Hilarie Burton Explains Tattoo Honoring Late'' Willie Garson: 'He Saw the Version of Me That I Wasn't Yet'

PLUS: Hilarie Burton talks about hosting a new series, True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here, investigating tragic events in small towns

Hilarie Burton has a permanent reminder of her friendship with Willie Garson.

The Sex and the City star died last week at age 57 after suffering from pancreatic cancer. While speaking with People (The TV Show!) Wednesday about her true crime series, True Crime Story: It Couldn't Happen Here, Burton reminisced about working with Garson on White Collar.

Burton, 39, says she met Garson on the set of the police drama shortly after exiting the "toxic" environment of One Tree Hill.

"Willie was the person who took me under his wing and had lunch with me and took me out to dinner," she tells People (The TV Show!)'s Senior Correspondent Jeremy Parsons. "He saw the version of me that I wasn't yet, but that I was working toward."

To honor her late friend, Burton got a new tattoo shortly before his death. The script on her left forearm reads, "Calm down."

"He would pay you the biggest compliment in the world, and the second you'd start to get bashful about it, he'd be like 'Calm down, calm down,' " she explains. "It was his way of forcing you to accept the compliment, because he would diffuse it, which was a lovely habit."

Hilarie Burton
Hilarie Burton/instagram (2)

Following the news of Garson's death last week, Burton shared a heartfelt tribute to her former co-star on Instagram. Among the carousel of photos, she included a note Garson had written to her and her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan when he gifted them a first edition copy of The Grapes of Wrath as a wedding present.

The note read, in part: "Somewhat hard to gift people I care so much about — so here goes — first edition, first printing (the book jacket is a reproduction of the original, mint ones are like $15,000 — I mean I like you, but calm down)."

In her caption, Burton wrote that she included the note "because it illustrates a quality of Willie's that I loved" — and would become the inspiration for the new tattoo.

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She continued, "Before I went to see him, I needed him to know how I felt. And @hudsonvalleytattooco was so kind and understanding and got me in the night before my flight. I wanted Willie to know that I was carrying that 'calm down' with me forever."

Hilarie Burton
Hilarie Burton/instagram

Burton also shared that Garson wrote a book prior to his death, which she promised to get published "for his son Nathen."

"It is a love letter to our industry, to storytelling and to the hundreds of people he worked with and made better over the decades," she said. "To Willie's family, especially @nathen_garson… on my honor I will see it through. You have been so generous in sharing him with the rest of us. Love you."

Burton and Garson starred together on USA's White Collar, which aired from 2009 to 2014. Garson played Mozzie, while Burton, who joined the cast in 2010, played Sara Ellis.

Their fellow White Collar costar Matt Bomer also shared a tribute to Garson following his death, calling the actor "some one who lifted me up, who made me better, and who always, always made me smile."

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