'One Tree Hill's' Austin Nichols steps behind the camera for a walk down memory lane

austin-nichols-320.jpgAustin Nichols has played film director Julian Baker on "One Tree Hill" since 2008, but it wasn't until this year that he took his own turn behind the camera, directing tonight's episode, "Quiet Little Voices."

When we last saw the "One Tree Hill" gang, they were happily awaiting the arrival of two babies -- Haley and Nathan's second child and Brooke and Julian's first. We'll catch up to them in the hospital on a night ridden with anxiety... and memories.

"I think the birth of a child or children is a great opportunity, because it's a reminder of what's good in your world and what's important," says executive producer Mark Schwahn. "We didn't want to just do a clip show. We didn't want to just look back to look back. The flashbacks are a great little trip down memory lane, but they're also advancing our story."

Nichols admits that when he first got the script for his directorial debut, he was wary. "To be honest with you, I was a little disappointed," he tells Zap2it. "They call it a 'clip show' -- where you flash back to various moments in the series -- and I was kind of disappointed that I wouldn't get to direct an entire episode. The episode ended up being a lot more than a clip show, though."

Nichols, who joined the show in Season 7, didn't take any shortcuts. He watched the older material so that he could design transitions into and out of the flashbacks. He even went back to the old dailies from when the scenes were shot, years ago, to examine all the footage in the vault. "We wanted to make the scenes feel new," he says. "It's really about the fans who have been with the show for 8 years and kind of presenting them with this reminder of how far the characters have come."

"We had long conversations about character and intention," Schwahn adds. "He just walked out on the rope and put on a great show. He's got a nice knack for it and communicates really well. I was proud of him, I'm proud of that episode."

The portions of the episode that take place in the present are largely from the perspective of Jamie (Jackson Brundage), who has a voiceover that carries throughout the episode. Brundage's young age -- he's ten -- presented certain problems for Nichols. "There are all these laws, when you're working with kids, about how many hours they can work, how late they can work." Nichols says. "We were shooting this really emotional scene in the hospital, with Sophia [Bush] and I, and we were about to lose Jackson." Since Nichols was also in the scene himself, he had to wear two hats.

"I'm on camera, and it's hard to come in and out of character to run back and check the monitors and do it again, especially on such a time crunch," he says, crediting his first assistant director and director of photography for helping everything run smoothly.

Nichols' character is largely the comedic relief in the show, especially this season, but he had the opportunity to show off some more dramatic chops in the hurricane episode when he had to fight to save Brooke and Jamie after a terrifying hit-and-run.

Now that Nathan has made some discoveries about the driver who sent Brooke and Jamie over the bridge - namely, that the vehicle in question is parked in the garage of his newest client, his professor's son - that story will become relevant again. Nichols' character will be pushed to the center for more deeply emotional moments.

"To see Julian get upset and get angry and get aggressive was a breath of fresh air," Schwahn says. "To hear him raise his voice is so rare. He's so supportive and so solid and so sweet to Brooke that it's nice to see him blow up a little bit. When we find story like the car being in Kellerman's garage, I get excited by the way that story will service other stories and characters in ways our audience hasn't seen yet."

It was a refreshing acting opportunity for Nichols as well. "There's a scene in the finale that's just me," he tells us. "It was a really emotional moment for Julian, he's alone, and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to pull it off, but ultimately I think it was some of the best work I've done in my career. I'm hoping that it comes across as well on screen as it felt in the moment, but it's something I'm very proud of."

With Season 8 wrapped and the fate of the show in the hands of The CW until pickups are announced for the 2011-2012 season in May, Nichols has been keeping busy in his downtime. He recently returned from a trip to Indonesia. "I was on a boat for seven days," he says. "I try to get away every year and go somewhere I've never been before, just to get away from here and experience a different kind of life. It was really inspiring. The people there are so happy, and they're so poor. The poverty is overwhelming, but they're all smiling as they greet you. It kind of makes you re-evaluate the way we live."

Photo/Video credit: The CW