Last week, right before his new movie The Groomsmen premiered in New York and Los Angeles, I chatted with writer/director/producer/star/daddytype Ed Burns about the film. Here's how it went down:
DT: It said in the production notes that you'd written a script a long time ago. I wonder what it was that made you decide to make The Groomsmen now?
EB: I was the first one in my entire group of friends to get married and have kids. I'd written an early draft of it like 5 years ago, long before I was even thinking of getting married. I was attempting to do a broad comedy, my "Meet The Parents" thing, but the script wasn't very funny. It's not my thing, and after I got married, I went through it, everything, and my wife suggested I do a more honest version of it.
[My character] Pauly's the guy who has a beautiful wife, a great house, a baby on the way--all the things that sort of fit into the plan for the American Dream, and yet in a way, he's miserable. And in a way, I could relate to that.
After [getting married], you know the whole thing is gonna change. You have to take time to mourn the death of your former self.
There are lot of specific things I can relate to:
I have two kids now, and weekends are full, so I quit my softball team.
I want to show them the Mets, but I have yet to get out to Shea.
I haven't seen my boat this year.
Our generation, who got married later, we got very set in our ways. And so our habits do require a long goodbye, and that kind of informed everything about the film.
It informed Jay Mohr's character [Cousin Mike]: he's still stuck in the life he was leading since high school. And Des [played by Matthew Lillard], now that his kids are a little older, he's desperately trying to get that back. But also to share it with them a bit.
DT: At first I was thinking to myself, "Would all this stuff happen in just a week?" But then I figured that's why you set the film at a wedding; it's sort of a heightened emotional event.
EB: The whole way I tried to do this film, was to tell these stories as honestly and as realistically as you can. rather than exaggerate. But that's the thing, you realize how many of these things actually go on at weddings and funerals. That's when these confrontations come to the surface.
DT: I mean, they're there, in the form of Cousin Mike's dad and the goombah in the strip club, but I was kind of struck by how the older generation wasn't really present, at least as a source of role models and advice. I wonder if that's the way you saw it, too.
EB: I tried to use my own experience; I grew up in a working class community and in a bar culture. Which is why I tried to make Des the bar owner something of a sage. That's why Pauly goes to him to figure it out. even the old-timer at the stripclub, being another source--
DT: Yeah, his advice didn't seem all that helpful or up-to-date.
EB: That's why I was kind of hoping Des would be the bridge between the generations. He's ahead of his friends in all this. And you see he's got slightly oldskool form of discipline with his kids, and yet he's clearly engaged in their lives and trying to relate to them.
DT: But he's also the guy with the minivan, so he's clearly lost forever. What was your thinking on that?
EB: [laughs] yeah, we cut a scene out where the guys are actually talking about Des's minivan.
DT: What've you done? I mean, you live in the city, right? Did you go the minivan route?
EB: Yeah. When you have a couple of kids and all the gear, what can you do? We went the other way, though with the bigger SUV.
DT: I'd think it'd be kind of hard to drive a minivan in the city, always looking for parking and stuff, so you're off the hook.
What's been the reception of the movie so far? You've been previewing it around, right?
EB: It's interesting, it's clearly hitting home with guys, and depending on where guys are in their life, they're either loving it, or there's a tinge of discomfort. Some of the dudes are crossing 40 and still haven't settled down. And women love it, which I didn't expect. They feel they're getting an insight into how men interact and feel about life.
We just did a screening at Outfest in LA, and we just destroyed them; it was as great a screening as we've had for any film. People were excited to see John Leguizamo playing that kind of part [ed. note: Um, should I have said *SPOILER ALERT* right there? I don't think so.], and having his group of friends being willing to accept him.
DT: One thing I noticed--and I wonder how you decided to focus primarily on the men and their relationships, because it seemed like a conscious choice--was that the female characters in the ensemble were sort of on the periphery, or sometimes felt like foils. And even though it's the buildup to a wedding, there weren't, for example any scenes, really, where the wives and girlfriends got together, too, or where the whole families got together.
EB: A lot of that stuff is in the script, but you have to make a choice, and ask, "What is the story you're telling?" and I was far more interested in making a film about male bonding, and about the friendships between men. In a way, it was about these guys and their inability to mature. Their relationships are still about how they hung out with each other in the sixth grade. And that meant excluding girls.
DT: How are you guys releasing the film?
EB: We open New York and LA on Friday [July 14] and basically, these first two weeks determine the theatrical fate of the film. There's still an audience for more specialized movies out there, but it's very different even compared to with The Brothers McMullen; it's hard to book theaters given that the big studios take 8 of the 10 screens in a multiplex with "Superman." This distributor--and they're new--is doing a good, smart job to establish roots for the film in New York and then pick things up and open it across the country.
DT: Sweet. Well, thanks a lot, and congratulations and good luck.
EB: Hey, thank you.
The Groomsmen is playing now in New York and LA, it opens wider in the NYC area this weekend, and will start opening nationwide on August 5th. Check thegroomsmen.com for locations and dates. [thegroomsmen.com]
Related: In his interview with Urban Daddy, Burns explains how to marry a supermodel [urbandaddy.com]
Special thanks to the folks at Marlboro Road Gang for helping hook Ed and I up.