There are a lot of interesting developments during this Tuesday’s episode of White Collar (USA Network, 9/8c), and Hilarie Burton is here to tell us about a few of them – provided she can stop raving about her castmates. “They’re such a generous group of people, and that’s something that should be put out there,” she shares. “They’re just genuine, and when it’s real like that you want to scream it from the rooftops and make sure everybody knows.”
Burton indeed has much to cheer about , more than two years after bidding the role of One Tree Hill‘s Peyton adieu. In addition to getting upgraded this season to series regular on one of cable’s hottest dramas – where she gets to “roll around” with Matt Bomer – off-screen her relationship with beau Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of Supernatural and Starz’s upcoming Magic City, which she says is “awesome “) is going strong, as they raise the son they had together over a year ago. Also, her North Carolina-based production company is continuing to gain traction. In fact, I couldn’t help but start off our conversation with Burton by noting….
TVLINE | As I watch White Collar, it strikes me that you seem very happy, like you’re just having a lot of fun.
Well, you know all of them – they’re a good bunch, and they make it easy. And this isn’t just an actor truing to sell their TV show. They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I haven’t been [on set] for a couple weeks, and they’re all sending me emails, text messages on my birthday…. For them to keep the new kid in their train of thought is rare.
TVLINE | How has the role of Sara shaped up to be, versus your expectations going in?
When I first went in [midway through Season 2], it was just supposed to be a couple episodes. I knew I was coming in, being kinda bitchy, and maybe Matt and I would have a little dalliance. I had no idea it would turn into a much longer journey. And I’m really, really pleased with the stuff that I’m getting. [Series creator] Jeff Eastin is a wonderful leader, because he’s not a “yes man” who hands out random compliments. If he pays you a compliment, you’ve earned it. He’s been really honest with me about things he has wanted me to work on, and I like the choices they’re making for Sara. She didn’t win over the audience in the beginning, and I think she’s still working at winning them over.
TVLINE | You knew going in that the fans are very protective of the show’s “bromance” between Neal and Peter (played by Tim DeKay). Do you think they’ve struck a good balance?
When you have a big ensemble like this, it’s hard to make sure that everybody has “their story” every single episode, so it’s been nice that everybody is getting their own specific episode. Marsha [Thomason] and Sharif [Atkins] and Tiffani [Thiessen] and Willie [Garson]…. They’re all major talents, so it’s nice that they all get a chance to shine. And that in turn gives me an opportunity to work with everybody else, instead of just rolling around with Matt – which isn’t terrible! [Laughs] But it’s nice to leave the bedroom once in a while.
TVLINE | What are you loving most about Sara?
I like how layered she is. We saw last year, when she was helping Neal figure out what happened with Kate, a glimmer of her past. We saw that she’s someone who’s been hurt, when he sister disappeared, and as a result a lot of defense mechanisms have built up over the years for Sara. That’s what the audience was introduced to – the frigid version of her. And now that she and Neal are becoming closer, she has a lot of hope invested in him, that he maybe could change. So, the decisions that Neal makes, she is very affected by them, and that presents consequences for Neal, which is not something we’ve seen. I mean, Neal gets off, all the time, and I don’t know that she’s the kind of person that will let him off the hook.
TVLINE | OK, but what magnitude of change can she be expecting? Not a complete reversal.
No, I think she really loves his creative side. She loves that he has the ability to be devious, but she’s attracted to the Robin Hood sensibility of using his skills for good, not evil. She would love to envision that this new lifestyle for him — a serious relationship, a friendship with Peter, and perhaps a career with the FBI — is incentive enough to be a good guy for the long haul. If it’s not, that’s pretty heartbreaking. That’s sad. She wants to believe in this person, she wants to believe that she was wrong. It would really be horrible to find out that she was right all along, and he is a criminal.
TVLINE | I enjoy that for foreplay, they practice escaping handcuffs.
Oh, sure! Who doesn’t? They definitely have a sense of humor with one another, and Matt is so wonderful to play off of because he is a smooth, beautiful man, and when he slow dances you around the room, it doesn’t matter that there’s a crew of 30 people watching. You get all red and blushy! He knows how to make you giggle.
TVLINE | Tell us about this week’s episode, where Sara’s bank account gets drained.
Sara – and a large part of the city – gets wrapped up in a crime, because [her bank chain] gets hacked into and all of the funds disappear. Peter says he’ll handle the situation, but then Neal and Mozzie get their own idea to handle the situation, and there’s a bit of curiosity on Sara’s part. For so many years she’s been on Peter’s end of things, where there’s protocol and proper channels for a situation like this, so she has never sat in a room before with two men like Mozzie and Neal and hatched a plan that could really, really work. It’s an intoxicating experience for her to be included in this backdoor solving of a crime, and she gets completely wrapped up in it. And that’s very, very similar to how Kate got wrapped up in Neal’s shady life, which could be very frightening for a woman, because we saw what happened to Kate. It was a fun episode to shoot – those boys are sweet to play with!
TVLINE | One side effect of her broke status is that Sara moves in with Neal. Is she privately thrilled, or tentative?
I think she’s curious. I mean, there are all these little things we don’t know about his world. Like, clearly he’s in good shape, but how does that happen? Well, she was tickled when last year she saw him with a gym bag. What hair products does he use? Because his hair looks nice. What is behind his façade? He can leave his apartment and be as slick and clever as he wants to be, but how is he at 7 o’clock in the morning? It’s terrible for Sara to be kicked out of her apartment, but it’s also not terrible to wake up next to Neal.
TVLINE | They never have what you might all a “casual” embrace. They always seem to melt into each other’s arms.
Well, they’re Types As. It’s “go big or go home” for these two, and that’s why they make good team, because they work hard and they play hard. And while that fire can burn out very quickly, it can also reignite very quickly. There’s always that heated spark between the two of them, so it’s fun watching them try to be domestic with each other. When Marsha and Moran [Atias, as Diane's girlfriend] played the lovely domestic couple, it was clear that Neal and Sara were not in their comfort zone at all.
TVLINE | Eliza Duskhu is going to be popping up as a possible romantic interest for Neal. Will it soon become evident why his dance card might be clear?
To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think it will ever be clear, and that’s tribute to Jeff Eastin who creates characters who are not predictable. So even if Neal is wildly attracted to Sara, or another woman, he’s always going to have motives. It will be interesting to see by the end of Season 3 what path he’s going to take. But I don’t try to figure out what’s going to happen. I just enjoy the ride!
TVLINE | And what’s the latest with your production company, Southern Gothic? What have you all been up to?
I’ve actually been here in North Carolina taking a couple meetings. Nick Gray is going to do an edit on a pilot that he did that is very “Southern Gothic,” because scripted television is back in style on cable networks like USA, TNT and FX, while my other business partner, Kelly Tenney, shot a campaign for The Weather Channel, so the new commercials for Jim Cantore, their “extreme weather guy,” are produced by us. It’s all very exciting!