Ed Burns first won attention for his directorial debut, The Brothers McMullen. These days, he is known as much as an actor, as a director, and still manages to juggle both. His latest film pairs him opposite Robert DeNiro in the thriller 15 Minutes. Paul Fischer spoke to Burns in New York.
As a director, Edward Burns has always been attracted to small, character-driven pieces, so it seems ironic that as an actor for hire, Burns is drawn to bigger Hollywood fare, such as Saving Private Ryan and 15 Minutes. “As a filmmaker, that’s what I love to do, those smaller character-driven films, so I’m not really interested in doing that as an actor”. Burns is chatting at a New York hotel to promote 15 Minutes.
Impeccably dressed in black, the actor/director explains his choices with typical self-assurance. “For me as an actor, I’m in a pretty unique situation, in that I can work on films that I would NEVER write or direct; I mean I was never going to make a big World War 2 epic, so I can get to be a part of something like that. The same with 15 Minutes . I was never going to make a film like this. I’d be lying if I told you it WASN’T a lot of fun to do.”
In 15 Minutes, Robert De Niro plays superstar Homicide Detective Eddie Flemming, who allows a young, talented Fire Department. Arson Investigator, Jordy Warsaw (Burns) to team up with him in order to track down a pair of Eastern European killers on a rampage through the city. Ferocious, unpredictable and clever, the immigrants quickly learn how to use the celebrity of their pursuers to spin their own stardom into an explosion of media and judicial madness.
Doing this film afforded Burns the unique opportunity of working with the legendary DeNiro. “It’s the dream come truly. One of the first films I saw that made me fall in love with films, was Mean Streets. That’s when I fell in love with DeNiro and Scorsese so the fact that six years after Sundance, I’m co-starring with him, was such a blessing. As for working with him, we got along immediately and we had a good time. Ed adds, though, that a more surreal experience for him “was seeing the film. When you’re talking to him he’s just another guy, but when you see him on screen, then you’re the other guy in the frame, THAT’S when it gets a little surreal.”
One of the prevalent themes in 15 Minutes is the nature and obsession of celebrity. As Burns’ own success became more pronounced, so did the media’s fascination with his private life. But the actor remains philosophical on the impact of his success. “I’m a realist about it all. And to be honest, there’s such an upside to all the perks that we’re given. But the downside is, that there IS an interest in your personal life and the occasional invasion of privacy, but you go into it knowing that it MIGHT happen. I’d rather NOT talk about my personal life, and I don’t really go out to those events where you’re going to be talked about. It has nothing to do with me NOT wanting to be famous; the fact that I do this for a living doesn’t really change who I am.”
It wasn’t so long ago since aspiring filmmaker Burns “was fetching coffee” on TV’s Entertainment Tonight, while writing screenplays. Burns was never contemplating acting as a career, but wanted to direct “in order to assert more creative control over what I had written.” Then, Burns adds, he fell in love with “filmmaking while doing Brothers McMullen.” His foray into acting was partially based on economics. “I cast myself in Brothers McMullen only because I’d acted in my student films.” Burns insists that he never “thought that I’d act again after that. But after McMullen came out, a lot of offers came in and I resisted it till Private Ryan.” After that, Ed Burns was hooked. “I realised that acting was kinda fun when you don’t have to worry about anything else, except showing up and remembering your lines.”
Next up for the diverse filmmaker is another directorial feature, Sidewalks of New York, in which Burns stars alongside the likes of Stanley Tucci and Heather Graham. “I’m pretty pleased with it, it’s another of my low-budget character pieces.” That film will be released in the US come April.