Jason Bateman Behaves Badly in ’Bad Words’
One would have to really like Jason Bateman to watch him berate his children as he does in "Bad Words" (in limited release this week) where he hijacks the most innocuous of American institutions: a spelling bee.
It turns out that the rapport that Bateman has been building with the audience over some thirty years of acting in empathetic roles has paid off in a most unsuspecting way. From his early days as a child actor in "Little House on the Prairie" in the early 1980s, to a decade-long stint as Michael Bluth in the quirky "Arrested Development," the characters Bateman plays, as well as his youthful features, make him extremely relatable as a common man often trapped in helpless situations.
In "Bad Words," Bateman steps up his game, picking this comedy to direct and star in himself. As it turns out, there is a reason behind why Guy Trilby, a forty year old man, would go through the trouble of finding a loophole in the spelling bee and make it all the way to the televised finals. Along the way, he would befriend a journalist, Jenny Widgeon (played by Kathryn Hahn, from "We're The Millers" and "Crossing Jordan") who digs into Trilby's motivation; as well as a fellow competitor Chaitanya Chopra (played by Rohan Chand, from "Homeland" and "Lone Survivor"). Rounding up the cast are Ben Falcone ("Enough Said," "Bridesmaids") and Allison Janney ("Mom," "The West Wing").
Variety's Justin Chang shines a spotlight on Bateman's performance: "Bateman gives a master class in tetchy verbal fireworks here, the character's superior spelling skills seeming a logical extension of his ferocious command of language." John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter praises Bateman's choosing of Andrew Dodge's script in his directorial debut, "Bateman demonstrates the same knack for timing and fine shadings of attitude as he does onscreen."
EDGE spoke to Jason Bateman about finding the right project to extend his comedic chops.
A revenge tale
,EDGE: Why did you pick this tale of revenge as your first film as a director?
Jason Bateman: I really enjoy the challenge of playing a character that is very unlikeable on the face of things; but also try to show the audience that there is something going on that might excuse it, or might ultimately be redemptive. This world, this group of people, exist in an area that maybe we do not really see all that much and so there would be a look into that environment. There would be a musical component to that environment.
Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and the Coen Brothers -- they often do films that visit this kind of fringe society. I was hoping to create that with this. I got nowhere near it, but that was the intention.
In the director’s chair
EDGE: Which aspects of directing appeals to you the most?
Jason Bateman: I like being able to dictate what the audience is seeing and hearing, and then hopefully, what they are feeling. That is a privilege. It is not like a God thing, but you know, when you go to a movie theatre, it is a black room and the only thing you can see is this screen. It is like looking through a paper tube, you get to decide what they see, in what order, combining music and all that stuff. You can build an environment and make them kind of go in, after an hour and a half, they leave and hopefully, you have given them an interesting slice of something. As an actor, obviously, you get to do a lot of that, but you are just one part of it, but as a director, you get the privilege of playing with all these other departments and helping them contribute as well because it does take them all.
EDGE: What were the challenges for you in this film being that you both act and direct?
Jason Bateman: There is the challenge of not being able to see what the camera is seeing. Usually as a director, you get to sit in front of a television monitor and see exactly what the camera is capturing, making sure that everything you want executed in the film, both of performances and also technically, is being captured. I could not see that because I was in front of the camera, so I have to go back and watch playback. But if you do that too many times, then pretty soon your day is over and you have not got your work done. So I have to be judicious with that.
EDGE: You get to say a lot of mean things to the kids in the movie, did you have to apologize to them after the takes?
Jason Bateman: There were some apologies, yes. And there were some apologies for bad performances. There were a couple of apologies of what I did say but they all have the script there and they know what is coming, so everybody was very much on board. They knew what we were doing and trusted that there was a quality to the film that made it a little bit more palatable. There is a progression to this character. He learns his lesson. He is a better person at the end of the film than he is at the beginning, which is kind of a prerequisite for any film I think.
EDGE: You have many scenes with Kathryn Hahn and Rohan Chand. What did you do to work on your chemistry on set?
Jason Bateman: Kathryn Hahn and I were really good friends before the film, not so much anymore; but we started out great friends (gives a deadpan look). Rohan and I hit it off immediately via Skype because he lives in New York. He came out (to Los Angeles) and we started hanging out. He, me and his dad created this bond and just had a blast on the set every single day. It was tough for him to go home every single night.
EDGE: And with Kathryn?
Jason Bateman: As I said, no longer. If I never see her again...
EDGE: That’s not true!
Jason Bateman: No, that’s not true. We are great friends and it was tough to keep a straight face in every scene.
Playing sex scenes
EDGE: We have to talk about the sex scenes.
Jason Bateman: Let’s do it! You want a lighting change?
EDGE: It’s good. So, was it comical as well when you were filming the scenes?
Jason Bateman: There is always a little bit of stress when you do a sex scene. You end up giggling quite a bit to alleviate the pressure, as it were; but in this one, since Kathryn and I are such good friends, it was even more fun. We were kind of banging away at each other, I had to put a pillow between us because we are pals and I am good buddies with her husband. I just thought that would be nice. That would be kind. I had a little television monitor just behind her head so I can see exactly my performance, again as it were, my technique, and the camera angle as well too.
EDGE: What did Kathryn say about your performance?
Jason Bateman: It would vary. From day to day, from scene to scene. From one star to five stars.
"Bad Words" opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 14; San Francisco, Boston, Chicago on March 21; everywhere on March 28.