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Bethany Joy Lenz, best known for playing Haley James Scott on One Tree Hill, is in the process of writing a book about the decade she spent in a cult. If that immediately makes you want to ask a few questions, you’re in luck. Although the book isn’t out yet, Lenz recently opened up about her experience in a lengthy interview with Variety. According to Lenz, the One Tree Hill cast and crew were aware of her cult membership while she was working on the WB turned CW teen soap. “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,” Lenz recalled. “But I was very stubborn. I was really committed to what I believed were the best choices I could make.”
Lenz described the cult’s leader as a “sociopathic” person, noting that he reminded her so much of NXIVM’s Keith Raniere that she DM’d Sarah Edmondson after watching The Vow to talk about the similarities. According to Lenz, the group began as a home Bible study in Los Angeles. She said it encouraged isolation from and distrust of non-members, which extended beyond just her One Tree Hill co-stars — for Lenz, one of the most “painful, shameful, difficult parts” is that she distanced herself from friends and family, missing many major life events. Her loyalty to the cult also caused her to turn down opportunities to be in “huge movies” and Broadway shows at the height of her career, she said. “Everything I’d trained for, all my childhood dreams were coming true and I said no to all of it so I could go live with this remote, small group of people, convinced I was making a noble, spiritual sacrifice,” she recalled. “I’ll tell you, any group that requires you to believe every detail of what they believe in order to be loved without condemnation… please run the other way. Just run.”
Lenz left the cult “very shortly after” One Tree Hill ended in 2012. It helped that the show had kept her in North Carolina for nine months out of the year, she said, reflecting that the “spatial separation made a big difference when it was time for me to wake up.” Motherhood was also a factor. But even after her exit, her time in the cult continued to impact her. Lenz said she has struggled to trust others, as well as her own judgment.
Still, she is hopeful that something good will come out of sharing her story. The actress said she plans to publish as many “dirty details” in her book as she can without causing harm, in hopes of allowing readers to recognize if people in their lives are behaving similarly. “I just want to squeeze every ounce of help out of this experience,” Lenz concluded. “ I want this experience to just be the fucking biggest lemon I ever had. Let me fucking squeeze out all the juice for everybody else — we’re gonna make some lemonade.”
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