EXCLUSIVE Hilarie Burton on 'Tree Hill' exit: 'It wasn't a rash decision'
Did you hear? After six years of angst, heartache, and more angst, Hilarie Burton will make her final appearance as Lucas-lovin’ music mogul Peyton Sawyer on Monday’s season finale of One Tree Hill. (Her leading man, Chad Michael Murray, will bid farewell in the same episode.) On the eve of her swan song, the onetime TRL hostess is setting the record straight about the reason behind her departure, the “hurtful” rumors that precipitated it, and a certain video that left many of her fans going, “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Ms. Hilarie?“ (Warning: Potential spoilers about Monday’s finale below.)
There are a lot of rumors flying about why you’re leaving. What’s the truth?
HILARIE BURTON: There really wasn’t a lot of turmoil. It was a fabulous six-year run, which is how long my contract was for, and I feel really lucky to have been a part of the show. So when I hear that there’s turmoil or negotiations based on money it kind of hurts my feelings, because it’s not what’s been going on at all. I think my fan base in particular knows that money isn’t necessarily a big motivator for me, that’s why I work in the world of independent film.
How long have you known that you were leaving?
BURTON: I’ve known for a little while. For me, it was definitely an
emotional decision. And a professional decision as well. I got really,
really lucky. One Tree Hill was my very first television audition; it
was a fairytale. I feel really lucky to have that level of success
right out of the gate.
Just so I’m clear, it was your decision to leave, not the other way around?
BURTON: I think everyone was kind of agreeable about the situation.
There were a lot of really wonderful conversations. It wasn’t a rash
decision; a lot of thought, emotion, and kindness was put into it. I
would hope that that‘s the story that gets out — that it was a bunch
of adults being good to each other and being kind about the
Did The Powers That Be make a concerted effort to get you to re-sign?
BURTON: The conversations that they had with me were very compassionate
and very sweet. They told me that they valued me, and that meant a lot.
And they also wanted me to be happy and challenged and excited. There
was some confusion for a little bit as to what was going on, but
I think everybody’s in a good place now.
Talk to me about the video message you made for your fans back in
February. It seemed like you were maybe saying good-bye. What
point were you trying to get across?
BURTON: The purpose of that video was to dispel the rumors that were
being circulated. I was on your end of it for a very long time when I
worked at MTV, and I understand how the rumor mill works. Everybody
wants a sensational story. People even back then were blaming it on
money, and [on me] being high maintenance… Those rumors were really
hurtful. Of anybody on the show, I was the one who was very excited
about doing all the extracurricular stuff — the mall tours, the radio
tours, going to the upfronts… I loved my involvement with this show,
and I really just wanted my fan base to know that I wasn’t turning my
nose up at this wonderful opportunity I’ve had for the last six years.
There’s an ugly trend where actors think they’ve surpassed the
show that made them or the film that made them and badmouth it. I will
never say a bad word about One Tree Hill. The entire shape of my
world changed because of that show, so I’ll always be very affectionate
Have you spoken to Chad recently?
BURTON: I was in L.A. last week and we talked. Chad and I are good
friends. I won’t speak for him, but it was not a rash decision on
either of our parts. He’s very compassionate toward the show and the
fans. It’s not an easy decision, but we’ve got to be grown-ups
sometimes. [CMM’s rep declined my interview request, saying, “Chad
is no longer on the show and has no comment regarding the new season.”]
What was your last day on the set like?
BURTON: We wrapped together. We were the last two in the last scene,
and we opened up a tab across the street for our crew to say thank you
and cried a bunch.
Lucas and Peyton don’t really get an official sendoff next week. Is that disappointing?
BURTON: It’s like when you leave for college but you know your parents
still have your bedroom set up. You never know if you’re going to have
to come home… I got really lucky with my character; I got a
full-circle story. It was, “Lucas and Peyton: Are they going to be
together? Are they not going to be together?” And as we saw in this
week’s episode, my character got everything she ever wanted.
Might you make the occasional guest appearance?
BURTON: Never say never. They didn’t kill us. There’s nothing vengeful
about it, and I think that’s because as much as we
love them, they love us back.
What are you going to do now?
BURTON: One Tree Hill was a great learning opportunity for me, and I’m
excited to go and apply that elsewhere and see where I end up. I’m
hoping the fans support whatever my next endeavor is. I’m actually
curious what they want me to do… On the blog that I have for my
production company, we’re producing a web series that we’re going to
start shooting on Memorial Day. We’ve also got a television show that we’re
turning into a graphic novel, and we’ve got a film we’re raising money
for. I’m busy. And I’m keeping my business down in North Carolina. I’m
still going to be in the neighborhood; it’ll just be in a different
Last question, and it’s a biggie: What happens to Peyton’s record company?
BURTON: Who knows? Maybe she’ll take it with her. I get to be a fan
of the show now, which is cool. I get to sit back and be a fan. I’m personally very
excited to see where it goes. I understand they’re introducing some new
characters… I have no doubt they will come up with something to reinvent
the show yet again.
One Tree Hill