Interview: Edward Burns Talks 'The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,' Written by: Karen Benardello
Many large, tight-knit families have come to appreciate the bonds they have developed with their siblings and parents, and the diverse dynamics of their relationships have served as the realistic motivating factor of many genuine films. But when they come together to celebrate an important holiday, such as Christmas, they become surprised to learn that everyone had extremely contrasting memories, points-of-view and opinions that have driven the way they have lived their lives. This realization is an important motivating factor for the characters in scribe-helmer-actor Edward Burns’ latest writing and directorial effort, the new drama ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas.’ The movie is a homage to the filmmaker’s first two films, ‘The Brothers McMullen’ and ‘She’s the One,’ and marks his return to his working-class, Irish-American Catholic roots after a 16-year absence.
‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas’ follows the seven New York working-class, Irish-American adult Fitzgerald siblings, led by Gerry (played by Burns), as they’re dealing with the desire of their estranged father, Jim (portrayed by Ed Lauter), to return home for Christmas for the first time since walking out on them 20 years ago. Family rifts emerge, and like with any family, the holiday brings about mixed emotions and dynamics, with Gerry leading the cause for their father to reunite with the family. When his younger siblings and mother, Rosie (played by Anita Gillette), object to Jim returning home, after remembering the pain he caused them, alliances form. But when Jim reveals a secret about himself, the possibility for a new hope and forgiveness emerges. With Gerry feeling conflicted over the growing rift in his family, he forms a connection with Nora (portrayed by Connie Britton), a nurse for one of his mother’s friends, who helps give him clarity on how to cope with his family’s arguments.
Burns generously took the time to sit down in New York City recently to discuss writing, directing and acting in ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,’ and his return to his working-class, Irish-American roots that he featured in his successful first two films. Among other things, the writer-director-actor discussed how his own family influenced the characters and the script; why he decided to re-cast several actors he directed in his earlier films, and what his working relationships with them, particularly Britton, are like; and why he thinks audiences are relating to the movie’s theme of forgiveness and rebuilding family relationships.
ShockYa (SY): ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas’ focuses on a large Irish-American family with seven adult children, who all contend with their estranged father, who wants to return home for Christmas after 20 years. Why did you decide to return to the Irish Catholic working class themes that you explored in your first two films, ‘The Brothers McMullen’ and ‘She’s The One?’
Edward Burns (EB): It came from when I was working with Tyler Perry on the film, ‘Alex Cross,’ and he had just re-watched ‘Brothers McMullen.’ He asked me, ‘McMullen’ and ‘She’s The One’ were so successful, and in 15 years, how come you’ve never gone back to revisit that world, that Irish-American working class family theme?
He said, “you have to take a look at what I’m doing. You have to think about super-serving your niche. I guarantee you, if you were to make a film back in that space, the audience that loved those first two movies would thank you for it.”
The minute he said it, I knew that he was right. I think I had been hesitant to go back there, because I think I felt like my life is so different now. I thought, can I write about that world with any authenticity?
I opened up my laptop, and I just started to write. Usually it takes me about six months to write a screenplay, and this took me six weeks. I was happy to discover that yes, I could still write about the world, because I knew it very well.
Sitting on these characters for 15 years, they were dying to get out of me. I didn’t have to give any thought to who they were, how they sounded, how they dressed, where they went to school, where they drank and what are they afraid of. It was all right there, and I think that’s why they just poured out of me.
SY: When you were filming ‘Alex Cross,’ did Tyler offer you any advice on how to re-approach this genre?
EB: No, not really. It was just sort of that initial conversation. We were talking when I got toward the end of the screenplay, about the big theme of the movie, which is forgiveness, and the importance of family. I told him were I was, and kept telling him where the story was progressing, and the question of whether Rosie forgives Jim or not. **SPOILER ALERT** He felt very strongly that she should. I kind of know that she should **END SPOILER ALERT**, and that was sort of the one big conversation that we had.
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