Interview: Tommy Burke on His Book ‘Not Just Sunglasses and Autographs,’ Working on ‘Chicago P.D.’, and More

Tommy Burke Photo (1) black and white

Author Tommy Burke’s autobiography, titled Not Just Sunglasses and Autographs: 30 Years of Film & Television Production with Life (& Near Death) Lessons, isn’t just about his experience working in the film and television industry for over 30 years.

It’s also a powerful story of how he beat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was then diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, all while sharing life lessons and encouraging readers to take life head-on.

Burke shared a few details about what went into writing the book with Eulalie Magazine and how he hopes it will inspire readers. He also shared with us stories from working on Chicago P.D., a favorite memory of Cher, and more.

not just sunglasses and autographs book cover

Eulalie Magazine: What made you decide to write this book, and what decisions went into deciding what to include and how to focus it?

Tommy Burke: My whole life has been overcoming challenges, being occupational or health — getting knocked down and picking myself up again. I was finishing a job and then rolling into the next one.

Even before my last year of Chicago P.D. (the TV Series), when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I thought I could outwork this disease. I remember sitting in the parking lot of a Chicago studio, talking on my cell phone with a prominent neurologist my friend put me in touch with.

I was telling him of the 80-hour weeks and [how] we worked a lot of the time outside in January in the Chicago night. I told of the crazy experience of the TV series I had worked on 20 years earlier while I was doing chemo at midnight and working the next day.

In my car, talking to the good doctor with snow coming down, he asked me, “Why are you doing this?” I had no real answer of why I was going to keep stepping up to challenges like the many times I had done before.

I decided that I finally had to take care of myself. I am known as a guy who loves to overcome challenges. I needed something to do. I jokingly say, “The reason I wrote a book was to write a book.”

Lastly, why I chose to write a book now is that 50% of people with Parkinson’s end up getting dementia. So what better time?

Eulalie Magazine: In the forward, you outline everything you hope readers will gain from reading the book. What is it about this book that will inspire readers, and what makes it relatable?

Burke: I think everything about this book is relatable. The big takeaway is what I didn’t have. I didn’t have a fancy film school. I didn’t start with people thinking I would make it. I got fired from jobs that would have set me up for my career.

I had my cars stolen twice, and a gun pointed once at me. I was never into the Hollywood in crowd. I didn’t do the parties. I just worked. I would screw up, and I would work harder.

I would lose a job and the next day I was on the phone trying to get the next one. You can screw up but never give up.

Tommy Burke color photo (1)

Eulalie Magazine: Specifically, what do you hope readers will take away from the chapters that focus on chemo and your Parkinson’s diagnosis?

Burke: The cancer. It all started with being diagnosed after several biopsies, which are some twisted stories in the book. I met with my doctor when I finally had a definitive diagnosis.

Maybe it was denial, or maybe my background as Assistant Director. My immediate response was to his diagnosis “So what are we going to do about it ?” A lot of people are going through this horrible journey alone like I did. I hope you consider this book as your blocking guard that shows you some ways to go in this cancer journey. I have a big section of the book about strategies and cancer hacks. Don’t lay down on your diagnosis. Take charge.

I say in my book after your Parkinson’s diagnosis, if you can run home from the Doctor’s office, do it. I know I am being facetious to make a point. Or am I? Always be exercising with Parkinson’s, no matter how much or how little you can do.

There is a lot of denial in this disease. My twisted analogy for those with Parkinson’s is like when you get diagnosed with lung cancer, and you go out and buy a carton of cigarettes. Getting a Parkinson’s diagnosis and then sitting at home on the sofa in denial is the same.

Eulalie Magazine: There’s a story in the book about working on Chicago P.D. that stands out as one of the most emotional moments of the book, for me at least. What do you remember about the day they revealed that Tommy Burke’s sign?

Burke: I was dumbstruck. It was a great day. It was my last day on the show. I’m glad Production Designer Greg Van Horn pulled it off. It now rests above the Chicago P.D. stage entrance.

Tommy Burke Irish Pub Chicago P.D. sign group photo

Eulalie Magazine: What part of the book was the most fun to write?

Burke: Surprisingly enough, it was the behind-film stuff. I talk about questions including what questions an Assistant Director would consider when scheduling an episode, how to be a good PA, the stages of how a TV show gets on the air, how to get into the crew unions, how to get into the Director’s guild, [and] how to get into the Director’s guild training program.

I take it very seriously that I didn’t have the opportunities afforded other incoming workers.

Eulalie Magazine: For those who haven’t read it yet, what are some of the films and movies you talk about working on? And celebrities you talk about working with?

Burke: There are so many I wouldn’t know which one to pick from the book. Holly Hunter, Cher, Bob Hoskins, Michael Schoeffling, Blake Shelton, Randall Park, Dennis Hopper, Eric Roberts, Ben Affleck, Peter O’Toole, Michael Rooker, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Sean Astin, Ron Silver. I speak about lot of these actors in the book. There are a lot more I couldn’t fit in the book.

Here is a story about an established actor who was just turning to Directing. It’s a simple story that showed class that is not in the book. Ken Olin was directing an episode of something I can’t remember. I was working 2nd units for TV shows back then. Ken Olin was Directing First Unit. I am upfront with people when I meet them. I went up to  him and put my hand out, and introduced myself by saying “Tommy Burke.” He responded with “Ken Olin.”

You might think this is very insignificant. This was the ’90s, so everyone knew who Ken Olin was. But with so many egos out there, that was an impressive gesture.

Eulalie Magazine: I love the section on Mermaids and that photo of you with a young Christina Ricci. Can you share some of your favorite memories of working on that set?

Burke: In the book, there is a picture of a 10-year-old Christina Ricci sitting on my shoulder. She liked to travel to set that way.

It was a day after the big Halloween party scene in the script was shot out. It was shot in this big house that had become surrounded by mud. I was slogging through the mud when I heard a woman’s voice call my name. It was Cher.

She was done with the party scene, and she didn’t want to wait for a van to come to take her to her trailer. She was demanding me to come carry her to her trailer. I couldn’t say no. I carried her fireman’s carry back. The two things I was thinking: Whatever you do, don’t drop her, [and] where was the Paparazzi when you need them?

For more information about Tommy Burke or to order a copy of Not Just Sunglasses and Autographs, visit

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Ashley is the Editor-in-Chief of Eulalie Magazine. Favorite Movies: Sunset Boulevard, Garden State, Modern Times. Favorite TV Shows: Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey's Anatomy. Favorite Books: Interview with the Vampire, Dracula, City of Glass.

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