Warning: moderate spoilers
Last fall, when One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn introduced the teenage children of the new Latino family on the block early into the second season of the WB teen drama, neither of the new teenagers were very popular with viewers. Teen ladies-man Felix (Michael Capon) immediately made a move on Brooke (Sophia Bush), and his beautiful but insecure sister Anna (Daniella Alonso) hit it off with the show’s heartthrob Lucas (Chad Michael Murray), jeopardizing the possibility for romance between Lucas and either of the show’s two popular female leads, Brooke and Peyton (Hilarie Burton).
“We introduced Anna as a romantic interest for Lucas,” explains Schwahn in an interview with AfterEllen.com, “and the audience was sort of offended, because half the girls were rooting for Lucas and Brooke, others for Lucas and Peyton, and the rest for Lucas and themselves.” Schwahn believes now that may have been a tactical error. “Viewers met Anna the same way they met [evil teen] Nicki, and she was such a villain that they sort-of equated that energy with Anna. That’s my fault.”
But Anna’s popularity with viewers improved as her potential romantic relationship with Lucas turned to friendship, and viewers learned the real reason Anna’s family moved to Tree Hill: widespread rumors about her relationship with another girl.
Anna’s storyline on One Tree Hill really didn’t pick up until late November (“Don’t Take Me For Granted”), when rumors that popular teen-artist-in-residence Peyton was gay began circulating through their high school. Although she’s straight, Peyton refused to be cowed, even when someone scrawled “Dyke” on her locker, and she defiantly wore a t-shirt sporting the epithet to school the next day until the Principal forced her to remove the shirt. While Anna valued her friendship with Peyton, she began avoiding her because the rumors about Peyton were all too reminiscent of the rumors about Anna at her last school.
Only in Anna’s case, the rumors were true.
Later (January 25th’s “The Heart Brings You Back”), Anna comes to her senses and apologizes to Peyton for not standing by her. Then Anna goes one step further: she kisses a surprised Peyton, who gently stops her by saying “that’s not really my thing.” Anna is mortified, but eventually patches things up with Peyton, admits the truth about the rumors at her old school to a supportive Lucas, and comes out to another friend.
But Anna’s biggest challenge now lies ahead: coming out to her family, and dealing with the possibility of a rekindled romance with the girl she left behind when her family moved. “I think viewers are really going to love Anna in the next couple episodes,” Schwahn enthuses.
Although Schwahn knew Anna was going to be bisexual before he cast her, he hadn’t specifically written her as Latina. “It was an open casting call,” he says. “I didn’t specific race or ethnicity, and once we met Daniella, I though ‘she’s terrific, and this is a great opportunity to write this Latino family into the show.'”
Alonso was excited about joining the cast, and playing such a three-dimensional Latina character. “At many of the auditions I’ve been on in the past,” Alonso tells AfterEllen.com, “they would hire a brunette white girl with brown eyes to play the Spanish girl. So I was really excited when the WB cast actual Latinos in the role. And I was happy they didn’t make us come from the type of stereotypical Latino family you usually see on TV.”
The characters of Anna and her brother Felix are still the only people of color on the show. “The show is very white,” Schwahn admits, “and I wish that wasn’t the case, but it fit the architecture of who Lucas was, and by extension, who his brother would be, and his mother would be, etc.”
After he cast Alonso as Anna, Schwahn didn’t immediately let her in on Anna’s secret, something which he says taught him a lesson about the importance of giving actors enough information. “When I didn’t give Daniella the information [about Anna’s sexuality],” he reflects, “she was struggling to figure out who Anna was, and why someone who seemed like such a relatively put-together girl would flee from simple rumors. She was ill-equipped to play the character I asked her to play because she didn’t have the information I had.”
Alonso admits she had a tough time initially trying to conceptualize what Anna was running from. “I thought maybe she did something high-school silly,” says Alonso, “something that could be solved in an episode. But then slowly, as I did the first few episodes, I noticed they were saying things in the script—making jokes, or comment here or there. Like the episode where I said ‘Don’t be so gay, Peyton.’ And I was like ‘What? What’s going on here?'”
Alonso pestered the producers on the set, but they would just smile and tell her “you’ll find out.”