Jason Bateman has come a long way from that punchy little kid watched in living rooms all over America in the 80s. His stock has risen and fallen more than once and he’s taking the opportunities afforded to him by recent successes to beef up his resume. Like so many Ron Howards before him, Bateman is completing his child star reinvention by putting on a director’s cap for the new film “Bad Words,” which world premiered in Toronto this week where it was swiftly acquired by Focus Features for U.S. distribution. Bateman also stars in the film as a petty man who finds a loophole that allows him to enter a children’s spelling bee. At TIFF’s official Press Lounge this Tuesday, Indiewire’s Managing Editor Nigel M. Smith spoke to Bateman about what makes a good comedy and coming back from near obscurity. Below are the highlights.
Folks, not jokes.
“What makes me really laugh are people that are losing their dignity, people who think that they’re in a dramatic film as opposed to a comedy. Anything that is really character driven as opposed to plot or a hook or concept driven is attractive to me.”
“Some comedy writers really try to write something really funny which usually ends up with a lot of jokes and audiences can become deaf to them. A lot of the really good comedies come from just characters being in tough situations. Performances and stakes will give you a lot of humor as opposed to reading a funny line that monkey could say and get a laugh on. You can sniff that as an audience. “
Comedies should have style too.
“I’m getting tired of seeing comedies that look like comedies. Kind of popcorny, cheesy, studio campy ‘you better laugh’ kind of aesthetic. All the lights are turned on and the lenses are wide, the angles are flat. I think you can still make somebody laugh on a long lens and do your coverage off center.”
“I’m a big fan of directors who use a color palette or an aesthetic that allows you as the viewer to accept more readily their eccentric characters or the weird situations that they’re going through. People like Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, or Steven Soderbergh, these guys are so keenly aware of the visual efforts that a director can oversee to help set the table and the tone so that you can receive the story easier.”
How to make an actor’s job easy.
“Actors do their best work when they really can feel true ownership of the character. Confidence is key. We’re a pretty insecure group. The less you get in their head about what they might not be doing right the better off things are, because an actor is going to give you the best they got and the key is to hire them to play the character that they could play pretty easily. We don’t want to see any acting; you want to try to find characters that are inside your skill set or inside you. Hopefully that character is kind of a distant part of you, a version of you. Unless you’re Daniel Day Lewis, then you can just morph into anything.”
The “Risky Business” years.
“Not to put a positive spin on it but there was actually a very natural rhythm to that. I technically was a working actor during that period but it just was not as loud and as high profile as what was before and what has followed, thank god. And I was doing a lot of playing. I had been working a lot as a little kid and then I just started catching up and trying to balance the scales. I was not ambitious; I didn’t have a great work ethic and just enjoyed partying. It was a lot of fun. It was like my parents were out of town and they left me the car keys and a bunch of money and I didn’t know when they were coming home. After I got that out of my system I tried to come back and it took a couple of years before ‘Arrested Development’ happened. A lot of people who hand out jobs in Los Angeles watched that show, and that was really lucky for me. It was something that was relevant in the community so I got a second chance and I’m trying not to get kicked out again.”