“I’m sure I drive my wife crazy,” Edward Burns says. “I do those dumb little guy things that women always hate.”
You might think things would be different for Burns and his wife, given that he’s an award-winning actor, screenwriter, and director, and she’s Christy Turlington, one of the world’s top supermodels. He insists that their relationship is pretty much like everyone else’s.
“I don’t put the dishes in the sink,” Burns says. “I do leave dirty socks on the floor.”
Fortunately he’s been able to draw on that reality for two of his current films.
In Friends with Kids, opening nationwide Friday, Burns joins an ensemble cast to explore love, relationships, and how both are affected by raising children. Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, best known as the writer/star of Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), the film revolves around Julie (Westfeldt), a New Yorker who wants to have a baby with her best friend, Jason (Adam Scott). The two don’t want to marry, however, because they fear ending up divorced — in large part because of the bad experiences of their friends who have had children. Instead they plan to have a child, share custody, and go on with their single lives as before.
Jon Hamm, Chris O’Dowd, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig are among the titular friends. Burns plays one of Westfeldt’s love interests, a sensitive type with his own issues.
To Burns, an indie-film veteran since he first rose to prominence as the writer/director/star of The Brothers McMullen (1995), Westfeldt’s shoestring production felt like old times. He has gone on to acting success in such mainstream productions as Saving Private Ryan (1997), The Holiday (2006), and 27 Dresses (2008), but he remains an indie man at heart.
“I love being able to do a project with friends, exploring a topic close to my heart, which is marriage and kids,” says Burns, who has two children with Turlington. “I really enjoyed that it was one of those shoots that was a throwback to when I made some of my first movies. It’s just a bunch of actors working hard, and the conditions might not be so great. You’re really like this indie band coming together.”
The 44-year-old Burns is having a busy 2012, having already been seen in the thriller Man on a Ledge and also due in the upcoming Alex Cross, in which he co-stars with Tyler Perry, who plays James Patterson’s famous detective, previously played onscreen by Morgan Freeman.
Closest to Burns’ heart, however, is Newlyweds, an ultra-low-budget film — he made it with a two-man crew for only $9,000 — which he wrote, directed, and stars in. Currently available via iTunes, it’s about a young couple, Buzzy and Katie (Burns and Caitlyn Fitzgerald), whose blissful new marriage is disrupted by the arrival of her loose-cannon half sister (Kerry Bishe).
“I did a lot of research into marriage for this film,” Burns says. “The funny thing I found out, from speaking to formerly married couples who are now divorced, was that it wasn’t the big, catastrophic events like an infidelity that broke them up. More times than not, it was the little, petty things that seemed to carry no weight and then piled on top of each other over 18 years.
“Those things can crush a marriage,” he says. “The key was that you have to clear the air and not let it fester and grow.”
It’s been awhile since Burns had a hit as a director, but he says he’s OK with that. “It’s funny,” he says. “I made a couple of movies that didn’t find their audience. As a younger guy that was devastating ... There were times when I was confused, [ticked] off, and worried. Now I’m fine with it. I realize this business is a roller coaster. A few guys stay on top forever, but even Tom Cruise hit a valley.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about your original objective,” Burns says. “I wanted to make movies because I love movies. Movies were the thing bursting to get out of me. Now it’s 15 years later and I’ve made my 11th movie. I’m lucky that people call me to act in their films. It’s no longer about the highs and lows. It’s about doing the things you love to do.”
As it has become harder for independent films to find theatrical distribution, independent filmmakers have embraced new media. Burns, who has released Newlyweds through iTunes, is no exception.
“I’m using social media, specifically Twitter,” he says. “Two years ago a friend of mine who is an indie film guru said, ‘It’s harder and harder to reach an audience. They’re just not going to the theaters in the same way they used to, and you need 5,000 true fans for a smaller project. They will work on your behalf if you engage with them on Twitter.’
“Now I hear from fans, ‘You know that movie of yours I didn’t see in the theater? I saw it on iTunes and video,’” Burns says. “There’s enough of an audience that I can still make movies and stay in business this way.”
His films have always had an autobiographical tinge, he admits, and he can’t help using his everyday life as fodder for his film projects.
“If I’m out at a kid’s birthday party or a dinner with other families,” Burns says, laughing, “I can’t help but direct the conversation to the thing I’m writing about at the time, which is usually real life. I don’t tell people what I’m doing. That’s the great thing about the phone — they can’t see me writing it down!”