Connie Britton has come a long way since first appearing onscreen in Edward Burns' directorial debut "The Brothers McMullen," which won the grand jury prize at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. She's since netted herself three Emmy nominations for her work in "Friday Night Lights" and "American Horror Story," and she's won over country music lovers with her acclaimed performance as a fading superstar in Callie Khouri's new hit show "Nashville."
This Friday Britton's back in theaters in Burns' latest, "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas" (it's also currently available on VOD). "Christmas" marks her fourth feature with Burns, whose new family drama marks a return to the working-class, Irish-American roots that defined his phenomenally successful debut. In "Christmas," Britton plays the mysterious love interest of Burns, whose character struggles for much of the film to reunite his entire family -- estranged father included -- for Christmas dinner.
Britton called in to Indiewire from the set of "Nashville" to discuss her long-standing relationship with Burns and her success on the small screen.
You’re an Ed Burns vet, having appeared in “The Brothers McMullen,” “No Looking Back,” “Looking for Kitty” and now this -- how did you two first meet?
I could talk about this all day, because it was my big break… Everything that happened for me, for my career, came out of meeting Eddie Burns and “The Brothers McMullen.” We actually met for the first time after I answered an ad in Backstage Magazine; I would do that every week, as a struggling actor with no agent. They called to have an audition, but then they canceled it… I think they kept canceling it and then, finally, they said, “Okay, come this Sunday.” I was just getting off a train from visiting my sister, and I dragged my suitcase from Penn Station to wherever this place was to meet Eddie and audition for this movie that I hadn’t even read, or seen, or knew anything about. That’s how we met. He cast me on the spot, which made me extremely skeptical of his intelligence.
I read somewhere that you initially turned down the audition?
Well, no, it was just that I was out of town. Because they had called several times and then canceled the audition, I had been visiting my sister and it was a question of, “Do I take the earlier train and go to the audition, or do I stay later and blow off the audition?” At the last minute, I thought, let’s go ahead and get on the train a little bit earlier and go to this stupid audition.
Thank God you did.
I mean, seriously. That was one of those charmed moments in life that I’ll always remember. And the whole experience of the movie was charmed; I think that part of what made “The Brothers McMullen” so great was that nobody had any expectations. We were just doing it because we wanted to be making a movie. It just so happened that Eddie pulled together this great group of people; we would get together and rehearse even when we didn’t know when we would get to shoot. We’d have to wait until he has money before we could shoot. In the meantime, we’d get together when everyone was off their day job; we’d hang out, rehearse, get to know each other so that we felt like a family, and there was such purity about how we did it and how he did it as a filmmaker at that time.
You’re no doubt attracted to the way he works, having worked with him numerous times after your first film together. How has your relationship evolved over time?
It’s actually remained very similar over time. He’s a great collaborator, and he’s obviously very interested in naturalism, he’s very interested in authenticity and realism. It’s always been very important to him that he be the writer as well as the director of the film. I think his idea of being a filmmaker is that he is playing both of those roles; I think that’s his ideal of what a filmmaker is. I think part of the reason for that (for him) is that he can be in charge of the vision and really collaborate with the actors in the creation of that vision. They really feel like they have a strong part in the collaboration and the creation of character, and storytelling. Eddie doesn’t have any ego about it; he really gathers people around him who he admires and he takes from them. He gleans things from them. He expects that he’s going to make his script better from the people he has around him -- and that’s everybody.
How did you approach playing your character in “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas?" Out of the ensemble, your character remains the most enigmatic throughout. She's not given much of a backstory.
I love this movie because it harkens back to “The Brothers McMullen” for me in a way that I think a lot of his more recent movies haven’t. I didn’t have a lot of time to shoot, and he wanted me to be in it; he thought it’d be really fun for us because we haven’t really played opposite each other in a love interest kind of way, and he said: “Christy [Turlington, his wife] would be totally fine with this!” We thought that would be a fun, different thing to do – and I was going to manage it with my schedule.
It was interesting for me, having worked with him before where it’s always that familial relationship, and you’re really trying to establish that familiarity – this one was the opposite. It was actually really interesting to be playing opposite Eddie as somebody who’s just meeting him for the first time. But, since we’ve never actually played romantic interests with each other, it was sort of like, “Okay. We can just play it that way.” It was actually kind of fun, to drop in there for a couple of days and do it; to create this character that we really don’t know very much about. That is her role. She is the outsider in the midst of this story of all these very, very complexly intertwined relationships.
So it wasn’t awkward?
It really wasn’t. Maybe that’s just an actor who’s been around for a while talking, but I always say, when you have to do a make out scene with somebody, the only thing that matters is if you’re doing it with someone you really trust. As long as you can trust the person, then you just shift into a gear with it. Eddie and I have known each other long enough that we can laugh through it.
On page 2, Britton talks about her work on "Nashville," "Friday Night Lights" and "American Horror Story"...