Taylor Swift was a sweet, day-dreaming 15-year-old when musician and actor Tyler Hilton first met her. “I remember thinking, ‘This girl is so talented. I don’t care if she’s 15 or 40, I’m just a fan,’” Hilton tells ET. “She’s really authentic and that whole thing you see with her is what you get -- like I remember her playing me songs in her bedroom that ended up on her Fearless record and she really was just a little girl in her bedroom with all these fantasies and a journal full of songs. It was so endearing.”
Swift and her family became great supporters of Hilton, inviting him to move onto their houseboat when he needed a place to stay after relocating to Nashville, Tennessee. Hilton -- who still occasionally catches the songstress on tour -- also dueted with Swift on his song, “Missing You,” during one of her early shows, then portrayed her crush, Drew, in her 2007 music video for “Teardrops on My Guitar.”
More than a decade later, Hilton’s the one calling on celebrity pals to spice up his music videos, like his latest release, for “City on Fire,” premiering exclusively on ET. The compelling ballet video was directed by Hilton’s wife, actress and director Megan Park, and choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance’s Andrew Winghart. While Swift doesn’t make an appearance, the clip features some of the couple’s other famous friends, including 50 Shades of Grey’s Eloise Mumford, American Sniper’s Maddy McGraw, Ready Player One’s Violet McGraw, media personality Liz Trinnear and Gone Girl’s Missi Pyle (who officiated Hilton’s 2015 wedding.)
Describing the track as a “murder ballad about revenge and redemption,” Hilton didn’t consider the song for his upcoming album until Park became moved by it. “She really connected with the song, which is funny because it’s not typically her kind of music or the music she does videos for,” says Hilton, who played Chris Keller on One Tree Hill and Elvis Presley in Walk the Line. “She directs videos for Gucci Mane and Blackbear, where there’s a lot of cool dancing and dope sh**, but she felt this could be done with some interesting storytelling and dancing. I was on the sidelines for a lot it, and constantly getting body chills watching these girls rehearsing the dance and this storyline [unfold] of a woman taking control of her life.”
The video marked the first time the couple has worked together since meeting while filming the 2007 movie Charlie Bartlett in Toronto, Canada. Hilton says the secret to their great working relationship is simple -- do as wifey says!
“Neither of us knew how it was going to go and I’m sure we were both a little nervous, but it was great,” the “When It Comes” crooner says. “She’s a really good director with great instincts, and has actually helped me a lot with auditions and getting parts. Every time she’s helped me, it has been gold, so I’ve learned to listen to everything she says! There were a bunch of things I was super uncomfortable -- like when she said, ‘I see a dance to this song,’ -- but I just trusted her and it was the best decision I ever made. It’s a video I’ll be proud of forever.”
Written during a time when political happenings and California wildfires made Hilton feel like “a bunch of things and people I cared about were getting destroyed,” the song is the title track from his forthcoming album, set to release around January.
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But music isn’t the only thing keeping Hilton busy. The actor reunites with One Tree Hill castmates including Hilarie Burton, Robert Buckley, Danneel Ackles and Antwon Tanner for Lifetime’s upcoming holiday flick, The Christmas Contract, debuting Nov. 22. The film comes as the cast continue to mark 15 years since premiering the first of nine seasons of One Tree Hill in 2003.
Hilton was invited onto the drama early in the second season after show creator Mark Schwahn discovered his song, “Glad.” Having just completed Walk the Line, he had caught the acting bug, so he jumped at the opportunity despite having never watched the series. When producers sent him the entire first season, he laughed off the idea of bingeing every episode.
“I watched just the pilot … then I f**king watched the whole season in a weekend,” he says with a laugh. “I just ate it up, but it was a big mistake because by the time I walked on set, I was a big fan. Instead of seeing Sophia Bush, Hilarie Burton and Chad Michael Murray, I was seeing Brooke, Peyton and Lucas, so I really screwed myself over because I was so nervous to meet them. I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here? I’m just a musician, not an actor. I’m so out of place. This is the best-looking group of people I’ve ever seen in my entire life, so what am I doing here?’”
“But they were so nice to me,” adds Hilton, who continued to portray Chris, a musician, for several seasons. “We were at that age where friendships matter more than relationships -- that college age where your friends are everything, so we got close really fast. I had my 21st birthday with Chad and Kieren [Hutchison, who played Andy Hargrove,] who took me out. The show brought me back and it felt like returning to camp every time. It was some of the best times of my life.”
“We don’t have control over any of that, but if they did do it we would be so down!” he says. “If you had asked right after the show ended, everyone probably would’ve been like, ‘You know what, let’s give it a break.’ I’m going out on a limb saying this, but I think everybody would be down to do it now because although you grow up and appear on other projects, it was so much fun. We were together for nine years, which is a long time to be with the same people -- a lot of fighting, crying, friendships, birthday parties, weddings, kids. It was family vibes.”
Those family vibes were tightened last year, when female staff and actors from the show, including Burton and Bush, penned an open letter supporting writer Audrey Wauchope’s claims of sexual harassment and misconduct by Schwahn during filming. Schwahn was suspended, then fired, from his E! series, The Royals, in the wake of the allegations.
Hilton says the group pulled together and heightened their bonds during the difficult time.
“That was a strange thing to go through as a family, but like anything, you get through it and there has been a lot of healing and talking,” Hilton says. “Out of respect for everyone, I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s not totally my thing, but certainly any way I could be there for everybody I was, whether it was just lending an ear or supporting them. I think that’s where the friendship part really came out through the work relationships.”