“When I signed on,” Edward Burns said of “Confidence,” the convoluted caper film in which he’s currently starring, “it was a very modestly budgeted film. But it was a very different film soon after because all of a sudden Rachel [Weisz] is in the film, then Dustin [Hoffman]. Then a lot of small parts start filling in with guys like Morris Chestnut, Paul Giamatti, Donal Logue–guys who’d been leads in their own films. The final one was Andy Garcia. So from the time I signed on to three weeks later, when we started shooting, it went from a very cool smaller movie to a much bigger and a much cooler film.”
Burns, the young writer-director-actor who burst onto the scene in 1995 with the surprise independent smash “The Brothers McMullen,” was in Dallas promoting the picture, a “Sting”- like maze of a movie in which he stars as Jake Vig, a smooth operator who’s forced to pull an elaborate scam in order to pay back a mob boss called The King, one of whose boys he’d mistakenly robbed. He explained that he took credit for suggesting Hoffman for the part of The King. “The King as originally written was a 300-pound New York mafioso who owns a boxing gym,” he said. “Who do we get to play the part–the guy has to be massive, because so much of the role depended on physical intimidation? And I said to Jamie [Foley, the director]–and I’ve got to take credit for this, because Dustin was my idea–why not go the total opposite way, go with a guy like Dustin Hoffman, a chameleon who can do anything? It was a long shot that we would ever get him, but he read the script and said okay.” Needless to say, the script had to be altered to make The King’s intimidation more cerebral than physical.
Burns has now worked opposite not only Hoffman but also Robert De Niro, with whom he starred in “15 Minutes,” and that fact naturally raised the question of another kind of intimidation. “The night before going in for your first rehearsal with Dustin Hoffman is like knowing you’ve got to go one-on-one with Michael Jordan the next day,” he said, using one of many sports analogies. “The only good thing is, when you’re an actor, Hoffman’s on your team.” He feels, moreover, that working with the best improves his own performance. “I tend to equate it with basketball,” he explained. “You tend to play up to the level of the competition. I can tell I’ve gotten better by working with these guys. They’re generous actors who are always trying to challenge you, but are also trying to embrace you. You get over the intimidation very easily.” Burns opined that his work in “Confidence” is his best yet. “In every other part,” he said, “I brought part of my personality to the character. There’s no part of me in this guy, so it was kind of fun to go in and play this very detached, ubercool, confident guy.”
Burns enjoys the many hats he wears, but in different ways. “The writing is the most creatively satisfying,” he observed. “The acting is by far the most fun. The directing is probably the least fun and the most difficult of everything. But in a way it’s probably the most gratifying for your ego, because you’re the guy and they’ve all got to listen to you.” Asked whether, as a writer himself, he feels more protective of another screenwriter’s words when acting, he smiled. “You’d think I’d be more so,” he said, laughing. “No, no, I really am. At times I think maybe to a fault. A lot of times [actors who have immersed themselves in a role] know the character better than you might [as writer or director], especially when you’re not only the writer but also the director and you’re well into production. There are so many things going on, you can lose sight of the obvious. It’s nice to have an actor who is watching that particular character in your story. So I think sometimes as an actor in the past, because I’m a writer, I’ve thought the word was sacred. I would ask [the writer or director] something, but I would never challenge. Now I see that sometimes it’s a different process and sometimes important to challenge the director if you feel strongly. And I know from my own filmmaking experience, when you get an actor who’s smart about his character–a guy like Stanley Tucci [in “Sidewalks of New York”]–he was dead on 99% of the time, and that film is stronger because of his insights.”
“Confidence” is a Lions Gate Films release.