"For years, after I made one of my movies, inevitably they never made a ton at the box office," Burns said this week by phone. "People would say: Maybe next time you should consider directing a studio film - we can definitely get you an open assignment directing a romantic comedy." (His credits include "The Brothers McMullen" and "She's the One.")
But the scripts left him cold, and Burns, 42, couldn't pull the trigger. "I walked away. Maybe not the fiscally responsible thing do to, but that's not the kind of movies I wanted to make."
HIS LATEST PROJECT
Instead, Burns was inspired to write, direct and star in "Nice Guy Johnny," premiering Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival. Matt Bush plays the title character, a radio host in a small market who is considering a high-paying but soul-crushing job to please a demanding fiancée. Burns plays his uncle, a womanizing flimflam artist who whisks the kid from prosaic Rockville Centre to the fabulous Hamptons.
A SPECIAL KINSHIP
Bush, 24, who was born in Cherry Hill, N.J., said he felt a kinship with Burns, who was raised in Valley Stream. "I'm an East Coast guy and so's Eddie, and we're both kind of good old boys," Bush said. After auditioning, his callback was fairly informal: Beers at a Tribeca bar.
"In hindsight, it was a bigger test than I even thought," Bush said. "You want to know about a guy you're going to work with. What does he drink? Is it a bottle or a draft?"
Burns, who grew up mowing lawns, cleaning pools and working at restaurants in the Hamptons, now owns a house in the area (he's married to the model Christy Turlington). He filled "Nice Guy Johnny" with local landmarks, including Georgica Beach, Springs General Store and the beach entrance on Gerard Drive in East Hampton. But the wealth and glamour of the Hamptons was only part of what led Burns to set the film there.
"This working-class uncle and nephew get to tap in to that big-time Hamptons lifestyle for a weekend," Burns said. "But then there's the flip side of the Hamptons, which is why for hundreds of years artists have been drawn to it. The light is beautiful and the place is magical. We wanted to look at that, too."
WHAT: The world premiere of "Nice Guy Johnny"
TICKETS: $16. Also available online as part of Tribeca Film Festival Virtual; passes are $45.