IAR INTERVIEW: Jason Bateman Talks 'Bad Words'

Tuesday, 11 March 2014 20:45 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR INTERVIEW: Jason Bateman Talks 'Bad Words'

Jason Bateman has been acting in front of a camera for most of his life but with his new film Bad Words, opening in theaters on March 14th, he moves behind the camera to make his feature film directorial debut. 

Bateman began his career as a child actor on the classic TV shows Little House on the Prairie, Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family, as well fan favorite movies like Teen Wolf Too and Necessary Roughness. But he is probably best known for his breakout role as Michael Bluth on the extremely popular TV show Arrested Development, which won him a Golden Globe for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Since then he has appeared in a string of successful films including Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, The Break-Up, Smokin’ Aces, The Kingdom, Juno, Forgetting Sara Marshall, Hancock, State of Play, Up in the Air, Couples Retreat, Horrible Bosses, The Change-Up, and Identity Thief

In Bad Words Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a spelling bee loser who sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult. However, his plans start to change when he becomes friends with his competition, an awkward young boy named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand). In addition to Bateman and Chand, the film also stars Kathryn Hahn (Afternoon Delight), Allison Janney (The Way Way Back), Ben Falcone (Bridesmaids), and Phillip Baker Hall (Magnolia).

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason Bateman, along with a few other select members of the press, to talk about his work on Bad Words. The actor/filmmaker discussed his new movie, why he wanted to direct, also acting in the project, its hard R-rating, working with children, and preparing to direct again. 

I began by asking Bateman if directing was something that he had always wanted to do. “I don’t want to get caught saying the cliché, ‘I always wanted to direct,’ but in any profession you look at the jobs of the people around you and some that are above you. You spend enough time doing what it is you’re doing that you want to challenge yourself to see if you can do a little bit more and maybe even help the process of those that would be doing the job you’re doing now,” he explained. “It was always just about me appreciating how complicated that position could and should be. The more I learned about all of the contributions of all the different departments, the more I wanted to have the privilege of that responsibility.”

“I didn’t want to get the opportunity as a result of some sort of contractual perk, I wanted to earn it,” Bateman continued. “I wanted to be asked but I wanted to make sure that it was the appropriate time. I asked people who were brutally honest and very objective and they said, ‘I think that the industry would welcome that. I think you could attract a group of actors that you would be proud of. I think you could attract a bunch of people below the line that would be incredible.’ So I started looking at some scripts, three in particular and this was one of them. I said, this seems like the kind of scope that I would be responsible to take on and this is the kind of comedic tone I think I could navigate well.”

Bateman was then asked if he enjoyed directing himself in the film. “There was a checks and balance system that was eliminated, which is not terribly responsible or advised in most circumstances, but this was a character that I felt I could handle,” he answered. “There is a part of me that is this guy. I've got him where he needs to be in a cage, but I knew how to access that guy and I felt like I had a good shot at playing him in a way that was vulnerable and somewhat redemptive. That was the biggest challenge. I took a couple of big swings at some actors that could definitely do it, who are much bigger stars than I'll ever be, but they were busy or not interested. Finally I said, well why don't I just do it? That way I increase my chances of hitting the snare on target of tonal accuracy since I'll be able to control it in front of the camera and behind the camera. Since we had this truncated shooting schedule I knew I didn't have the luxury of time to do four or five takes.”

He also discussed what surprised him the most about directing his first feature film. “Pre-production and post-production is something that I’ve never been exposed to. I was pleasantly surprised that you could accomplish a lot during pre-production. There are so many things that you want to do with every department on the set, that you just don’t have time to either execute or discover,” Bateman explained. “So, you have weeks to live with the script to figure out what we are trying to do in the scene without saying it. If we pull the dialogue out can we do it with a lens? Or can we do it with a light? Can we do it with a piece of music? Can we do it with a location? Sure, you have time to discover that stuff on set sometimes, but for the most part you don’t. You just kind of have to execute. That was really kind of fun, and gratifying to me, to pick how we got to shoot every single scene so that we didn’t lose those creative opportunities on the day. But everything was shot listed, everything was storyboarded, and everything was planned out so we could kind of have fun, and not be so pressured that we would miss something that might be a better idea on the day.”

The movie has a hard R-rating for language and sexual situations, and Bateman was asked if he ever considered making the film less dirty for a more mainstream audience. “There were certain drafts of this script that went a little bit too far at certain points and there were plenty of points where it didn't go far enough. As Andrew (Dodge) and I worked on the script for a long time we just always kind of tried to make those adjustments, and ask why is this guy here? What's going on? How is it a drama for him and not a comedy? At the core, this guy has had his feelings hurt,” the actor/director said. “He is lashing out and he's trying to get back at whoever hurt his feelings. So he's emotionally injured. If the spitefulness, if the petulance is coming out of that as opposed to just being arbitrarily mean to somebody, then it was fine. If it was just arbitrarily mean, then it had to go.”

“As far as the number of "F" words we did not try to hit a certain number,” he continued. “We didn’t try to keep it under a certain number, but no one needs to see another spelling bee movie. No one needs to see About A Boy again. That was a great movie and we were trying to do something different here. A spelling bee just happens to be the environment where this bad decision kind of plays out. There was a necessity to keep some edge to this film and some dirt under its nails because it's an adult going through something that's deeply emotional to him. Often times that's not pretty and one can lose one's dignity and that should feel dramatic at times as well as.”

As a young actor Bateman often played a kid in an adversarial relationship with an adult character, but in this movie the roles are reversed. He was asked if that fact ever crossed his mind while shooting the film. “Not really. From playing little assholes, I was aware that whether you’re a little asshole or a big asshole, you need to be somewhat excused for your behavior in order for people to enjoy it. Otherwise, you’re just hateful and people won’t like you,” he explained. “You need to like the person that’s doing these things so you can laugh with them instead of being repelled by them. So, there’s an obligation as an actor to play flaws and vulnerabilities in humanity inside of a character, whether it’s written in the script or not. Sometimes it’s just a vulnerable look that you can wear on your face as opposed to one of arrogance or cockiness. That’s hard to write in a script. I knew there was that element that we had to play with.”

The actor/director also went on to talk about working with the young actors in the film. “They were great. The kids on the stage were very into it, and very professional. Rohan who played Chiatanya was very professional. He knew all of his lines, and my lines. He was a very skilled actor without being obnoxiously precocious. I encouraged him to be every bit of the kid that he is, and a lot of that was helped by me remembering how I liked o be treated when I was that age acting,” Bateman explained. “You want to be treated like an adult, but you also want to have fun. You want to feel safe. I was his buddy as much as his director, and his co-actor. We had a really good time. I’m so proud of him, and I’m really excited for people to see how good he is in this film. He’s the heart and soul of the movie. “

There are a few scenes in the movie where Chand’s character is in some unusual situations for a child his age and I asked Bateman if the boy’s parents were ever concerned about letting their son perform those moments in the film. “His dad was with us the whole time and he was a part of every single decision, “he explained. “He was in there with us during rehearsals, and I kept checking with him about Rohan’s comfort level with hearing these things, seeing these things, and saying these things. His mother had to stay in New York and she called in every once in awhile, particularly the night that we shot the scene with the prostitute in the alleyway. She was just curious on how that scene was going to be shot, and how much Rohan was going to be exposed to. We were very sensitive to that. He wasn’t there for any unnecessary coverage, and we tried to be really responsible with that.”

Finally, Bateman will begin production this May on his second film as a director called The Family Fang and discussed what he likes about directing the most. “It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to create worlds for people. I never want to do anything else,” he pronounced. “We all go into a movie theater and ask to be taken somewhere. It’s nice to be asked to drive. It’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that, so you have to make sure you know what you’re doing, and if you don’t then you have the responsibility to ask because it’s very involved. It’s all senses and you’ve got to keep the ball in the air for an hour and a half. It’s a deep challenge and it asks me to call upon everything that I’ve learned since I’ve started. I think, going back to how I started, wouldn’t you want to be in a position where it demands that you utilize all that you’ve learned? We all kind of try to mold our position into demanding that, and certainly directing is that for me. I would hope that everybody has an opportunity to be able to use all that stuff.”

Bad Words opens in theaters on March 14th.

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