Sticking up for her. Hilarie Burton Morgan recalled how former costar Chad Michael Murray attempted to defend her amid an alleged assault during One Tree Hill season 4.
The Virginia native, 40, discussed the disturbing incident on the Wednesday, March 15, episode of iHeartRadio’s “Drama Queens” podcast with cohosts Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz. They were recapping season 4, episode 17, which took the group on location to Honey Grove, Texas. Behind the scenes, the 2007 episode of the teen drama marked a boiling point for Burton Morgan and OTH showrunner Mark Schwahn, she alleged, referring to him as her “boss” and never by name.
Lenz, 41, gently asked the actress, who played Peyton Sawyer, why she didn’t report Schwahn, 56. “Oh, I did,” Burton Morgan said. “I told all sorts of people. Honey, I told everybody.”
Bush, 40, also noted that their executive producer was very public about his actions, and Burton Morgan recalled Murray, now 41, trying to defend her.
“Chad walked up and goes, ‘What are you doing?’ He said that to our boss in the bar,” the White Collar alum told her cohosts. “He watched our boss grab me in front of a lot of people, and you know, Chad didn’t have anything to lose because he knew our boss hated him anyway. A lot of people had a lot to lose, so you don’t speak up when you have a lot to lose. But [our boss] felt so comfortable that that was not something that he had a problem with. [He thought], ‘I can do whatever I want to her in public with her boyfriend standing there.’”
Burton Morgan said she truly didn’t expect anyone to do anything. Crew members have families who rely on their salaries, and most people can’t afford to put their jobs on the line. Bush, however, encouraged coworkers to help each other.
“I have sympathy for the reality that people are scared they’re going to put a hole in the ship and then the ship is going to sink, but get over it and protect your people. Because this idea that looking at the ground is OK — it’s not,” the Incredibles 2 star said. “And thank God, Hilarie, that you had that moment with Chad, who was already so at odds with our boss.”
Bush also noted that Murray (to whom she was married from 2005 to 2006) was in a rare position where he couldn’t easily be fired. “He was protected as the No. 1 on the call sheet,” the Good Sam alum added. “He had the most power, so he could come up and shove our boss off you and get in a fight. And I’m glad that he did. I want everybody to follow that lead.”
Leading up to the episode, Danneel Ackles‘ (née Harris) character Rachel was written out of the show which Burton Morgan referred to as “being punished” for rejecting their boss’ advances. Within the episode, several characters objectify and insult Rachel.
“In the timeline, Danneel has left. They’ve given her not even an exit,” Bush recalled. “She just disappears and everyone talks about how she disappeared. This is also, in real life, when she began dating her now-husband [Jensen Ackles], who was the gorgeous guy at the bar that [Lee Norris‘ character] Mouth is talking about. That’s our boss talking about how jealous of Danneel’s husband he was. … When you really look at it, you see how it was so insidious.”
She continued, “I don’t like that we were all used in this episode to just pile on our friend because she said to her grown-up, married boss, ‘Please stop hitting on me and please stop touching me and please stop trying to make out with me at bars. I’m very uncomfortable.’ Like, that should just be the bare f–king minimum!”
Meanwhile, Burton Morgan was forced to be alone with Schwahn on a trip to Honey Grove, Texas, before filming started. The CW flew the pair to the small town to surprise the local high school at a pep rally, announcing that they’d won a contest to have an episode of One Tree Hill filmed there.
“He decided that it was going to be just me and him. Just me and him had to fly to Honey Grove. … The flight back from that is when he assaulted me. He assaulted me again in the car on the drive from Raleigh to Wilmington, [North Carolina],” Burton Morgan alleged. “He went straight to set, and he told Danneel that he and I made out the whole time. And it was fun, and he was trying to make her jealous. So, she confronted me about it and was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And so, then we had to go on this trip with him. And this was really, like, the last three months where my blood was boiling, and I didn’t know how to process it anymore and you can see it in the episode.”
The Walking Dead alum said she tried to maintain a sense of control by not letting her trip be darkened by the disturbing incident. “My reaction to that kind of stuff is to not let it ruin my good time. My rebellion is to be like, ‘Oh, you wanted to assert your power? I’m going to have a great time and laugh extra hard with my friends,’” she explained, noting that she had many good memories of Honey Grove that didn’t involve her former boss.
Bush called for understanding of the duality of any situation. “You had this horrific moment with our boss that was so unacceptable and it was inside of a container of many days of great memories and that’s, I think, where it’s sticky and where we as a society need to get a little bit better about understanding that many things are true at the same time,” she said. “We have beautiful memories of Honey Grove, of those kids, of that party we went to to watch that episode, of those amazing guys teaching everyone to country dance at the bar — and you had, like, a car crash of an incident with a grown-up that was supposed to be your mentor and he was abusive and creepy to you.”
Burton Morgan ultimately left One Tree Hill after season 6, ending her initial six-season contract, with Lenz and Bush remaining on the drama until it ended in season 9.
The One Tree Hill cast first detailed assault and harassment claims in a November 2017 Variety report. Following the women of OTH opening up, 25 cast and crew members of The Royals shared similar allegations about Schwahn, who had created the series. He was fired from the E! drama and has never publicly addressed the allegations.
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If you or someone you know have been sexually assaulted, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).