You think you know holiday drama? You don't know holiday drama. Writer/actor/director Ed Burns knows holiday drama — hence, his new film "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," detailing the yuletide travails of its eponymous Long Island Irish clan.
We caught up with our partner and co-curator to chat about his new film (which opens today) and the ways in which it does — and mercifully doesn't — mirror his own holiday experiences.
IH: So this is a Christmas movie. And you managed to pack in domestic violence, drug abuse, infidelity, cancer, and 9/11. Were your holidays this full of drama?
EB: Uh, no, not at all. I was one of three — we all get along. My folks are still together, healthy and happy, rational human beings. That said, there’s a number of things that I took from friends’ experiences, you know, stories that you heard over the years in the neighborhood. Embellishing or playing or turning them into mine.
[callout] ... Christmas was roast beef and mashed potatoes. You kinda can’t screw that up. [/callout]
I feel like you amalgamated in a way that was really very smooth and organic. Hard to do.
I wanted to tell the big Irish family tale. But I needed the device. Christmas is a time when you make big announcements — you tell your parents you’re getting married, divorced, having a baby, dad’s coming home, dad’s dying. You have a couple of drinks … and usually, even in my family, somebody throws out that comment and the gloves are off, and here we go.
So your character is sort of the familial mediator for the majority of this film. Got any advice on how to navigate holiday craziness?
You know, I think we all kinda have that sibling. Or every group of friends has the guy who is the glue. I’m not that, quite honestly. I based him on two guys that I know. Yeah, I don’t know — if you are not the natural-born ringleader, then you probably should not attempt to do it.
Leave it to the professionals.
Yeah, absolutely. You gotta have that skill set. If you try, you will fail.
[callout] ... at Christy’s, you’re required to put the PJs on. [/callout]
A lot of this cast you’ve worked with before, which I would imagine is sort of like getting family back together?
Yeah, that was the intention. It’s kind of interesting, my career bookended with these folks, and basically what we did was we pulled at least one actor from each film I’ve done who we're friends with. [Mike] McGlone knew Anita Gillette, who played the mom, for 18 years. And then me, Caitlin [Fitzgerald], Kerry [Bishé], Marsha [Dietlein], we’ve done our last three films together. It just kinda worked well.
Did you guys really get together and eat like a family at the big table?
Being a low budget film, we ate every meal together. We ate at that table but it was probably just pizza.
Holiday food — Irish cooking isn’t exactly world-renowned for being the cuisine.
Christmas was roast beef and mashed potatoes. You kinda can’t screw that up.
Any personal holiday anecdote that influenced the stories you tell?
One thing I stole from my life is something that Christy [Turlington, his wife] and I have taken from her family, which I put in the film, which was this idea that on Christmas Eve, everybody is given the same set of matching pajamas and on Christmas day, the entire clan wears it while opening up the presents. I never did that as a kid but at Christy’s, you’re required to put the PJs on, which always calls for very funny photographs and a lot of laughs, especially when you get an ill-fitting pair. So that I took from my life.
That's great stuff.
It’s a good one, it’s a good one.