When Zap2it visited the “One Tree Hill” set in September, Austin Nichols was working his final day as director on this week’s episode — an important one for fans not only because it marks the midpoint of the last season, but also because of the return of Chad Michael Murray‘s character, Lucas.
We watched from behind the monitor as Nichols juggled the challenges of shooting an emotional airport scene with countless extras — not to mention the added issue of having two young babies on set to play Lydia Scott. But Austin never missed a beat, and took time out to welcome the press to the set and fill us in on the day’s scenes, which, for a busy director, is more rare than you might imagine. Nichols seemed at ease with cast and crew, even shooting in an unfamiliar location.
In fact, the next day, when we reconvened in Nathan and Haley’s “house” on the stages, Nichols told us that 907 was, at that point, his favorite episode of the series, which he joined in Season 6. Of course, since he plays a filmmaker, stepping behind the camera gives him an interesting opportunity to experience his character’s world as well.
This episode was his second shot at directing on the show. “This year I definitely felt more confident,” he says. “Every director does things
differently and I kind of eased into how I like
to do things. I like to move quickly, I like to keep the actors on a
rhythm, and I like to keep rolling as much as possible. I’d love to be
rolling constantly. I hate cutting and letting everything break down and
letting everybody do [other] stuff. If I could, I’d
just keep rolling and keep doing the scenes over and over. I think it
keeps actors closer to everything and I think they like that and
appreciate that. Directing’s been one of the coolest things I’ve ever
done in my life. I’m really excited and lucky.”
Having Murray back in the mix, and knowing what that meant for longtime fans, didn’t put any increased pressure on Nichols as director. “I don’t think so, no. He was great, and I was really happy with
everything he did, and I think the episode’s going to be excellent.”
The feeling is reciprocated. “He did such a great job with this episode,” Murray says of Nichols. “He fits in that chair so well, he really does.”
We checked in with Nichols again this week, now that the episode is locked and ready to air tonight, and he tells us that he’s very happy with how everything worked out. “I’m now starting to pursue directing more, which I’m very excited about,” he tells us. “I just brought a directing agent a copy of my episode to see. I just watched it and I’m really happy with it. I think it’s a really strong episode. I had a really good script, written by Mark Schwahn. It was my second time directing, so I felt stronger and more confident.”
As the “One Tree Hill” cast prepares to make their next career moves, directing is at the top of Nichols’ wish list. “I’ve got my eye on a book that I want to buy,” he says. “I want to make a feature. I’ve been a true lover of movies my whole life. There’s something about sitting in a theater with a bunch of strangers, when it’s dark, and having this shared experience. I’ve always wanted to make movies.”
We recently interviewed Sophia Bush, Nichols’ on-screen wife, about her final days on the “One Tree Hill” set. Now that the experience is behind him, we were curious as to whether it was easier for Nichols to say goodbye to Tree Hill given that he was one of the later additions to the cast.
“That’s what I thought!” he laughs. “I thought it was going to be easier for me than maybe for Sophia or Joy. Turns out I was just as big of a baby as everybody else.”
It was the final day that really did a number on him. “The whole last week was hard, but it was really fun, you know? You’re with all your friends, everybody’s feeling good. Then the last day, I walked on set and I sat down in the hair and makeup trailer. Tim does my makeup, but sometimes if things are busy, his assistant does it. So I looked at Tim, and he said ‘Let me do you for the last time’ — which sounds weirdly sexual — but he said, ‘Sit in my chair, it’s the last day,’ and I just fell apart, man. It was so sad and so beautiful.”
Nichols, who came on board as a guest star — and a villain, in some ways — has no regrets about sticking it out for the long haul on the Little Show that Could. “We watched people get married over these years. We’ve seen people have babies. I’ve made friends that will always, always be my friends,” he says. “I hope someday I’ll bring a movie back to Wilmington, and I know that those guys will crew it up for me. I’ve never been a part of something for so long, and I’ve never gotten so close to people. It was an extremely special experience for me.”
And with that, we’re going to go have a good cry. Tune in tonight for Nichols’ powerful episode at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.