Hilarie Burton, Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz talk about their experiences with “One Tree Hill,” specifically the “Maxim” storyline in Season 4. During Monday’s episode of their podcast “Drama Queens,” they recap the fourth episode of the season, in which Brooke (Bush) takes pictures of Rachel (Danneel Ackles) for Maxim magazine.
The episode aired in October 2006, a month before Bush, Burton and Ackles launched their own cover of Maxim magazine, but they actually didn’t want to do it. At the time, they explained, the show was trying to attract more male viewers by bringing in an abusive man (“Psycho Derek”, played by Matt Barr) and stuffing the women in underwear.
“I know they weren’t trying to recruit online bullies, but they saw that a lot of young men were attracted to a violent attack on women and said, ‘We should do that more.’ Not, “Uh-oh, hold the phone,” Bush said. “They were like, ‘Maybe we should do more! Maybe we should let the girls do Maxim and tell them they’ll be fired if they don’t.’”
She continued, “Because Brooke was so sexualized by the whole idea of this ‘Hometown Hottie’ and Rachel’s storyline, I thought, ‘Look, if the girls want to do it, that’s great. Not me. I went to war to make Brooke less of this thing you tried to force me to do. I don’t want to do it.’ I was literally told, ‘If you’re not going to shoot this cover with your co-stars, we guarantee you’ll never be hired for a press day, a movie, an event or any of your charities. We will keep you here forever.’”
Burton then recalled being taken to the production office as creator Mark Schwahn told them, “Look, all the other hoes have been on the cover of every magazine and no one wants you.” Nobody wants you and you finally have someone who wants you and you really turn your nose up at that?
“It was very much a, ‘Nobody else wants you, the studio wants to cancel your show,'” she added. “You don’t start generating some buzz and putting on these male numbers. We’re dead and all your friends will lose their jobs.”
Bush then commented that she felt she had no choice not to distribute the magazine.
“At that point I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do this,’ and I was told to do it,” she said. “It was such a deep threat and a threat to — honestly, even to have the opportunity to escape for a weekend, a place that at this stage, this season, I let go every chance I got. I would come to work, my doing [scenes] and I wanted out. I wanted to go home, I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to be with my friends. I didn’t want to be on our set, it wasn’t a safe place for me. This was such a threat to security.”
In addition, the women claimed that Schwahn showed up on the set of the Maxim shoot and gifted her an iPod full of songs he thought she would like — a move he made in front of Ackles and Bush. “He wanted Sophia to see it, put her in her place and he wanted Danneel to see it, because he was trying to make her jealous,” Burton explained. “I was so embarrassed.”
As the women discussed earlier, they then explained how they were constantly pitted against each other. During the podcast, Lenz revealed that she had been told her co-stars were shooting Maxim and had “replaced” her with Ackles.
“They told me they didn’t come to me because I was too fat,” Lenz said. “I wasn’t a hot girl on the show anymore.”
Burton and Bush, shocked by Lenz’s statement, then said that they had been told that to Lenz used to be asked and refused to do it.
“When I said I didn’t want to do it, I thought, ‘But Joy won’t! She said no. Why is she allowed to say no?’ They say, “Well, she said no, so you have to say yes. She said no first,” Bush claimed. “They scapegoated you to tell the three of us that we couldn’t say no… We weren’t angry at you, but we were angry about it.”
Lenz explained that this was the beginning of a different view of her by her bosses. In one episode, Rachel, Ackles’ character, calls Lenz’s character, Haley, “a fat girl with a small head.”
“I remember reading that on paper and thinking, ‘It’s so arbitrary. That must be what he thinks of me,” Lenz said. “Sometimes someone says something to you and you think, ‘I’ve never seen myself like that.’ Now suddenly, every time I look in the mirror, I’m like, “Am I fat? I think I have a small head? Is it that bad? Is that unattractive?” It’s so stupid, but it really stuck in my head for a long time. From then on, I was treated like, ‘Just put Joy in the middle-aged mother category. We’re going to do the sexy stuff with everyone. There’s nothing interesting anymore to Joy because she’s married’ and apparently they thought I was fat and boring. That was it. I was kind of replaced by Danneel – who I love. It was so weird.”
Five years after “One Tree Hill” wrapped, 18 women who worked on the show (including the four actors mentioned above) signed up in a letter to Variety, accusing Schwahn of sexual harassment. Schwahn has never responded to the allegations.