Edward Burns isn’t in ”Meet the Parents,” the Robert De Niro – Ben Stiller comedy that’s earned $50 million in two weeks of release. But like Stiller, he’s a writer/ director/ actor who supplements his indie size film budgets with acting work in big budget movies. And he’s starring in De Niro’s next effort, the urban thriller ”15 Minutes” (due in February) — an assignment that was, surprisingly, not too intimidating. ”The great thing was not having to worry about directing the film,” says Burns, 32, whose ”The Brothers McMullen,” ”She’s the One,” and ”No Looking Back” are being released this month as a special edition DVD box set. ”I got to totally focus on the acting and focus on him…. With acting, I’ve never taken a class, I kinda quite honestly wing it, in that I’m just trying to be honest.”
Burns is optimistic about his newfound cash cow of a day job. His first acting gig outside of his own movies had him dodging bullets in ”Saving Private Ryan.” His second has him playing a hardboiled New York City arson investigator opposite De Niro’s publicity hungry homicide detective. ”I feel like the luckiest young actor out there because the only two films I’ve acted in other than mine have been with Tom Hanks and De Niro.” Acting also allows Burns to be a part of big budget epics completely unlike his films — and it allows him to look over the megaphones of guys like Spielberg, and to play with cinematic ”toys I never knew existed.”
But Burns has apparently learned fast. In 1996, he cast his amateur thespian (and now ex) girlfriend Maxine Bahns as his leading lady in the shoestring budgeted Sundance hit ”The Brothers McMullen” and its follow-up, ”She’s the One.” The Fox DVD rerelease has allowed him to take a look back at his own career — and the experience, in the case of his third film, ”No Looking Back,” was bitter. He concedes that ”nobody saw” the 1998 romantic drama, which also starred Lauren Holly and Jon Bon Jovi and earned only about $1 million in theaters. And he’s still annoyed that he had to change the title (at the studio’s request) and the setting (for financial reasons).
Naturally, Burns hopes that his next project won’t go the same way: ”Just a Kiss,” which he wrote and will direct and star in, is ”a straight ahead, mainstream, glossy romantic comedy” set (where else?) in New York. He’s still trying to sign a leading lady, and he knows he has to hurry: The movie’s start date has been postponed to give him time to cast a star. He’s also completed a script for his ”personal dream project” called ”On the Job,” an Irish American epic about the NYPD circa 1966 to ’72 — which is strongly based on his family’s experience: His father, an uncle, and five of his cousins are cops. ”I don’t want to spare any expense,” says Burns. ”I want it to look the way it should look and feel the way it should feel and cast the people that I feel are the right people.” Burns explains that he’s making ”Job” next year instead of now so he can leverage any star power he accrues in ”15 Minutes” towards a bigger budget.
Can’t wait that long for Burns’ labor of love? In ”Sidewalks of New York,” a study in sexual liaisons due out in April, he stars alongside his ex love Heather Graham. But he doesn’t expect the publicity efforts to be awkward. ”Oh yeah, we’re still totally friends!” says Burns. ”It was one of those, ‘She lives in L.A., I live in New York things.”’ And we know from his films that Burns hates to be away from the Big Apple. ”If I leave for more than a week,” he says, ”I start to miss my Mets.” Still, who knows what will happen if George Lucas comes looking for an actor?