Jason Bateman Scores a Hit Directing
His First Feature Film
By Beverly Cohn
Jason Bateman, actor turned director. Courtesy
e all know that Jason Bateman is a wonderfully versatile actor
with a special comedic gift that he brings full throttle to his first
directorial effort in "Bad Words." With a tightly written
original script by Andrew Dodge, Bateman plays Guy
Trilby, a potty-mouth 40-year-old man who, through a fluke
in the rules, enters himself into a National Spelling Bee where
he would compete with boys and girls up to the age of around 12.
If it's possible to steal a movie from the star, 10-year-old Rohan
Chand, as one of the contestants who befriends Guy, almost
accomplishes that with his incredible charm and an abundant talent.
We eventually find out the method to Guy's madness, but that
would a spoiler.
This is a really feel-good "R" rated
film, excellently directed by Bateman whose performance is as strong
as his directing. He conveys a moment with just the raising of an eyebrow,
which less talented actors would have to do with their entire bodies.
The excellent supporting cast includes, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney,
Ben Falcone, and Philip Baker Hall.
Jason Bateman starred in the television series "Arrested
from 2003-2013. Courtesy photo
With a resume going back to when he was child, Bateman
has racked up a bunch of film and television credits. Some of the television
appearances include a continuing role on "Little House on the
Prairie," "Silver Spoons," "Robert Kennedy &
His Times," "St. Elsewhere," "Walt Disney's Wonderful
World of Color," "Bates Motel," "Chicago Sons,"
"Some of My Best Friends," and "Arrested Development,"
which ran 2003-2013. Bateman also has an impressive array
of film credits among which are, "Smokin' Aces," "The
Kingdom," "Juno," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall,"
"State of Play," "Up in the Air," "The Invention
of Lying," "Couples Retreat," "The Break-Up,"
"Identity Theft," and "Horrible Bosses."
Jason recently sat down with a group of select journalists
to discuss the film and other topics, and the following has been edited
for content and continuity for print purposes.
Director Jason Bateman on the set of "Bad
This is your first directorial project. Were you
pleased with the final results?
Jason: I was happy with the way it turned out. It was
a long-time dream of mine to have the privilege of being in the position
of directing and this seemed like a perfect first project in its tone
and in its scope. Obviously, it's a tricky tone to manage and because
of that I wanted to get someone else to play the lead, but I got passed
on by a couple of big shots and I kind of thought, before we go to any
of the other actors, because its such a tricky tone, maybe I should
play the part just so I can try to manage the tone in front of the camera
and behind the camera. I hope that decision paid off.
What were some of your challenges in directing?
Jason: I would never say it was easy because directing
a film is not easy and that was one of the reasons I wanted to challenge
myself to see if I could do it. But, it was very, very comfortable.
I'm so comfortable acting that it has allowed me to be able to focus
on and observe and notice all the contributions of everyone else that
it takes to make a film. Often times during action and cut there are
a lot of people working while the actors are working the sound
man, the camera man, the dolly grip all those people are active
just off camera to help make that shot work. I've always enjoyed kind
of keeping one eye and one ear open to see what they're doing and to
help make the shot work from inside the scene while I'm talking and
doing my acting, so I wanted to be able to be a good soldier for me
as the director as opposed to somebody else directing.
Didn't you direct at age 18 making you the youngest
person to direct a television show?
Jason: That's true. Not to take anything away from multi-camera
directors because it's a very tough thing to do, but it is a different
process entirely and this is just much more complicated because you're
trying to build an environment for the audience that is kind of 360
degrees. In multi-camera, you're dealing with 180 degrees and
it's shot kind of like a play. So with a film, with any sort of single
camera directing, you get inside the set, but there are a lot of other
departments at work that benefit from.
Directing his first feature film, Jason Bateman
plays Guy Trilby in "Bad Words," a story about a grown man
competing with young children in a national spelling bee.
Sometimes when the director is also the actor,
the performance isn't always seamless, but your performance was seamless.
How did you make that work?
Jason: Thank you. The character, I'm embarrassed to
say, is not too far from me. (Laughter) I don't know if
it would have been a smart decision for me to make had this character
been someone who had an accent and missing limb and was blind. I get
this guy (his character) because there's a part of me
very much like him, so I kinda' had to tap into him. It was fun.
Jason Bateman as Guy in a scene with a most delightful
Rohan Chand who plays Chaitanya, one of the contestants in the spelling
bee. Courtesy photo
Since you were a child actor yourself, did it
help you in working 10-year-old Rohan Chand?
Jason: He was very, very good and we had a really good
time. I was able to draw upon my memories of being an actor at his age
and how I liked to be treated or didn't like to be treated and what
the process kind of felt like back then what moments are riddled
with pressure, what moments are fun and I tried to kind of manage that
for him to make him feel safe. With any actor, you're going to
get the best performance out of them if you make them feel comfortable.
So, it was just about being buddies with him, which was not difficult
because he's such a good guy.
R-L: Jason Bateman as Guy Trilby has some
his little friend Chaitanya played by Rohand Chand.
Did you as Jason ever feel badly dishing out all
those insults to Rohan's character?
Jason: If it was me sparring with him, I would have
felt bad but this guy who I'm playing is a guy who feels every bit that
kid's equal that's the problem. That guy Trilby, if you
pardon me, has a bit of arrested development. (Laughter)
He's somebody who, if he was further along emotionally and spiritually,
he wouldn't have done what he did and so he's pretty young and pretty
immature in a lot of areas so when he was arguing with this kid or any
of the other kids, it was very much like he was their age, so it didn't
feel as mean.
Did the script go through any changes during the
Jason: We story boarded, we shot listed and decided
everything before we started and, of course, we were flexible when we
were on set and wound up changing a lot of things as we saw other opportunities,
but the visual style or strategy of the film was there to try to support
and enhance this notion that this situation, these people, this bad
choice exists. If it felt too much like the world rational people live
in, then this irrational decision might not feel authentic or perhaps
it would feel to broad or too jokey. People like Paul Thomas Anderson
or David O. Russell or any of the filmmakers I admire and look
up to, their films often deal with a fringe society of people who you
can believe could make these poor decisions. You have to kind of build
that aesthetic tone visually so that all this stuff feels organic and
we're not winking. So that's what went behind the look the color
palette, the lens length, and all of these things that keep it from
looking like a main stream studio comedy where people might make smarter
decisions or broader comedy decisions. This is a drama to everybody
inside of the movie, so it needed to feel like it had a little dirt
under its nails.
Did Jason Batman the director, find Jason Bateman
the actor difficult to direct?
Jason: (Laughter) It was a beautiful performance.
(Laughter) It was process. For better or worse, every
single take was what I wanted that actor to do. (Laughter)
There was no creative negotiation, again, for better or for worse, so
hopefully my instinct was right about how each scene was going to be
played because there was no one else and the checks and balances system
was absent. Sometimes you waste four or five or six takes trying find
a compromise between what the director's vision for the performance
is versus the actor's decision. With an abbreviated shooting schedule
like we had, too often we only had time for six takes so it was a good
way to kind of cut a corner.
Were there any insults that you felt crossed an
Jason: Yes, but I cut those before we started shooting.
I worked with Andrew (screenplay) a long time trying to really make
sure that this thing had the edges on it that it was definitely
rated an "R" rated comedy. There's softness to the fabric
of this film, of this premise, of this concept a spelling bee
movie around a 40-year-old and a ten-year-old and obviously you
could smell it a mile away that they're going to end up being friends
at the end. So that sort of precious, PG fabric is something that was
quite honestly a repellent to me at the beginning when I first read
it, although Andrew had tons of things that would offset that and mitigate
those kinds of things, I wanted to make sure that we went further and
then we could bring it back if we needed to and we did at certain points.
We're trying to continue that execution in marketing the film and make
sure people know that there's a spelling bee environment here where
this adult's bad decision plays out but it is not another spelling bee
movie and it is not about a boy.
Are you a good speller?
Jason: I'm not a great speller. I was in one spelling
bee and lost early when I forgot the "w" in answer.
You've been a working actor since you were 12.
Has your career path been easy or have you had any career challenges?
Jason: There was about a decade before "Arrested
Development" where I was a working actor and making a living but
my career was nowhere near what it is today. There were thoughts of
well, if I keep slogging away at this, is going up again or is it going
to stay here or even worse, go down. This was in my 20s so I still had
time to re-educate myself about a certain career or maybe change cities
where it's less of a company town. So all those thoughts went through
my mind, but just like any actor or director, singer or any sort of
performer, you're one job away from having another moment of relevance
or access and then from that point forward, what you do to capitalize
on that, parlay that, diversify that, is really up to you.