INTERVIEW: Bethany Joy Lenz Talks About Her New Hallmark Film ‘Five Star Christmas,’ the Holidays, Virtually Reuniting With Her ‘One Tree Hill’ Co-Stars, and What’s Next

Photographer: Giuliano Baker | Stylist: Joanne Black | Hair: Clint Torres| Makeup: Saisha Beecham 

Bethany Joy Lenz is getting audiences into the Christmas spirit early this year with her new Hallmark film Five Star Christmas, which will no doubt become a holiday favorite.

Bethany shines as Lucy in Five Star Christmas, which premiered on November 27. The movie follows the Ralston family, who all pretend to be guests at their dad’s B&B in hopes of a good review when a travel writer shows up unexpectedly. Lucy falls for guest Jake, but can’t give away her secret. 

Lenz is best known for her role as Haley James Scott in the series One Tree Hill. The series ran from 2003 to 2012 for a total of nine seasons. She recently starred in USA’s Pearson in 2019. This isn’t the actress’ first Christmas film either; she has also starred in The Christmas Secret, Snowed-Inn Christmas, and Poinsettias for Christmas.

Bethany new projects to look forward to as well, such as Blindfire, which just hit VOD on November 20, and So Cold the River. Glitter Magazine got to speak with the actress exclusively about her new Hallmark film, what she loves most about the holidays, One Tree Hill, fan interactions, advice for anyone wanting a career in the entertainment industry, and future projects. Read below to find out more.

GLITTER: What made you want to get into acting?
BETHANY: I was so young… like I think I just sang in like Church programs and I remember when I was five my mom entered us into this like Mother-Daughter fashion show at Dillard’s and I just remember… I do have a memory of walking down the “runway” in the department store, back when they used to do runway shows in department stores and seeing everyone react and being like “oh, I don’t mind this. This is kind of cool.” You know? So I think it’s more of like, I don’t know if it started out from pure motives. I think I was like a kid, I was an only child, and I loved attention and that was where it kind of started, but then I really fell in love with storytelling and the idea that I could try and make people feel something that maybe they hadn’t been feeling before and that I was good at that. And that felt, you know anytime you discover something you’re good at it feels great, so I just kind of went down the rabbit hole from there and fell in love with it as an art form.

GLITTER: Was there a movie or show you saw that really started your interest in being onscreen?
BETHANY:  I remember- well, the first time I saw Labyrinth with Jennifer Connelly, I think, was the first time I had seen a fantasy movie like that with a girl heroine as the lead, the heroine’s the lead, instead of just the boy’s movies never-ending story. I was so blown away at the possibility. Because I was such a musical theater kid, that’s all I really ever focused on was theater, and you know I grew up in that era of Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts and Jodie Foster, these incredible, incredible actresses, and it was back in a time when there weren’t so many options in terms of like now its just movies being made, there are so many movies being made all the time, there’s really no such thing as movie stars anymore. I guess like Chris Pratt and Tom Cruise are still movie stars. I mean, my daughter doesn’t know who Julia Roberts is. I was like, “Oh my god, wait; I have to fix that.” You know? Which I have remedied, but yeah, I think so back at that time it wasn’t so much like oh anyone can just be in a movie, you really had to have a special skillset and superior ability to affect people through your art and your talent. So yeah, I would have to say Jodie Foster was my favorite actress when I was younger for sure. I don’t know in terms of a particular or very specific project; I think there were many.

GLITTER: You have a new Hallmark movie called Five Star Christmas; what can you tell us about the movie? Who do you play?
BETHANY: So the movie is about a woman who comes home for Christmas and finds out that her father has transformed her childhood home into an Inn, Bed and Breakfast, and all of her brothers and sisters come home, and the grandparents and they’re all just shocked. And the problem is there’s a travel critic whose coming into town and is coming to their Inn, and they’re concerned that their dad is going to get a bad rating and he’s going to lose the house because financially he put everything into this, this hair-brained idea. So they conspire as a family to all pretend to be the guests at the Inn so that when the travel critic shows up, they’re all pretending to be these crazy characters, and no one will know that they’re actually family, and then the Inn can get a good review, and the house is saved, and all is well. One guest arrives in town and wants to stay at the Inn while all this is happening. Lucy, my character, really starts to have feelings for this guy, but it’s hard because she’s spinning all these plates, running around trying to keep up this charade with her whole family, and meanwhile also trying to be real with this guy. So that’s the storyline; it’s an ensemble comedy. We definitely focus on the love story a bit. Still, there’s a lot of attention paid to all the characters’ storylines, which is what drew me to it in the first place. Usually, I just do one on one romances with Hallmark, so the fact that they were branching out and attempting something that I don’t think they’ve ever done before. Unless I’m wrong, I’ve never seen anything like this on the network before, so I was just really excited at that possibility. And it aired right after Thanksgiving Day into Christmas, which means it’s perfect for everyone with their family to sit down while they are all overstuffed on food and just enjoy watching another family make asses out of themselves.

GLITTER: What attracted you to the role of Lucy?
BETHANY: I understand, Lucy’s mother died when she was 15, and she has had this sort of shepherding instinct over her family since then, understandably, but it’s really gotten in the way of her… well definitely, her romantic life and I’m sure her friendships and stuff as well cause old habits die hard. Once you’re so grained in taking care of everyone, it’s hard to let that go, and I think that it’s been hard for her to find the kind of love that she seeks because she doesn’t really know how to allow someone else to nurture her cause she’s so used to being the nurturer. So I think she probably tends to be attracted to men she needs to take care of instead of a real partner. I can really relate to that being a single mother. I was out of the house when I was 17; I’ve just been on my own for so long. I’m happy on my own, and I know how to do life, just my kid and me, so I can relate to how easy it is, especially being a single mom. You’re spinning so many plates all the time, and a) the idea of setting some down and letting someone else take some of those plates is so scary because you know you’re not going to drop them, and if you do drop them, at least you can only be mad at yourself. Still, if somebody else drops the plate, then you have to be mad at them, and you have to forgive them, and it’s all messy and hard to do, you know? So it’s much easier to just lock your heart away, get everything done properly, but not ideal in terms of human growth and character development. So, anyway, that’s a very long-winded answer, but I related to Lucy’s shepherding and micromanaging instincts.

GLITTER: Since it is a Christmas movie, did filming it get you in the holiday spirit?
BETHANY: It did, it really did. It was weird to come home and be like, “Oh wait, we have Halloween now, right, oh and Thanksgiving.” No, I can’t wait; I got a new house right now, and I’m like looking around everywhere; I can’t wait to see how we’re going to decorate for Christmas. It’s my favorite; I love Christmas.

GLITTER: Everyone could obviously use some joy and Christmas spirit with everything happening in the world right now; what do you hope the movie brings viewers?
BETHANY: I hope it just gives them relief for a little while, and I hope that families, as they watch this, are reminded of the goodness in each other and that most people are just doing the best that they can and the choices they make, things that we do, are generally coming from a well-intentioned place. And I think that would be a good thing for everyone to remember right now.

GLITTER: Favorite part of the holidays?
BETHANY: I love all of it, no, as soon as the Christmas lights start going up and you put the garland up, then I get my evergreen wreath. I love crafting; I love Christmas cooking. I just love the time, the excuse, you know we’re so not like other cultures, we’re so activity driven and accomplishment driven, right? Everyone is always trying to prove their value in our country. Our value is proven by how much we accomplish, and we run ourselves into the ground. I long for these like Italian, Spanish holidays where you just like the simplicity of walking home with a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and just being like, “This is what I’m gonna do tonight, you know I had a good day’s work, and now it’s over, and I’m not staying up until 3 am answering emails.” I think that’s one of my favorite things about Christmas is that everyone in America at least really gives themselves the excuse, well not everyone, but they should. I think a lot of people make the holidays even worse than they are. Still, I like the opportunity to really take advantage of giving yourself the excuse to rest and enjoy the people around you and enjoy your own company as well.

GLITTER: What is your favorite thing about romantic movies?
BETHANY: All the possibilities and I think really good romantic movies like An Affair to Remember, Love Story, The Notebook, I mean gosh… there’s so many incredible real romance like you know even My Girl. Do you know what I mean? There’s something there that is such a reflection of what we long for, that fulfillment of that companionship. I love that movies can inspire people not to give up hope and to try to go out and find that or not give up. I also love that in the moment that you’re watching the movie for those two hours, you have that, you have it. It’s great. That’s what I love about art in general; you have it. It might only be two hours, but you got it for that time.

GLITTER: Favorite genre to film?
BETHANY: I do love comedy. I love all of it; It scratches different itches and stretches different muscles. I think comedy comes very naturally to me, that sort of rom-com, bright, bubbly, that’s where I sit most of the time in my life. The next movie I have coming out is called So Cold the River, and it’s a psychological thriller. It’s very dark, and there was a lot of dropping into the parts of me that are full of fear and hopelessness and depression and all that, but I also loved going there, because what’s it there for if I can’t use it to help tell a story? Do you know what I mean? And I haven’t really done an action movie yet, so when I do, I’ll let you know if that’s my favorite. That seems like it might be my favorite, but I haven’t had the chance to do it. I mean, the top of the chart for me is always going to be musical theater, singing, dancing, acting, all of those things at the exact same moment like nothing beats that for me, that’s just like pure fulfillment.

GLITTER: Do you celebrate the release of your movies in any specific way?
BETHANY: No… I don’t; I probably should, I’m just too practical, too like, “Yeah yeah yeah, it’s out okay, fine.” I don’t know, that’s probably like the pessimistic New Jersey in me that’s just like, “Yeah, well no ones going to like it anyway, so I might as well go do something else.” Like protecting myself.

GLITTER: Have you ever gotten emotional reading a script for the first time?
BETHANY: Oh, yes, many times. I can’t think of one in particular I mean; I’ve been reading scripts throughout my career that have made me cry. I wish I could tell you one, in particular, I just can’t.

GLITTER: Does that make you more attracted to the project when you get emotional reading that script?
BETHANY: Yes, any kind of emotion, if you cry, if you laugh out loud, if you’re scared, any of that stuff. If you feel it and you’re only reading it on the page, it makes it really hard to screw up. Something must go really wrong to mess up a good script. So I’m always attracted to a good script.

GLITTER: You recently virtually reunited with your One Tree Hill co-stars Sophia Bush and Hilarie Burton in honor of Register a Friend Day. Can you tell us how that happened?
BETHANY: Yes, Sophia just reached out said, let’s all get on a Zoom and just encourage people to vote. They’re doing reunions all over, just encouraging people to get out and vote. And then Hilarie suggested we call Audrey Wauchope, one of the writers on One Tree Hill. She had written for us and asked her if she would throw together a “Hey what if Brooke, Haley, and Peyton all actually got in the same room. What if it wasn’t just us, but us as our characters ten years in the future,” “Oh, that’s a fun idea! Let’s do that.” So we did. It was really fun. I was at Paul Johansson’s house, and he didn’t come home in time, but I so wanted him to be in it, but that was his Emmy. I saw it sitting in the corner of the room, and I was like, “Oh I have to give Haley an Emmy” for whatever reason, like who knows why.

GLITTER: The 17th anniversary of One Tree Hill just passed as well, and the show still means so much to fans; how does that make you feel?
BETHANY: It makes me feel great and incredibly blessed. I mean, just lucky, wow. There’s like two percent of the actors in the union that are working, and that’s also just people doing guest spots on TV shows. Like the percentage of people who actually get on a series, let alone a series that runs for ten years and twenty-two episodes per season, which nobody even does anymore, and it really was the last of its kind because everything after that became super genre-based, right? Like the Gossip Girl and OC and the Vampire Diaries, and now we have this new generation of Riverdale, and even the Outer Banks is mystery based, so it was really the last in the line of… what even is the genre? It’s like the folk music of TV. It’s just like you sit back, it’s easygoing, you can watch it with people you love and care about, and it’s not titillating. You know, I’m sure we tried. I know we jumped the shark several times with attempts to titillate the audience and compete with Vampire Diaries or whatever, but at its core, it was just a show about people, and there’s not a lot of those anymore. So anyway, it makes me feel really good that our fans still connect and that people are still showing it to their kids, and we have a whole new generation of people who are like, “Oh my gosh, I’m 13, and I love that show you were on.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” It’s really, really, cool. I feel very lucky.

GLITTER: You’ve been using your platform to talk about some really important issues and topics; what do you hope your followers learn from that?
BETHANY: I hope that anybody who pays attention to me, for whatever reason, that they’re inspired to ask questions. That’s really the only thing I can say is like I don’t have all the answers. I think I have more answers than I probably do, but we have to go through our life formulating opinions about things; you can’t just be a lump on a log. I know a lot of people who stop asking questions. They’ve arrived someplace, and they go, “Okay, now I’m here, now I can tell everyone else what to do.” I just don’t think that gets you anywhere. In my experience, the limited time I’ve been on this planet, the people that I know who ask questions, who are curious, who never lose that sense of curiosity about other people, about topics, about history, about children, about anything that is like “teach me something, I wanna know. How do you see the world?” Those people are the best people. They’re so empathetic. When they’re wrong, as soon as they realize they’re wrong, even if they’ve believed something their whole life, the moment they realize, “Actually, I had bad information. I’m switching,” and they’ll change on a dime. If they are proven wrong they move into something that is truth and keep going. But if all you’re doing is trying to please everyone around you and just have all the answers because you need people to think that you are smart and have answers, what I have seen of that is a decline in people’s character. But we’re all human, and we’re all really susceptible to it, so that’s something I’m constantly conscious of and always trying to be on guard so I don’t fall into that trap because we all can. So anyway, that’s all, just maintain your sense of wonder, curiosity, and keep asking questions.

GLITTER: Have you had a unique interaction with a fan that either inspired you or stuck with you?
BETHANY: Yes. I think going to a lot of the conventions is always really inspiring and also eye-opening. I live in LA, and I grew up in New Jersey in kind of a blue-collar area. We never had a lot of money, but I was always surrounded by really great minds because of who my parents surrounded themselves with. I was always really challenged in that way, and then I moved to LA, and I’ve been on a TV show. I’ve had really hard struggles in my life, many, and I know what it’s like to be at my rock bottom. But, I also know that my rock bottom is nothing in comparison to most people who work 9-5 jobs, which is very different from what I do. People who are single moms working three jobs; that’s a level of reality that I don’t encounter daily because of my career and where I live, and I’m aware of that. So when I go to the conventions, and I get to interact with people who have saved up, and this is their treat to themselves after saving for sometimes the whole year, it’s so humbling. And such a great reminder a) that art matters, b) that it makes an impact on people’s lives, and it’s a reminder that I am extremely privileged, extremely. So every interaction that I have at those events is usually that I walk away feeling humbled and a lot of gratitude. I’ve met a couple of fans that I still stay in touch with, not many. But, just people who for whatever reason just caught my heart and I was just like, “You know what, here’s my email address and just let me know how you’re doing, and how’s your family,” because I don’t know why, who knows why sometimes you just connect with people. That’s what friendship is. The job is a job, but when you connect with a person, it’s meaningful, and like all that other stuff kind of goes away.

GLITTER: You also have an amazing voice. How would you describe your sound to those who haven’t heard you sing before?
BETHANY: I don’t know, you know honestly, that’s been my problem, it’s probably why I never had a real music career because I could never just pin down to one genre. I was always trying to be too many things at one time. I’m really comfortable in a folk range. I’m also really comfortable in musical theater. I don’t think I’m a pop singer; I think I’ve tried it doesn’t really work. Actually, you know what’s really cool is that I was just hired and was in the studio a couple of days ago, there’s a new musical based on the life of Nikola Tesla called Child of Light. They were supposed to mount it, as I understand this, they were supposed to mount it this year in the West End, and you know COVID. So they’re recording a concept album to keep interest, and so they had me come, and I was in the studio yesterday with these amazing musicians and composers, and I was singing on this huge Broadway West End album. It was so fun, it was so amazing, and it just reminded me how much I really really love musical theater and hope to do more of it, but yeah, I love to sing.

GLITTER: Would you like to do Broadway in the future?
BETHANY: Yes, for sure. I always get down to the last handful of girls for shows like King Kong and Doctor Zhivago. I did audition for that show Once, but my piano playing was atrocious. They swiftly kicked me out, which they should’ve done, but for a lot of times for a lot of these Broadway shows, I get down to the wire, down to the last few girls, and it just hasn’t come my way for whatever reason, but maybe it will one day, we’ll see.

GLITTER: If you were going on a road trip, what songs would your playlist consist of?
BETHANY: Oh, gosh, well, what mood? What time of day is it? How long is the road trip? My gosh, I’m going to say… well, I love oldies, I always put on my like Pandora temptations station. I usually start with Motown for a long time. There’s a lot of other really great music out there; I don’t know. Maybe I should just curate a playlist for you guys and send it over.

GLITTER: What advice would you give to your younger self?
BETHANY: Stop trying to do everything, and just pick one thing and focus on it. Set goals. For like a year, I never set goals. I don’t know why, but I got it into my head at a young age that setting goals limits you, which is so stupid, but I did; that’s what I believed for a long time. I was very stubborn about it. And then I started getting older, and I was like, “Oh, why haven’t I don’t like any of the things I wanted to do? Oh yeah, cause I never set any goals for myself.” So yeah, I would say set goals and just don’t try to do everything at once. Set realistic goals and accomplish them. Stepping stones are important; listen and ask questions.

GLITTER: How do you use your voice for change? How do you try to educate and create change? Do you protest or post educational links?
I mean, I do all of it. Like yes, I post educational links, go to protests, make phone calls to Senators, and go on rants on my Instagram Stories. You know, I do all that stuff, but to be honest, I don’t think change happens that way. I think that’s like the surface. If we’re really going to be real about it, I think those things are by-products of passion, which is wonderful to have, but you’re already passionate about it. Change happens, not because someone is yelling at me; I don’t change because I’m being yelled at or being shamed. So conversations are a huge thing and just being open. Again, asking questions and listening, because— I live by this and it has made such a difference in my life since I did start living by it, which is people don’t care what you know unless they know that you care, or until they know you care, I’ve heard it both ways. And it’s so true; it’s so true. So I really go into a lot of friendships, relationships, a) you have to keep in mind that you might be wrong. You might have things to change so you can listen and learn; you always can learn something no matter what scenario you’re in, no matter how vehemently you disagree with the person you’re talking to, you can learn something, and it doesn’t have to be that they’re an idiot. You can learn something that will better you. So I would say, in terms of using my voice for change, I think as much as I do all of that stuff, probably the most effective thing I can do is encourage people to listen to each other and empathize.

GLITTER: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into the acting industry?
BETHANY: It’s the same advice I’ve given for years, which is to do it because you have to, not because you want to be famous. Like, really, really, really, examine your motives because the world just doesn’t need another star, we don’t need one. We need people with vision. We need artists who are capable of being leaders. I don’t care if you’re a leader by example if you’re a leader by— you know, like Jane Fonda, she’s out there, she’s political, and then you’ve got leaders like Jodie Foster, someone who is extremely private, but her artwork speaks for itself. She does projects that are meaningful; the things that she directs has something to say. So that’s another way of being a leader without everyone needing to hear your actual voice and opinions. So anyway, just don’t go into art for any sort of self-serving motive because it’s not glamorous, it’s exhausting, you’re going to meet a lot of people that infuriate you, you’re going to be in a lot of scenarios that are unfair. It ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, and you gotta be ready to sacrifice a lot in order to tell stories that can potentially change people’s lives.

GLITTER: Is there an aspect of the entertainment industry that you’d like to explore more?
BETHANY: Yeah, I want to direct more. I did direct on One Tree Hill a bit. I’ve done some short films and things. I really enjoy it; I think I’m good at it. But I’m also a single mom, and being a director means you’re the first on set, last to leave, and it’s hard to do that schedule when I’ve got a nine-year-old. So it’s something I really hope to pick up in the future, but I think I need a few more years to let her grow up, so I’m not just like gone all day, every day.

GLITTER: Is there a performance or scene that was particularly challenging for you but you ended up being proud of the final result?
BETHANY: Yes, actually we did film a couple of things like that in this movie I’ve got coming out next year, So Cold the River. That movie has got a lot of those moments in it that were just hard to tap into. There was a lot of that in Pearson, too; there were a lot of moments when I was just trying to find it. The thing is, sort of once you do it, I kind of let it go. I don’t hold onto those moments a lot; I don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about those moments. I mean, some of the best work I’ve ever done is just sitting on my Vimeo account because it’s auditions that for whatever reason, I didn’t get. When I tested for the Marilyn movie on Netflix, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of work that I’ve done like I was really proud of myself, and I worked really hard on it. I worked with a coach, which I never do, but you know, it’ll never see the light of day, and it’s just on my account, and I’m sure Ana de Armas is doing a spectacular job, and it’s all great. But you know, it’s like there’s just a bunch of those moments.

GLITTER: Glitter has a celebrity #SelfLoveCampaign. What does self-love mean to you?
BETHANY: Forgiveness, forgiving yourself. Be patient with yourself. Take care of your body; take care of your mind. I guess self-love is like really where you find your value, right? The most important thing we can figure out as humans is to really spend time narrowing down what defines me, like where I find my value? I think that’s a really good question to ask, and I think the answer at the end of that will give you fulfillment and ultimately make you love yourself.

GLITTER: Have you learned anything about yourself during this time in isolation?
BETHANY: Yeah, I think it’s the same kind of thing that we were just saying is I’ve just learned that it’s okay to relax and life is so short. So much of what we do is meaningless. Finding the things that are meaningful and holding onto those and focusing on those, and not getting caught up in everyone else’s rat race. Not looking to my left and my right like, “Who’s running next to me,” “Am I competing with them,” and “Am I keeping up with them?” Just run my own race. Slowing down I think has been a big lesson for me.

GLITTER: What kept you motivated during quarantine?
BETHANY: Yeah, I’m writing a musical right now, so I think that definitely. I’ve been writing it for the last three years, so that kept me going. I wrote a lot for the previous three months and then shipped off for this movie.

GLITTER: Any new projects you’re currently working on that you can tell us about or tease?
BETHANY: Well yeah, the Tesla musical is definitely one of them; I’m super excited about that. The musical that I’m writing is based on the tribal history of Pocahontas. I’ve been working with the anthropologist for the tribe, who wrote a book called The Other Side of History. I’ve been working on that for close to four years now, which is usually how long it takes to write a musical. And it’s for stage; it’s not for film. I guess it could be for film, but that might be weird. Maybe not. Anyway, it’s sort of like Aida, Elton John’s Aida would be a good reference to where it’s pop, like a modern pop score, but it’s obviously set in the 1600s. So Cold the River, the Michael Koryta novel film, and Blindfire is out November 13 on video or VOD; I know nobody goes to video stores anymore. And the Hallmark movie, and I’m homeschooling my daughter, so you know, I have my hands full.

GLITTER: How can fans follow you?
BETHANY: Instagram and I did just get a TikTok, although I never use it, but yeah, I would say Instagram. I’m kind of not on Twitter very much, yeah that’s probably the best way.