'One Tree Hill': Bethany Joy Galeotti assures us that 'Naley' is still going strong

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oth-scott-family-naley-jamie.jpgAfter so many years on the air, the "One Tree Hill" set functions like a well-oiled machine, and rarely do members of the press factor into that. To say that we were thrilled when Zap2it was invited to Wilmington, NC to watch a bit of filming for the final season of the show is an understatement.

We visited while cast member Austin Nichols was directing the 7th episode of the season, and our first day on set afforded us the chance to watch Bethany Joy Galeotti film emotional scenes with her returning pal Chad Michael Murray. Yes, Lucas and Haley's BFFdom has endured despite his absence (and the fact that he never returned any of her letters -- a fact that plagued Murray a bit when he read the script).

In the scenes we watched, Haley wasn't in the most stable frame of mind, but Joy assures us that it's not all doom and gloom for Haley this season. When we catch up with her in the premiere, she's enjoying her growing family and the new/old business she shares with Brooke ( Sophia Bush). "This season Haley has decided to, as we saw at the end of Season 8, reopen Karen's Café. She renovated Clothes Over Bros after Brooke had her financial catastrophe, and so she and Brooke went into business together. Haley is diving into that.She's got a daughter, she's got a son, her husband is traveling, it's sort of a very glam, small-town entrepreneurial mom life for Haley."

However, unlike Season 8, this final season of "OTH" isn't all about the laughs. "Things very quickly start to unravel," Joy admits. At first, it's manageable -- another local café owner, played by "Dancing With The Stars" alum Chelsea Kane, gives Brooke and Haley some not-so-friendly competition, and hijinks ensue.

Then, real trouble comes a-knocking, as it always does in Tree Hill. And by "trouble" we mean Dan Scott ( Paul Johansson), who returns to the series full-time this season after a few years with guest star billing. "Haley's trying to deal with having Dan around and deciding whether she's going to let this person back in her life and into her family's life. And Nathan is away, and that's taking a huge toll on their relationship. It's a lot about Haley finding out what her limits are," says Joy.

Let's get to what you all really want to hear about: Naley, Naley, Naley! As part of his agreement for Season 9, James Lafferty requested that his episode commitment be reduced to make room for some other projects, so Nathan spends a portion of the season away from Tree Hill as he struggles to (almost single-handedly) manage his and Clay's agency. In the season premiere, we learn that he's been traveling a lot, and producer Steve Goldfried tells us he returns "around the second episode."

If you're getting vicarious separation anxiety, never fear, Naley fans. Joy assures us that this season is not about giving Haley an opportunity to make a life for herself without Nathan. In fact, most of Haley's story revolves around Nathan when things take a terrifying and unexpected turn. (Cue ominous music. Or just listen to his super-chilling voice-over in this promo.)

"I don't think this is about Haley's journey as an independent woman," Joy says. "That's who she's become, is her family. When you're in a marriage or in a relationship where that person is bound to you, that's life-changing. You're never the same. I don't feel that this is a time for her to be finding out who she is without him. I think it's more, 'Who am I in the absence of someone who belongs next to me, all the time? How do I continue to keep him a part of my life, even though we're not seeing each other face-to-face all the time?'"

bethany-joy-galeotti-one-tree-hill-cw.jpgWe've been promised (and specifically asked to reassure the fans!) that Nathan and Haley do share a lot of scenes together -- they were shot out of order from other parts of episodes to ensure that they squeeze as much Naley time in as possible during James' limited time on set.

After nine years on the show, Joy tells us that she's gotten used to the come-and-go of various cast members, so James' absence wasn't as hard on her as Nathan's was on Haley. "It is kind of weird [that he's away]! I mean, James and I never really talked much. I love him to death, but we weren't two people that clicked and were like best friends," she says. "We have a mutual respect for each other and I would love to work with him again, but I don't feel the absence of a friend like I did with Chad when Chad left, or with Hilarie [Burton]. That's very different."

Of course, that's not to say he wasn't missed. "The presence of what James brings to the set and his professionalism... his own flavor that he brings, what he brings to the scenes and all that. I miss seeing his face around. He's a good guy," she says. "Of course he's missed."

As most fans are aware, the actors weren't contracted to return to "One Tree Hill" for Season 9, so each actor made their decisions on an individual basis. For Joy, the decision to return was really about getting to say an official, epic goodbye to the series that spanned so much of her life. "It was a really tough decision, but I have a few friendships here that I wasn't ready to walk away from yet. Season 8 ended with like a booze-on-stage-8 kind of party. I was kind of like 'This can't be how we say goodbye. At least let's come back for 13 more episodes.'"

Making the decision even tougher was Joy's pride and joy, her daughter Maria, who was born last February. Joy tells us that juggling motherhood and acting has been a precarious balancing act.

"I wouldn't let anybody tell you differently. It is not an easy task being a working mom. I am extremely blessed that my schedule is not nine to five every day. I have three days or three weeks off at a time, but then I do come in and work 14 hour days sometimes. It's definitely hard, but I'm grateful that I have the time off that I do. I'm grateful that I can still nurse and be there when she wakes up and most of the time when she goes to sleep."

Fun fact: Joy loves to change up her hair each season, and Haley's Season 9 'do was specifically designed to be as close as possible to Joy's natural look so that she could spend less time in the hair & makeup chair and more time with baby Maria.

On camera, there are three new babies on the show -- meaning that there are often six babies on set -- which hasn't exactly made things easier on Joy. "Somebody shoot me now," she jokes. "They're all adorable, but I'm like, 'I've got my own, thanks.' It makes me start lactating. The baby starts crying and I'm like, 'Where's my baby?!'"

We've got more from our chat with Joy to share with you soon, including her hopes for Haley's ending and her own post-OTH plans. In the meantime, we'll leave you with Joy's description of Season 9:

"Near death experiences. Jealousy. Psychotic breakdowns. Post-traumatic stress. Comedy. Action. Drama, drama, drama. And romance. You've got to throw romance in there somewhere."

You know, in case you weren't already on the edge of your seat. January 11, 8 p.m. EST on The CW. Be there.



Photo/Video credit: The CW