Interview: Tom Bastounes on Michael Keaton For ‘The Merry Gentleman'

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CHICAGO – “The Merry Gentleman” is enhanced by an unusual police detective character. Tom Bastounes plays Dave Murcheson: a vulnerable protector of society who’s caught in his own self delusion. The film is Michael Keaton’s directorial debut. Oscarman Rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Keaton also stars as Frank Logan, a professional hit man whose dark thoughts after an assassination job lead him to the brink of suicide. When a delicate office worker, Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald), witnesses Keaton’s near death attempt, an unlikely coalition forms between the two fellow travelers (Kate has run away to the city from an abusive husband).

Michael Keaton and Kelly Macdonald of ‘The Merry Gentleman’
Michael Keaton and Kelly Macdonald of ‘The Merry Gentleman’
Photo credit: Matt Dinerstein, Samuel Goldwyn Films

Bastounes, as the cop assigned to find Logan, awkwardly attempts to woo the emotionally upset Kate, and the three desperate souls meander through the early winter urban landscape searching for redemption. got the privilege of interviewing Bastounes recently, who also served as executive producer for The Merry Gentleman. Besides your role as executive producer of this film, had you always intended to play the role of Dave Murcheson, the cop?

Tom Bastounes: I wasn’t initially cast as Murcheson. The screenwriter, Ron Lazzeretti, goes through the process of creating and after the script was done we both felt that maybe I would be a good choice to play the character. Maybe I was in his head when he wrote it, I don’t know.

We needed to get the name actors at the top. We didn’t want to make a film without a star, so once we had Michael Keaton and Kelly Macdonald signed on, that’s enough star power, so now I could take the role.

HC: Your approach to the character is one of extreme vulnerability, but with an eye toward your professional duty as a detective. How did you find the right balance for the character in these opposing emotional states?

TB: I just tried not to “cop” it up. Cops in movies are what cowboys in films used to be and there are cops on TV every night of the week. There is a caricature of how cops act and I thought it would be interesting not to play to that at all, forget about all the stereotypes, put the gun and the badge on, and be a normal, problematic guy.

HC: The sacrifice of personal life for this cop character is on display within the narrative. What kind of motivation did you use for the sadness behind this sacrifice?

TB: Just loneliness. Just being isolated and being alone. That’s enough. Any more would be too much.

HC: What traits are most prevalent, in your estimation, for playing a recovering alcoholic and how did you, Ron Lazzeretti and Micheal Keaton discuss the scene where Murcheson breaks down and has a drink?

TB: I played him as if he never stopped drinking. Clearly he’s just a liar. He lies about smoking, drinking, his life. Yes, he’s a likable liar, and I got the sense that he was trying not to do these things, but the lying is part of the character.

Tom Bastounes, Executive Producer and Co-Star of ‘The Merry Gentleman’, in Chicago on April 27, 2009
Tom Bastounes, Executive Producer and Co-Star of ‘The Merry Gentleman’, in Chicago on April 27, 2009
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald,

HC: There was the thin line of sanity representing the “protectors” of society both in your cop portrayal and Bobby Cannavale’s police character. What were you and the filmmakers communicating with these darker representations?

TB: When we say an occupation, whether its neurosurgeon, garbage man or cop, generally we want to pigeonhole the occupation and think a certain way about the person doing them.

The reality is even though you may be a cop protector, it doesn’t necessarily make you a nice guy. It’s a job. It’s like going to the doctor and thinking he’s always right, just because he is the “doctor”. We’re all human.

HC: What did your character see in the relationship he was trying to establish with Kelly Macdonald’s character? Was it the idea that as a cop you are most qualified to protect her obvious vulnerabilities?

TB: He’s interested in her because he’s lonely. And all the men in the film are attracted to her because she seems like someone who can offer up forgiveness.

My character would do a better job as a cop just because he’s seeking both her and that forgiveness as well.

HC: Kelly Macdonald is establishing a notable reputation as a high octane dramatic film actress. How was the experience for you working with Macdonald in the actor’s give and take? What were you giving each other, in cooperation with director Keaton, that turned up the volume on the awkwardness and misunderstandings in the couple’s misconnection?

TB: I think those were hard scenes for both of us. I’m sitting with the woman and obviously I want her to like me, and clearly she is agitated when she figures out why she is there. At the same time I’m a cop trying to get information from her and that makes the situation more awkward.

The awkward moment is interesting to watch, because you don’t see it that often in films. It’s like hitting two discordant notes on a piano.

Kelly is a wonderful actor, because she listens in her scenes to the other actor and then responds. She is a great listener.

HC: Since the elements of filming this movie included an unpredicted switch of directors, how did the ensemble cast react towards Keaton’s approach as a first time director and how did you help him as executive producer?

TB: It was easy to except him because he is a big movie star, and people want to like movie stars, right? (laughs) You want to like him and help him. So everyone was engaged to help make it work. He was open to collaboration, open to everyone to give feedback, so he was confident we were all going in the right direction.

I think it worked for the crew, even though we shot in a very tight schedule. But no one wanted to disappoint Michael Keaton. It made it more fun.

HC: If you were spreading word of mouth about your film The Merry Gentleman, what would it be?

TB: It’s a very smart film, you’ll think about it for awhile and you’ll leave the theater knowing that it was time well spent.

’The Merry Gentleman’, with Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes, directed by Michael Keaton, opens Friday, May 1st, 2009. Check local theaters for film and showtimes staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald,

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