Hilarie Burton as Jo Johnston in 'The List'HILARIE BURTON
Actress, "The List" / "One Tree Hill"

You know her as former MTV VJ, and more famously as "Peyton Sawyer" on The CW's One Tree Hill. Hilarie Burton took some time out of her crazy life to chat about her new indie film, The List where she plays what most would call an 'unlikely role' for the actress. Read about the movie, Hilarie's future projects and getting back to work on One Tree Hill.

Hilarie: Hi Courtney! How are you?
I'm good. It's great to talk to you again.
Oh sweet! Great to talk to you too.

Yeah, absolutely. I haven't seen you since the charity game, last year.
Yeah! No, we've been... God, they've had me running around. And this summer has just been a tornado of travel. So, we're finally shooting again...um...tomorrow! [laughs] I'm thinking about it...and I'm like Wednesday is ... tomorrow. Yeah so, bright and early tomorrow!

Wow, so you've been really busy?
Yeah, yeah! Uh, last week I went to Guantanamo Bay down in Cuba to go do a USO tour for the military and so that's been an incredible experience and I'm trying to do a lot more with them and support our boys and girls while they're overseas. I don't know, that's kind of been my mission as of late.

Oh wow. That's exciting.
Yeah! It's cool.

You ready to talk about "The List"?
Yes, please.

Well, it was just released on DVD last week! Can you tell us more about the movie and your character?
Yeah, um, the film is kind of a legal thriller that we shot down here in Wilmington. I was actually in the middle of shooting One Tree Hill when I was doing the script for it and I was like "I can't do two jobs at once." And then I thought to myself "Oh wait! [laughs] I used to do MTV and One Tree Hill. Of course I can do two jobs at once!" Um, so I went in and met with the director, Gary Wheeler, he is such a wonderful person to be around...you know? He's so secure in his faith and in his leadership that I really wanted to have the opportunity to work with him and to work with a number of the other actors that were signed on to the project. Um, so my character is a Christian woman named "Jo Johnson" and you know, I've been playing Peyton Sawyer for years who is this...you know; she's a teenager. She's very dark and she cries a lot. While there is a side of me that is like that being able to play a woman that was closer to my own age, it's much closer to who I am in real life was ... very appealing. So, I signed up and we started shooting...I guess like right after Christmas. Um, and so I was shooting One Tree Hill four days a week and "The List" three days a week. So, it was a busy time but it was good time!

Well you know, a lot of people say that you and your character on One Tree Hill have the music in common, especially when you worked on MTV. But are there a lot of similarities between you and "Jo"?
Yeah, you know, I grew up in a church. Um, and part of the reason I wanted to play this part was that while I was growing up there really wasn't an example of what a contemporary Christian woman is. You know? And they always were so dorky; they were like librarians or just very stuffy, very nerdy. So I really wanted my fan base to be able to see that you can be a faith based person and not be a geek. And I think ... you know, Jo is cool. She loves her mother. She doesn't really know her father. That's not something I can relate to ‘cause I'm very close with my parents. But I got this sense of her, she didn't want ... she's offered a lot of money. It's an opportunity to for her to get a lot of money but it's in a very unsavory way and she kind of turns her back on it, and that I felt kind of a kin to because I spent the last few years trying to stay out of the Hollywood machine. You know? I love Wilmington, North Carolina; I've been trying to build a production company down here. So, once One Tree Hill is over, I can stay down here. It's more about lifestyle over...lifestyle and family over...career or money, you know? So, I appreciated that she carried that same message.

Well, you know, your character was very involved with the relationship with Renny. How would you describe "Jo's" relationship with "Renny"?
Um, Renny is searching for answers. He is very career oriented. He's kind of a lost soul. And I think Jo sees that and she wants to pick him up and clean him off and help him. And in turn, he helps her with her own issues with her father. So, I think that they cling to one another out of need and that grows into...it grows into a beautiful love. [laughs] She's just really like beautiful love. Anytime you have to do like lovey-dovey scenes with someone, it's always awkward. And so of course, I had to shoot my kissing scene with Chuck Carrington the first day of. [laughs] Uh, we just met each other, he's married, which always throws a kink in everything even though you're just acting. There's always that guilt "Aw man, is your wife gonna be cool with this?" [laughs] No, he was great, really great. He's a Virginia kid too, so we get along really well. We just started kissing, right away...day one and just went from there.

Was his wife on set? Did that make you uncomfortable?
No. [laughs] They're so cool. They've got a whole ton of kids and they're very much in love. They're like high school sweethearts. So there's no rocking that boat, but, there's always gonna be that weird thing like "Oh man, I get like paid to kiss. Like, that's what my job is." [laughs]

Well, "The List" is based off the book by Robert Whitlow - did you read any of his novels before you became involved with the movie?
Oh yeah yeah yeah, I read "The List" for sure. And I honestly didn't know how we were gonna fit everything into a film. His books are so great and so layered, and complex. Gary Wheeler, you know, I think he did a very strong job of trying to fit all the important parts in, and Gary and I are actually working on another Robert Whitlow book together. Um, I think probably the end of this year, we're gonna be shooting "The Sacrifice," which is one of Robert's books. And um, you know, I love "The List"; but, I almost like "The Sacrifice" a little better. I'm really excited about getting to work on that so hopefully, I don't know if Gary has been working on the script but it should be done pretty soon. So, I don't know, we'll see what happens! By the end of the year, we should be in action.

Well you will be working with Malcolm McDowell again for that too right?
Yeah, I will! Aw man, I'm pumped! [laughs] Malcolm, that's my dude! He is, I think...he's what? 40 years older than me exactly and he keeps up. That man is more alive than anybody I've ever met. He just is so dynamic and he's made out of lights and electricity. So yeah, he's very very fun and obviously, he's a fantastic actor. He's not shy about pushing the people that he works with, so he didn't let me slip by. He was pretty tough on me.

Yeah and "The List" is pretty different for him ‘cause he's known for "A Clockwork Orange" and some crazy movies.
Yeah, he's good at being the bad guy. That's what he does.

Well, you know, people know you from "One Tree Hill", but "The List" is a great change from the storylines of OTH...you know, it's an indie Christian movie. What sparked your interest in going for it...in changing up a bit?

Um, you know, like I said before. I wanted to play someone who's closer to who I am in real life. Also, I don't necessarily take jobs all the time because I really love the story or I think it's gonna be a huge Blockbuster or anything like that, you know? Obviously, I'm pretty picky about what I do and I do projects that I like, but I do them more so because I'm looking for life experience. When I signed to do "The List," it was because I met Gary Wheeler and he said "Hey, I want this project to be sanctuary for you. Your life is so hectic and I want you to come on to this film and I want you to be able to focus on yourself and focus on this character and have a peaceful film experience." That's exactly what happened and it was fantastic and it was awesome. Then I went and did "Solstice" down in New Orleans. I'd already been planning on going to New Orleans for the summer, and I got a phone call saying, "Hey! Do you want to do a movie down there?" It was just fate, it was kismet. So, I try to collect life experience and that's kind of how I choose what I do.

That's such a comfortable way to work though.
Well you know what, I feel like you could do a project and then sit around and do the prep for it and hope that it's a huge hit and get all wrapped up in whether not its had success or not. Or you can go, you can shoot the project and make friends and have a really good time. Gain the experience that you're gonna gain and then walk away from it and live in the "now." I try to live in the now and focus on what's immediate and what's right before me, as opposed to what's eight months down the road or a year down the road when the movie comes out.

You were just talking about Louisiana and filming there. Your last film was in North Carolina and One Tree Hill is in North Carolina. Do you think that more directors are re-locating to the South to film? Is it becoming more of the "go-to" place over Hollywood?
Well, I think the age of big budget films is kinda dying and the age of the studio is dying because independent films have become so empowered, and I think that's amazing. When "Blair Witch" came out, that was during our generation ... when "Blair Witch" came out, and it was such a huge fitting because it was nobody making that movie. And it was the biggest movie of the year. So, the common man has been empowered and the underdog has been empowered. Yeah and so, not only are people are taking movies to the South, I think film-makers are taking movies back to their own hometown. I'm from the South, so of course the movies that I wanna do are in the South but somebody from Michigan or somebody from Wyoming or Maine...whatever. They're gonna have their nostalgia for their hometown and that's why stuff is shooting everywhere. It's all over the place.

I see exactly what you're saying. I do. And you know, you were talking about "The Sacrifice." Can you tell us a little more about that? I'm not too familiar about that story.
Yeah, no, "The Sacrifice" is one of Robert's books and it takes place...let me go back, I don't wanna give anything...ah, it's a book. [laughs] I won't give anything away. If people wanna read it, they can read it. There's a school shooting, and that's kind of how it starts off; which is something that we've addressed on "One Tree Hill" and its something that...you know. Columbine hit when I was in high school and its changed everything. Um, and when we were doing the episode for "One Tree Hill" about the school shooting, none of the actors were into it, none of us wanted to do it. We got the script, we were very upset about it. Um, we were like "This hasn't happened in so long. Why would we bring this up? We don't want to encourage or give attention to that kind of behavior." Then literally while we're having this conversation with our creator and our bosses, two incidents happened. It was heartbreaking to know that stuff was still going on, it just wasn't receiving media attention that it used to. Um, then with Virginia Tech...my brothers...I grew up in Virginia, all my friends went to Tech. My brother's homecoming date from his freshman year was shot in the hand trying to keep the door closed, so it hit very close to home.

I feel like "The Sacrifice" is a timely story. There's a school shooting, I play a teacher at the school and when you rewind it tells a story. There's a lawyer in town, he's former military, he's joined a law firm and his...I guess his senior at the law firm tells him that he's got to go help with the mock trial program at the high school. So, he goes to help out and low and behold the teacher running the whole sh-bang, moi, she's his old girlfriend from high school; this younger girl he dated then he went to off to college and they didn't talk anymore and she's gotten married since then. It's this complex story of how their relationship evolved. Meanwhile, they're trying to help out these kids and the whole time someone is plotting the school shooting and you don't really know who it is, but its one of the kids that they interact with. We just don't know which kid it is. So, the whole time he's exploring his faith, she's trying to explore her faith after a messy divorce and meeting this man that she used to know and all these old feelings coming up. It's a very well rounded layered story and I'm excited to see how Gary turns that into a screenplay.

Hilarie, you work on such interesting movies.
Ohhh. [laughs] I like it when it's messy, you know? Trouble is better.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your crazy schedule to speak with us.
Naw, it's totally good. It's totally good.

And have a great day on set tomorrow!
Thank you so much! I'll talk to you later. Thank you.

· The List