NEW YORK — Michael Keaton was elevating his broken metatarsal in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South before rushing off to shoot something for David Letterman. Keaton's new film, "The Merry Gentleman," opening on Friday in New York, Chicago and L.A., is his first full-length feature outing as a director and in which he also stars. It is a small, heartfelt movie about a relationship between a secretary and an assassin.
How are you feeling today, anyway?
Good! Actually, tired. I can't sleep the first night in a hotel room. Last night, I got about 4 1/2 hours, that's not bad. And the foot is elevated.
What is your plan for the crutches while visiting Letterman?
I don't think I have a choice -- I gotta use them. I really wanna get over this thing. Historically, I'm not a great patient when it comes to slowing down. In fact, I had a meniscus operation -- so easy you can't believe it! This guy in L.A., works on professional basketball players, oh, I shouldn't tell you this. But I will. Within hours of getting home -- I bought the house next to me, I was tearing it down to expand mine. And the guys knew I liked operating equipment. And as I pulled into the driveway -- Natalie, my assistant, drove me home -- they saw me come in and they pointed over to the bulldozer they were on and I was like, 'Yeah!' So I waited till Natalie went into the house and I hobbled over. And we started tearing down this house and it's so much fun. You have no idea. Fortunately, I wasn't on pain medication -- I tend not to take it. Nothing that said "don't operate heavy machinery" -- and I was operating heavy machinery.
That stuff they give you is good.
Anesthesia is quite remarkable. It's lost time. And you wake up kind of refreshed. So this time, no, I'm being pretty good. I'm impatient about these kind of things.
So, hey, you directed a movie!
Why'd you do that?
You sound like you're accusing me of something! Actually, I'd directed a few shorts. The first thing I did was for Letterman, years ago. He had this great idea I thought he should have continued to do. Me, Michael J. Fox, Catherine O'Hara, I think, did it together. He had a small film festival [David Letterman's Holiday Film Festival, 1985], we were all in for 20 grand, 25 grand each. And he said, OK, on this date we're going to have a show and show the film. And I just remember I'd run into Catherine or somebody. I'd be panicked. . . . And I was just saying, did you start yours? How long is yours? How much money do you have left? I was so determined not to go over budget or over schedule. And they were incredibly loose about theirs. I just sweated every ounce of it. Couldn't sleep at night.
And it came out OK?
Oh, it's really funny. It's really good. And I'd been offered a couple of films. And so this was always something that I wanted to do -- and had a couple offers about 10 years ago that I don't think anybody ended up doing. In fact, recently I was given a script, it was really good, really well written, and I was going to act in it and direct it. They were very complimentary about my take on it, and this guy's produced a lot of movies, and he said, "That's about the best detailed take on how to make this movie that I'd heard," and it was flattering -- but I called him three days later and said, "You know what? This is better in the hands of someone else."
And speaking of not sleeping in hotels! The first night [of shooting "The Merry Gentleman"], that was a major concern. My kid knows me so well. When he came and visited, we shot in Chicago, and he is living mostly here in New York now and he was working here, he goes back and forth to L.A., and he came to hang out, he's visited me on every movie I've ever done. His first question was: "Are you sleeping?" And we never discussed it. Because you go to bed at night and you're thinking about everything you have to do and you wake up thinking of everything you have to do. But I slept like a baby, actually. It was fantastic. I think that is because you have no choice when you have a small budget and finite amount of time and there is no choice.
I like to brag and say we came in at 24 1/2 days -- and we had some beers in the last four hours
Well, sloth can make a lot of crud.
Which I think comes from the Bible, doesn't it?
Was there a moment, as there usually is, when you thought: This is going down, this is toast?
No. Nope! And it might be because it was the kind of thing -- it's a very small movie. And it's an odd little movie in its very nature. There was a script that was very unusual and I thought well-written. One of the first things I said to the writer was: Obviously, the ending has to change! And as I talked about it and thought about what it would entail, and I thought about the underlying themes of the movie -- without making it pretentious, because my goal was not to ever make this pretentious -- when I started thinking about it, no sooner had I said we have to change the ending, I realized we have to keep the ending.