A booth in a bar.
If there's a more appropriate place to meet up with Ed Burns, I can't think of one. Our midday rendezvous takes place at the Greenwich Street Tavern, in NYC's posh Tribeca, a former warehouse district that has undergone a Lazarus-like renewal. It's an iron-canopy-bistro sort of neighborhood, where patches of pavement peel back to showcase brick relics of its gritty past. Burns lives two blocks away with his wife, ex-model Christy Turlington, and their two children, in a loft apartment formerly occupied by JFK Jr.
Once seated, we sweep our menus aside and order Amstels, and the discussion quickly veers in the wrong direction. Burns, who talks just like his films' self-assured and quizzical leading men, comes across as "New York friendly": He rarely smiles, and when he does, his countenance can quickly transform into a sort of benign irritation, as if his BMW's just been dinged by a shopping cart in a parking lot. Still, he starts the interview by asking me questions, like the writer he is. A couple of beers later, I've revealed a litany of family stories and ex-girlfriend complications. This is bad journalism. Before I lose control of the interview, before it becomes more Charley O's than Charlie Rose, I take action to save it. (Full disclosure: I order more beer, and for 20 minutes we debate the merits of point guards Dwayne Washington and Billy Donovan.)
But, in a way, this beer-fueled banter is very... Burnsian. Beginning with the 1995 indie uberhit The Brothers McMullen, Burns' screenplays have mined the commitment-phobic and confused psyche of the American male. Typically, Burnsian males play verbal tennis with each other, in taverns and on ball fields, all the while wrestling with the cosmic riddle of women. In the end, the protagonist always gets what he wants (the girl), but-just like in life-he remains clueless as to what motivates her.
Although Burns' career has been wedded to a singular creative oeuvre-the one knock most critics hold against the director-the romantic-comedy genre has helped him sustain a successful career for 10 years. That's an enviable eternity in the filmmaking business, independent or otherwise, and Burns knows it. "It's a very difficult atmosphere today making independent movies. I've been very lucky." Lucky indeed. Investors continue to return Burns' phone calls because they know he's a low-budget specialist and they'll get a return on their money. Take, for example, his latest film, The Groomsmen-another romantic comedy, costarring Burns and Brittany Murphy, about a group of thirty-something high school friends riddled with doubts about impending marriage and adulthood.