Hilarie Burton on Returning to White Collar, Sara's Baggage and One Tree Hill Memories
Hilarie Burton, Matt Bomer | Photo Credits: Will Hart/USA Network
"Am I coming back to be a pain in his a--? I legitimately don't know," Hilarie Burton tells TVGuide.com. "Sara doesn't let a lot of people in and she has let Neal in on some secrets. So whether that makes her resent him for running away or it endears him to her and lets her understand why he's done the things he's done remains to be seen."
In Tuesday's episode (9/8c on USA), Sara and (Tim DeKay) become suspicious of a widow about to receive a huge life insurance payment. "Sara is someone who doesn't like that Peter's been devalued," she says. "He's a good man and he's very good at what he does. So, regardless of what his status is at the FBI, she's going to help him."
No matter what happens with the case, the big question on fans' minds is what her relationship with Neal will be like. The two broke up soon after getting together last season, but Sara still put her job on the line to help Neal avoid an extended sentence in the season finale. "There are some hints in this episode that everybody's got their baggage, and we're lifting the veil and seeing what Sara's baggage is this year," Burton says. "Neal's going to have an opportunity to help her out the way she helped him out."
Up until now, Sara's background has remained mysterious — a trait that gives her common ground with con man Neal. "We really haven't said a lot of stuff specifically about Sara, so she could come from anywhere," Burton says. "For me, I'm used to playing characters that just bleed emotionally everywhere. For Sara, this wall she has up has been different for me and I'm paranoid about it. I'm like, 'Is this OK? Am I coming off as too much of a b----?' It's a very fine line because you don't want to turn the audience off."
Sara's character has done quite the opposite. After first appearing in several Season 2 episodes, Burton was promoted to a series regular the following year. However, Season 4 will see Burton's screen time cut back cut back when Neal starts to play the field. "Sara has to be a big girl about it or she's going to lose out," she says. "It's important that if he does end up with Sara, there's no longing anywhere else because I won't tolerate that mess."
"I adore Hilarie but the real question was just how I was able to work in her character this year and it sucks — we've got a very large cast," showrunner Jeff Eastin says. "There was just less time I could devote to that story line, but we love Hilarie and we'll keep her around for a while."
Burton has no complaints. "I never want to be a character that you have to fit in two obligatory scenes for," she says. "Whether I do big, huge, crazy storylines or it's just popping in here and there, this is a really wonderful place to work."
Tuesday's episode also marks a behind-the-scenes reunion with one of her former One Tree Hill directors, Robert McNeil. "I did an episode of Castle last year and the only reason I did it was because it was one of my favorite One Tree Hill directors," Burton says. "Everybody's branched off and is going to other stuff and so it's a nice network of people to have in this industry that can otherwise seem overwhelming."