"It was open with them—it was the whisper behind the scenes, like 'You know, she's in a cult,'" she told Variety in an interview published Aug. 10. "For a while, they were all trying to save me and rescue me, which is lovely and so amazing to be cared about in that way. But I was very stubborn. I was really committed to what I believed were the best choices I could make."
In fact, Lenz said that her commitment to the cult, which she did not name, took a toll on her professional relationships.
"The nature of a group like that is isolation," she explained, "they have to make you distrust everyone around you so that the only people you trust are, first and foremost, the leadership and then, people within the group if the leadership approves of them, and isn't in the middle of pitting you against each other, which happens all the time also."
And Lenz noted that nature "built a deep wedge of distrust between" her and the cast and crew.
"As much as I loved them and cared about them," she continued, "there was a fundamental thought: If I'm in pain, if I'm suffering, I can't go to any of these people. So you feel incredibly lonely."
However, the 42-year-old credits the show with creating some distance between her and the cult.
"A lot of the people in that group lived there, and were in it day after day," she added. "So in a lot of ways, One Tree Hill saved my life, because I was there nine months out of the year in North Carolina. I had a lot of flying back and forth, a lot of people visiting and things like that, but my life was really built in North Carolina. And I think that spatial separation made a big difference when it was time for me to wake up."
Lenz—who first shared on a July episode of her podcast Drama Queens that she had been in a cult—played Haley James Scott on One Tree Hill from 2003 to 2012. She told Variety she was in the cult for the "entirety" of her time on the series and that she initially thought she was joining a Bible study group in Los Angeles.
Lenz said being in the cult "squandered so many opportunities" for her professionally because of her prioritization of the group.
"I was at the height of my career, getting offers for huge movies and Broadway shows," she recalled. "Everything I'd trained for, all my childhood dreams were coming true and I said no to all of it so I could go live with this remote, small group of people, convinced I was making a noble, spiritual sacrifice."
Lenz—who said being in the cult also affected her personally through "spiritual abuse"—told Variety she left the group "very shortly after" One Tree Hill ended.
And while she said she was initially hesitant to tell her story out of fear she'd be viewed in the industry as "that girl who was in a cult," she is now writing a memoir that will cover this time in her life.
"Why I wanted to talk about it is because I think it can be really healing for a lot of other people," Lenz told Variety. "I know I'm not the only one. What good are our painful experiences if we just lock them away and pretend like everything's perfect? That's not doing anybody any good."