Character Deep Dive: Nathan Scott

James Lafferty as Nathan Scott in One Tree Hill
©The CW

Portrayed by: James Lafferty
Show: The CW’s One Tree Hill

Writer’s Note: When we write about this show here at Marvelous Geeks, we want to make it abundantly clear that our support goes to the actors and the characters. We do not condone vile, malicious behavior or credit the writers, Mark Schwahn especially.

When One Tree Hill first aired, did anyone expect Nathan Scott to go through the most prodigious growth as a character? I certainly didn’t. Yes, he’d get a redemption arc, that much was obvious, but the detail that he’d be the most prominent male figure in the series continued to surprise me in the best way. 

When we first meet the unkind, troubled teenager headed down the wrong path, it’s easy to tell he’d likely find the light someday. As a boy, an abusive upbringing damaged Nathan somewhat beyond repair, making it tough to imagine, or even trust the writing process to show just how honorable he could genuinely turn out to be, especially in the face of hardships. It was also easy to dislike him amid everything in earlier episodes. But Nathan Scott’s growth served as the ultimate proof that love and only love can pull the darkness out of someone and engulf them with a plethora of light. After finding love and understanding that he deserves it, Nathan Scott became the prime example of a father, a husband, a friend, and an honorable, wonderfully complex, inimitable character.

There are two ways such arcs are presented on-screen, and especially back in the early 2000s, characters would either pick themselves up and choose to be better, or they’d allow what they’d been through to turn them into a villain. Nathan Scott didn’t grow up with a great father or truly loved, for that matter; instead, he grew up spoiled and fueled with hatred. Dan Scott was the kind of man who allowed his jealousy and insecurities to turn him into a monster, and that monster then filled his son’s heart with the same type of darkness.

However, when Nathan Scott finds light in Haley James, he clings to it with everything in his being. He devotes himself to the promise that he’ll be the kind of man who deserves to stand by her side. Nathan devotes himself to the promise that he’ll be a better father to his future children. He devoted himself to the commitment that he’ll work on himself every single day to set the proper examples for Jamie and, later, Lydia.

Nathan Scott: The Everything

Nathan Scott in One Tree Hill Season 1
©The CW

Early 2000s television often comes with too much unnecessary drama, forcing characters down paths that aren’t entirely realistic. Such is the case for a portion of Season 2, Season 5, and a bit of Season 9. Still, through it all, Nathan bounces back. While the arcs with nannies and whatnot are generally a bit much, a life-changing accident speaks to many athletes. Nathan Scott gets to temporarily live his dream before a cruel fate strips it away, taking him towards alcohol abuse and self-hatred. And while the toll this takes on Haley temporarily breaks her, I’ve always found it fascinating that Nathan doesn’t take anyone down with him—he bears the pain alone, even though sharing it would’ve been more beneficial. But the martyr from high school doesn’t learn his lesson as quickly, which is why he is as relatable as he is.

Yet, that’s the story that contributes to his growth as a man and a husband. It boils down to the fact that as a couple, both Nathan and Haley learn the importance of sharing their burdens with each other, choosing to understand after perilous outcomes that asking for help isn’t a weakness but a strength.

In that period, Nathan’s self-hatred is so much louder than anything he’s ever lived through that the belief that he’s unworthy of his family clouds his better judgment. Further, after fighting through that darkness and finally winning, Nathan fights to ensure he’ll never go down that road again. He approaches and cares for Jamie just as he wishes Dan would’ve done to him. He encourages with diligence, and through everything, he appreciates his family more than any form of success or power in the world.

Nathan’s resilience and the amount of compassion within him give him the means to grow with his son—every day as a father becomes a learning experience. Still, at this point in his life, he also learns how to play basketball just to play it, and being Jamie’s father is always about ensuring his son’s happiness above all things. And that same adoration contributes to Jamie’s victory in breaking Nathan’s record because growing up in a home surrounded by love helps fuel the game much more successfully. Basketball becomes enjoyable again because it’s no longer about the wins and the losses, but it’s about the game and the love that grounds it.

We don’t get to see much of Nathan as a father to Lydia, but it’s easy to imagine that he’d be excellent at it in the same way he was with Jamie. While none of this equates to any form of perfection, there’s more love in his heart than anything else. And that same love has always been on full display with Haley and the kids.

Patience, Persistence, and Immense Love

James Lafferty in One Tree Hill Season 8 as Nathan Scott
©The CW

Nathan Scott understands pain, and he understands the gravitas of losing oneself to the harrowing thoughts in our heads. Nathan’s choices to consistently ensure that Haley’s life is always like a fairytale will always be astonishing. And while there’s much that will be said about them as a couple in a separate deep dive, it’s imperative to discuss Nathan’s patience, persistence, and the immense love within him.

In witnessing Haley’s patience first-hand, Nathan becomes better. In seeing her persistence through everything, Nathan learns how to take that upon himself. And by experiencing her immense love for him, he returns it tenfold. It’s hard to imagine how Haley would’ve pulled through the grief of losing her mother if she didn’t have someone consistently looking out for her, wanting to carry every heartache. Nathan’s love and patience in those dark days are both heartbreaking and gratifying because he continues to see the light while the waves of grief try to drown her. And it’s that very selfless love that she holds onto in the final season when it feels as though he might never come home.

Once again, Nathan Scott is most certainly not perfect, never a true martyr either—he has some dark, ugly moments even after deciding what kind of a man he wants to be. Still, it contributes to his growth exquisitely and makes his journey more worthwhile and inspiring because it digs into the most human parts of him. He has moments of doubt, fights through full-blown rage, and battles dark paths almost consistently, but through everything, Nathan makes conscious choices to rise above his demons. He does everything in his power to learn from them, and when necessary, he’s brave enough to lean on his loved ones to help him. And that’s where immense strength comes in, for being vulnerable is never easy, especially for men.

But throughout it all, Nathan Scott stands as a solid example of an honorable, kind man willing to let his walls down. His ability to forgive reminded viewers of the importance of finding stability within and harnessing it by spreading the compassion. It revealed just how vital it is for human beings to open their hearts to love no matter how many times they’ve been broken or conditioned to believe they don’t deserve it. There’s also the decision to forgive his parents, understanding that they didn’t know better, for it ultimately showcases the immeasurable strength and empathy that continues to grow in him.

Empathy often served as a driving force for Nathan, where we didn’t see much vulnerability in the early 2000s. Nathan Scott was not only a great mentor to his family but his friends. And perhaps one of my favorite showcases of his selflessness and kindness was most evidently present in “Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly,” when he tells Brooke that just because they’re going through a difficult patch in their lives, it doesn’t mean that her problems aren’t significant, too. For a man to say those words when it’s usually been “you’re being too sensitive” is a stunning display of Nathan’s empathy.

READ FURTHER in Scene Breakdown: Nathan Checks in on Brooke in One Tree Hill’s “Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.”

This conversation thus acts as an acute display of his selflessness and proof that he’s grown exponentially. (And let’s not forget him consistently remembering that he was the absolute worst boyfriend to Peyton. The acknowledgment helps. It really does.) It’s that very advice to Brooke that’s become one of my favorite things his character has ever said because it has revealed the detail that as someone who’s bottled up a lot, he doesn’t want a single soul to experience the feeling that their problems don’t matter. As a character who could’ve benefited from talking more, the choice to be the kind of friend people could come to was a part of his saving grace, too. In the end, he was even good to Chris Keller, which says more than enough.

Characters like Nathan Scott aren’t entirely rare. The bad boy with a heart of gold becoming the best version of himself is a trope we see often. It’s generally done well too. But Nathan’s empathy remains unmatched in this regard, and the warmth he carried himself with is a gift that keeps on giving years after the show’s run its course.

Fundamentally, it comes down to the fact that Nathan Scott didn’t know how not to be a helping hand to someone. And in the same way that Nathan grew so much throughout the seasons, James Lafferty grew as an actor, learning more and more about the character to embody him in ways that always felt incredibly organic. Each performance was filled with intricate care that layered the character further and allowed us to see the parts of him that were tucked deep within his expressions and physicality. By Season 9, when you looked into Nathan’s eyes, Lafferty was exhibiting a thousand words through and through. Lafferty layered each emotion more profusely with compassion, bravery, and unyielding wisdom.


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