Sophia Bush, who played Brooke Davis during the show's 2003 to 2012 run, recently revealed that the show's dark issues (specifically, the OTH disgraced showrunner Mark Schwahn) truly permeated the entire foundation of the show. During an appearance on the May 28 episode of the Chicks in the Office podcast, the actress said that she often had to push back on her character's dialogue and scenes (such as those in which her teen character was expected to be in her underwear) because it felt contrived and "gross."
"My girlfriends from One Tree Hill and I talk about that all the time," Bush said. "We're like, girls don't talk to each other the way we had to talk to each other on that show, and also don't behave the way we had to behave on that show. Come on! That was, like, some gross older man's fantasy. And it was icky."
She also described the awkwardness of playing a high school student as a woman in her early 20s, and being expected to act like an adult when she was still so young.
"We didn't know anything. We were babies. ... It hit me the other day that when we started our show, I was only three years out of having grown up in an all-girls school where I wore a uniform. Like, what?" Bush said. "I knew nothing about dynamics, let alone high school dynamics between boys and girls, let alone being a cheerleader. I didn't have any of that."
She explained that she felt that this is where much of the "fetishization" came from — having adults play teenagers and thus seeing children through an adult lens.
"In some ways we were treated like adults. Looking back on it, we can see the ways in which we were fetishized and, you know, we had this sort of lens of 'adultification' put over us. This idea that we were supposed to know everything and have answers and be ultimately professional when we didn't even know what the technical terms were," she said.
Their youth also meant they could be easily manipulated, and Bush said she felt that she and fellow cast members felt like "pawns." "We had grown-ups who we trusted who now we understand were being really controlling and manipulative, who didn't want us to be close because they thought we'd band together and ask for more money. It's just so weird, and it was stuff we were not aware of at the time."
In 2017, 18 women cast and crew members of the CW series penned a letter alleging that Schwahn had physically and emotionally abused and manipulated them. Bush's co-star Hilarie Burton claimed that he had "groomed" and sexually assaulted her an interview with Variety at the time. Bush claimed that he grabbed her butt without her consent, but also fuelled competition and distrust amongst the women on set. "Does it suck when your boss is a pig? Of course," she told Refinery29 a year later in June 2018. "But what was worse for us were the moments when he was so skilled at pitting the girls against each other, and we didn't know how to undo that. We did it. We had to do the work to do it. But I think, historically, in the time between those things being set in motion and us figuring out what had been set in motion, we were like, 'Man, it would have been nice if we could have shortened some of that time.'
However, Bush now calls the shots on her own set (CBS's 2022 series Good Sam, which she stars in and executive produces), and hopes to make the experience both safe and one in which people feel empowered.
"I want sets that I work on to be places where people can ask any question and get it answered," she added on Chicks in the Office. "Where we can hold ourselves to a degree of excellence as a challenge, not as a threat. Where it can just be fun."