Interview with Ed Burns.
By Michael Fitzpatrick
It’s not easy to describe Edward Fitzgerald Burns without overdoing it with the forward slashes. For not only is the Woodside-born, Long Island-raised, Manhattan-residing quintessential New Yorker/Irish-American a renowned screenplay writer, but he’s starred in over a dozen movies, and directed nine of his own pictures.
The latest film he wrote/directed/starred in (see what we mean about those forward slashes?), ‘Nice Guy Johnny’, will be available everywhere (including iTunes, Netflix and Video on Demand) from October 26th.
It’s the (New York, naturally) story of a young man who decides to go against his dreams and take a dull job to satisfy his parents and girlfriend.
Before he does however, he meets up with his Uncle Terry (played by Burns), an ageing Lothario out for a good time, every time, and fully intent of bringing his cautious nephew along for the ride.
It’s a role seemingly far removed from the lifestyle of the man who plays him. The prolific Burns, a doting father to Grace and Finn, and husband of almost seven years to Christy Turlington, is a man very much focused on his family and his film career.
Having first arrived on the scene back in 1996 with the low-budget indie hit ‘The Brothers McMullen’, followed soon after by ‘She’s The One’ and ‘No Looking Back’, 42-year-old Burns the director has gone on to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Big Apple devotee, Woody Allen, by making other movies featuring the city, such as ‘Sidewalks of New York’, ‘Looking for Kitty’, ‘Ash Wednesday’, ‘Purple Violets’ and ‘The Groomsmen’.
In front of the camera he’s appeared in productions as diverse as ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘The Holiday’, ‘Entourage’, ’27 Dresses’ and ‘Will & Grace’. The Irish Examiner caught up with Edward prior to the release of ‘Nice Guy Eddie’.
Mike Fitzpatrick (MF): ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ was screened at the Tribeca and Boston film festivals this year, were you satisfied with the response there?
Ed Burns (EB): Yeah, I mean, Tribeca has always been a great home for my films. Being a New York filmmaker, living in Tribeca, being involved with the festival for ten years, they always take very good care of me, and my films, but I think more so, as a New York filmmaker, and you premiere your film in your home town, a lot of enthusiastic fans show up, so it’s a fun way to screen your films. Boston has always been another great city for showing my films, so, we played great up there, they gave the film a Best Director award, so it’s always nice to get a little praise.
MF: You’ve become renowned for your use of New York as a setting for your pictures, how important is the city to your movies?
EB: You know, I’ve been living in Manhattan for over twenty years now, I grew up on the Island, so the two places have always been important. I love my home town, like most New Yorkers do. The city continually inspires me, whether it’s the architecture, or the atmosphere of the neighborhoods, but mostly, it’s the characters I meet and the friends that I have.
MF: You’re quite a fan of fellow actor/director-types, John Cassavettes and Woody Allen, both New York filmmakers, is that coincidental?
EB: Well you know, Cassavettes I came to later, when in film school, but Woody Allen has really been the primary influence in my career as far as, you know, not only the types of stories that he tells, but the smaller character-driven films, he really is the master of the smart comedy with drama, which is something I’ve always desired to try and do.
Then obviously, he’s a writer/director/actor, he makes a film a year, I haven’t been able to pull that off, but I’ve tried like hell! So, he’s a real filmmaker, or auteur, or as a friend of mine calls, a ‘proper’ filmmaker, that I was introduced to early, and that’s because my mom was such a huge Woody Allen fan. So, she turned me on to him when I was in high school.
MF: ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ tells the story of a young man forced to abandon his dreams in order to please others, was the plot influenced by personal events?
EB: Oh yeah, a major part of the influence was, who I was when I was twenty-four-years old, and I was trying to get ‘The Brothers McMullen’ made, and I was lucky in that my parents (and friends) supported me, and I assumed they knew that a number of naysayers thought I was crazy to try to attempt such a thing. You know, who did I think I was, trying to be a filmmaker?
The other influence was an experience I had a few years ago, where my agents came up with an opportunity for me to direct a studio romantic comedy.
It was something I’d resisted for years, but I walked up to the line and almost said yes, but in the end I realized, that to me that looked more like a job, whereas what I would do with my own writing and directing, was my dream. So, it was from that experience that the subject matter (for the movie) was born.
MF: Growing up as a lover of film, were you more influenced by directors or actors or was it a little of both?
EB: Probably a little of both, you know, I’ve mentioned Woody Allen, he would have been a primary influence, then at film school, Billy Wilder, and Francoise Truffaut became a big influence. But then before film school, I’d all these influences from my mom, Paul Newman definitely became a hero of mine and Robert De Niro became a hero of mine.
MF: When you’re writing, do you have actors in mind for the roles you’re creating?
EB: Sometimes yes, certainly when I was writing ‘She’s The One’, I was writing the part for Mike McGlone, whom I’d just worked with, and funnily enough I’m writing another part for him right now. Then, for ‘Nice Guy Johnny’, the three unknown kids in the film, Matt Bush, Kerry Bishe and Anne Wood are such terrific young actors, I’d such a great time working with them, that I’m actually writing parts for them in the new film as well.
MF: ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ is your ninth outing as a director, how do you think you’ve evolved since the days of ‘The Brother McMullen’?
EB: Well, I now know what the hell I’m doing, so that’s quite an evolution! As a filmmaker, maybe I tell a story much more cinematically than I did with ‘Brothers’ or ‘She’s The One’, you know, back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing with a camera, but, we’ve come full circle with ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ with our approach to production. Because you know, we made ‘McMullen’ for $25,000 in twelve days with a three-man crew, it gave ourselves an interesting challenge, and with ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ we tried to shoot the film the same way as an exercise to see if we could recapture some ‘McMullen’ magic.
We ended up making the film for $25,000, we’d a three-man crew, we shot for ten days, all the actors did their own hair and make-up and wore their own clothes, and it’s a different kind of experience when you make a film that way and I must admit, it’s a lot more fun than having the bigger budgets.