It’s easy to get lost when you’re surrounded by darkness, and “Ozark” is one of the darkest shows on TV. The story of a financial advisor who gets mixed up cleaning money for a Mexican cartel features many, many scenes where characters are forced into impossible choices.
And that’s why Jason Bateman wanted to make it.
“It’s either going to be something horrific or something wonderful,” Bateman said of the show’s many perilous decisions during a recent interview with IndieWire. “As a director, I’m really excited about the challenge to create the visual and musical elements leading up to and in those moments that make either scenario possible.”
What “Ozark” does well, especially in an era of needlessly dark dramas, is how it makes each bad situation, no matter how extreme, feel real. Early in the series, when Marty Byrde (Bateman) is held at gunpoint, it feels plausible that he might die. Even though he’s the show’s lead, all his friends and co-workers were just killed by a remorseless gunman intent on finishing Marty off, as well. Later, when his daughter is drowning in a lake, you don’t know if she’ll be able to get out. Finally, in the finale, a preacher — a preacher — appears to be killing a child.
Will he do it? Will he stop? Viewers don’t ask themselves these questions unless the show has earned both options. Because of how daring the series is from the start, “Ozark” creates an authenticity within each scene where the audience can believe the best or worst can happen, even in scenarios a traditional drama wouldn’t dare explore.
“There’s a certain number of things you’ve got to get right so that your odds are good that the audience will be unsure. It’s got to look a certain way and sound a certain way for about five or six minutes leading up to that [moment] so the audience is in the right space,” he said.
In front of the camera and behind it, Bateman directed four episodes of the first season while producing and starring in all 10. He wanted to work on every minute of “Ozark,” originally intending to direct all the episodes.
“It was something that was presented to me as an acting [opportunity],” Bateman said. “Saying yes to it would have prevented me from directing a film […] so I said to my agent, ‘Well, if they’re open to me executive producing the whole thing, which is basically the oversight position that a director has in film, and also directing all 10 episodes, then I’m in.'”
From there, Media Rights Capital sold the series to Netflix. The pre-production schedule prohibited Bateman from directing every episode, but he remained invested because of the creative control provided in his executive producer role.
“Actors work about 15 minutes an hour, and the rest of the crew is working the other 45. What was exciting was that I would get to work all 60,” Bateman said. “I like watching daytime TV every once in a while, but it’s no fun when you’re sitting in your trailer, and you know everyone’s making the movie out there while you’re catching up on local news.”
Bateman was excited by the idea of shaping an audience’s interpretation of these tension-filled events. A number of times during the interview, he credited the work of his entire crew and how bringing together their amazing work was one of his job’s best perks.
“I’ve really enjoyed trying to learn as much about it as I can over all these years of sitting around on a set and watching everybody do these things,” he said. “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to see what it is I’ve soaked up and retained, and kind of figure out what my style is with all that.”
Continue reading for Bateman’s thoughts on going too dark and what’s in store for Season 2.