Chances are you know Hilarie Burton Morgan from her beloved TV show One Tree Hill. Or maybe you know her from her hilarious Instagram account, on which she chronicles her life living on a farm in New York state with her husband, the actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and their kids, Gus and George. Or maybe you know her from her OTH retrospective podcast, Drama Queens, which she hosts with her former co-stars Bethany Joy Lenz and Sophia Bush. But there’s a new reason to know and love Hilarie Burton Morgan, as she’s just written a lovely, thoughtful, and tad weird book called Grimoire Girl: Creating an Inheritance of Magic and Mischief, which hit bookshelves Oct. 4.
There’s no doubt about it: Hilarie Burton Morgan is quirky, which you can tell from both her first book, Rural Diaries, and her latest endeavor. Before we sat down to a Zoom chat this week, I knew enough about Burton Morgan to know she fancies herself a quasi-witch, and that she’s unafraid to speak her mind. After all, she, too, is a mom of a certain age (that’s 41 to you and me), she doesn’t shy away from challenges, and, as became clear as we talked, she highly values meeting tough times with a sense of humor and grace. And we talked about a variety of topics — October, by the way, is her favorite month — but mostly about her new book — which is full of sweet, funny, Burton-esque anecdotes and stories — motherhood, and aging. Turns out, she’s a hoot to chat with, and she’d be a blast to go get a drink with.
Scary Mommy: If you could distill it down into two-ish sentences, what do you want fellow moms to take away from your book?
Hilarie Burton Morgan: I wanted to empower people to view their own life story and the mythology of their own experience as a hero’s journey that they could celebrate. Because when it’s a fictional character, we can process their highs and lows in an easy way. But when they’re our own lows, they become really overwhelming.
SM: How do you talk to your kids — how do you frame it? — about being their own muses?
HBM: I had a really great hairdresser when I was on a TV show when I was younger. Anytime I would say something bad about myself or if any of the girls in that trailer said something bad about themselves, she would say, “Don’t you dare talk about my best friend that way.” And we’d never really thought about it like that. When my kids are struggling with their identities, or experimenting, or knowing their role in a situation, framing it in terms of “Hey, how would you talk about your best friend? How would you empower your best friend?” and “I want you to be your own best friend, because I think you’re awesome. And I’m a really good judge of character, and I’m really smart. I’m just going to tell you that until you’re old enough to figure out otherwise.” But letting them know how big they are in my world. I sometimes as a child felt like a burden. I make a point every day of telling my kids not only how much I love being a mom but how much I love being their mom specifically.
I make a point every day of telling my kids not only how much I love being a mom but how much I love being their mom specifically.
SM: You write in the book about your many different roles in life. What’s your favorite occupation you’ve had? And what are you looking forward to doing more of in the future?
HBM: It is an interesting process to realize that I didn’t necessarily want to become an actor, but I knew that was the thing that made everyone really happy. It was the thing that opened up the doors for me to do the things that I actually liked doing. I love a team project, and that’s what acting always was to me. It was rewarding and fulfilling. But I’ve been writing since I was really, really, really little. My biggest fear and my biggest goal is to finally put my fiction out into the world. I felt like it was probably safer to put out a memoir first, just because I’ve been a television host, I’ve been an actor, people have a sense of who I am. When I speak about myself, it’s not such a reach.
SM: What do you hope other moms take away from your openness about postpartum depression? But also, how can we be proactive to make sure that there’s more awareness?
HBM: I was shocked that I had postpartum with my son, because I was led to believe it was special. The only woman I’d ever heard that admitted to postpartum depression was Brooke Shields. I remember people chalking that up to the fact that she had had her kid a little bit older. I was young; I was 26, 27 years old when I had my son. I remember just not being aware that I was in the midst of it, that other people had to point it out. And in hindsight, it was so glaringly obvious. Then with my daughter, I just made the assumption I was going to have it, and it made everything so much easier. You give your body permission to go through that and not have any expectations for yourself, or for your family, or your friends. Just tell people, “Hey, I’m going to be rough for three months, maybe longer. I don’t know.” Now, my working assumption is that every mom has it. You don’t have it, that’s a special surprise. I think if we can just switch the expectation to “Your body just went through trauma. Of course, you’re going to go through depression afterwards. Totally normal. What can we do? Do you want food? Do you want a vacation? What will make you personally feel better?” Because there is no one-size-fits-all fix.
SM: How have the women of OTH and your podcast, Drama Queens, helped you in your motherhood journey?
HBM: When I got pregnant with my daughter, I really felt the need to confront a lot of the things that had hurt me as a young actor. Because what if she wants to be an actor? What if she wants to work in a shop and has a sh*tty boss? What if she wants to be an accountant and has a sh*tty work environment? I just felt like I had to rectify that situation in my own life as I was carrying her. In one of those weird, universal twists of fate, the #MeToo movement happened while I was pregnant with her. I was six months pregnant, and I could not have anticipated that in a million years. I was thrust into the spotlight a couple times in the midst of all of that. It was the women of that first sh*tty job that banded together and became a network of support and validation. That’s the thing that really gets you, is you’re gaslit into thinking you made things up. Or you just interpreted them wrong. Or it’s on you somehow. To have the validation of not just the women from my job but women from other jobs that my sh*tty boss had been in charge of, I cannot tell you what that does for a person’s self-worth and their mental health. I gave birth to my daughter after that. When she turned 2 and the pandemic hit, when Sophia Bush presented this idea of “Do we want to talk about it? Do we just want to confront it?” I looked at my kid. My son’s always going to be fine. Gus is so awesome and so solid. But in the midst of the world falling apart, the midst of women’s rights being stripped in our country, I needed this little girl to know that her mom was doing everything she could to push back against that. That podcast provided an outlet to do that. I am always the one that breaks the tension on the podcast for the dumb joke, because I want to teach my daughter how to handle hard things with a sense of humor. It’s for her. Being a mother, I wouldn’t have gone through this process had I not had a daughter.
In the midst of the world falling apart, the midst of women’s rights being stripped in our country, I needed this little girl to know that her mom was doing everything she could to push back against that… It’s for her.
SM: We’re headed into an election year; what are you fighting for? What do you want other women and moms in particular to keep in mind?
HBM: What I would like for women to understand is that we have only just started talking about miscarriages, and about stillbirths, and about all the things that can go wrong in a pregnancy. But what happens if you criminalize abortion? Now, all of a sudden, every prenatal death, it’s a crime scene potentially. This slippery slope of vilifying women for things that happened during pregnancy, I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is and how real that threat is.
So if you have ever had fertility problems, if your daughter, your sister, your cousin, your aunt, if anyone you love has ever had fertility problems, please encourage them to talk to the men in their life. Because the men in my life didn’t understand the direct correlation between a woman’s right to choose and then abortion, and then miscarriages, and then the persecution of women. If women are being persecuted for their abortions, if they’re being persecuted for their miscarriages, that’s my nightmare. It’s also a way to control a lot of women, because if it’s a felony to induce a miscarriage, that means that a huge population of our country wouldn’t be able to vote. Miscarriage is such a sensitive subject, and it’s so traumatic, that to open that door seems cruel and unusual, and that is what these politicians are asking for.
SM: How have you handled aging in a society and culture that devalues it?
HBM: I think the best thing that ever happened to me as a young person is that I got that job at MTV as a VJ. We had guests come into TRL every single day, and some of them were brand new baby pop stars. And some of them were people who had had really long careers and were still trying to appeal to a teenage audience, and so trying to present as young as possible, because that’s what they were told was lucrative. I got to see a lot of miserable people. There was never a point in my life where I thought being young and looking young was the be all, end all. All of the women I wanted to emulate had let themselves become characters: I loved Bea Arthur. I loved Ruth Gordon. I loved Colleen Dewhurst. Betty White always looked 60 years old. No one loved her any less. In fact, they loved her more. I think my youth was so tarnished with the sexual harassment and just those big life questions that I confronted at an early age that the idea of trying to preserve 24 forever seemed so dumb. No one listened to me when I was that age, and I had all the same ideas and notions that I have now. But now, the way I present it is “Oh, that woman doesn’t give a f*ck. We should listen to her. She knows what she’s doing.” Men have the luxury of curating their experience, and women are expected to do the opposite. I want to parade my experience, because it’s been fun. I’ve done a lot of fun, hard, interesting things, and I’ve arrived at a place where I don’t want to hide any of it. If it gave me gray hair, great. If it gave me wrinkles, f*cking great. I’ve got bags in my eyes. Guess what? All the kids are using their makeup to look like that now anyway. It’s fine. We did it first, and we did it better.
Men have the luxury of curating their experience, and women are expected to do the opposite. I want to parade my experience, because it’s been fun.
SM: Right, in the grand scheme, you’re a baby.
HBM: I’m a baby. That is delightful because I know I’ve got another 40 years of just silver hair and bitchery. That’s the only thing that works. I can’t wait.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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