Hilarie Burton wants you to make a movie in the Hudson Valley. The “One Tree Hill” alumna moved there almost four years ago, once she and her husband, fellow actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, had their son. Previously they lived in Wilmington, North Carolina — a small town famous for attracting shows and movies (including “One Tree Hill”). She wants that luxury again, especially since the Hudson Valley is a hotspot for actors; other locals include Juliana Marguiles, Vera Farmiga and Paul Rudd. In fact, she and Mary Stuart Masterson just lobbied for the area, not far from New York City, to change their tax incentives, therefore making it more attractive for big productions. And if it works, she’ll be back to short work commutes.
That’s what happened with “Growing Up Smith.” The new dramedy, about a young Indian boy (Roni Akurati) whose family relocates to an American suburb in 1979, was shot not far from her home. Burton plays Nancy, the stay-at-home mom of the girl who falls for our hero, whose husband (Jason Lee) sometimes has trouble making ends meet.
Burton, 34, talks to us about small towns, growing up in a diverse community and being able to dress like her mom circa 1979.
Did you grow up in a small town like this?
I did, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I could not wait to get the hell out of there. So I applied to every college in Manhattan and went to the one that gave me the most money. We lived there until my son was about six months old. We wanted to raise him with access to a rural environment. We didn’t want him to be a bratty L.A. kid. When it was time for him to start school, we were like, “Hey, let’s live out there full-time.” So we moved to a big farm. We’re drinking the Kool-Aid, man. [Laughs]
That happens to a lot of my friends who have kids: They become parents and they ditch the city. And then they find they actually like the suburbs.
I feel like everyone in Manhattan who goes to martini lounges go out to the Hamptons. Everybody who goes to dive bars moves to the Hudson Valley. It’s a real, gritty, cool, get-your-hands-dirty kind of environment. You do it for your kids, so their childhood is magical and awesome. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to the character I play in this movie, because she’s all about what’s right for her kid. She’s not all over the script, but when she shows up it’s a powerful moment, because of the realism of her story — that not everything is shiny and happy, even though you try to put on that front.
Her struggles to do right by her daughter and deal with her sometimes irresponsible husband, to make sure there’s money for dinner — it’s not all fun for her.
Being a mom’s hard! I basically based her around my mom. My mom has a high school education and she raised five kids when she was young. Then she decided she wanted better for us. My dad was always supportive of the choices she made. So she started working at a grocery store. Then she thought, ‘I can do better than this.’
She got a job as a school bus driver, so her hours would time up with ours. Then she became a kindergarten teacher’s aide. Then she went to real estate school. She became an award-winning real estate agent. Now she’s killing it. I think Nancy’s at the beginning of that journey. She’s like, “I can do better!” That’s a fun part to play, when someone’s in a transition phase like that.