One Tree Hill star James Lafferty tells Time Out about having the dream job, slam dunks, the spirit of Michael Jordan and how the series is catching up with Dawson’s Creek. Words Matt Pomroy
The 90s saw the rise of the teen drama that arguably started on October 4 1990 with Jennie Garth showing off her nose job in the opening scene of the Beverly Hills 90210 pilot. It’s now a fully-fledged genre that pulls in millions of viewers each week, and One Tree Hill is fast becoming one of the major tales of temptation and teen angst.
It’s the story of two half-brothers and the scheming dad they share; the women they try not to share; and the basketball court space they’re forced to. And it’s a small town. But the hook that separates One Tree Hill from the many other cancelled teen dramas is basketball, which is central to the series. Nathan Scott – forever pressured by his father to be the professional player he dreamed of being himself – is the star of the high-school team, and most things that happen in the town revolve around the all-conquering side.
For actor James Lafferty, it’s a role he’s already lived, having been voted MVP on his own high-school team. ‘Yeah, I was,’ he says almost bashfully, ‘and I was enrolled in Long Beach State in Southern California and was kicking around the idea of going there and trying to get on the team, but the show got picked up, so I dropped college and took advantage of this opportunity while I could.’
But acting and basketball in one, this has to be your ideal part? ‘This is my dream role, seriously. Ever since I read the pilot episode it was pretty much the perfect thing for me, because basketball plays a very central role and it’s a passion of mine, so I couldn’t really ask for a better gig. And it’s pretty rare in life to find a calling that you actually enjoy.’
During the series, much of the drama reaches its dramatic tension during the games, as Nathan has to lead the team and live up to his father’s expectations. But far from having stunt doubles clumsily edited in to make the shots, the actors are all good players. ‘Yeah, those slam-dunks are all me,’ he chuckles, as if it wouldn’t be any other way. ‘We do have a basketball choreographer and trainer, and he’s been with us for the whole time. Whenever you see basketball on the show, he’s the one who draws up those plays, and we keep rehearsing them so when we start shooting we know exactly what to do and where to be.’
The court that gets pounded and the hoops that get shot at, slam dunked and hung off each week have been battered by the best, as James proudly explains that it was once the home turf of Michael Jordan: ‘He went to high school in this town here at Emsley A. Laney High School, and that’s where we shoot all the basketball games for One Tree Hill.’
Although the spirit of Jordan is with them on court, the spirit of Dawson’s Creek is also there, looming over them as big as James Van Der Beek’s forehead. Comparisons are inevitable. Not only is it from the same Warner Brothers stable, it’s also got a similar feel, college rock soundtrack, teens facing adult decisions, and it’s even shot in the same town of Wilmington, North Carolina. ‘But Dawson’s Creek will be the only Dawson’s Creek,’ James says with a polite air of reverence – unlike his character, he’s a nice guy and you’d expect nothing less.
‘They, along with Beverly Hills 90210, paved the way for teen dramas. Dawson’s ran for six years, and when we started the first season I had no idea how long we would be here. Now that we’ve just finished our fourth season, it is a reality that’s dawning on me that we’ve been here almost as long as Dawson’s Creek.’
That time spent in the town is not just as aloof actors waiting to return to the East or West coast, but instead the cast has become firmly ingratiated into the local scene. It’s something James is proud of: ‘We’ve really established ourselves in the community here and it’s pretty cool to be able to do that. We do a lot of fan interaction out here in the States and have charity basketball games, so fans come to Wilmington to meet us and see how the show is made. Our biggest following isn’t in Los Angeles; we’re a mid-Western show that a lot of kids all over the middle of the country love to watch.’
In fact, James is in no hurry to pack his bags and head for Los Angeles and Hollywood (‘I’m not a huge fan of the city’) and is already starting his own film in North Carolina. Basketball related, naturally. ‘It’s a documentary about a minor-league basketball team here in Wilmington. We’re coming along with it and are in the post-production stage, so I’ve got a little side project out there too, but now I’ve just got my fingers crossed that One Tree Hill gets picked up for a fifth season’
The fourth season has just finished in America, with close to 15 million people tuning in each week. In a time when series get cancelled after a few episodes, the longevity of One Tree Hill is something to marvel at, and for us here in the UAE it means we’ve still got a lot more drama to come. •
For Time Out magazine – click here for original PDF – One Tree Hill