When searching for an actor to capture the role of the charismatic con man, director James Foley recalls, "If we had the wrong guy, then we'd be sunk; Jake needed to be a calm manto be able to con anybody out of anything, but he also had to have this soulful side. What I like about Eddie Burns is that he's got a strong, extroverted personality. Hes very self-confident, but there is a part of him thats very private."
In this interview, Burns discusses 'Jake,' working with acting icons, and even offers up an explanation of the difference between con and heist movies:
Do you ever get intimidated by working with stars such as Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman?
You get intimidated the nights leading up to it, especially if you havent met the guys. Hanks was different because I had met him once and we had done the whole boot camp experience. But certainly De Niro and Hoffman and Andy [Garcia] were very different in that I'd never met them. Its sort of like the night before youre going to play one-on-one against Michael Jordan, only the good thing is you show up and instead of playing against Jordan, hes on your team. So you get to be Scotty Pippen to his Jordan.
When you work with a DeNiro or Hoffman, they love what they do so much that theres never any competitive vibe. Its more about how do we do this thing together. If youre smart for a younger actor, you sit and listen and you learn from these guys. After 5 minutes they no longer become Dustin Hoffman, they become 'Dustin,' this guy youre working with and you have a good time with. We really hit it off and I think you can tell in the film that we have a really good rapport with each other.
Youre really up close and personal with Dustin Hoffman in the first few scenes. Was that difficult?
Dustins part was originally written for a 250 pound NY Mafioso who won a boxing championship. Dustin signs on and the scenes still need to have the physical threat but Dustin, obviously, cannot do it with just sheer brawn. We did this rehearsal period with Jamie Foley and the screenwriter where we did a lot of improvising. I should say, Dustin was sort of leading that charge and my job was to stay with him as he tried to figure out how he was going to become an ominous physical threat to me, without just being able to overpower me physically. I think the first thing he said was, "Let me read your palm." The minute he saw my discomfort with that touchy, feely side, thats when he started to run in that direction with the character.
Where do you think this film fits in the tradition of the con?
The difference between the con and the heist movie and they are 2 different things - [is] the heist has a gang of guys who are going to pull off a heist and explain to you how theyre going to do it. The film is basically then you watching them execute it. The con movie is a little bit different where maybe we tell you what were going to do but it never goes down the way you expect because theres so much double-crossing and cheats and lies going on along the whole way. I guess you have the two [David] Mamet ones, "House of Games" and "The Spanish Prisoner," and "The Sting" and "The Grifters." Someone said this movie is like "The Sting" meets "Pulp Fiction," or something like that.
Similar to "Reservoir Dogs?"
Yeah, but thats more a heist than a con. "Oceans 11" is a heist movie, not a con. Theres no outwitting anybody maybe a computer or sophisticated alarm system. Ours is more a complicated chess game where you have to outsmart everyone involved, even the members of the con team. At some point you are lying to them to get them to do what you want, but you cant lie so far as to lose their trust entirely.