EXCLUSIVE Hilarie Burton on 'Tree Hill' exit: 'It wasn't a rash decision'

Hilarieburton2_lDid 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?
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?
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?
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
decision-making process.

Did The Powers That Be make a concerted effort to get you to re-sign?
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?
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
toward it.

Have you spoken to Chad recently?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.

Comments (240 total) Add your comment
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  • Jennifer

    As much as I love the Characters of Lucas and Peyton, they have run that story into the ground anyway. Would love to see more Brooke and Julian (They are HOT together!) and Nathan and Haley and I love Mia on the show also.

  • Amanda

    Guess we know now that Peyton won’t die in the finale next week.

  • Erin

    Thank you for giving the interview, Hilary. My friends and I will support you in the future. Peyton was our favorite character on OTH. We will miss her terribly. Can’t wait to see what you will do next!!!

  • J

    Very sad to see them go because they are the show but at least it a mutual decision – except for that nagging Chad video where he said “They don’t want me back”.
    I love Hilarie and look forward to seeing what she does now.

  • Potch

    Um, you couldn’t wait until AFTER then finale to post this, or at list give a spoiler warning at the top? Now we know she doesn’t die in the finale. Great.

    • lauren

      I can’t say if it was there when you read it but there is a spoiler warning. And also did you really think there would be an interview where there wouldnt be spoilers?

  • Taylor

    Though Lucas and Peyton’s storyline has been stale for quite a while, Hilarie is a wonderful person, and that can be seen in this interview. Peyton was always my favorite character because she brought such heart and realism to the role of a high school student with being overly dramatic or suicidal or trending towards the silly (in the realm of teen soap operas, of course). Hilarie is sweet and wonderful and she will be missed by every fan. She is part of the core of the show.

  • brandi

    I’ll miss them on the show, but sounds like they wanted to go. I wish her and CMM luck with future projects, whatever that may be. I loved how she mentions other actors getting to big for their britches. Ain’t that the truth,we all know who they are. Not sure I’ll be sticking with the show, but not really because they are leaving. Although Brooke and Julian are hot together. We’ll see.

  • Sheema

    She’s the worst actress on OTH, so glad she’s gone! And thanks for ruining the finale for us Hilarie, looks like Peyton won’t be dying.

    • maureen c.

      i think that peyton and lucas were the main part of the show in fact hilarie is my favorite actress EVER she has class,wits,and she brought true dedacation to the show.She is my idol so thank you Hilarie Burton…Long lived P Sawyer

    • Brittany

      worst actress ?
      Hilarie Burton is an amazing actress,
      Peyton and Lucas, were a HUGE part of the show, everyone was always left asking questions about them,
      will they end up together?
      will Lindsay ruin it for them?
      she was a great part of OTH and it’s great that she’s moving on to new things, after all she can’t do OTH forever,
      and there’s a spoiler alert at the top, it didn’t have to be ruined, you didn’t have to read,
      i’m glad Peyton didn’t die,
      but i’m not so crazy about her leaving :(

  • BN

    Is she going to be a politican? Because those were some of the vaguest, side-stepping answers I’ve ever read.

  • Charstin

    It’s nice that she did the interview and that, regardless what did or did not happen behind the scenes, she is taking the high road. I wish her much future success.

  • Karen

    Guess we know now that Peyton won’t die in the finale next week.
    Amanda- I was thinking the exact same thing. So much for the element of surprise lol :) Im still sad to see them go

  • md

    An excellent interview…thanks Michael.
    I hope her future is as positive as she might wish it to be.

  • Tina

    Hil is truly an amazing person. Peyton was by far the best character on the show, and my favorite. I’ll miss her greatly next season, but I’m looking forward to more of her SGP blog/vlog.

  • Connor

    Peyton has always been my favorite character. I’m going to miss you so much. Thank you for all those wonderful years you gave us. You’re an amazing person and actress.

  • Tamara

    Hilarie has just been so amazing over the past 6 years, she’s right, her fans know that its never EVER about money for her and we know that she loves the show, probably more than any of the other cast members. I wish her the best of luck in her other projects and I know her fans look forward these new projects.
    I’m also happy that she can leave this show knowing that her character got everything she ever wanted and thus, so did her fans. For that, we are forever grateful.

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