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Interview: 'Bad Words' star/director Jason Bateman fails our test, aces our profile

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

12:00 AM CDT, March 18, 2014

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Jason Bateman didn’t want to star in his feature directorial debut “Bad Words,” opening Friday. He tried to find other actors to play 40-year-old Guy Trilby, who exploits a loophole in the rules to enter a kids’ spelling bee. Had the role not fit into the highly flawed-yet-endearing fool niche Bateman has carved for himself after reviving his career with “Arrested Development” (and hits like “Horrible Bosses” and “Identity Thief”), he would never have taken it on.

“If the character was missing a limb, had an accent and was a woman,” he deadpanned at the Park Hyatt Hotel, “it would be too far of a stretch for me.”

In fact, Bateman wants to transition into directing, so enjoy his leading roles while you can. (He has, among other projects, “Horrible Bosses 2” still on the way, plus the “Arrested Development” movie, if it ever happens.) Something else to savor: The 45-year-old’s poor performance in our Oscar-related spelling bee.


Oscars spelling bee

Scorsese. S-C-O-R-S-E-S-E. (+) JB (after I say it’s correct): “Is it really? Wow.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor. Oh my god. C-H-I-no. C-H-E-W-I-T-E-L and then E-J-I-F-O-R. (X) JB: “Never close. Oh, Lord.”

Lupita Nyong’o. [Laughs] L-U-P-I-T-A N-apostrophe-Y-O-N-G-O. (X) JB: “Ay-yi-yi.”

“Philomena.” P-H-I-L-O-M-E-N-I-A. No, that’s “Philomenia.” (X) JB: “Can I take an I out? I’ll pull out the last I.”

McConaughey. M-C-C-O-N-E-H-E-Y? (X) JB: “Oh my God.”

Barkhad Abdi. B-A-R-K-A-T A-B-D-double-I (X) JB: “[Bleep].”

June Squibb. J-U-N-E S-Q-U-I-B-B. (+) JB: “You gave me a nice softball there.”

On directing: “I really like the responsibility and the workload of what a director can and should do, and that’s why I wanted the job. As an actor you basically end up sitting in your trailer for 45 minutes every hour. ... So this let me work a full 60 every hour.”

A director he wants to see act more: “I bet you Paul Thomas Anderson would make a great actor. He seems to have taste oozing out of his ears, so I’d love to see what he would do in front of the camera.”

His favorite movies from directors who inspire him:

Paul Thomas Anderson: “There Will Be Blood”

Coen brothers: “Fargo”

Steven Soderbergh: “Out of Sight”

Frequent collaborator Jason Reitman (he may be a little biased): I liked “Up in the Air.”

Alexander Payne: “About Schmidt”

On his style of comedy: “Some people’s instinct is to kind of talk louder and make bigger faces, that that’s what humor is. My sense of humor is usually in barely being able to see what’s going on behind the eyes and inside that character’s brain. The terror that they’re trying to hide or the insecurity that they think they’re masking. By definition you want to be really small with that and just trust that the audience is seeing it.”

If he could take a role Kevin Hart, a much louder actor, passed on: “I don’t know. Perhaps. I would certainly have a different path to execution just because my skill set is not the same as his. Often times I find that those extroverted characters, those antagonists need a counter-balance of a straight man. Of somebody who will under-play stuff against the other performance. And I love providing that balance. There’s a responsibility there.”

Why there’s no acting opportunity he wants before transitioning into directing: “I’ve been really, really fortunate that I’ve identified a kind of performance that I like to give and the kind of performances that I like to watch, and I’ve been given the kind of characters that I really like. I think the characters that are any chewier would necessitate a lot more ‘acting,’ in quotes, and I don’t like to see a lot of acting. I just don’t think I have the skill set to believably morph into somebody wildly different than who I am.”

More on that: “I like doing it, but I’m not excited by an acting challenge. I’m excited by a directing challenge. I just find it’s wildly more challenging and complicated. And that’s where I want to spend all of the brainpower I still have, as opposed to pretending to be somebody else. I’m much more interested in building an environment and a world for an audience as opposed to just convincingly being a different person.”

Something Michael Bluth did worth emulating: “Patience is always a great lesson to learn. He certainly has to exercise a lot of that with his family.”

Something Michael Bluth did that he learned not to do: “Don’t drive a stair-car into a parking garage.”

If he thought “Arrested Development” would become what he later called a career “life preserver”: “Certainly. Because not only was it a single-camera comedy, which was all the rage at the time ... but it was also produced by Imagine and executive-produced by Ron Howard and narrated by him. So I just felt like it was something that had a real nice pedigree to it and that I could benefit from that washing a bit of the stink off me.”

How often he imagines Ron Howard narrating his life: “Oh my God. [Laughs.] Not very, but he does help me a bit with my life from time to time. I asked him some pointers on directing. He was one of the directors I showed the film to at the beginning. He’s a huge inspiration to me. He’s done with his career, with the longevity in his career, certainly what I would dream to do. He has created an environment for himself and a company that allows him to utilize everything that he’s learned over, I mean, how many years has he been in the business? That’s all that anybody can really ask for is to have a chance to use what they learned.”

Life advice other than what he told Howard Stern (“Go pull on yourself and you’re not going to wreck a marriage”): [Laughs.] “Don’t buy the confidence you need to be renting. Because life has a lot of ups and downs and sometimes humility will be the fuel you need to get back up on top of that next peak.”

On his dinner at the Girl and the Goat, one of the Chicago places recommended to him by his pal Mario Batali: “[It was] incredible. We had the calamari, we had the fried chicken, we had probably five different vegetables. It was a lot. We could not finish it. They were really nice to us.”

His fondest memory of Chicago: “Falling in love with a girl when I was doing a telethon here when I was about 16 or something. And then flew back the following weekend to see her with my mom.”

A Guy Trilby-esque tantrum he threw as a kid: “I remember I used to fight with my sister a lot over the remote control. And back in those days they were heavier and had sharper corners. And sometimes it connected with a wire too. So you could kind of whip it around a bit.”

Who won: “She did. She was bigger and older.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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