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One Tree Hill Vet Hilarie Burton Personally Praised Former Co-Star For Convincing Her To Leave The Show

Hilarie Burton as Peyton Sawyer on One Tree Hill
(Image credit: Hulu)

While One Tree Hill may have been the story of half-brothers Lucas and Nathan Scott playing basketball in their small North Carolina town, the women of Tree Hill were just as important to the teen drama’s longevity as anything to do with the Scott brothers. It turns out the off-screen support the women gave each other throughout what has since been described as an abusive working environment was vital. Hilarie Burton recently reconnected with One Tree Hill matriarch Moira Kelly, who played Lucas’ mom Karen, and revealed just how much Kelly changed her life by giving her “permission” to leave the show.

On the podcast Drama Queens, former One Tree Hill stars Hilarie Burton, Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz spoke with Moira Kelly about their time on set together, with the trio revealing that they were so intimidated by the seasoned actress because they respected her so much. While the drama wrapped its nine-season run in 2012, Burton left the show in 2009, later alleging she’d endured years of abuse at the hands of showrunner Mark Schwahn. Burton became emotional on the podcast as she told her former co-star, whom she had not seen since their time on the show, that Kelly's advice and support saved her life. 

In [my] last episode of the show, everyone in my world was telling me, ‘You can’t leave. You can’t leave.’ I didn’t direct because I didn’t want to be on set all day, because it was so bad. And I was in a hospital gown, sitting in the lobby of the hospital, because Payton was, like, strapped to a table. And you came and you sat next to me and you started off by just joking, and you were like, ‘What’s going on?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ and you said, ‘Run.’ You started it off with, like, a joke, and I was like, ‘Yeah?’ You said to me, ‘There’s so many chapters in life, and this is just one. This is just one.’ And you were the only person that gave me permission to go.

In 2017, former One Tree Hill writer Audrey Wauchope tweeted that she and her writing partner at the time had been sexually harassed when they worked on the show in Season 7. That prompted Hilarie Burton and 17 other women — including Sophia Bush — to speak out, accusing Mark Schwahn of sexual harassment and more. Burton offered more insight into the allegations in her book, The Rural Diaries, which also discussed how she’s still affected by what she endured.

On the podcast, Moira Kelly expressed her regret about not being more aware of what was happening with her younger co-stars, saying if she’d been more present, she surely would have done something. But the Drama Queens co-hosts insisted that she did help — that the example she set for them, and the way Kelly prioritized her family over work, taught them so much. Hilarie Burton said she’d been wanting to thank Kelly since she was 26 years old. 

It’s like, ‘Oh my God. You don’t know that you saved my life.’ I don’t know what would have happened to me if I’d stayed. I met my husband. My son exists because Moira Kelly told me to run. And so I did. I just think about how different my life would be if she wasn’t that one person to give me permission to just go.

Seems like a good time to note that Hilarie Burton and her son have both appeared on The Walking Dead, which stars the respective husband and father Jeffrey Dean Morgan. So the AMC dramas fans also have Moira Kelly to thank for the roles of Lucille and...hungry zombie kid.

All nine seasons of One Tree Hill are available for streaming on Hulu. And be sure to check out our 2021 Fall TV Schedule for upcoming premieres.

Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.