Here's one phone conversation the actor wishes he hadn't picked up!
One Missed Call is an American adaptation of a Takashi Miike one-off that the director cobbled together during an impressive six film run in 2003. During this time, Miike, known on the cult circuit for his ultraviolet Japanese thrillers, also directed the highly acclaimed kid's fantasy Zebraman and the Yakuza crime masterpiece Gozu. One Missed Call was seen as one of Miike's more reserved films. He called it a neo-political commentary on the dangers of cell phone use amongst Japan's younger populace. It was a piece of socialist propaganda disguised as a ghost story.
American director Eric Valette has pretty much abandoned that conceit with his stateside remake. He has extracted the political overtones, instead making a clever little thriller about the disconnect between friends a cell phone sometimes causes. While he has kept some of the creepier elements that made the original so unique, the U.S. version of One Missed Call is less about the dangers of cell phone use and more about the good old-fashioned American ghost story. Basically, it's a fun derivative of the original.
The film stars Ed Burns and Shannyn Sossamon as a pair on the hunt for an evil spirit that is using cell phone waves as a means to kill its victims. We recently met up with Mr. Burns to talk about his role in the film. He plays police detective Jack Andrews. Here is that conversation:
Most of One Missed Call was shot in actual locations. Do you enjoy that experience more than shooting on a sound stage?
Ed Burns: No. Usually they do such a good job with the sets. What's weird is when you've spent two hours working on a set and then you step off of it and you realize, "Oh, wait, I've been in here." That's kind of odd. But no, shooting on location is, depending on the location, a lot of fun. Like Atlanta. It's fun to just go to a new city and kind of discover a new part of the country, or a new part of the world.
As far as the film goes, you guys never mention that you are in Atlanta.
Ed Burns: No, it's supposed to be Anytown, U.S.A.
Did you see the original Takashi Miike version of One Missed Call?
Ed Burns: No. Eric, the director, asked me not to look at the original until after I'd seen this version of the film. I don't know why. I guess he didn't want us comparing notes or questioning some of the changes that he had made. I know my character really doesn't play a big part in the original. I respected that. I had the DVD, but I left it in my hotel room in Atlanta. So, I still haven't seen it.
I actually thought they were setting you up as the bad guy in the film. But that doesn't happen.
Ed Burns: That actually could have been more fun. If they do a sequel, since I get killed, maybe I can come back as the killer.
That's a major spoiler. You can't say that.
Ed Burns: Yeah. You guys probably shouldn't mention that.
You come from a cop family, so you probably didn't have to do a lot of research as far as that was concerned.
Ed Burns: No, I didn't. I think this is the fourth cop I've played. In this kind of film, the investigative work that Detective Andrews is doing isn't very sophisticated. How do you even get up and get out of bed for the investigation of the cellular pulse killer?
Do you get a good deal on cell phones after appearing in this film?
Ed Burns: No. I was kind of expecting to get the new fancy gadget while on set. But none were made available.
Are you a gadget guy?
Ed Burns: I'm a Mac computer guy, so whatever they have, I have.
Do you have an iPhone?
Ed Burns: Mmm-hmm.
Your character is pretty quick to believe in the supernatural things that are happening in this film. Are you a little more cynical in real life?
Ed Burns: I am definitely much more cynical. But I like the fact that he was quick to believe in it. In these films, whether it's a horror film or not, even if it's sort of an old-school investigative piece, there's always the one believer who will then sort of help out the damsel in distress. And that's who I think Jack Andrews is.
He's not the damsel in distress?
Ed Burns: That's another film.
Do enjoy watching films like One Missed Call?
Ed Burns: Yeah. Quite honestly, I don't see a lot of horror films as an adult. But as a kid, I loved all of that stuff.
Do you have a favorite?
Ed Burns: Yeah, When I was junior-high age it was sort of the height of Freddie Kruger and Halloween and Friday the 13th and all that stuff. You go over to somebody's house on a Friday night and what do you rent? We'd rent something that could potentially scare the hell out of us.
Margaret Cho seemed to take this role very seriously. Did she confide in you that this was her big dramatic break? That she didn't want to make any jokes?
Ed Burns: Yeah. She didn't make any jokes. Like, the whole time on set.
Not even between shots?
Ed Burns: Yeah. Yeah. I'm sure for a comedian to make that transition, it's tough. Maybe she just wanted to stay in a good headspace. Whereas me, on the other hand, me and Shannyn were just kind of laughing our way through the entire film.
Did you form a good bond with Shannyn?
Ed Burns: We had a lot of fun. I discovered early on that it's very easy to get her to laugh. So it was just kind of fun to toy with her when she would have to do a little bit of, like, real tough screaming work and she would have to really be terrified. I don't know that Eric, our director, always appreciated that.
Did Eric ever ask for your input as far as directing the film goes?
Ed Burns: No. The first film that I acted in that wasn't one of my own was Saving Private Ryan. I wasn't going to show up on the set of that movie and start offering suggestions to Spielberg. It ended up being such a great learning experience for me, not only as a filmmaker, but also as an actor. Every film after, I kind of just use it as a way to go to school on the filmmaker. I've never directed anything with any real suspense in it. That's kind of what I was doing on this film. I was like, 'Oh, how is he going to build this scene?' If we're to suspect that something is creeping behind that door, I'd always kind of keep an eye on his shot selection. And then when I saw the cut of the film that I saw, it's like, 'Oh, okay. So that one worked, when I jumped out of my seat, there, the way he built it. And that one didn't work as much.' I was constantly trying to think back to why it didn't work. Or why it did.
Would you like to apply this type of film making to one of your own projects in the future?
Ed Burns: I think it depends on the film I'm making. It really is just a matter of watching what they're doing on set and taking a look at the film and how it was applied, or what worked and what didn't work, depending on the type of film you do yourself. It's like any education you get. When you start to apply what you've learned, you don't really remember where you learned it.
Do you believe in ghosts? Did you see anything in the old hospital you were shooting at?
Ed Burns: No. Actually, it was an old elementary school.
Had it been abandoned?
Ed Burns: Yeah. It wasn't creepy to go in there. It was more nostalgic. It was like an old elementary school and there were still chalkboards up. I thought, "God, it would be sad if this was my fourth grade class and now monster Ellie is there chasing Shannyn down the hallway."
But, do you believe in ghosts?
Ed Burns: A little bit. I've had friends who've had kind of weird, ghost-like experiences in old hotels and things.
You've never had one yourself??
Ed Burns: I had one weird one. I was on the LIE coming into Manhattan in traffic. There's a part on the LIE where there's sort of a rise up the highway before you dip down into the midtown tunnel. I'm coming up, it's just me in the car, and there's an old couple on the side of the road. The woman is sitting in the car, the old guy's looking under the hood of his stalled car. I'm listening to the radio, I just kind of glance and I see them. And then I come up over the rise, and as I'm coming down, that same car, with the same two people, is there. And I'm like, 'All right. That's fucked up.' Could they have possibly got the car started and stalled again while I wasn't paying attention? I don't know if it was just a weird déjà vu. That's been my only kind of weird occurrence.
Was the atmosphere on this set different from your standard drama?
Ed Burns: No. You have so many technicians around. There might be moments that are a little different, when you really step into that hospital, or a creepier environment, and you're lit for the scene. There is that moment where you're like, 'Okay.' Like a perfect example is Saving Private Ryan. At no point did you think you were at war, until suddenly, like, everything was set up and it was time to go and you call action and the minute you're in it, there are moments when you kind of forget that you're in a movie. And it mostly happens with movies where your adrenaline starts pumping.
Can you talk about this Virgin Comics thing you're doing? Are you a comic book fan?
Ed Burns: It's a comic-book series that's being turned into a graphic novel. We approached it more like a graphic novel. It's called The Dock Walloper. I had an idea for a big, epic story about Irish American gangsters in New York set against prohibition. I loosely based it on a guy named Ownie Madden. Not many people know him. He was sort of the head of the Irish crime syndicate for many years. I just never wrote the script. I just kind of outlined different takes on it. And it was going to prove to be way too expensive to do as a live-action thriller. And then when I saw Sin City, and later when I saw 300, I was like, 'Maybe there's a way to do it that way, kind of make it slightly more surreal.' I wasn't aware that Road to Perdition was a graphic novel. When somebody told me that Road to Perdition was a graphic novel I said, 'Oh, maybe that's the way to do it.' We could create a graphic novel and use that as the way to convince the studio to spend a lot of money. But I really forgot about it until years later, when my agent started represented Virgin Comics. He says, 'I want you to sit down with these guys. They just did a comic book with Guy Ritchie. They did one with John Woo. Do you have any ideas that you think might work.' I said, 'Funny enough, I do.' So, I sat down with them and came up with this story called The Dock Walloper. I did an outline for the screenplay and gave that to them. Then they helped me take a three-act structure and turn it into sort of a five-act structure, because they're going to do five issues of this series. With each issue there are certain expectations. Talking about genres, which each comic book needs. There are cliffhangers, and when characters are introduced. So, they further helped me kind of break that outline down. And then they said, 'Well, we're making a comic book. It doesn't cost anything to make this story bigger and more hyper-realistic. Maybe we should play with the lead character, like, is there any kind of super-human or exaggerated strength he might have.' There's a great scene in On the Waterfront where Eva Marie Saint's father explains to her that his right arm is longer than his left arm from swinging that hook. So I thought, maybe this Dock Walloper, his right hand is twice the size of his left hand. We didn't really come up with the reason, but he is a guy who grew up fighting on the docks. Once we came up with that, everyone was like, 'You guys have a cool idea.' Then we started to play. And that's about as exaggerated as anybody's skill set might be. But it's been great. I never would have allowed myself to let the story get this big and exaggerated on my. What they do forced me out of my comfort zone. It has been the best thing for me as a writer. I'm not writing the dialogue. There's a pretty famous comic book guy, Jimmy Palmiotti, who is writing the dialogue. I kind of structure the scenes and he writes the dialogue. Even then, when writing it, everything I write is dialogue based. So it's like I tell my stories and move my plot forward through what people are saying. Not doing that on this graphic novel has been great because I've got to do it via big plot points and big action. So, again, its another way of moving me out of my comfort zone. It's a blast. We finished the first five issues. The first ones are coming out soon, and the graphic novel comes out with the five of them consolidated in March. We'll take that with the outline of the screenplay to the studios and see if we can get it optioned and make a big, massive, ass-kicking, Prohibition era, superhero gangster movie.
Do you have a set schedule as far as what you do on your own and what you do with other directors?
Ed Burns: I try to direct every other film. I'll do one of my films, then I just go act in something. But a lot of times it takes a little longer to get the financing for a film. Like right now, I have two weeks to get the financing for my next film. Because of the strike. Because you need to be in pre-production by January 15th and you need to get your film done by June 15th because of the actor's strike. So that's a unique situation. If I don't get that, then immediate I'm looking for an acting job to fill that window. Normally, I just kind of go off on an acting job. I use that as the time to kind of like clean up one of my scripts and get ready to go into production.
It's good to wear several hats.
Ed Burns: Yeah. That's kind of how I do it. Sometimes it doesn't work out as I would hope.
One Missed Call opens this Friday, January 4th, 2007.
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