The Fretts on Film Interview: “Fitzgerald Family Christmas” Edition
I’ve sung the praises of The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, which opens in theaters today and is already available On Demand. In today’s New York Daily News, I chat with writer-director-star Edward Burns and costar Connie Britton about their reunion on the film, which echoes their 1995 hit The Brothers McMullen. Here’s more from both Burns and Britton—my gift to you…
I take it The Fitzgerald Family Christmas was a low-budget film, but not as low-budget as Brothers McMullen. Did it feel like you guys had come a long way or was it full circle, back to the Long Island roots?
Much more full circle. The fact that some of the stuff we shot about six houses down the street from where we shot Brothers McMullen so you couldn’t come more full circle than that. And it was a little more money than that film, but regardless of the money, the process doesn’t really change that much. You’re on set and it’s you and another actor, someone like Connie Britton, and you kinda can recognize when you have good chemistry with someone and you play off of them well. It just makes those shooting days a lot of fun. Given that we’ve done this enough, I always encourage my actors to sort of go off the page and play with the scene and feel free to improvise, and Connie likes to do that as well so it was a pleasure.
Obviously Brothers McMullen launched your career as well as hers. Do you feel like whenever you call her she owes it to you to say yes? Do you kinda play the Brothers McMullen card, like ‘Hey, come on, I started you!’
[Laughing]. I don’t. But that film was such a moment for all of us involved and that’s why not only Connie and I have stayed so close, but that’s kinda why I wanted to bring Mike McGlone back as well. It wasn’t even about trying to rebottle some kind of magic, it was more like, there’s nothing that’s more fun than making movies with your friends. So in addition to Connie and Mike, we filled out the rest of the cast with—we have an actor from each film that I’ve made. We wanted to bring together kind of a filmmaking family reunion within this movie of a family reunion.
Since that first film, Connie’s gone onto a lot of success, particularly in TV, in very different genres too–she’s done sitcoms, drama, action and horror. Are you surprised that that’s been the course of her career? That she’s been as successful as she has in so many different ways?
No. I’m not surprised given her talent. I can remember when I first met Connie when she came in to audition for Brothers McMullen and how we were all just blown away by just how talented she was. And then working with her on that film, you’re kind of just in awe of how good she was. But I think if I’m surprised by anything, it’s the fact that she’s been given the opportunity to show all of these different strengths she has. Some actors, very gifted, ended up doing a sitcom like Spin City and they’re stuck in sitcom jail, and are never given the opportunity to break out of that. She can do anything, which is why I think all these very talented people want to work with her.
I know you worked with her on a sitcom, The Fighting Fitzgeralds. Was that a different Fitzgerald family than the one in Fitzgerald Family Christmas?
That was. It’s my middle name and it’s my grandmother’s maiden name. So the Fitzgerald sitcom, my brother and I did together, we used our grandmother’s name there. That show died, and I figured enough time has passed that I can resurrect it.
You’ve worked with Edward Burns a few times since The Brothers McMullen, but The Fitzgerald Family Christmas seems to recall that film in so many ways. How did it feel to work with him this time realizing how long it’s been since you’ve started out with him?
Brothers McMullen was such an extraordinary experience, for all of us, everybody involved. And he’s a really extraordinary guy, and I just love having his voice in the world. I love the way he thinks about filmmaking. There’s such an authenticity for what he’s trying to do. And I really appreciate that. And this film, in particular, we shot it in New York and I really didn’t have time to travel. I think I was just finishing American Horror Story, but I really wanted to do it and it was sort of the usual—I think this is the 4th movie I’ve done with him—and it was just a very, very quick shoot. It’s funny because it’s a little scarier to do that now because we’re used to shooting these really expensive TV shows with crazy lighting and hair and mak. It’s really great to just go back to being raw. So we figured it out and found a way to make it work, a couple of cold winter days, and it was just a blast.
Do you relate to this family in the film based on your experience? You have a twin sister. Is it a different dynamic in your family than the Fitzgerald chaos?
Yeah. I’m happy to say that it’s a very different dynamic. But actually, my family is actually completely different than that. For one thing, not nearly as big. I really love this movie, and when I read the script, I called Eddie immediately because I felt that it really goes back to his voice as a filmmaker so it has that as a foundation, but then I feel like it also really stretches to a whole other place in the way these characters kind of intersect and intertwine and tell such a complex story of family. I just love it so much. And in that way, I do feel like there’s a similarity. I think a lot of times, people try to capture the complicated nature of family, and there’s just nothing quite like that, and I think it’s a really hard thing to capture because it is complicated and so often, I think we tell it in a very one-dimensional way. But because of the style of Eddie’s storytelling, I think he really, in this film, is able to capture the complexity of a family so in that way, even though my family is completely different from that, it felt really resonant to me, and heartbreaking, and funny and true. I’m really proud of him.
I read you almost cancelled your audition for Brothers McMullen. Is that true?
I was visiting my sister in Washington D.C. and I was like, “Hmm this is going to be another student film for no money and I have to take a train back early?’ As it is, I think I walked from Penn Station to wherever the audition was like dragging my suitcase behind me, and said, ‘Okay, what do you want me to do?’ And then he cast me on the spot, which made me really question what the heck he was doing. Like, ‘Okay, if he’s casting me on the spot, this must be really bad.’
I really did love The Fitzgerald Family Christmas. It surprised me that it was able to capture that Brothers McMullen spirit again.
I know—me too. When I first read the script, I was genuinely overwhelmed. I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, you did it here. There’s something really special and remarkable about this one.’ So I’m glad that you felt that way too. I appreciate that.