Sara Ellis, whom we met late in the first half of White Collar’s [USA, Tuesdays, 10/9C] current season, is a no-nonsense insurance investigator who does whatever it takes to close a case. If that means going to extra-legal lengths, then that’s fine.
Recently I had the opportunity to take part in a teleconference call with Hilarie Burton, the actor who plays Ellis. Burton, it turns out is both voluble and witty – when she’s finished answering a question, it stays answered! It’s easy to see that she’s having a good time in her recurring role on White Collar and that sense of fun is present in call.
Hello, Hilarie, thanks for doing this.
Hilarie Burton: Hi. I was waiting to be able to say hi to everybody. This is the most organized thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Well, they do try. Ever since Sara was introduced last season, we’ve gotten the impression that she is easily as smart as Peter and Neal. I get the feeling based on what we’ve seen so far that she is capable of being considerably more ruthless than either of them. Would that be a fair assessment, do you think, and could you speak to that?
Burton: Well, I think what Sara has going for her is that she’s not confined by the boundaries of working for the government. She gets to be a little bit more creative in her research methods or her repo methods as opposed to the boys who have to answer to Johnny Law. So, yeah, I think she has more freedom and I think she can use that gray area to help these guys that she’s clearly drawn to, whether it’s Peter as a mentor and friend or it’s Neal as an adversary, who is also really attractive.
Yes, I think she has a lot to offer the FBI team as a whole and, being the new kid at work I also have fun bringing what I have to the table to help these guys out, because they are, they’re really wonderful people to work with.
And just as a follow-up on the same line, what elements of Sara’s character are the least like you and are they the most fun to play?
Burton: Oh boy. I’ll tell you what, when I first read for the part, you know when they give actresses sides to audition they rarely give you what will actually be on the show because they don’t want any spoilers put out there. So the part I originally read for was, I think it was a district attorney that wasn’t making that much money so she was jealous of Neal’s very fancy lifestyle. Then I get the job and I go in and they want to dress me in the fanciest outfits and, and have me play a very high end character. And that’s a world that is very foreign to me. And so 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’re like thank you for talking to me.
Burton: Yeah, no, it’s good I’m talking to grown-ups. It’s nice after the mom mode for a while.
Speaking of that, how do you balance—because it films in New York, are you based in New York or do you have to travel all the way and then fit that into your schedule that way when they give you the call?
Burton: I play everything by ear. Last year there was a lot of back and forth, because my son’s father was working in New Orleans and we had been down there. This year I think we’re a little more East Coast-based and so, it’s just one week at a time. That’s how I have to look at my life at this point, so I’ve been really lucky. We try to take turns working and I think we have a really good system at this point.
With the show filming in New York, is the city itself is like a second or third character, has that impacted how you’ve taken on your role as far as how she has her mannerisms and, and where she knows she is in—within that city itself?
Burton: Oh, sure, sure. I mean the difference between Los Angeles and New York is so staggering. And I had been in North Carolina for seven years before that. I really only spent, a year in L.A. before I started working on this show and the stature of the women in New York, it’s just very different. 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.
So do you know that game two truths and a lie?
Burton: Is this like a college party game?
Well, I think this would work anywhere, anywhere.
Burton: I say a drinking game is what it is.
Okay, you don’t specify which is which, can you tell us two truthful things, and then one lie about your role as Sara in these upcoming White Collars, all these episodes that are coming up? So two truths, and one lie.
Burton: Two truths and a lie. Oh, man. Okay. Let’s see— How about, Sara— This is so hard, this is like a test. Ah, Sara might be attracted to Peter. There is one. Sara is, ah, hiding a mystery of her own, and Sara likes making out with Neal. There you go.
I think that you passed the test.
Burton: Okay, I’m nervous about that. All right. We’ll see how that goes over.
People will all be debating that; they’ll all be exhausted. And as a quick follow-up, do you think Sara is going to have a happy ending on this show whenever she leaves, which I hope is far, far away.
Burton: 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.
The relationship between Sara and Neal is a pretty interesting one. So can you talk about what it’s like working with Matt and your thoughts on exploring a romantic relationship between the two characters?
Burton: Well, I tell you what, I’ve been very, very lucky. 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.
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.
What are your thoughts on exploring a romantic relationship between the two characters?
Burton: Oh, it’s so fun. I think that’s always an awkward thing at work when, when you don’t know how far to play that card or how much you should give away. And I think as we’re figuring that out as actors, it gives the writers back in L.A. something to play with, you know they see what works between us and what doesn’t. There is an element of discovery with each other, so I don’t want to say that we’re going to rush into falling in love and being together in every single episode right away, but I know that the Sara character is very, very curious about him, begrudgingly perhaps. But it’s, it’s a fun day at work hanging out with Matt, so sign me up.
So we have a question and our fans have plenty of questions about any possible return to One Tree Hill, is there any plot line that you would definitely go for a return there?
Burton: Oh, man. I have such a, a fondness for that period in my life and I love all the people there, unfortunately it gets to a point where your personal life doesn’t necessarily allow a whole lot of room anymore for, for just jumping on a plane and going wherever. So while that’s a place that I love and it’s an experience in my life that I really love, I don’t think that it’s going to work out, and, and I still communicate with everybody back there. And I love them as a whole, but no I don’t think it’s going to work out. I’m sorry.
That’s okay, it’s your life. And just kind of following up with that, what are your plans and for the future with the new baby, you’ve got your own Southern Gothic production company going on, anything big happening in the next six months to a year?
Burton: I am going through a growing phase in my life. I went through one when I first went down to North Carolina, I went through one a couple of years before my run on One Tree Hill ended, and I’m going through one now where I’m starting to look at what do I want out of the next five years of my life? I think I’m really, really happy with my personal life, that—everything there is sewn up and I’m very happy in that.
So now, you know I’ve got a job that works perfect with my personal life. It’s in a place that I love and it’s with people that I really, really like. And so I’m going to ride this train as long as I can, uh, my business partners at Southern Gothic and I still are talking. We took a break for the holidays, but we actually just got an e-mail five minutes before I got on this phone call from my business partner, Kelly, so we’re re-exploring things. Definitely the climate in the film industry has changed and so we have to grow with that, but there is a new television network that’s approached us about producing some stuff for them. And so it’s definitely a ball that’s still rolling, I just have to decide what direction I want it to roll in.
So let me ask you, how is your character Sara Ellis different than your One Tree Hill character, Peyton?
Burton: Oh my god, she’s so different. I think I’m much more self-conscious playing Sara because she’s so far removed from Hilarie Burton. I could go to the creator of One Tree Hill and tell him stories from my high school experience and he would integrate those into the story line and so I always felt very connected to that character. This character has a history that is so different from mine and a frigidness that is so far— I mean —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.
Yes. So, was there any research that you needed to do before you actually began shooting for your role?
Burton: Oh my god, yes. I mean, well, once I found out what her profession was I did not know what an insurance investigator did necessarily.
I looked that up and it certainly is a real thing. So I had to learn about that and then I also just wanted to take a look at, at what the New York scene was. And so I hadn’t lived in New York in a lot of years and I started looking at the time out in New York, and all the New York centered magazines and the Harper’s Bazaars and all of the publications that kind of glorify all things Manhattan. And, I really like Manhattan. It’s a wonderful place and I liked it when I lived there, and I liked coming back as an adult and having an entirely different experience than I did the first time around.
I was just hoping you could tell us how many episodes you think you’ll be doing, or if there is kind of an open door where it’s not set in stone?
Burton: Well, isn’t it more fun to not know? There is a question mark right now. Is that a good answer?
Yes, definitely, and I guess is there anything that you can sort of reveal about the story line that, that would get us excited to see you come back?
Burton: Well, I tell you what,—oh, I’m having an echo problem. I’m sorry. Hold on.
Moderator: Is that better?
Burton: Yes. Much, thank you. 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 (inaudible) 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.
What do you think your character brings to the table that’s so different than the other female characters on the show?
Burton: Well, I tell you what, outside of the female characters just the females on the show are the warmest most graceful inclusive women. Anytime you’re the new kid walking into a situation you have no idea what’s going to happen once you get there, and Tiffani and Marsha, and just, and Gloria, they were so kind and so warm, so I might be a little bit biased. I think that they can’t do anything wrong. They’re incredible.
I think what my character brings that’s a little different is that I don’t have any tie to the FBI. Marsha’s character, Diana, works for the Bureau, Tiffani has to kind of mind her p’s and q’s because she’s an agent’s wife. I can do whatever I want. The difference between Gloria’s character and I is that she’s a criminal and I’m not. I can kind of walk both lines. I can walk into the FBI office, I can also walk into a seedy underworld, so there’s a duality in Sara that I think opens a lot of doors for the characters.
Okay, and other than Neal, what is your dream romantic interest for Sara?
Burton: My dream romantic interest for a film?
For Sara, I’m sorry.
Burton: Oh, for Sara. Out of the show? Mozzie, no question.
He’s been— Oh my God, yes. No, Willie is magnetic. Yes, Willie won me over very quickly.
Trust is always a theme of White Collar between Tim and Peter and Neal. Where would you say the trust has gone between Sara and Neal?
Burton: I think that there is an appreciation between the two characters because we’ve saved each other’s life a couple of times in a way. In our first episode there was some danger going on and I think the nature of the relationship is that they’re both trying to prove themselves to one another.
I think they were enemies for so long, for so many years, that the idea of winning over your enemy can be very seductive. And so a lot of the angst and tenacity in the relationship—that’s what makes it interesting and that’s where it stems from, this want that Sara has to prove to him, look, I’m not an uptight bitch and the want that Neal has to prove to her, look, I’m not a bad guy, okay? So, yes, that whole effort of wanting to change someone’s mind can be a great motivator.
Great, and then the follow-up for Burke’s Seven what was it like being part of a con?
Burton: Honestly it was just really cool to be in the same room with everybody. 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. 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.
First of all, I have a little, little question about your coffee table that we saw in Celebrity Homes. Do you still have it?
Burton: Aw, no I don’t have it anymore.
Do you have a, a more regular decoration now?
Burton: Yes, yes, actually my boyfriend made me a coffee table for Christmas, so yes I have a new coffee table. It’s homemade. I like it much better. It was made with love as opposed to death.
Right, right. It was a strange episode.
Burton: Oh, sure, I definitely went through a morbid stage.
What can you tell me about the other girls in the show? Do you feel there is chemistry with Neal? Tell me about chemistry with, with Neal. Who is the biggest competitor and why?
Burton: Oh boy, I think what’s been really wonderful for me is that during my arc on the show, Jeff Eastin, the creator has allowed me an opportunity to interact with all of the other characters. And I have had so much fun in my scenes with the other women, even my competition for Neal’s affection, Gloria, who plays Alex, the girl that’s from the dark side of Neal’s life is one of the funniest, kindest, most beautiful women.
And so I don’t take it personally if Neal is going to pick her over Sara. In fact, that’s a question mark. Neal’s always a question mark, which way is he going to go? And so I can only plead Sara’s case and try to present her in a way that’s attractive, and so we’ll see who Neal chooses, but I think his relationship with all the women on the show is important. And I think the, the banter that he has with Diana is very funny and it keeps him on his toes and that’s when Neal is his most charming, when his game is on.
And I think Tiffani plays such a great big sister character to him, and it shows his softer family side. So I guess my job is to try to show his sexy side. And that’s really not a hard job; it’s pretty fun.
You mentioned the wardrobe; I want to know what has been your favorite wardrobe piece in the second half of the show so far?
Burton: Oh, man, my favorite wardrobe piece. They got me this— I don’t know anything about fashion really and I’m learning, and they got me this Dolce suit that was just unreal. I wear jeans and slippers all day. I’m covered in vomit most of the time. You know, I’m a mom. So when I get to go to work and put on something that is just tailored to every curve I have, it’s really exciting and it makes you feel really good about yourself and so I have come around; I see the point to fashion. I see what it can do for someone’s self-confidence, and so yes, they, they know how to dress the girl to make her feel good.
And you also mentioned Broadway, but have you seen any Broadway shows on your time off?
Burton: I went for my birthday to go see La Cage Aux Folles, which is a show that I’ve seen a million times and this version that’s up with Kelsey Grammer is just by far the best. I cried. I cried.
Good. I just went too, I know what you’re saying about— I’m a huge fan. I watched you on One Tree Hill.
Burton: Aw, thanks, you guys are making my new year.
It was great, and I love you on this show too, although I do miss Peyton a little bit.
Burton: There’s always going to be a little bit of Peyton in me, so if you just watch hard enough you’ll see her.
So my question is, everybody knows you’re an actress; you’re very talented, do you have any desire to get into writing and directing and more of the back end of the entertainment world?
Burton: Sure. I mean I have my production company that I started down in Wilmington while I was still down there full-time. And it’s still something I’m committed to— clearly I’ve had a bunch of life changes in the last couple years that I can’t focus 100% on this production company, but now that I’m getting a little bit more time to myself and I’m, focusing a little bit better, we’re getting the ball rolling again. Like I said before we’ve been approached by a television network that would like some original scripted programming from us and we’ve got a couple reality shows that we worked on and I’ve been taking some meetings and conference calls, so it’s all about finding the right fit.
There is so much material out there and there’s so many products out there. And there are so many venues to do stuff, I just want to make sure that if our name is attached to it, Southern Gothic Productions, that it’s something that we’re really proud of. So if we take our time getting there, and we end up with a product that we’re really proud of, I’m very good with that.
Do you have any certain like dream project or a passionate project that you sort of had on the back burner for years or anything that you would love to see made?
Burton: I grew up doing musical theater. That was my thing. I’d been doing it since I was about five and so, I love bravado, I love big shows. I love whimsy, you know I played the witch in Into the Woods and I loved that part. And so I think there is a part of me that one day would like to step back into those outrageous shoes and dance and sing and be the obnoxious little theater kid that I was when I was five.
On a show like this as an actor how do you prepare when you might be thinking your character is going in one direction and then, then like the next episode you find out that’s not the case, you’re like why?
Burton: Yes, it’s— I’ll be honest, it’s an exercise in endurance working on a show like this. And I was very fortunate that when I worked at MTV, I’d been acting for years in the theater and so I kind of had been trained in that, but I’d never been trained in live television before so you get one take and you sink or you swim. And you only have 30 seconds in the commercial break to learn all the information that you have to put out there. So on a show like this where we get new scripts the night before every single night, I think that training I received at MTV has really benefitted me. And that’s also part of the reason I love television.
When you do a movie and you read the script you’re excited about it when you first read it and you’re excited about it on the first day of set. Well, four weeks into shooting when you already know what the end is and you already know everything that’s going to happen, are you still as excited? In television, especially on this show, we get a new script every night so that excitement is consistently there. And I think that’s what makes it, makes it fun working on something for this long.
Yes, and if you had to give one bit of advice—a little—to actors what would that be?
Burton: For actors I would say you have to go where the work is. I had a really big scholarship to go to a school in Virginia when I graduated high school and everyone thought I was crazy for not taking it and going to New York, but I knew what I really wanted out of my life wasn’t going to happen where I had that scholarship. And I probably would have had an awesome career in something else and been very happy, but acting is what I’d wanted to do since I can never remember wanting to do anything else. So you have to go where the work is, and you have to meet like-minded people and you have to create your own opportunities.
What would you say has been the biggest changes in Sara and her development as a character since you began playing her?
Burton: I think when the audience first meets Sara she is very black and white. She likes Peter, doesn’t like Neal. She agrees with this, she doesn’t agree with this. She’s just very frigid and angular, I think she starts to soften her edges as the course of the story goes on, and I think that’s attractive to Neal. Obviously Neal is someone who likes—I don’t want to say to manipulate situations, but certainly to color them. Neal is someone who can make things happen and so being able to affect Sara is probably something that is fun for him and I think being affected is probably something that’s fun for her.
There are very few people that can get to her and all of a sudden there is this man in her world that drives her nuts. And sometimes it’s in a good way, and sometimes it’s in a bad way, but it, it always affects her and that’s something that’s new for her. And so watching someone perhaps fidget in that nervous anxiety that you get when you’re around someone that is dynamic like Neal, that’s fun for me. I think Matt Bomer is fantastic, so it’s very easy for me to play someone that is drawn to him, and yes, I mean I think Sara is just going to start peeling layers.
And what is it about Sara do you feel people can relate to the most?
Burton: Sara is not very relatable when you first meet her, huh? I had the same problem on One Tree Hill. When that show first aired people were like this Peyton girl sucks. There’s no such thing as a cheerleader that’s into punk music, and so I had to go through the motions there of peeling away layers until they saw the core of the person.
I think the core of Sara Ellis is that she is a good person and she believes in right and wrong and she has morals. I think she genuinely cares for the people she cares for and I think you’ll see that in her friendship with Peter. I think she respects him so much. And it’s hard to enter her world because she has a lot of defense mechanisms up. But once the audience does enter her world, I think she’ll be a very likable person for them.
The question I’d like to ask you is will Sara come in on the assist for Neal and Peter in their pursuit of Vincent Asler?
Burton: Well, like I said at the very beginning of the interview, the boys are bound by a certain set of rules because they are affiliated with the government. Sara’s line of work allows a little more gray area, perhaps she’s allowed to use tools that aren’t necessarily sanctioned, I think she’s allowed to be a little bit more creative in her attack, or her investigative skills. And I think she really likes these guys and probably doesn’t have much of a life outside of her work, and so the excitement of being around people like this could be very intoxicating for her, so I’m going to say it’s a possibility.
I wanted to ask one more question about looking into the character of Sara, who obviously admires Peter and has this banter with Neal, do you think she comes up with ways to try and get involved with the White Collar team more? Or do you think she maybe has her own set of investigations she probably should do to get into their business?
Burton: Well look, she is a woman who looks ahead. I think at the origin of her interaction with them it was what can you do for me and then I’ll offer you what I can do for you. I think as she spends more time with them, it becomes an enjoyable process for her. I think there will always be that question mark of what’s she really in this for. The same way there’s that question mark about Neal. I think they both have that in common, their motives are always going to be a little questionable. And that doesn’t mean that either of them are bad people, it just means they’re people that have had to look out for themselves and so they have to plan ahead.
After being on One Tree Hill for years, what has White Collar done for your confidence as an actress?
Burton: Oh man. I tell you what, there, there is always that stigma of, “You’re never gonna work again.” And I was nervous about that. And I deliberately took some time off because my identity as Hilarie Burton got so wrapped up in one job. And so I had already planned on taking some time off to myself to figure out what I liked to do, and make sure that I can be in a room by myself and like the person I’m sitting there with. And so, I took some time off and when I did start auditioning again, White Collar was like my third or fourth audition and I remember being nervous.
I didn’t know what to wear to the audition, and so I wore sneakers and a skirt into the building, but before I went in to go tape for it I put my high heels on and walked in the room and did the audition and it went great and everything was cool. And then when I left I went back in the lobby and was changing my shoes and the casting director came out and just kind of laughed at me. It was like, what are you doing? Oh, you didn’t think I was going to walk around in those, did you? So, I felt really good about getting a job quickly after I started auditioning.
And it’s a grown up job. It’s with people who like I said before have really figured out how to exist in this industry wholesomely. And so they do set a very good example for me as to how I can have everything I want, how I can have a great family and also a career that I’m proud of and so I feel at home on this show. I like being there.
Oh, okay. Well, what other types of things have you learned from Matt and Tim that you weren’t expecting?
Burton: Oh boy, they have an energy that’s infectious. One of them is in every single scene of the day, and so one of them is representing the show at all times. And the crew’s momentum, and the rest of the cast’s momentum and mood is, is largely influenced by the leaders on set. And Matt and Tim and such positive leaders and it doesn’t matter how tired they are, Tim will work all week long, not get off work ‘til very, very late, hop on a plane and then go coach his son’s Little League games. And then fly back on Sunday and go right back to work not having slept. And I think everyone really, respects that and it sets a good tone and it makes work really fun and it makes everybody want to work hard for each other. When you see someone else working that hard, it makes you want to live up to that.
I’m holding a conference—a White Collar conference in my site and what I asked there is to tell me the favorite White Collar con in the series. What’s yours?
Burton: My favorite White Collar con, you know I’m really partial to the Mozzie character. I‘ve always had an affinity for eccentricity, if you will. And I think he really embodies that. There was a con they did with a police officer who’s actually a friend of my boyfriend, Eric Palladino, where there was a crooked judge, and they were taking homes from people. And Mozzie helped Neal break into her office. I’m not quite sure of the name of the episode, but I’m sure somebody will figure it out for me, but I thought that was a really good episode.
Great, thanks. And I’m also very, very interested in the writing process, one of my favorite quotes from you is from Burke’s Seven and you’re turning to Neal and you’re like, “You’re fun to work with. I’d like to get inside your head.” And he asks you, “So, I am research?” And you say something like that. I guess that shows very much the relationship between you two.
What’s your favorite quote?
Burton: My favorite quote? Oh boy, let me think. Well, 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.
That’s great. Is that the way Hilarie is, too?
Burton: Oh, yes, I’m very forward. It’s fun for me to play the brassier parts of Sara because I think I have a reputation for being someone who maybe is a little rowdy, a little brassy, a little loud. And so with Sara it gets to be quick and clever and a little bit of a bruiser, that’s really fun for me.
So I have heard quite a bit of singing behind the scenes with the cast and I was wondering do you join in on that or do you just observe?
Burton: 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.
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.
It is. I was also going to ask is there a memorable moment that we haven’t seen behind the scenes that you think of very warmly and think oh that was just the perfect little moment?
Burton: I mean there’ve been so many. The women on this show are so kind. Tiffani 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, 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.
Okay, so I know you said that you’re really happy so far with what Eastin has done for your character and all that, but if there was one thing that kind of you could have happen for Sara, what would kind of be what you’d like to see on the show for her?
Burton: Right now, all you see of Sara is how she exists in Neal and Peter’s world. And I don’t think she’s a woman without a past. Clearly someone with that many walls up has had some stuff go down. So, down the road once, what Sara has found her fit within the group I think exploring more of who she was before and what exists outside of the White Collar circle could be an interesting, interesting place to go.
Great, thanks. And what’s something about you that your fans would be surprised to know?
Burton: Something about me? Oh, God, I’m such an open book. I guess, I’m always pretty forthcoming because I figure if I laugh at myself first then I kind of beat everybody else to it. Something they’d be surprised about me. I’m, kind of a loner. For as rowdy as I get and as much fun as I have at work, I really appreciate quiet time. There is a very quiet side of Hilarie Burton that not many people see.
My question this time around is what show would you like to do a cross-over with?
Burton: Oh, what show would I love to do a cross-over with? Oh, boy, I’ve always really been drawn to period pieces. I really thought Deadwood was awesome and I’ve always wanted to participate in a period piece. And that’s actually how I look at White Collar. If you look at the dynamic between Neal and Peter, that lovable criminal and the guy that keeps him in line; it’s a very kind of 1960s classic storytelling technique, and I look at this show like it’s a period piece.
The fashion in it is very period; it’s very stylized. You could take the characters out of Manhattan and put them in the ‘60s and it would still make sense. You have the doting FBI wife at home, it’s a very wholesome, very wholesome show. And so I think doing a cross-over with like Mad Men or something would be fantastic, don’t you? Time warp.
Yes, that would be great. The dream guest star for the show?
Burton: Dream guest star for the show? It’s the boys’ show, I’m the new kid. I feel like being the guest star is my dream. I feel very lucky to even be a part of it so I don’t want to start asking for any favors. But, golly, we all, like I said, come from a theater background so perhaps a huge theater icon, Bernadette Peters would just make my life.
So would you every be interested in writing or directing for the show if you had the chance?
Burton: Oh, boy. When you’re in an ensemble like this, I think it’s really important to weigh heavily whether or not you want to take on an authority position over your peers. Clearly the leads on this show have every right to take on that authority position, me as the new kid, I—no. But I think down the road in projects that I’m working on with my production company there is definitely interest on my end to explore that part of the creative process.
Great. Is there any scenes that like either they cut out of the show or that something they didn’t cut you wish they had in retrospect that you know was changed in the editing?
Burton: Only two of my episodes have aired and so I’ve only seen two. I don’t see anything until even after it airs, so no, not yet. Who knows what is going to happen in the second part of the season, but for right now, they’ve kept me around, so there’s no complaints here.
Listen, I’m working on a documentary about how to make it in New York that I’m working with, what would be the best advice you would give someone to make it in New York in the entertainment business?
Burton: I would say the best piece of advice is to find other people who are at your same level, but are trying to make it as well. So if you’re an actor, find a new filmmaker. You just scour the colleges, whether it’s Columbia Film School, or NY, find the photographers that need people to sit for them, find the musicians that need people in their music video. Go to, go to screenings for short films, I think having a curious disposition and also having he confidence to be an explorer will be things that will service you when you’re in a city as big as Manhattan, because the more you dig the more treasures you’ll find. And those treasures are other people that will help you get what you want.