Great cop stories inspired by childhood

Edward Burns stars as Officer Terry Muldoon in Public Morals, which is set in New York in the 1960s and focuses on the lives of police officers in the vice division.
Edward Burns stars as Officer Terry Muldoon in Public Morals, which is set in New York in the 1960s and focuses on the lives of police officers in the vice division. PHOTO: WARNER TV/TURNER BROADCASTING

Being surrounded by policemen as a child led Edward Burns to write, act, produce and direct television drama Public Morals

Growing up, writer-director-actor Edward Burns was always around cops - both his father and uncle were in the New York Police Department.

"Every holiday, we'd end up with a bunch of other cops and their families. I remember sitting around and listening to these older cops tell great old-cop stories," recalls Burns in his distinctively raspy voice during a telephone interview with Life from New York City.

The "voice of those cops, the types of characters they were" have made their way to a television drama created by Burns.

Set in New York in the 1960s, Public Morals focuses on the lives of police officers in the vice division and is "a big family saga that I dressed up in cop clothes", as he describes it. It airs on Fridays on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515).

Even though he now plays an Irish American cop, he never actually wanted to be one.

He says: "My dad thought I was a pretty good writer as a kid and was always pushing me towards that."

Some of their father-son interaction has made it to the screen. "In the pilot episode, the scene where my character gives his son a talking to about being an idiot, that's word for word me and my dad when I was in the seventh grade," he says.

Burns, 47, is now a father of two, and he says both he and his wife, supermodel Christy Turlington, play good cop and bad cop to their children: "I think we probably flip-flop. Depending on the day and the crime, we'd trade roles."

He is equally comfortable wearing different hats at work. Not only does he write and act, he also serves as executive producer and director for Public Morals. This is pretty much his modus operandi on previous films such as comedy drama Sidewalks Of New York (2001) and romantic comedy Nice Guy Johnny (2010).

It is as though he does not trust anyone else with his scripts. Burns chuckles when you suggest that to him. "When I wrote the script for The Brothers McMullen (1995), my first movie, I wrote myself a part and that all worked out, so it's just kind of what I've been doing ever since."

The comedy-drama about three Irish Catholic brothers won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and was one of the most successful low-budget indie films of that era.

A few years later, Burns landed a supporting role in Steven Spielberg's epic war film Saving Private Ryan (1998).

He says: "Having those films so early in my career is a big part of why 20 years later, I'm still doing this."

In fact, he is already writing Season 2 of Public Morals.

"I love this world that I've created. I put together such a great cast and I was able to hire all my friends. If I get to do this for another four or five seasons, I would be a very happy film-maker."

• Public Morals airs on Fridays at 9.50pm on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2015, with the headline 'Great cop stories inspired by childhood'. Print Edition | Subscribe