DETAILS: You made the movie Newlyweds with a digital camera for $9,000, and instead of releasing it in theaters, you made it available on iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix. Louis C.K. made a million dollars in ten days from downloads of his comedy concert. Are you getting rich from it?
Ed Burns: We're nowhere near Louis C.K.'s numbers, but we're doing a nice six-figure number. What he did, everyone took notice—the future showed up.
DETAILS: But for a first-time filmmaker, how do you get well-known enough for your name to be recognized on iTunes?
Ed Burns: The only thing I can say is, what's the alternative? Not to make your movie and continue flipping burgers? When I made The Brothers McMullen or Richard Linklater made Slacker or Kevin Smith made Clerks, it was unheard of that small movies would get picked up for theatrical distribution, yet we all did it. Kids today, even if they don't get their movies into a film festival, can post them on YouTube or Vimeo.
DETAILS: Was The Brothers McMullen a double-edged sword? It made your career but gave you a lot to live up to, considering many of your subsequent films never found an audience.
Ed Burns: Not really. You're always hoping to achieve that same level of critical and commercial success. As a filmmaker, I never have. Brothers McMullen still helps when I'm out there trying to sell a movie, although the film ended up having a major backlash against me in the indie community. Some people said it "wasn't independent in its spirit."
DETAILS: What does that mean?
Ed Burns: All I know is, the film played at Sundance and I got my career at Sundance, and in the 15 years since, I've never gotten another film in and have never been invited as a juror.
DETAILS: When I saw Newlyweds, it struck me: This is Ed Burns' A Streetcar Named Desire. Except the force-of-nature husband is a little less imposing—Stanley Kowalski as personal trainer. In that last scene, instead of having Kowalski-esque animal sex with your wife on the couch, you say, "Let's go away for the weekend and really talk a lot and get to know each other better."
Ed Burns: Yeah, yeah, he's a much more progressive guy than Kowalski. But hopefully they ended up on the couch.
DETAILS: You're in a high-profile marriage with Christy Turlington. Do you live separate professional lives, or are the lines not so clearly drawn?
Ed Burns: Christy is like my bullshit detector. I ask her, "Go through the script and tell me how I'm doing with the women. If that isn't what a woman would say or how she would react, you gotta let me know." Because early on in my career, I got some hits for not writing women well.
DETAILS: And then there's the challenge of keeping a marriage romantic when kids come into the picture. This new movie you're in, Jennifer Westfeldt's Friends With Kids, is a pretty no-holds-barred look at what that can do to a marriage.
Ed Burns: I remember when I saw [Westfeldt's] Kissing Jessica Stein, I thought, "This feels like someone who fell in love with the same kind of films I fell in love with." There aren't enough people doing small, movies. I was a fan of that film, so that's why I jumped into this one.
DETAILS: Is it true there might be a The Brothers McMullen reunion film? What would happen to the character you played, Barry the aspiring screenwriter?
Ed Burns: Yeah, I get the rights back to the movie in about two years. I think Barry went out to Hollywood and probably became an asshole.
DETAILS: In the original film, he picks up a banana and basically says, "What a woman wants to do is unpeel the banana, get at the vulnerabilities, and then finally slice it up." What's the state of your character's banana 20 years on?
Ed Burns: I think he probably feels the same way. Like so many guys, he's still an adolescent, hanging out in clubs and chasing girls that are way too young for him.
DETAILS: In other words, like some of the people you've crossed paths with in Hollywood?
Ed Burns: You know, we all know those guys.
DETAILS: Do you feel straitjacketed by the acting gigs you get? Often, it's the good-looking, athletic guy, but not the most layered character in the world.
Ed Burns: They give me the paper-thin guys. I've had two acting jobs that I thought, "All right, someone allowed me to do something here—Saving Private Ryan and Confidence."