Hilarie Burton has detailed her sexual harassment allegations against One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn in a new interview.
Burton, who played Peyton Sawyer on the teen drama, spoke to Variety for a story published on Friday, November 17, about several incidents where she was sexually harassed and even assaulted by Schwahn, who she says tried to make it appear as if he was her mentor. “I realize now that I was being groomed as bait,” she said.
In 2006, Schwahn invited Burton and costar Danneel Harris to a concert with his wife and, with one arm around his wife, put his other hand on the small of Burton’s back and slide his hand beneath the waistband of her pants before she excused herself to get a drink. Harris confirms seeing Schwahn do this.
While shooting season 4, Burton and Schwahn were traveling back to Wilmington, North Carolina, where the show was filmed, in a limo when the producer invited the actress to listen in while he spoke to CW president Dawn Ostroff about an idea he had for the show.
“I’m leaning in listening, and when it’s Dawn Ostroff’s turn to talk, he just leans over and starts kissing me,” Burton, 35, told Variety. “I push him off, but I can’t say anything because he’s on the phone fighting for our show to stay on the air. I’m just in this position where I’m thinking, ‘You’ve got to take it, Hil. Just laugh it off. You’ll get to Wilmington in 45 minutes.’”
When they arrived at the set, Schwahn boasted to Harris that he and Burton had “made out” during their limo ride.
After she rebuffed an offer to meet Schwahn at a local restaurant, he allegedly accosted Burton at a party in February 2007 when they finished shooting an episode in Texas.
“I’m at the bar waiting to get drinks for the hairdresser and me, and he leans over and he kisses me in front of everybody,” Burton said. “Right on the mouth. It was something I had to get out of. It wasn’t a peck. It wasn’t ‘Hey, sis, how’s your day?’ It was a boyfriend kiss.”
Another time, Burton told Schwahn, “You can’t touch girls anymore,” after he approached her from behind and began rubbing her shoulders and her back. He “was furious,” Burton told Variety and summoned her into his office the next morning and allegedly screamed at her for half an hour. “He went crazy,” she said.
Burton left the show at the end of season 6, when her contract ran out, and said that she turned down a huge raise from Warner Bros. Television to return for another season but never told anyone at the company about Schwahn’s actions. “I wanted to work at Warner Bros. again,” said the actress, who has a recurring role on the Warner Bros. series Lethal Weapon.
Harris, who played Rachel Gatina on the series that aired from 2003 to 2012, also detailed her own run-ins with Schwahn, telling Variety that when she left One Tree Hill in season 5, the producer pulled up outside her apartment and “would not leave.” Harris, 38, claims he only got back into his car and drove away after she threatened to call the police.
The actress returned to the show for a multi-episode arc in season 7, but only because her character was set to marry Paul Johansson, an older actor on the show, and Schwahn “would never do anything like that in front of Paul.”
Burton also detailed several late-night phone calls from Schwahn where he tearfully claimed he was having an affair with Harris (the actress has denied having a physical relationship with the producer).
A rep for Schwahn declined to comment on the record to Variety about Burton and Harris’ allegations.
As Us Weekly previously reported, Schwahn was accused earlier this week of sexual misconduct on the set of One Tree Hill by a scriptwriter, whose allegations were backed up by the show’s female crew and cast including actresses Sophia Bush, Daphne Zuniga and Bethany Joy Lenz, who posted an open letter detailing their own experiences and condemning Schwahn.
The producer was suspended from his current series, The Royals, by E! on Wednesday, November 15, with actress Alexandra Park tweeting, “I am devastated to admit to myself, to my colleagues, and to this industry that I too, have been exposed to this reprehensible behavior.”