IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Edward Burns Talks 'The Fitzgerald Family Christmas' and 'The Brothers McMullen' Sequel

Thursday, 06 December 2012 10:41 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Edward Burns Talks 'The Fitzgerald Family Christmas' and 'The Brothers McMullen' Sequel

Edward Burns has had a really busy year! 

He began 2012 promoting his directorial effort Newlyweds, and then appeared in three high profile films including Man on a Ledge with Sam Worthington, Friends with Kids co-starring Kristen Wiig, and Alex Cross with Tyler Perry. Now Burns returns to the big screen just in time for the holidays with his new film The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, which opens in theaters on December 7th. The movie is a return to Burns’ roots as a writer and director, as it centers on an Irish American family similar to his first two films The Brothers McMullen and She’s the One

In the movie, Burns plays Gerry, the oldest brother of family that was abandoned by their father twenty years ago. Now it is up to him to convince his mother and siblings to forgive their dad and allow him to return home for Christmas. In addition to Burns, the film also features many of his former co-stars including Mike McGlone (She’s the One), Connie Britton (The Brothers McMullen), Kerry Bishe (Nice Guy Johnny), Caitlin Fitzgerald (Newlyweds), Marsha Dietlein (Nice Guy Johnny), Heather Burns (The Groomsman), Dara Coleman (Purple Violets), Daniella Pineda (Newlyweds), Malachy McCourt (Ash Wednesday), and Anita Gillette (She’s The One). 

IAR’s Managing Editor Jami Philbrick recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor/writer/director Edward Burns to talk about his work on The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, and the possobility of a sequel to The Brothers McMullen. The triple threat discussed his new film, his busy year, how working with Tyler Perry on Alex Cross inspired him to return to his roots as a filmmaker, writing the script, directing the film, feeling comfortable in his acting role, reuniting with McGlone and Britton, making a Christmas movie, why audiences relate to his films, and the current status on his proposed sequel to The Brothers McMullen.

Here is what the talented filmmaker and actor had to say:

IAR: To begin with, it feels like I’ve talked to you just about every other month for the last year or so for all your different film projects including Newlyweds, Man on a Ledge, and Alex Cross. You’ve had a really busy year, haven’t you?

Edward Burns: I have had a busy year, and I'm ready to take a little break.

Really? Are you planning to take a break once you are done promoting The Fitzgerald Family Christmas?

Burns: I have probably tried to stay away from finding an acting gig until the first half of next year just so I could focus on staying home and working on the next screenplay. 

When we spoke for Man on a Ledge, you mentioned that while you were on the set of Alex Cross, Tyler Perry really motivated you to get back to your roots by writing and directing a film about an Irish American family. Is this the movie that he inspired you to make?

Burns: Eventually it was. I mean he mentioned that he had re-watched The Brothers McMullen and basically he said, “You know, like your first two films, McMullen and She's the One, were so successful, why wouldn't over the course of fifteen years you ever go back to the Irish working class family, which is the real you?” He said,  “Look at what I've been doing. Think about super serving your niche, you're going to want to if you make one of those films. I guarantee you that if you go back to that world, the folks that love those first two movies will thank you for it and they'll appreciate it.”  So I sat down that day and started writing the script. It was the most fun I've had writing a screenplay in years. I wrote the first half in six weeks and it usually takes me about six months. So it was absolutely time to to go back. 

So you wrote this while you were on the set of Alex Cross, is that correct?

Burns: Yeah, I basically wrote it in the trailer and in my own office at night. 

When you were on the set directing The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, did it feel different than when you were making Newlyweds? Did it feel like you were returning to your roots as a filmmaker while you were shooting it?

Burns: Oh yeah, absolutely. There is almost no comparison and a couple of major factors were working again with Connie Britton and Mike McGlone, who had been in those first two movies. When I was writing the script I imagined that it would take place in the house that I grew up in. My parents have since moved from there so I called my mom and I said, do you know who in the neighborhood would open their doors to the show? I want to shoot there and I need a house that looks like ours. She called up one of her friends and then all of a sudden we're shooting on the block I grew up on, six houses down from my childhood home. So it was a very, very different experience. The other thing I did was, because the movie is a homecoming and a bit of a family reunion, I did the same thing in the casting of the film. I went through each of my ten movies and I looked at the cast list and I made sure that we cast at least one actor from each film. The great thing that we got from that was the vast majority of these actors have all worked together before, have all worked with me, and have all known one another for in some cases eighteen years. To bring them back in, immediately they felt like real siblings because so many of them had worked together before. 

As an audience member, you could definitely see that in the performances, especially in your role as Gerry. In fact, you seemed very natural and comfortable in your part and I think this may be one of your best performances as an actor to date. Did you feel that way when you were making the film and acting in your scenes?

Burns: Absolutely, I mean I think it's one of my better performances for that reason. I think the fact that I was surrounded by friends and actors that I'm very comfortable working with, and who I kind of know what they could give me, I don't want to say that I could relax as the filmmaker, but I knew that I would have a lot less work to do working with this cast. The second thing I think is that it's a very comfortable place for me to be in that Irish American working class environment. I don't have to ever second-guess who my character is and where he comes from. I know it so well because basically it's another version of me. 

I'm glad you mentioned Mike McGloan because as a fan of She's The One and The Brothers McMullen I was really happy to see him back on the big screen with you and not it another Geico commercial. Can you talk about reuniting with him on this film?

Burns: It's funny, I met with him probably six months before I had even started writing the screenplay because I had an idea of for a Sequel to The Brothers McMullen and I just want to sit down with him, and also Connie to just pick their brains about where they think those characters might be twenty years later. I was thinking I'd write a screenplay for a sequel to coincide with the twentieth anniversary. But when I started to write the screenplay for Fitzgerald, Mike just sort of popped into my head because I had seen him so recently. Then I thought, why wait for that sequel? Why don't I just write a part for him in this film as well? I was so glad I did because we didn't have a lot of scenes to do together, but we were joking when we had that one scene at the bar because it felt very reminiscence to She's the One. We both said, okay, we’ve got to make sure we do a McMullen Sequel because this is just a lot of fun. 

Since you brought it up, where are you right now in the script writing process with The Brothers McMullen Sequel?

Burns: Ideally what I would like to do with the film is have it come out in 2015, which would be the twentieth anniversary. That means I would shoot in 2014, which means I should probably start writing the script in about two months. When I say I’m taking a little time off, if all goes well I will be working on that screenplay.

Do you know what the story will be about yet? Do you have a rough outline mapped out in your head?

Burns: Yeah. I think I know what I'm doing with Connie's character, Mike's character - the older brother Jack, and it's really my character that I'm not sure what I want to do with yet. 

Cool! Well, back to The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, which is of course a holiday film and believe it or not this season is kind of short on Christmas movies …

Burns: Yeah, it's good for us!

Yes, your movie certainly does fill a void this holiday season, but Christmas films in general are hard to pull off and can often be very hit or miss. Have you always wanted to make a Christmas movie and were there any classic holiday films that inspired you or acted as templates for this movie? 

Burns: Yeah, it was half way through the screenplay when I got to the scene where I sit down with the father and he tells me he wants to come back for Christmas, then he drops a bombshell on me that he's also dying. That wasn't something that I had put in my outline or that I'd been thinking about, it just kind of came. When I wrote that moment I was like okay, I have to make a decision. Do I want to stick with this? And if I do, I’ll be making a very different kind of Christmas film. I could make the light, charming, sort of romantic and funny Christmas film about the Irish family, or I could make it more of a somber, dramatic Christmas film. You know, my favorite Christmas movie is It's A Wonderful Life, and what I love about that film is it's a great marriage of comedy and drama. More importantly George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has to go through some tough, dramatic scenes and cover some real ground in order for us as the audience to really get the full effect of that pay off of the reconciliation, and the coming together of the family, and the folks in the town. I knew I wanted the dad to be there for the family to eventually forgive him and if that is going to be earned, the family's going to have to address the real wounds that those kids would have suffered from when a dad abandons you. Then I just went back to the beginning of the script and said that I want to sort of embrace the tougher more dramatic storytelling. 

Finally, I’m an only child, so I don’t really understand the brother/sister relationship firsthand, but I still feel like I can always relate to the characters and situations in your movies. Do you think that your films work on a certain level because the themes of family are so universal?

Burns: I think that is the key and it's something I've always thought about. What I try to do is play with universal themes, but then set them against a very specific family that's from a very specific place. This isn't a generic American family in small town America. You get a real sense that this is a real place, but I think in that the more specific, the more universal. What I try to go for is if I set it in the world that I know so well that the thing is going to be honest and feel authentic. I think when people say, even though I’m not Irish, or I’m not Catholic, or I'm an only child, I know these people and I can relate to them. I think it's because of that. 

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas opens in theaters on December 7th.

The Brothers McMullen Sequel is currently in development. 

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