We recently had the chance for our TV Blog to talk with Hilarie Burton (One Tree Hill) for her role of Sara Ellis on White Collar. Turns out that now we can’t stop gushing about how much love we have for the lovely Burton! We got her talking about singing with Matt Bomer, playdates with Tiffani Thiessen‘s child, and if we’ll see her in White Collar season 3.
I’ll admit I never watched One Tree Hill very often, so I had no fandom specific interest in her as an actress aside from her part on White Collar. That is, until I was on the phone with her. All of a sudden…you guys… YOU GUYS. I’ve done a zillion celebrity conference calls and interviews by now, and you can always get a feel for their vibe of the person. Burton gave one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever had the opportunity to take. Having had the pleasure to talk to Matt Bomer and Tim Dekay, her infectious upbeat energy makes her a perfect fit to be in the cast of White Collar.
The cast, by the by, includes the spirited and hilarious group of Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Willie Garson, Marsha Thompson, Tiffani Thiessen and Gloria Votsis. (And Burton could not stop talking about how much she loved them. Rather than do a “me, me, me” interview, it was all about the show and them, them, them.) The rare magic we find on White Collar is created, I believe, by the passion and friendly attitude shared by everyone involved on the project.
But let’s focus on Hilarie Burton today! She had a completely endearing penchant of prefacing her answers with, “Oh, boy…”, and said she was very happy to be doing the conference call since she’s been in baby world nonstop. “It’s good I’m talking to grown-ups. It’s nice after the mom mode for a while.” For the record? She never accidentally started talking baby talk the way you always see inevitably happens with new Moms on sitcoms. (Yes, everything I know about life I learned on TV.)
Now, Burton plays a part that she knows is not exactly beloved by other White Collar fans. But she’s also aware that the character of Sara was not at all written to be cuddly and likable. “I think in the first couple episodes the fan base, particularly the female fan base that loves Neal, is a little put off by Sara. And it wasn’t my job to come in and play somebody likeable right away. Does it still drive me nuts when people are like, ‘aw, she’s the worst. Neal can’t be with her.’ Yes, because, I, Hilarie Burton am a people pleaser and I really want people to like me. But Sara Ellis isn’t. She could give a crap if people like her and so I think over the course of my arc on the show, it’s my job to present this person that is very much her own woman and then give the audience the explanations as to why she is the way she is. So, hopefully over the course of my time on the show all those people that are like Neal can’t love her, it’s impossible, maybe just a couple of them will like me. I don’t know.”
The character of Sara is actually helping her develop in real life. With a nice bit of wit, Burton rattled off about how she views herself in comparison to her White Collar character. “I’m a little bit Vaudeville and, and Sara Ellis is very high end Broadway. And so having to class it up, is very fun for me, and I think it’s helping me become an adult. Maybe life imitates art sometimes and so as I’m trying to grow up in my personal life I’ve got this very mature woman that I can go to work and play and, and try on a new costume.”
One fun thing for Burton was the fancy, fancy fashion that Sara wears. “I get the job and I go in and they want to dress me in the fanciest outfits and have me play a very high end character. And that’s a world that is very foreign to me. I was fortunate enough to go in there and have a really wonderful wardrobe department educate me very, very quickly about what is in fashion; what is not in fashion, and help me create that air of bravado and self-importance through one’s physical appearance.” You can’t deny that Sara’s worn some fierce dresses and heels!
More than just the fashion, it’s also about the attitude. An attitude Burton has observed before. “I lived in New York when I was going to college and so women like Sara Ellis, the character I’m playing were—they were just statues you’d look at on the street and kind of marvel at these things that could be so well put together every day of the week. And so it’s fun for me to play someone that’s trying to put up that image and also get an opportunity to play her when she isn’t fulfilling that image, you know when Neal sneaks up on her in her house, or when she starts to become a little bit more vulnerable. I like dissecting those people I used to watch on the street.”
In the hopes of getting some form of White Collar season 2 and White Collar season 3 spoilers I asked Hilarie to play the game two truths and a lie where you tell two truths, one lie, and never reveal which is the lie. Laughing, saying this was probably a drinking game, she took her time to think what she could say. “How about, Sara— This is so hard, this is like a test! Ah, Sara might be attracted to Peter. There is one. Sara is hiding a mystery of her own, and Sara likes making out with Neal. There you go.” And if it was a test, I think she passed. Which do you think is the lie?
Thinking about the future, I wanted to know if Burton thought Sara would be getting a happy ending whenever she leaves White Collar (which we hope is a long way off.) Burton is eager to play whatever the writers throw at her, though. “The journey for Sara has been really fun for me. I think Jeff Eastin writes for women very, very well. I think he writes them like he writes men. He respects them and thinks that they’re clever and interesting and I think he sees the things in Sara that I like in Sara, so even if her world isn’t roses, it’s interesting. And as an actress, that’s great for me and I think for the audience that’s great. So even if she just dies in another fiery plane crash it will be interesting and good. So I’m all for whatever they decide to do with me.”
In the meantime, Sara’s relationship with Neal (Matt Bomer) is heating up. “All the boys that I’ve had to kiss during the tenure of my career have been really wonderful and very kind. But when I went in and read for the part of Sara, Matt Bomer is in every scene of this television show and he stopped what he was doing in the middle of his work day; he had one scene off. He came upstairs to where I was with the producers to do this little audition; he had already memorized the scene he wasn’t even shooting that day, it was just my audition scene so it was never going to be used on television, and he’s so committed to my audition he made me look so good.” As fans know Bomer to be, Burton always noticed that, “He was just dazzling and approachable and open right away. And I really credit him with me getting this job because the chemistry was there and that was because of the effort on his part. Once I got the job and got to work with him on a regular basis —I’ve yet to see a flaw in the man. He’s so generous and so hard working and so family oriented and really dedicated to all aspects of his world. So he’s sets a very good example for me and, and I like being around people like him.”
Will there be romance for Sara and Matt? “”I know that the Sara character is very, very curious about him, begrudgingly perhaps,” reveals Burton. Will it be a doomed love affair?
Knowing that Matt Bomer sings behind the scenes a bit as Tim DeKay dances, we asked Burton if she joins in with any singing or dancing. AS a huge fan of musicals, she finds the environment amazing. “Well, at first I was just dazzled. It’s like being at a show, but you’re at work, you know that old, that old saying that if you do what you love it’s never work. Well, how about if the people around you do what they love, it’s not work? So as long as Matt and Tim keep singing and dancing I have a great time. Perhaps they should charge admission when I come to work.” But it’s not just Bomer and DeKay all the time. “No, we jump in there here and there. Clearly we all have backgrounds in the theater and so certain shows we all know and there’s references, and that’s really fun for me. That’s a community that I feel very comfortable in and yes, whether they’re quoting Gypsy or I think Oklahoma was a big one for a minute. It’s a really fun, fun work environment. I think it’s just as fun for the fans to watch the behind the scenes stuff as it is to watch the actual show.”
The set is very welcoming. “The women on this show are so kind. Tiffani (Thiessen) and I both have babies, and when I met her and she was like ‘Let’s have play dates!’ And our kids met and, and she brings her husband to work and she’s so proud of what she has accomplished at home. It’s not about what she’s accomplished at work; it’s about what she’s created in her private life. I like being around someone like that and Marsha (Thompson), who I met years and years and years ago. First season of One Tree Hill there was a photo shoot of like up and coming people on TV and she was on Las Vegas and I was on One Tree Hill and this must have been like nine years ago we did this photo shoot. And when I first walked in she was like, ‘Oh my God, Hil, good to see you again. Remember when we did that photo shoot?’ And she remembered that like it had happened a week ago. So yeah, I really think the camaraderie amongst everyone is fantastic, but being with girls that are nice, that’s not something to take for granted and I’m very grateful.”
The first episode back from hiatus aired last night, and it was called “Burke’s Seven.” It was very much an ensemble episode, and Sara was made part of the ensemble. Burton really appreciates those moments. “I was a fan of the show before I was cast on it and I used to joke with a friend of mine, Claudia, I—we used to say, “I want to be a character,” because USA’s tag line is “Characters welcome.” And so there are a couple of scenes at the Burke house where everybody is there and I felt like the freshman that got brought up to varsity.” Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on that wall? But apparently it’s not even the least bit hostile. “It was really fun, and it’s an awesome, awesome group of people, and they all give me so much to work toward. They all are really level headed people who just happen to work in this seedy industry we work in. They’re family oriented and they figured out how to prioritize their life in a way that I want to prioritize my life, so I feel like I’m surrounded by people that make me better at work, and also show me how to balance work and home.”
In thinking about White Collar, Burton has one particular quote that she loves, which defines her character.”I’ve had a lot of really, really fun one line zingers with, with Matt and Tim, but I think for me the quote that will embody Sara is from my first episode where I walk into the FBI office after having been attacked in my apartment and Sara says, ‘First things first, I need pants.’ You know, just very practical, to the point. Give me some pants.” Give the girl some pants.
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