During their first date, in New Mexico, Hilarie Burton and Jeffrey Dean Morgan “beautifully mapped out” their lives – how many kids they’d have, parenting styles, what they’d name their buffalo.
“What was nice about Jeffrey was he didn’t value me for a character I played, job I had or persona I put out there,” Burton, 37, tells ET Canada. “He met this lippy little redhead in a bar and thought, ‘She’d be fun to tackle life with.’ He didn’t care what my favourite movie was – he cared about, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ I wanted to be on a farm … and we figured out how to do it.”
However, getting there wasn’t smooth sailing and in her new book, The Rural Diaries, Burton shares her rocky road to domestic bliss at sprawling Rhinebeck, New York, property, Mischief Farm. The Virginia native was fresh off “One Tree Hill” when she abandoned a one-way ticket to Paris after becoming enthralled by “The Walking Dead” star. She likely didn’t fathom the obstacles ahead – settling into a new town, learning to love herself, navigating at-times long-distance love, coping with three miscarriages and subsequent depression.
At first, Burton’s daydreams slotted into place, as she and Morgan, 54, purchased a rural cabin (later moving to nearby Mischief Farm) where she thrived on flipping the property and relishing farm life. They welcomed son, Gus, in 2010, fulfilling Burton’s long-held parenting hopes, however adjusting to motherhood sparked postpartum struggles.
“I went from being the fun girl, out singing karaoke and lead on a show, to stay-at-home mother in an area without friends or family,” she says. “I was completely alone and in that quiet had to learn to like myself.”
“When you’ve been on stage since you were eight-years-old, with your validation coming from an audience, and suddenly you have to grapple with yourself daily and find your own validation, that’s a struggle,” adds the “Council of Dads” star. “Nobody tells young actresses how smart or valuable they are. The message is, ‘Honey, you’re a dime a dozen.’”
Subsequently transforming “entirely,” Burton meanwhile faced Morgan frequently being away “working his a** off” providing for their family. The two, who wed in 2018, tackled their biggest trial while growing their family and in The Rural Diaries, Burton’s refreshingly candid about the turmoil they overcame while trying to conceive, during which she had her fertility “down to a science.” “There was no romance; the whole thing had become a science experiment,” she writes. “He’d feel used and wouldn’t respond to me, then I’d feel hurt and rejected.”
Burton then suffered a miscarriage, which left her feeling like a “failure,” experiencing depression and pulling away from Morgan during a testing period.
“Jeffrey couldn’t articulate what he was feeling and I was putting enormous pressure on him to change how he was processing everything, to fit my needs,” says Burton, who began to understand Morgan’s pain after reading Vessels: A Love Story, which explores male experiences with miscarriage. “Reading about a male perspective was important because only recently did we start discussing how women feel about miscarriage. The conversation’s largely coming from a female angle, so if we can include partners and be sensitive to their helplessness, that’s an important stage of the grief to honour.”
“It was a massive growing up period for me,” Burton adds. “I was a little girl who left home, got this TV show and everything worked out. My miscarriage was a wakeup call that I needed to work on my coping skills. Jeffrey was incredibly patient. And, he’s always been an optimist – that’s one thing I fell in love with. For all my moments of doubt, he was so steady and sure.”
Burton hopes by sharing their trials, anyone experiencing similar challenges will recognize there’s another side to “that hill.”
Sure enough, following a third miscarriage, they conceived daughter George in 2017. Burton pauses, heavy with emotion, while remembering her first moments with the adorable girl, now two.
“It was cool,” she reflects. “She’s a wild, assertive kid. We joke how sternly she says, ‘No.’ That’s great because I want her to have boundaries, and I love that my husband’s supportive of raising a young woman who’s not a good sport. She’s going to be turbo and if that comes off as bi***y, we’re good with that. I don’t want her to ever deal with the things I dealt with as a young woman and judging from who she is at 2-years old, I doubt she will.”
Burton’s presumably referring to the alleged sexual misconduct she and others experienced while working under series creator, Mark Schwahn, on “OTH”. The allegations came to light in 2017 after writer Audrey Wauchope accused Schwahn of sexual harassment during her time on the show. Pregnant at the time, Burton backed Wauchope’s claims and detailed her experience.
The timing of bringing a little girl into the world while playing her part in the #MeToo movement was powerful. “She put the fight in me,” Burton says. “The toxic cycles in our industry/culture were dangerous to my child, so it became important to speak up – and I felt bad I spoke up so late.”
“I was encouraged to stay quiet as a young woman, lest I hurt my career or the show,” she continues. “But I reached a point where those repercussions didn’t matter. My ducks don’t care whether I do another movie. My alpaca couldn’t give a sh**. And, my daughter doesn’t care about my film credits, so I wanted to honour her by fighting to ensure she doesn’t experience the things we did.”
George completed Burton’s dream Mischief Farm life, where she tends to alpacas, grows veggies, makes dandelion wine, co-owns the local sweet shop and has become a key community member. It’s the exact happily-ever-after image portrayed in the Lifetime Christmas movies she creates, like 2019’s “A Christmas Wish”.
During quarantine, the couple also debuted AMC’s “Friday Night In with the Morgans”, featuring virtual chats with celebrity friends, like Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos. While fans are loving it, the project was ultimately a sweet gesture from Morgan for that “lippy redhead” he fell for 10+ years ago.
“Jeffrey noticed the news was really affecting me,” Burton explains. “I’ve absorbed the sadness and he wanted to make something for people like me to check out for half-an-hour and have light conversation. It was a lovely gesture. He built a studio and Gus helped set up cameras. It’s a family affair!”
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Ten years ago, I was pregnant, unemployed, unsure about where I was gonna live or give birth and despite the bravado I may have projected, I was scared. My whole life I’d thought I would follow the same path as everyone I’d grown up around. Have a steady job. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. But the path didn’t unfold that way at all. A decade later, I can look back at my younger self and say “it’s okay, honey! Happiness will surprise you! Let it!” 2019 was incredibly good to our family. The wedding I thought I wanted when I was 26 was made so much sweeter by waiting. My love for @jeffreydeanmorgan has evolved into something so much deeper and golden. Our children participated and were at our sides for all of it. It was the celebration of an entire decade. As I see all the year in review posts today, my entire year – my entire decade really – can be summed up in that one day. Happy New Year, everyone. I hope your path is winding and surprising and takes you on a wild ride. Biggest Happy New year to @jeffreydeanmorgan , Gus and George. Love isn’t a big enough word. Bring on the Roaring Twenties!!!! 2020! 💖🎉💕🎉💖🎉💕🎉 @sasithonphoto @carolhannahbridal @boweryhotel @mikelucena73
The Rural Diaries is released on May 5.