New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Is Tom Bastounes anything like the big, kindhearted, confidence-inspiring, matter-of fact guy (a cop who inadvertently stumbles into a case that is bigger than he expected) that he plays in The Merry Gentlemen, a new movie that Bastounes also produced?
“Thatʼs a nice thought. Yeah, I like to think so,” the imminently approachable Bastounes, who was in New York last week to promote the movie, slated to open on May 1, told the GreekNews. “I think who the actor is plays a part in that actorʼs performance; who they are is part of the package. The answer is, I would hope that Iʼm that kind of guy.” He seems to be. Heʼs also a terrific actor.
The Merry Gentlemen, directed by Michael Keaton, the star of the movie, along with Kelly Macdonald, Tom Bastounes (who also produced the movie), and Bobby Canavale, is a dark, yet hopeful, suspenseful tale, screenplay by Ron Lazzeretti, about the ambiguous morality of two flawed men trying to find their way and the good woman (a mesmerizing performance by Kelly Macdonald) whose life and happiness are under their influence.
Bastounes describes The Merry Gentleman as “a very smart movie thatʼs poignant in many ways, extremely well-written, and with all the characters having smart or witty things to say.” It also differs from many typical Hollywood movies, says Bastounes, in that itʼs not particularly genre-specific. “Itʼs not a straight thriller; itʼs not a straight romance — itʼs certainly an unconventional love story — the kind of love story that Hollywood doesnʼt think too often. The characters are attracted to each other more on a spiritual level. I find that interesting, as if youʼre watching a fable unfold as opposed to watching a predictable, formulaic film. Itʼs not that I donʼt enjoy that kind of film, as well, but The Merry Gentleman is just a nice change of pace.”
Bastounes is a second generation Greek American who has double talents. He began as a promising actor who performed on stage at Second City in Chicago in the late 1980ʼs along with Steve Carell and Jeremy Piven, but married early and made the practical business decision to continue the business legacy of his grandfather and father in order to ensure his familyʼs future.
Even though he may have experienced some disappointment at not pursuing acting at the time, says the pragmatic Bastounes, he doesnʼt remember the feeling because “You canʼt take the risk of being a starving actor and have three other people starve with you. Itʼs really a young personʼs endeavor to have that lifestyle.”
Bastounesʼs grandfather immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, from Tripolis, Greece, in the first decade of the 20th century and in the extremely productive style of the first immigrants began a potato/onions produce business that expanded to a produce business on Randolph Street in the Depression. As CEO of Auster Acquisitions LLC, Bastounes (a graduate of Purdue University) has developed the business into a $50 million per year company.
Although Bastounes devoted his efforts to his business, he didnʼt lose the acting bug while he was making his fortune. “You see, things work out. Weʼve got movies coming out. You know, it ainʼt over till itʼs over!” says Bastounes.
Ten years ago Bastounes realized his dream of working in film. He founded South Water Pictures and produced and played the lead role in The Opera Lover, a romantic comedy. South Water Pictures then produced The Merry Gentleman and a new, yet-to be-released comedy, Chucking Tomatoes, in which Bastounes also plays the lead. The Opera Lover, The Merry Gentleman, and Chucking Tomatoes were all filmed in Chicago.
His experience with The Opera Lover, which premiered on the Sundance Channel then moved to Showtime, was instructive for Bastounes, whose business acumen now dictates that if a movie doesnʼt have a star in it “has to climb such a huge hill to get out there and be seen.”
Although The Opera Lover, like The Merry Gentleman, was a “smart movie, a very clever little movie,” he says, there were no stars in it so it didnʼt really find an audience. “I learned from my mistake. In terms of an investment, the only way Iʼll make another independent film is with stars; any other way is irresponsible.”
Does Bastounes have enough time to devote to his revitalized acting career? “I would hope so. You hope that one opportunity leads to another and Iʼd certainly hope that this leads to more work. Itʼs like any other business, work begets work.”
Bastounes is a versatile actor. As opposed to his confidence-inspiring character in The Merry Gentleman, he is “very shifty and not quite a nice guy” in The Opera Lover, says Bastounes, adding, “I turn out to be a nice guy…but I donʼt start out that way.”
Bastounes hopes that people will come out and support this movie. “Independent films like this, even though it has a couple of big stars in it, still need support. You know, the Hollywood demographic for movies is fifteen years old, and so adults have a shot at seeing quality work with this movie. Whatʼs important is that you support the quality work thatʼs out there, because if we donʼt, it just reinforces the bankers of Hollywood to just continue to throw money out there for these kids. What a shame it is that there arenʼt more films like this that are thoughtful and with the kind of intelligence that a more mature person would appreciate.”
And there is another point against the current trend toward immature movies, says Bastounes, who resides in Park Ridge, Illinois with his wife, Lisa, and teenage sons Nick and Elliott, “Itʼs not even fair to kids. My kids are teenagers, and I know ʽDadʼs in a movieʼ, so theyʼre predisposed to liking it, but the other day I came home and they were in the basement with their friends watching a movie. I went down to see what they were watching and they were watching MY movie! They were saying ʽThis is really good!ʼ In contemporary culture sometimes we make the assumption that everybodyʼs going to be dumb…and theyʼre not…theyʼre smart, and you need to support endeavors like this so that they keep coming. Thatʼs what Iʼm hoping for.”
Bastounes gave examples of worthwhile movies, “Thereʼs No Country for Old Men was a smart movie, the Coen brothers continually make smart movies…I think itʼs been shown that people support those kinds of films even though the studios would look at the material and not know how to market it and be nervous about it, at the end of the day, letʼs assume that people would have a brain and appreciate something like that.”
Mr. Bastounes has been in Greece once, when he attended the Ionian Village summer camp as a seventeen-year old. “Whatʼs not to like?” said Bastounes, when asked his impressions of Greece. He plans to go again one day.