After getting his first role on “Little House on the Prairie,” Jason Bateman has spent more than 30 years in front of the camera playing diverse characters on TV and in films.
Recognized for his recent roles in “Identity Thief, “Horrible Bosses” and “Arrested Development,” his next film, “Bad Words” that hits theaters Friday, features Bateman behind the camera as he makes his directorial debut on the big screen.
During a college media conference call, Bateman answered questions about directing for the first time and the film.
Q: What made you decide that now was the right time to direct a movie?
Bateman : Mostly practical issues. It was a good time for me to disappear a little bit. I think the year before I did three films and it was a good time for me to do something small and semi-artistic and try a different job. It just kind of worked.
Q: How do you feel directing is different from acting?
B: Well, with acting you’re trying to convince people you’re somebody different and with directing you’re trying to create a completely different world for the audience and trying to shape an experience for two hours for what they see, hear, feel. To me, it’s a much more challenging and gratifying creative effort. I was excited about taking on the change of a more creative responsibility.
Q: What kind of challenge did you face being your own director?
B: There are always going to be a lot of problems on a set. There are always a lot of questions and answers that you have to come up with. You always have to be able and ready to give it. The kids saw the script before they came on set so they were prepared for the language during filming.
Q: Did your vision for the character change when you decided to take on the role yourself?
B: Not really, no. I was adequately confident that I could make him likeable enough only because I’ve been playing the middle man — the protagonist — for a long time now so I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve on how to look vulnerable, confused, doubtful, regretful or nervous. I knew that you would need to see some flashes of that — some exposure of his core — to make his prickliness palatable. I was directing it so I knew that when I gave those flashes, I would keep those assembled in the cut so that the audience could see those flashes because when you play a character you might say one thing with the line, but then you’re saying something completely different with the look on your face after the line or maybe preceding the line.
Q: Your character isn’t the most traditional protagonist. How do you take a role that’s somewhat unlikable on paper and turn it into someone audiences root for?
B: I think that it was very important to start the film with exposing the audience to his inside before we meet his outside. I think that when a movie starts, the audience is most pliable and most open to anywhere you want to take them and if you’re going to take them down that road, make sure you don’t hit a dead end. We wanted to plant the flag early that this guy is someone deeply hurt and is deeply sorry about what you’re about to see. It’s supported with images and music and a bunch of stuff: there’s a music change, an imagery change, a demeanor change — we see that there are two things at play here.
Q: You usually play a good, sweet-at-heart character, but this guy comes off as a jerk. How did you switch gears to play that way and what was most difficult for you?
B: Well, I know how to be a jerk and I’m sure you know how to be miss bossy pants, too, when you’re pushed in a corner, right? We all have this guy in us, and you hope that you can keep this guy under wraps and you’re not provoked to be like that. Certainly the racism isn’t part of my makeup but I understand his frustration and petulance that brings about your worst side. I know what it feels like to be taxed and not to be the best. So that’s just the part I had to get into right before we shot each scene. That’s the way I play all my characters, I just find that part of me and open it up a little bit to use as a base and have fun playing around.
Q: What’s your favorite word to spell?
B: Floccinaucinihilipilification. I like spelling it for a few reasons. One is that the middle section is a letter then an “I,” a letter then an “I,” a letter than an “I” and it goes on for a while.