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Leaning on the windowsill of his bright, airy suite at SoHo House in New York, actor, director and writer Ed Burns slouches nonchalantly while checking messages on his phone.
One of his most recent public appearances saw him clad in a business suit and ambling down the red carpet of a Girard-Perregaux event, posing stiffly for photos with Sean Avery, Tom Brady and Swizz Beatz, all of whom flashed their pricy timepieces and studied smiles.
His look today is decidedly more casual, with rolled-up sleeves on his blue plaid shirt, which hangs loosely over a pair of gray Levi’s cords. He makes his way over to the couch before remarking that his entire outfit — minus the white Adidas sneakers — is from the wardrobe of characters he has played on screen.
“Clearly, I don’t get out and shop. I disappoint my wife every day,” he says, referring to his wife, former supermodel Christy Turlington. “When we have to go to something that is more legit, she does have to dress me.”
The rumpled outfit is part of Burns’ nonconformist charm. At 44 years old, the ruggedly handsome filmmaker, who is known for his talky, New York-centric, Woody Allen-esque independent movies on relationships, has come to embody a rare blend of celebrity and relatable everyman.
“You never forget how hard it was to break in — that’s sometimes what kids forget, there is no such thing as the overnight success,” he says, explaining that his first and perhaps best-known film, “The Brothers McMullen,” was shopped around for a year and a half before it was picked up at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Prior to that, I wrote seven screenplays that had all been rejected,” the raspy-voiced Burns adds. “It was a solid five years of rejection.”
With those memories still fresh, Burns, who often works with film students, recently completed a short film called “Doggy Bags,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. The short was developed from the American Express My Movie Pitch contest, in which Burns selected his favorite idea submitted by amateur screenwriters.
Next up is directing the film adaptation of “The Book of Joe,” which he cowrote with its author, Jonathan Tropper. The movie, which tells the tale of a novelist who has returned home after his father has slipped into a coma, examines the main character’s relationships with old friends, family members and exes.
“It deals with a lot of the same themes from my other films. I’m consumed with the human condition, how we relate to one another and how that affects us,” admits Burns, whose perpetual worried expression turns serious as he talks about his passion for storytelling, not Hollywood dollars.
A self-professed writer, Burns confesses with a smile that his acting days may be behind him, unless he can nab a great role directed by someone dynamic.
“Who do I dream of working with? Woody Allen. Hands down. That would be the acting job, even if it would be to play the waiter,” he says with certainty, while brushing off any comparisons between him and his idol. “I’m not saddled with all of the Oscars that he has.”
But they don’t matter to him, he’s reminded. Allen never shows up to collect them.
“No, he doesn’t,” he says, flashing a mischievous grin. “Yeah, that’s awesome.”