Joy Lenz — who dropped the “Bethany” from her stage name earlier this year — saw her One Tree Hill character Hayley embark on an epic love story with basketball star Nathan, played by James Lafferty. But since the show ended in 2012, the actress has traded the high school jock for a prince as the star of the Hallmark Channel’s newest romantic comedy, Royal Matchmaker.
“When do I ever get to put on a ball gown and dance with someone who’s dressed up like a prince?” Lenz, 36, asks PEOPLE. “It’s totally one of those things you dream about happening when you’re a teenager. I was the most romantic teenager, always reading Shakespeare and obsessed with anything that had to do with romance.”
Lenz isn’t quite as enamored with the love of real-life royals: She watched Prince William and Kate Middleton‘s wedding in 2011 but admits, “I’m kind of out of it” when it comes to the latest on the couple and their expanding family.
Royal Matchmaker doesn’t take place in the U.K., however, instead bringing Lenz’s character’s New York City-based matchmaking skills to the fictional Voldavia to help the prince (Will Kemp) find a wife.
Playing the part of Voldavia: picturesque Romania. “That was one of the neatest trips I’ve ever taken,” says the “Calamity Jane” singer, who spent time in the country’s capital of Bucharest. “You just wander around and find all these amazing little treasures and nooks and crannies in the city.”
While Lenz had an early viewing of the movie with her 7-year-old daughter Maria, who she shares with late ex-husband Michael Galeotti, the actress reveals she’s not always a fan of watching her work back.
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“I used to really enjoy watching my stuff, but I was really critical of my performance,” she explains. “I guess as I’ve gotten older and priorities in my life have shifted, it’s not important to me anymore. I don’t like to think about myself that much!”
For that reason, Lenz hasn’t seen many of One Tree Hill‘s later episodes — and doesn’t even know what went down during the scenes she wasn’t in. “Because it was on for so long, you kind of get to a point where you don’t read the whole script every episode,” the Florida native says. “After many seasons you’re just like, ‘Okay, where are my scenes?’ So there are still a lot of things that I haven’t watched.”
Still, Lenz can name what she believe was One Tree Hill’s most jaw-dropping scene: “The dog eating the heart in the hospital! We all stopped and were like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to be out of the job tomorrow.’”
Of course, Lenz feels glad the show continued on for a total of nine seasons, and she still appreciates being recognized as Haley.
“I’m always really moved by people who have a specific story about how the show helped them through a hard time or something about a character,” says Lenz, who is currently writing a musical about the tribal history of Pocahontas. “There were so many people who really counted on that show as a comfort week to week, and I’m amazed at how that keeps going even now.”
Fans of her career may be confused by her latest moniker, but Lenz hopes they adapt.
“I’ve gone through like six different incarnations of my name,” jokes the Colony alum, who went by Joie Lenz during her Guiding Light days and took her husband’s last name while they were married from 2005-12. “I’ve never gone by Bethany in my personal life, and every time I would get on a set I would say, ‘Actually just call me Joy. Everybody calls me Joy.’ I thought, I’m tired of explaining all this. It’s easier if I just go by the name that everybody’s called me, and everybody can just deal with the change.”
Royal Matchmaker premieres Saturday on the Hallmark Channel at 9 p.m. ET.