Bethany Joy Lenz is grateful that the cast and crew of One Tree Hill tried to get her out of a cult she belonged to while filming the show.
“For a while, they were all trying to save me and rescue me, which is lovely and so amazing to be cared about in that way. But I was very stubborn,” Lenz, now 42, said in an interview with Variety published on Thursday, August 10. “I was really committed to what I believed were the best choices I could make. … The nature of a group like that is isolation; they have to make you distrust everyone around you so that the only people you trust are, first and foremost, the leadership and then, people within the group if the leadership approves of them, and isn’t in the middle of pitting you against each other, which happens all the time also.”
Lenz explained that her involvement in the cult — an involvement she says was common knowledge on the OTH set — began when she was in her early 20s, which was “a year or two” after booking the role of Haley James Scott on OTH in 2003. She didn’t escape the organization until “shortly after” the teen drama ended in 2012.
While Lenz has not shared the name of the group, she revealed it was a “bible-based cult.” The actress confessed she grew up in a Christian household and it was common for her to participate in “Wednesday night bible studies.” As she moved around to new cities and states, she would find a bible study to attend.
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“In a lot of ways, One Tree Hill saved my life, because I was there nine months out of the year in North Carolina,” Lenz said. “I had a lot of flying back and forth, a lot of people visiting and things like that, but my life was really built in North Carolina. And I think that spatial separation made a big difference when it was time for me to wake up.”
Lenz first opened up about her experience in a July episode of her OTH rewatch podcast “Drama Queens,” which she cohosts with former costars Sophia Bush and Hilarie Burton Morgan.
“I wasn’t trying to make it a big deal. I was beginning to feel like I was hiding something because it was such an integral part of my personal journey while I was on One Tree Hill,” she told Variety about her decision to speak out. “As we’re just talking about all the behind-the-scenes [moments,] we keep talking about all the times everybody was hanging out. I keep saying, ‘Wish I had been there.’ Eventually, it started to feel like, ‘Why don’t you just be honest, Joy?’”
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Since coming forward, Lenz has said she feels like she has overcome “the shame” she initially felt about her her membership in the cult.
“What I came to realize was that there’s actually a lot of power in exposing that shame to the light and allowing new information to come in,” she said. “And there’s not just power in that for me, but my hope is that — and really why I wanted to talk about it — is because I think it can be really healing for a lot of other people. I know I’m not the only one.”
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