Hilarie Burton on Returning to White Collar, Sara's Baggage and One Tree Hill Memories
Hilarie Burton, Matt Bomer
Now that Neal (Matt Bomer) is back from his island excursion on White Collar, another familiar face is returning. But this time around, Sara Ellis might have different intentions.
"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."
Character Chatter: Join in the conversation with other White Collar fans
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."
White Collar boss Jeff Eastin on Neal's getaway, flashbacks and the search for his dad
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."
Exclusive: White Collar elects Titus Welliver and Reed Diamond for guest roles
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."
Although Burton left the show three years before its series finale in April, she's kept in touch with many members of the crew and cast, including Sophia Bush and her longtime leading man, Chad Michael Murray. "We were kids when we started that and now it's just this warm feeling of, 'You're the only other person on the planet that knows what it's like to go through that,'" she says. "I miss Chad. Matt has been a wonderful second chapter for me because Chad and I had done everything together until I was 27 years old, and that was a lot of work. So to come back and have this new love interest that I have really wonderful chemistry with and who I really love as a person has been nice."
White Collar airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on USA. Are you excited Sara is coming back? Do you want her and Neal to get back together?