Older and wiser, Chad Michael Murray is ready to return to Tree Hill.
When One Tree Hill debuted in 2003, a then 22-year-old Murray instantly became one of the early aughts' biggest heartthrobs, his personal life becoming tabloid fodder as his career continued to skyrocket, thanks to starring roles in films like A Cinderella Story and Freaky Friday.
So, obviously, fans were devastated when Murray abruptly left the CW drama after season six, only returning for one brief appearance in OTH's final season in 2012.
But 20 years and three children with wife Sarah Roemer later, the now 42-year-old is more than ready to put on Lucas Scott's Lions jersey again.
"I just can't see a world where something won't happen," Murray told E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview. "Something will happen. Whether we get everybody together and do a live reading of the show, or we create a new fictional future episode, I don't know what it will be."
"This show has changed and shaped so many young people's lives," Murray explained. "There's a place for it for today's cultural shifts and the things that need to be addressed. I think it's time that we do a new generation of the show for today's use for the issues that they're dealing with every day, from social media to racial injustice to LGBT community to everything that's out there. So people can feel like they belong and that they are loved. That's what we need."
Focusing on those important topics has been a priority for the actor since he became a father. He and Roemer welcomed their third child, a daughter, this past August, joining her brother, 8, and sister, 6. (The couple have never publicly shared their kids' names.)
"I have learned more about myself through the eyes of my kids than anything because they're honest," the Sullivan's Crossing star said. "They're so true. They'll tell you how it is and they'll tell you what you're doing, and they will mirror your actions. You learn a lot about yourself and selflessness and just loving and giving. It's been by far, not even close the best chapter of my life so far. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
And he's "evolved in too many ways to count" since he was on One Tree Hill, Murray added.
"I had a really scarred heart, to be candid with you, growing up," he explained. "I didn't have the greatest childhood. So due to those events, I protected myself and I would never open up or allow people to truly know how I felt so that I wouldn't get hurt."
Now, however, "I'm more affected by the world, by others' pain," Murray continued. "I've kind of taking that scar, and peeled it away so that I can truly love, because there's always got to be a day where you look at yourself in the mirror. And you say, 'Who do I want to be? What do I wanna be?'"
This introspection was the result of a life-changing conversation Murray had with a man who asked him how he would want to be remembered after his death.
"He wasn't talking about me, but he said, 'Nobody wants 'He was an asshole written,' on their gravestone,'" Murray recalled. "It was an impactful moment. All I ever want to be is a great father and a great husband and that's how I want to be known. Nothing else genuinely matters to me."
That desire is what led Murray to partner with LenelS2, a global leader in advanced physical security solutions, to launch "On The Safe Side," a program focused on empowering communities to have more impactful conversations about school safety.
"When we were growing up school was a very different place," Murray explained. "We were worried about what we were gonna wear and homework. Kids have to worry about bigger issues now. They have to worry about everything from global catastrophes and fear tactics and shootings and immediate lockdown and what to do."
Reflecting on the "scary conversation" he and his wife had to have when it was time for their children to start attending school, Murray is hoping to educate others on the issue to make the world a safer space.
"I always find it incredibly ironic that we have guards at every bank protecting paper that could be traced, but yet we don't have guards at every school protecting our kids," Murray explained. "And they're gonna say, 'Oh, well, we don't have it in the budget.' Well, let's find a way to protect the future."
And Murray's children mean everything to him, so much so that his family travels wherever he goes for work, even if it means constant trips to the airport with three youngsters.
"It's our own little circus and we love big and we try to love everybody along the way, spread a little bit of light," Murray said. "Because however you impact someone positively during the day can have a huge effect on other people as they move through their day. And now they might affect someone positively, so that's what we try to do."
Hey, to paraphrase One Tree Hill's iconic theme song: Part of where you're going is knowing where you're coming from.