Dazzled by Romanticism: Hilarie Burton on her White Collar Role

Last season, Hilarie Burton’s insurance investigator Sara Ellis recurred on USA Network’s hit show White Collar – and now that season three has started, she’s a regular! I recently talked with Burton about Sara’s increased role and the upcoming season. First, on that passionate, if sometimes antagonistic, relationship with Neal: Burton sees her character as “a tool to allow the audience that intimate side of Neal”, though she’s worried that fans will hate her because she gets to be the one on the receiving end of a Neal Caffrey courtship. And court her he will:

“You know, I think she is definitely dazzled by the romanticism that Neal carries. I think she always knew he was a con man. But we’ve never seen him really actively swoon a woman. And he’s very capable of that. And I think it probably catches her off guard how effective he is.”

On the relationship between Peter and Sara:

“You know, I think Peter is very, very supportive of a Sara and Neal relationship because he thinks that Sara will be a good influence on Neal. I think what he doesn’t expect is the possibility that Neal could be a bad influence on Sara. Clearly, you know, Peter has known Sara for years before he and Neal teamed up together. And I think he believes he has a very good understanding of what she’s about. But, you know, Neal is someone that you can get totally swept away with. And it would be a mistake to underestimate that.”

But it’s not all about the guys: “I think the female relationships on the show are just as important because the women aren’t there just to service the boys’ story. They really are interesting characters in and of themselves.”

On her favorite episode to film:

“During ‘Burke’s Seven’ that was really fun. That was an episode last season where practically every single character was in the Burke home and we were planning this heist. And I think that was the first time that I’d really gotten to work with everybody. And that was nice. I was really intimidated going into that day of work because I was the new kid. And I shouldn’t have been because there’s never been a more inclusive group of people professionally in my life. They are kind and warm and really supportive and yes, that was a really fun day at work. I felt like that was a little bit of a turning point for me where I started to feel like oh, this could be something more than just a little recurring thing. And fortunately it turned out to be just that.”

And on Sara’s response to Neal’s … shall we call it ambiguous morality?

“I don’t think Sara’s any different from any normal girl who’s at home watching the show. I think she knows what he’s capable of. But I think she perhaps foolishly or not foolishly hopes that she would be, and his new lifestyle would be, incentive enough for him to behave. So if he does go to the dark side, how crushing, you know, how absolutely crushing. But if he doesn’t and he chooses to stay with the FBI and be a good boy, how rewarding.

The consequences either way are pretty big. And so I think the season is becoming a little more dramatic. I think we’ve had certain arcs in the show that have been more comedic. But I think that there is some pretty serious stuff coming up in Season 3.”

I won’t lie – I’m pretty worried about where this season is headed, and Burton’s comments didn’t do much to set my mind at ease. How about you? Do you want Neal to stay on the straight and narrow or to give in to temptation? Either way, watch White Collar on Tuesdays at 9 on USA Network to find out.

Photo Courtesy of USA Network

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