Hilarie Burton Teases her WHITE COLLAR Arc

Hilarie Burton

When WHITE COLLAR returns to USA on January 18 to finish out its second season, Hilarie Burton’s character, insurance investigator Sara Ellis, will also be returning to help Peter (Tim DeKay) and spar (and possibly more) with Neal (Matt Bomer). It’s a character Hilarie enjoys playing, partly because she sees herself as “a little bit Vaudeville” while “Sara is very high-end Broadway.”

Daemon’s TV was there when Hilarie talked about why Sara could be very useful to Peter and Neal, the possibility of a Sara-Neal romance, and whether or not she plans to go back to One Tree Hill.

On Sara

Hilarie realizes that some of White Collar‘s female fan base was put off by Sara in her first two episodes, admitting that Sara wasn’t very relatable at first. “It wasn’t my job to come in and play somebody likeable right away,” she explained. “Sara Ellis couldn’t give a shit if people like her, so I think over the course of my arc on the show, it’s my job to present this person who is very much her own woman and give the audience the explanation of why she is the way she is.”

Some of Sara’s layers will be peeled away in these last episodes of season two, and Hilarie thinks that once viewers get past Sara’s defense mechanisms, they might just like her. “When we first met Sara, she was very black and white. She liked Peter; she didn’t like Neal. She was very frigid and angular, but I think she starts to soften her edges as the course of the story goes on. The core of Sara Ellis is that she’s a good person who believes in right and wrong and has morals. I think she genuinely cares for the people she cares for and you’ll see that in her friendship with Peter.”

On Sara helping Peter and Neal

Sara is a key part of the “Burke’s Seven” midseason premiere episode, and Hilarie thinks that her complete lack of tie to the FBI and her ability to do whatever she wants is a big asset for Peter and Neal. “I think that what Sara has going for her is that she’s not confined by the boundaries of working for the government,” she explained. “She gets to be a little bit more creative in her research or repo methods, as opposed to the boys who have to answer to Johnny Law. She can use that grey area to help these guys.”

Hilarie also sees the fact that she’s not a criminal like Alex (Gloria Votsis) as a plus because she can walk a line Alex can’t. “Sara can walk into the FBI office and she can also walk into the seedy underworld, so there’s a duality in Sara that I think opens a lot of doors.”

When asked if Sara would be helping Peter and Neal in their pursuit of Vincent Adler (Andrew McCarthy), she teased that “Sara might be allowed to use tools that aren’t officially sanctioned, so she’s allowed to be a little more creative in her attack, and she really likes these guys and probably doesn’t have much of a life outside her work, so the excitement of being around people like this could be very intoxicating for her. I’m going to say it’s a possibility.”

The question of Sara’s motives for helping will remain. In the beginning, Hilarie said, “It was ‘What can you do for me? Then I’ll offer what I can do for you.’ I think as she spends more time with them, it becomes more enjoyable for her, but the motives-both hers and Neal’s will also be a little bit questionable. That doesn’t mean that either of them are bad people. They’re just people who have had to look out for themselves and they have to plan ahead.”

On Sara and Neal

Hilarie said that Sara is “clearly drawn” to Neal “as an adversary who’s also really attractive.” She thinks the nature of their relationship is that they’re both “trying to prove themselves to one another. They were enemies for so long that the idea of winning over your enemy can be very seductive, so a lot of the angst and intensity of the relationship is what it makes it interesting and that’s what it stems from: that want that Sara has to prove to Neal that ‘Look, I’m not an uptight bitch’ and the want that Neal has to prove to her ‘Look, I’m not a bad guy, okay.'”

We shouldn’t expect a full-blown romance right off the bat. “I don’t want to say that we’re going to rush into falling in love and being together in every single episode right away, but I know that Sara is very, very curious about Neal-begrudgingly, perhaps.”

Obviously, Sara has competition for Neal’s affection in the form of Alex, and Hilarie said of the triangle, “Neal’s always a question mark. Which way is he going to go? We’ll see which way he chooses.”

One thing that Hilarie thinks will attract Neal to Sara is the simple fact that he can affect her. “Neal is someone who likes to color situations. He’s someone who can make things happen, so being able to affect Sara is probably something that is fun for him.” Likewise for Sara, Hilarie thinks “being affected is fun for her. All of a sudden there is this man in her life who makes her nuts- sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way–but it always affects her and that’s something new for her.”

Hilarie likes that all of the female characters are important to Neal. “I think that the banter that he has with Diana is very funny and keeps him on his toes, which is when Neal is at his most charming,” she explained. “[Elizabeth] is such a great big sister character to him, which shows his softer family side. I guess [Sara’s] job is to show his sexy side, and that’s really not a hard job.”

On two truths and a lie about Sara

In an especially fun question, Sara was asked to tell two truths and a lie about Sara in the season’s last six episodes, and here’s what she came up with:

Sara might be attracted to Peter.
Sara is hiding a mystery of her own.
Sara enjoys making out with Neal.

Which are the truths?

On Sara’s future

When asked how many episodes we can expect to see Sara in, Hilarie replied, “There’s a question mark there right now.”

Hilarie also wouldn’t say whether or not Sara would be given any sort of happy ending and admitted that she doesn’t care. “The journey for Sara has been very fun for me. Even if her world isn’t roses; it’s interesting, which is great for me as an actress and for the audience. Even if Sara dies in another fiery plane crash, it will be interesting and good.”

If Sara does stick around, Hilarie hopes we can get more of her back-story. “Down the road, once Sara has found her fit within the group, I think exploring more of who she was before and what exists outside the White Collar circle would be an interesting place to go.”

On whether Hilarie might return to One Tree Hill

This will probably disappoint most One Tree Hill fans, but while Hilarie stressed how much she loved her time on the show, she doesn’t plan to go back. “Unfortunately, it gets to a point where your personal life doesn’t necessarily allow a whole lot of room anymore for just jumping on a plane and going wherever. While that’s a place that I love and a time in my life that I love, I don’t think that it’s going to work out.”

White Collar returns with six new episodes on USA starting Tuesday, January 18 at 10pm eastern/9pm central.

Be sure to read what Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer said about the upcoming episodes and read all our White Collar coverage here.

Follow me on Twitter @michstjame