When Tom Bastounes trained with The Second City’s touring company he hoped the famed improv institution would give him the same sort of career boost it has for people like Dan Aykroyd and Tina Fey. Instead, Bastounes ended up establishing a multimillion-dollar produce business. Never giving up on his dream of acting, though, Bastounes turned his business acumen into producing savvy and starred in and produced two features, including the Michael Keaton-directed The Merry Gentleman, which premiered at Sundance and is in theaters now.
Goldy Moldavsky (MM): You’re quite successful in your own right with your produce business. Why come to Hollywood where you’d be competing with countless of other people who are trying to make it as actors?
Tom Bastounes (TB): A person’s DNA is what it is. If you feel that that is who you are, then you have to pursue it. Jobs don’t define who people are—people define who they are by their abilities and how hard they are willing to work for it.
MM: Did seeing your former Second City acting partners—like Steve Carell and Jeremy Piven—make it big in Hollywood influence your decision to try your hand at acting again or was it something that was always in the back of your mind?
TB: It’s always a part of my makeup and it’s always been what I wanted to do. Their success reinforced the notion that people with ability, no matter what business it is, will succeed. But my goal is not to be a big star. My goal is to work.
MM: How did you go from a love of acting to becoming a producer?
TB: I produced to afford myself the opportunity to act. I’d much rather be a working actor than a struggling producer.
MM: Your story is really interesting in that you literally made your dreams come true by financing a movie that turned into a starring vehicle for you. Can you talk about this approach to moviemaking?
TB: The approach for this film wasn’t to provide myself with a role; the approach was to make a great film and to have two movie stars in the film to give it the chance of success. Those stars are Michael Keaton and Kelly Macdonald and we felt that with those two names in the film, I could award myself the role of the cop as I felt we had enough star power.
As a producer you get to exercise some of your creative muscle in the sense that you’re part of a collaboration with writer and director to bring that script to life. That part of producing is fun because it’s creative as opposed to the business side, which is the all-consuming task of finding the money.
MM: What advice would you give people who’ve always wanted to be in the movies and never lost sight of that dream, no matter where their careers may have taken them?
TB: Don’t put your aspirations in the context of a dream. Dreams are what you do when you’re asleep at night. And generally when you’re asleep, not much is happening. You have to put it in the context of a goal, and pursue it as a task master where every day you want to chip away and make some progress. Then, at the end of the day, the progress is cumulative. It might not feel like things are moving forward, but after some time has gone by, you’ll realize that you’ve done something.