TV

Ed Burns: Pit-bull fighting great-great grandfather big impetus behind 'Public Morals'

Actor talks about working with Steven Spielberg on new series

 

Ed Burns returns to his native New York in the new TNT drama “Public Morals,” premiering August 25. The actor/director told FOX411 his love of his hometown, working with Steven Spielberg and what his great-great grandfather used to do.

FOX411: So tell us about the new show.

Ed Burns: The new show is a cop/gangster drama that takes a look at the public morals division most people would know as VICE. Apparently back then in New York, they dealt with what they called victimless crime,s like gambling, prostitution and liquor laws.

FOX411: Do you think New York City is still as corrupt as it was in the 1960s?

Burns: Quite honestly I don’t know. The research I did for this show, this type of institutionalized corruption, apparently. There’s a great book called “Island of Vice” that had to do with when Teddy Roosevelt was police commissioner and he was trying to deal with how the police department dealt with prostitution back then, and how they dealt with the liquor laws. For a good 100 years it looked like there was a certain way of doing business, and I was fascinated by that, and that’s kind of what we explore.

FOX411: You’ve directed and starred in movies set in good ol' New York. Why do you keep returning to your home town?

Burns: I’m born and bred. I live in New York City. I’ve always been obsessed with the city. I’ve become a bit of a New York City history buff and that’s why a great deal of the show takes place in Hell’s Kitchen. My family was a Hell’s Kitchen family. We’ve got these great old photographs of my great-great grandfather on a roof of a tenement with the pit bulls he used to fight. When we uncovered that, that’s how I became obsessed with the Hell’s Kitchen gangster story, which is a big part of the show. They say write what you know and try and make your obsessions become the audience’s obsessions, and that’s what I tried to do with the show. 

FOX411: What is it like working with Steven Spielberg again?

Burns: After “Saving Private Ryan” Steven became a mentor even hired me years ago to write a script about New York City cops in the 50s and 60s. We couldn’t get that film made, you know, flash forward 18 years later when I’m writing the script for this show and I sent Steven the script and asked him for any notes and he said, “Look, I love this thing. Why don’t I come on as an executive producer and let’s see if I can help you get it made?” He took a look at every script that I wrote, was involved in the casting, even with the smallest parts, and again in the editing room, was such a valuable ally to have. Any filmmaker is lucky when you have Steven in your corner.