A married adult man 20 years your senior. … I could see you collapse a little bit.” Burton said, “We had actually had a nice day,” she said. “And he came in and just made this very visual move to be divisive and I was so embarrassed.” It becomes ever more clear why so many women felt that One Tree Hill was an unsafe environment.