Edward Burns: He’s the One
Edward Burns worked as a gofer on “Entertainment Tonight” for four years. Then his directorial debut, The Brothers McMullen, became an indie sensation at the Sundance Film Festival and Burns became Hollywood’s latest hot director. In the August 1996 issue of Movieline magazine, Danny Peary caught up with Burns as he was working on his follow-up, She’s the One.
Edward Burns became the flavor-of-the-month when, last year, the writer-director-actor’s first feature, The Brothers McMullen, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Predictably, Burns quit his dead-end job at “Entertainment Tonight,” and got wooed by the Tinseltown players whose careers are the stuff of “ET.” Less predictably, the 28-year-old filmmaker decided not to sign any long-term deals, and concentrated instead on making his second movie, She’s the One. Here, the native New Yorker reveals how his life has changed in the past year–and how he’s managing to keep his feet on the ground.
DANNY PEARY: As we’ve been talking, strangers have come up to congratulate you on making The Brothers McMullen, but no one is asking for your autograph. Does that bother you?
EDWARD BURNS: I’m glad they don’t. The only guy who has wanted my autograph wrote me about 20 letters saying how much he liked my TV show, “77 Sunset Strip,” and how he wanted a signed photo of “Kookie.”
Q: Were you surprised when The Brothers McMullen won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance?
A: It was a shock. I’d been devastated because McMullen had been turned down by all the other festivals and by distribution companies because it “wasn’t edgy enough.”
Q: When did you stop working for “Entertainment Tonight”?
A: I quit as soon as I got a distribution deal after the first Sundance screening. I worked at “ET” for four years as a full-time gopher, which was four years too many.
Q: After your Sundance success, were you lured to Hollywood?
A: Yes. You can’t imagine what it was like–I had been making $18,000 a year and suddenly these studio heavies are taking me out to fancy lunches and telling me, “You’re this, you’re that, you’re going to make so much money.” I came back to New York and talked things over with my family, and with my girlfriend, Maxine Bahns, who’d made her acting debut in McMullen. I signed with Fox Searchlight for my second film. She’s the One.
Q: At the end of McMullen, Maxine’s actress character accuses your screenwriter of wanting to leave her to go out to Hollywood for some “action.” Did that reflect what the two of you feared might happen if the film made it big?
A: We never actually had that discussion, but that’s something we still think about. As I go on, I know the person I don’t want to become, which is a “swinging dick in Hollywood.” I don’t want to become that showbiz cliché and spend 30 years chasing around 18-year-old girls.
Q: In She’s the One, you and Maxine are again a screen couple. Were you reluctant to take advantage of your power as writer-director and cast yourself as the other male lead, who plays romantic scenes with Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz?
A: At this point, yeah. I’ll probably have to do love scenes with other actresses if I want to continue acting and making these small relationship films. Maxine and I have talked about it. I’m not going to be crazy when she’s cast in some film opposite whomever and has to get naked with him. I ask other actors to do it, so it’s unfair of me and her to say that it’s OK for them but not us.
Q: Speaking of love scenes, McMullen had the most romantic of endings, with your two characters kissing in the middle of the street…
A: I give them about three months.
Q: That’s pretty cynical, given that you and Maxine have been together seven years.
A: That character’s not me–the three brothers were based on guys I knew in high school. We joked that the film should have been called Stupid Men.
Q: Despite the She in the title, your second film is again about brothers. Is this one more autobiographical?
A: I wanted to look at my relationship with my brother, Brian, when we were younger. I wanted to explore whether we’d hate each other as adults if that sibling rivalry hadn’t been put to bed.
Q: Is it harder to write women characters?
A: I sweat that a little bit. Once we cast. I look for an actress to tell me. “You’re full of shit in this scene, she wouldn’t say that.” On She’s the One Cameron Diaz said, “I like when she’s icy, manipulative and tough, but couldn’t we make her more human to make those moments even better?” I didn’t say, “How dare you?” I rewrote the part.
Q: How were you able to get Jennifer Aniston?
A: She liked The Brothers McMullen and was willing to rework her “Friends” schedule to be in the film.
Q: As we’ve seen, the presence of a “Friends” star doesn’t guarantee a film’s success. Do you worry about She’s the One flopping?
A: No. What it will do at the box office has never been on my mind. Whatever happens, I’ll make a lot more films. I’d love to be like Woody Allen and continue to make modestly budgeted, personal films. I don’t care about the money–I want my films to stand the test of time.
Danny Peary interviewed Laura Linney for the May issue of Movieline.