Hilarie Burton On White Collar Season 3

A lot has taken place on White Collar since I last spoke to Hilarie Burton about her guest spot. Now a series regular, Burton sat down to talk about what to expect in season 3, which begins tomorrow night on USA!
Check it out:

Photo Credit: Robert Ascroft/USA Network

On Becoming A Series Regular:
I mean there was a rumor about it last year like, “If you play your cards right kid, you might get to stay.” So I tried to be on good behavior. You know, I think that Neal getting over Kate’s death was certainly at least a full season story. The first season was all about him being in love with her. The second season was about him getting over her death.

And now this third season I kind of look at myself as a tool to allow the audience to get to know that intimate side of Neal that I think a lot of people have been aching to see. They probably hate me because I’m the girl that’s luck enough that gets to do it. But yes, I mean it’s about time they see him being all cute and such.

What can we look forward to from Sara in Season 3?
Well, I think the beginning of Season 3 there’s still a little bit of that cat and mouse between Sara and Neal. She doesn’t necessarily trust him right away. But I think that as they get closer and start to have just more fun together, a friendship, a bond builds where you see her lighter side.

And we’ve done little things along the way to try to make her more approachable. The wardrobe isn’t as glamorous as it was last year. We certainly were trying to create an aesthetic that created a wall. Her language isn’t necessarily as clipped. She’s not as formal as she was last year.

So hopefully the audience will start to feel more comfortable with her as someone who’s around more often as she peels back the layers.

How much of the scripts have been about your character’s life away from White Collar Division?
Not a whole lot. There’s a lot of people to service on the show. There’s a lot of characters that have stories to tell. And one of the really wonderful things that our writers are doing this year is they’re kind of giving each character their own spotlight episode.

And so Sharif has gotten one. Marsha’s gotten one. Willie’s gotten one. There’s an Elizabeth one coming up. Each one of the characters we’re delving more into their back story. And right now I feel like at least the first half of this season I’m there to kind of help other people tell their story, in particular Neal.

And that’s fine for me because I really love working with this cast. And the fact that I get to work with all of them now as opposed to just a couple of them like last year has been really exciting.

So I think maybe later in the season, we’ll see more of Sara’s colors, more of her past because it’ll help Neal connect with her. That’s how you develop and bond with someone.

You have shared experience and then you have shared histories. You let each other in on your deep dark secrets. And Neal is certainly someone that it’ll take a minute to trust but I think in the end he should be someone that Sara trusts with her secrets.

Can you tell us more about the relationship between Sara and Neal in the beginning of the season. Will we get to see them explore their relationship in the beginning or will their work get in the way of it?
No. I’m going to kiss him if that’s what you’re asking. I think that at the end of last season Sara turned a corner and made a clear decision that she wasn’t going to be intimidated by his relationship with Alex and that she wasn’t going to step aside.

I mean she’s a very assertive woman. And she sees something in Neal that she finds redeeming and attractive and maybe a little bit dangerous. And those are all things that suck her in. Whether those things get her in trouble down the road…that’s yet to be seen. But with Neal’ track record, you look at all the women he’s been involved with, Kate and Alex and by way of their involvement with him, they’ve gotten hurt. So there’s an element of danger when it comes to dating Neal and Sara needs to be aware of that.

Besides Matt Bomer, what other actor do you have the most screen time with?
Well this year I’ve been spending a lot of time with my dear friend Willie Garson, which, it’s kind of a two for one deal. When you’re with Neal, Mozzie’s always around.

And so I get to spend a lot of time with Mozzie, which is a treat because Willie is a friend outside of work as well. And I’m his mascot. I just follow him around and laugh at him because he’s a funny dude. So I have been having a lot of fun playing with the boys. They’re a good time.

How’s Sara’s relationship going to be with Peter?
I think Peter is very, very supportive of a Sara and Neal relationship because he thinks that Sara will be a good influence on Neal. I think what he doesn’t expect is the possibility that Neal could be a bad influence on Sara.

Clearly, Peter has known Sara for years before he and Neal teamed up together. And I think he believes he has a very good understanding of what she’s about. But Neal is someone that you can get totally swept away with. And it would be a mistake to underestimate that.

So I think as much as I love having fun scenes with Tim DeKay, I think there might be some tougher scenes to do with him. I don’t ever want Peter to be mad and Sara because Hilarie Burton thinks Tim DeKay is so great. And I would hate for him to yell at me. But it might happen guys. It might happen.

What are the circumstances under which you first appear this season?
Well I think that is – that’s very closely related to the question I was just asked about my relationship with Peter. He obviously has suspicions about what Neal has been up to and what Neal’s involvement is. And his first reaction is to call Sara to verify Neal’s story. And Neal’s first reaction is to call Sara to ask for an alibi.

And so in a way she’s being used by both sides. And both people think they have the greater influence over her. And I think that will be my character’s storyline over the course of this season is to see whether she walks the line of good and evil and who she decides to give her allegiance to.

It’s a very tricky spot to be in because she’s got so much respect for Peter but she is maybe begrudgingly very, very drawn to Neal and trying to decide what’s the best for everyone is a tough thing for a little girl to decide all on her own.

Last season in “Countermeasures” Peter and Elizabeth were amazed when Neal sang with June. Is there a moment this season where Sara learns something that would be equally unexpected about any of the other characters?
Oh boy. I think she is definitely dazzled by the romanticism that Neal carries. I think she always knew he was a con man. But we’ve never seen him really actively swoon a woman. And he’s very capable of that. And I think it probably catches her off guard how effective he is.

You know, last year we had surprises. We were surprised when Peter jumped on a horse. That was very exciting. Mozzie always has something up his sleeve. And I think there is just a general acceptance from all the other characters now that well of course Mozzie can figure that out.

So each episode lends itself to shining the spotlight on a different character. And so we see some really cool stuff from Diana this year. Sharif also has a really big episode where he’s got a bunch of big stunts and stuff like that.

So this is the year of everybody getting a big show, getting to show off what they can do, which is fun. It’s fun for all of us.

Based on where White Collar last ended, what would have been Sara’s motive to get the treasure if she is indeed the one who got it?
To assert herself. Sara is someone who knows all of the same tricks that Neal has but she uses them for good, not evil. Do you know what I mean? She spies on people. She recovers treasure and then turns it over instead of keeping it for herself. So she certainly has all the skills to be able to pull something like that off. But it’s a conscious choice to walk the straight and narrow.

Has she fallen so hard for Neal already that she would pull something like this off to show off? Maybe. Or maybe she tests him to see what he would do. I think she’s a really powerful woman and her emotions might get the best of her.

And so we’ll see whether she’s black and white or gray this season. As an actor having to play certain scenes, it’s very hard to decide how far you’re going to go with the emotional involvement or with the enjoyment of maybe doing things that aren’t necessarily legal. Because she is in a huge time of transition. And Neal is a huge factor in her decision making this year.

On Her Stunts This Season:
Stunts. Oh every day’s a stunt. Yes. I mean is it a stunt to make out with Neal Caffrey? Probably. Takes a strong woman. Yes. I haven’t had to get into any scuffles quite yet. But that’s not to say that that won’t happen later. Sara might be jealous. Wouldn’t that be great if she just got really jealous and started punching all the other chicks? To get to Neal. I don’t know if Sara’s that kind of woman or not. I’m sure Jeff Eastin will steer me in the right direction as far as my aggressiveness with the character.

When I was on One Tree Hill man, I was always fist fighting somebody or getting thrown into a coffee table or getting attacked by a stalker. And that was a teen drama. So now that I’m doing a crime solving show, it makes sense that I should probably up the ante. And I’ve got these supreme muscles now. I’ve been doing push ups. And yes, I should probably put them to use. Way to plant that seed. I’m into that.

On Working with Sharif Atkins and Marsha Thomason:
Marsha and I met – I think I told this story in the last blog call we did. Marsha and I met at a photo shoot my first season on One Tree Hill. And she was doing Las Vegas. And when I walked in to just audition for the part of Sara, Marsha came running up, it’s like nine years later and remembers. And it’s like, “Hey, what’s up? How have you been?” And was so awesome and great.

And people in our industry try to be cool, you know. And oh, I think I remember you. Marsha she is just cool. She doesn’t have to try to be cool. And Sharif is such a huge talent. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his episodes of – he did an episode of like Criminal Minds and he did a – like a Law and Order episode. He’s done all these great guest spots that were on TV non-stop during the winter.

I think I saw him on other shows like four or five times over the winter. And he blows me away with his dramatic stuff. So I think it’s really wonderful that he has this duality where he can do really fun comedic stuff and make the most of these scenes in a van. And meanwhile he’s got this ace in his pocket of this powerful dramatic acting.

So the episode that they’re shooting right now he’s very heavy in. And I’m really excited to see that. He’s – we always joke about the boys came up with White Collar nights, which is the Jones spin off where Jones is up to no good at night. And I’d love to see that man. Sara Ellis would visit that in a heartbeat.

On Eliza Dushku Guest Starring:
She’s a babe, right… She certainly is someone who had some really wonderful shows and she’s beautiful girl. And her boyfriend Rick Fox worked on One Tree Hill with us.
So it’s all two degrees of separation here. She worked with Matt on Tru Calling. And so it should be fun. Anytime you bring a new variable in, it’s a really good time and it energizes everyone else.

So to have another girl come in and maybe have a cat fight like we talked about earlier in the interview, that’s not a bad day at work. That’s fun.

Stay tuned for the Season 3 premiere of White Collar on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9/8c on USA!


  1. They probably hate me because I'm the girl that's luck enough that gets to do it.

    I can safely say that for the vast majority of the audience who don't like Hilarie and her character it is nothing to do with this kind of thinking, but because they don't like Hilarie's rather charmless portrayal. She's not a particularly good actress, and this kind of thinking on her part doesn't help that.

    But yes, I mean it's about time they see him being all cute and such.

    The audience has seen Neal being "all cute and such" for 2 seasons now. We didn't need the addition of Sara to bring this to our attention.

    But we've never seen him really actively swoon a woman.

    Has she even watched the first 2 seasons of the show? In the first season we saw him charming (she doesn't mean "swooning" – that is not an active verb) women left, right and center. He pulled back on that a bit in S2 following Kate's death, but we still saw him charming women (including Sara herself) on several occasions.

    The addition of this character and actress to this show was so unfortunate.

  2. I disagree with your first comment and don't think it wise to speak for the majority of the viewers…

    As for the second quote, I'm pretty sure she means seeing him "cute and such" in the beginning of a serious relationship, which takes things to a higher level of the cute that he already is.

    As for the third quote, it seems like she means in the way that he has charmed Sara. He's a naturally charming guy and he calculates it very well too… but aside from that, Sara is one of a few that we've seen him charm and win over to form a serious relationship.

  3. @Melody: Re. my first comment, I wasn’t intending to speak for the majority of viewers overall. I was referring to “the vast majority of the audience who don't like Hilarie and her character” – I didn’t mean to imply that is the vast majority of the audience overall, although if internet commentary is anything to go by, it’s a sizeable portion. Anyway, I think it’s fair to argue that those people are basing their negative opinion on something other than jealousy (implied by HB’s comment) of Hilarie playing opposite Neal/Matt. I don’t think it was a particularly smart comment on her part, to be honest.

    As for the second quote, I'm pretty sure she means seeing him "cute and such" in the beginning of a serious relationship, which takes things to a higher level of the cute that he already is.

    Possibly, but that’s not what she actually said, is it? It seemed throughout this interview that she didn’t show a particularly great appreciation of much of what the audience has already seen and learned of Neal.

    As for the third quote, it seems like she means in the way that he has charmed Sara.

    But again, that’s not what she actually said, as quoted in the interview. And even if we ignore all his more casual, but successful, flirtations, we’ve seen him charm both Alex and Kate on the show (we saw him wooing Kate in the flashback episode), so her comment that the audience has “never” seen him charming another woman is incorrect.

    I just feel if she’s going to give an interview about the show, she should be properly informed about it.

  4. Thanks for the clarification of the first quote.

    I also agree that the jealousy line wasn't the greatest on her part and she didn't take Kate and Alex into account but as far as talking in great detail… she definitely did not come into the interview with that state of mind. She is informed but it was very casual and she was very laid back and was not being very descriptive with her words – as we all see haha – so it's always going to be up for debate as to if she meant what she said for its simple basis or if she did not feel the need to clarify because she thought that the fans would understand what she was saying.

    Now I have noticed that many actors from numerous shows do not take into account what the viewers already know in many interviews, so I do understand your point and wish she would have been more descriptive, but, alas, this is what we get.