After six years of angst, heartache, more angst, cheesy One Tree Hill quotes and even more angst, the lovely Hilarie Burton (along with co-star Chad Michael Murray) will make her final appearance as Peyton Sawyer on Monday's season finale of One Tree Hill.
On the eve of her swan song, the one-time TRL hostess is setting the record straight about the reason behind their controversial departure, the "hurtful" rumors that precipitated it, and a certain video that left many of her fans scratching their heads.
Here's Hilarie's revealing interview with EW's Michael Ausiello, which may contain spoilers for tomorrow night's season six finale. Consider yourself forewarned ...
Q: There are a lot of rumors flying about why you're leaving. What's the truth?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: How long have you known that you were leaving?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: Just so I'm clear, it was your decision to leave, not the other way around?
Hilarie Burton: 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.Q: Did The Powers That Be make a concerted effort to get you to re-sign?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: 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?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: Have you spoken to Chad recently?
Hilarie Burton: 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 an interview request, saying, "Chad is no longer on the show and has no comment regarding the new season."]
Q: What was your last day on the set like?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: Lucas and Peyton don't really get an official sendoff in the season six finale. Is that disappointing?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: Might you make the occasional guest appearance?
Hilarie Burton: 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.
Q: What are you going to do now?
Hilarie Burton: 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 capacity.
Q: Last question, and it's a biggie: What happens to Peyton's record company?
Hilarie Burton: 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.