James Lafferty says goodbye to 'One Tree Hill': 'It's by far Nathan's worst year'

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oth-james-lafferty-gallery-.jpgIn the opening moments of tonight's "One Tree Hill" season premiere, the audience immediately realizes that our favorite characters are in for a harrowing, heartbreaking thirteen episodes. Still, Nathan, Haley, Brooke, and the rest of the gang have been through hell before -- so we were pretty confident that they can handle whatever is thrown at them at this point.

That is, until we met up with series star James Lafferty at the Zap2it offices this morning and he warned us, "It's by far Nathan's worst year. Absolutely." After car accidents, school shootings, traumatic injuries, and really bad hair, that's saying something.

Certainly the arrival of Dan (Paul Johansson), Nathan's dad, doesn't exactly signal harmony in the Scott household. Lafferty tells us that the contentious relationship between the father and son will shift significantly this year.

"The nature of their relationship this season is far different from anything we've seen so far," he says, acknowledging the possibility of some forgiveness. "There are going to be some things that they go through that we haven't seen them tackle before. It's very very different, and very high-stakes and I think there's going to be a great payoff there for two of them."

As for Nathan and Haley, Lafferty promises that there's still spark in the romance that has become the center of the show. "They're a rock solid unit as they always have been, and they're going to be tested this season, of course, but I think the fans can definitely look forward to some classic Naley moments," he teases.

With all the turbulent ups and downs of this shortened season, we're a little nervous about the way it'll all end -- particularly given the fact that there are only 13 episodes for the characters to come out on the other side of the trauma they're about to endure. After playing Nathan for nine years, though, Lafferty feels satisfied by where he left the character. "I think all of our characters have a lot of things we go through this season, and as actors, we had a lot of work to do in that capacity," he says. "But like I said, the payoff is really there at the end, for the fans, and for us as actors playing these roles."

This November, we followed along with the cast as they said goodbye, one by one, to Tree Hill, Wilmington, and each other. Given the fact that we shed a few tears from thousands of miles away, we can't imagine the emotional toll that week took on the actors who had brought the characters to life for close to a decade.

"I think that the saying goodbye to everybody, crew and cast, that experience had been undermined  by saying goodbye to everybody like three times before," Lafferty says, referring to the several other years when the show was on the brink of cancellation. "Everybody was so sick of saying goodbye. It was saying goodbye to the world that really affected me. On my very last day of shooting, I wrapped and I said goodbye to everybody, and it didn't really hit me until I walked into my trailer. I shut the door to my trailer and I changed for the last time, and I was in this trailer for the last time that I'd spent so many years in -- basically my entire adult life -- and I was never going to be in that trailer again or have the same experience with the same people again. It was a quiet, private moment, but it was there."

Now, with a few months between him and his last day in Tree Hill, Lafferty is ready to move on to his next project. Though some of his co-stars are hoping to avoid TV for the time being -- Bethany Joy Galeotti, for example, tells us that she's looking forward to playing a variety of characters as opposed to committing to another long-term role -- Lafferty says that he is open to doing another television series.

"It just depends on what the project is," he says. "Working so long on the show I've realized that I don't want to go too long without working. It's just kind of part of me now to constantly have something to do and to constantly be on a set. I want to keep that going. I think it's given me purpose in life and it's going to continue to be my purpose."

Watch our video interview below for more scoop on Season 9 and what's coming up next for Lafferty -- and don't forget to check out our compilation of 99 memorable "One Tree Hill" moments.

Of course, tune in to the very last "One Tree Hill" season premiere at 8 p.m. EST on The CW, tonight (Weds. Jan 11).

Photo/Video credit: The CW/Zap2it