Edward Burns is one of the busiest people in Hollywood, whether you know him from his work as a filmmaker (The Brothers McMullen, Sidewalks of New York, The Groomsmen) or as an actor (Saving Private Ryan, Confidence), he's simultaneously become one of the leading men of his generation and one of the leading independent filmmakers of his generation.
Burns, more charming and personable in person than on-screen, stopped to talk about his new film One Missed Call, a remake of the 2003 film Chakushin Ari, which he stars in with Shannyn Sossamon. He also talks about his upcoming film Rainy Dog and the film and Virgin comics project Dock Whalloper.
Q: Did you see the original?
Burns:: The director Eric [Valette] just asked us not to watch the original until we had seen his version. Shannyn and I got the see not even the finished version of this film so we still can't watch the original. It's been sitting on top of my television for about six months now. So out of respect to Eric, we'll wait another two weeks or so.
Q: So from what you've been told, how is this version different from the original?
Burns:: In the original, my character was a much smaller character. He was a guy who didn't have any dialogue and was lurking in the shadows in a trenchcoat making sinister faces as he watched these college girls in low cut tops get killed.
Q: Sounds like a great role.
Burns:: Yeah I know. What's he doing under that trenchcoat. (laughs) But that's not this film. In this film he's the cop with the heart of gold who is the only guy in town that believes Shannyn's story that these mysterious deaths might be connected via this spirit that's traveling through a cellular signal. He's not a very effective detective, because a lot of people die.
Q: Are you a fan of Japanese horror films, or horror films more generally?
Burns:: Yeah. I love going to a theater and getting the shit scared out of me as much as anybody else and I have since I was a kid. Eric, the director, the film he wanted to make was a little less of that and more--he referenced Rosemary's Baby and Don't Look Now, the old Donald Sutherland film--so a little more atmospheric, a little slower pacing, fewer thrills and chills. He did have a lot of gore, though, or a fair amount for that approach. But I guess they decided to go PG-13, so I did see, even though I'm not supposed to tell you, that my death scene was good and bloody and now it's not.
Q: Is it violent?
Burns:: Less violent and more bloody. It wasn't like Scorsese violence. It wasn't repeated stabbings to the eye. It was one good shot and immediate death.
Q: Do you like working as an actor?
Burns:: I try not to as an actor on set to hang out with the director or offer suggestions or anything like that. Mostly it's a good opportunity and a nice perk to go to school on someone else's approach. So I'm always borrowing something or just going: Oh you use that lens there, okay, that's cooler, or, I never would have thought to go with two hand held cameras here. So I'm always looking at that and just trying to take from their approach something that I could apply to my films. As an actor it's a lot of fun. This film, I'd just done three of my little movies back to back and so a lot of times I'll say, I'm not an actor anymore, I know the next two movies I want to make, I'm just going to go do them back to back and walk away from my acting career. Usually after I finish those two films, I'm like, this was so hard, I want a nice easy job and a paycheck where I hang out on set and have somebody bring me coffee. Do all the fun things that actors get to do. So I got this script and I've never been in a horror movie. That's the other thing, I always try to look for a genre that I'm never going to make as a filmmaker because like I said, it's a good learning experience and you can expose yourself to a different kind of audience.
Q: So you would never make one of these films?
Burns:: I don't know about a horror film, but there are two things that I'm doing that are definitely similar. One is based on my relationship with Katakowa, the Japanese company that owned this title. I have since adapted another one of their titles called Rainy Dog, which is a gangster film, and I transposed it to 1902 New York. We're going to shoot it this winter with me directing. I'm going to play a small part in it. We're out to somebody right now who looks like he's going to say yes, so fingers crossed. The thing is, it's a gangster story and there are two scenes in it where the approach of the hitman takes on a certain horror/suspense approach to pursuing the guy he means to kill. So certainly on this film I was watching Eric and his shot choices: what do you show and what don't you show, when are you creeping over that shoulder to set the audience up cause oh shit he might be in the fucking closet. That kind of stuff.
The other thing is, the business has changed dramatically in the last five years. My style of filmmaking is dying on the vine. Specialized talky movies, theaterically, it's over for the most part. About a year ago, I was like, I've got to take my characters and the world that I'm passionate about and apply it to bigger canvas films. A buddy of mine after he saw The Groomsmen was like "dude I liked the movie but that fucking genre's dead. What you've got to do is take those five guys from The Groomsmen and have them be five guys who just got back from Iraq. Or five guys who work at a firehouse during 9/11. Take what you do and think bigger canvas with it."
I'd had an idea for a smaller gangster story that I wanted to do set against Prohibition in 1920s New York. I thought all right to do that live action is going to cost me 80 million dollars. So after I saw Sin City I thought well maybe that's the way to do it and then when I saw 300 I was like, absolutely. You can recreate 1920s New York completely green screen with actors. So I took a meeting with Virgin comics, pitched them on this idea. They suggested, what if we take your gangsters and give them slightly hyper skills, and I was like, oh like Ang Lee in Crouching Tiger. It's based in a reality but it's just slightly juiced up. So we sat down and worked out an outline based on the script I wanted to write. It's called Dock Walloper, we just announced it today. Guy named Jimmy Palmiotti is writing that, they're illustrating it while I write the script. It's a movie we want to make next year.