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An Actor With Confidence

Edward Burns Talks About the NBA, Making Movies

By Julie J. Hong

Staff Writer

The name “Edward Burns” can elicit a number of responses: “that indie filmmaker,” “that guy in Saving Private Ryan,” “who’s that?” Since The Brothers McMullen emerged from the Sundance Film Festival in 1995, Edward Burns has been establishing himself as an actor, writer, director, and producer in his films about life and relationships, while occasionally acting in other projects. In the latest, Confidence, directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glenn Ross), he’s Jake Vig, an intelligent and unbelievably cool grifter. In real life, he’s an intelligent, cool, and unbelievably laid-back filmmaker.

The Tech: A lot of the characters you write for yourself, like your films, have a romantic theme. What do you like about this that’s different? Jake Vig is not really romantic at all.

Edward Burns: That’s just it, quite honestly. [When] I read the part, I knew immediately I wanted to do it because there was nothing about this character that had anything to do with me; and even thematically the film itself was so different from the things I had done and even the things I had acted in. I think almost every part that I’ve played in my films and even in Private Ryan [has] been a kind of variation of my own personality, or at least I’ve been able to draw from some of my personal experiences and apply them to the character. This was one where I couldn’t do that at all. I really just had to create a character from scratch and sort of make it all up, which was a lot of fun.

TT: Saving Private Ryan was the first really mainstream film you had done. Did you find that your life changed a lot after that?

EB: Not really. I’ve been very lucky. Financially, my life changed after the first film -- bigger apartment, new car, that kind of stuff that’s always fun and nice -- but in any real substantial way, no. I still live in New York, still friendly with the same people I’ve always been friends with. I don’t get attacked by paparazzi, I can go and come when and wherever I like.

TT: Have you always wanted to be in this industry?

EB: No, when I was in high school, I really thought I was going to get a Division I basketball scholarship and then, if I was good enough, play in the NBA. By the end of my senior year, I kind of knew that wasn’t going to happen, but I said I had to come up with a new, impossible dream. So when I was in school, I was an English major, but you could become a film studies minor; and the only reason I did it -- I couldn’t care less about the movies -- [is because] I was guaranteed easy A’s. My GPA was in such desperate shape that I needed all the A’s I could get. I started taking film appreciation classes. I took a class called Four Directors: Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, Orson Wells, Ford, and I had never seen any of those classic Hollywood films. I fell in love and said, you know what, I’m going to write movies.

TT: Since you’re writing, directing, acting, and you also have your own production company, what’s left? Is there anything you want to try?

EB: I just got a guitar so I’m taking guitar lessons, but other than that, no. Maybe a family. That would be the next thing.

TT: Do you have any movies in production right now?

EB: No, I’m finishing up a script, and I got about four weeks of work left on it, I figure. So if I feel good with it in four weeks, I’ll direct that next. If I don’t quite get it where I want it to be, I’ll probably take an acting job that’s sort of lurking on the horizon.

TT: What’s this new script about?

EB: Can’t really say. I’ll say it’s about loss though.

TT: I know your first film was successful...

EB: And the rest haven’t been. You can say it.

TT: (embarrassed) That’s not what I was going to imply! But I was wondering, because it won the Grand Jury Prize, how do you feel about the success of your films in general? Do they meet your expectations?

EB: Uh, no. It’s funny, but I think things kind of balance out in a way. McMullen was made for $25,000. I still had my school ID, so I was getting my film stock with my student discount and stealing the sound recording device from the university that I went to. So it was still a student film in a way, only it was 90 minutes. I had no expectations. We got into Sundance. I was like ‘all right, maybe I’ll get released in New York and LA,’ but really I just wanted people to see this so that I can get an agent, I can get a job and start making some money because I was working as a go-fer for a TV show. The film goes on to make $34 million worldwide, so that’s success above and beyond what McMullen deserved to do. It’s like a grainy little nothing movie. And the other films...the second one did ok. That made its money back and then some. The three after that really “bam!” tanked and undeservedly so, I think. I think they performed below where they should have. So I figured that the playing field is level now. McMullen did more, these were treated unfairly, now we’ll see what the next one brings.