Making the move from TV star to big screen contender has taken Jason Bateman “oh, about 30 years”. Paul Byrne pulls up a couch.
He may have starred in one of the most acclaimed sitcoms of the last ten years – the wonderful if overly wacky Arrested Development – having first made his mark as a teenager in such US TV hits as Little House On The Prairie, Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family, and he may have made quite an impression in such movies as Juno, Starsky & Hutch and Paul, but Jason Bateman is usually that guy you can’t really place. Or name. Despite his leading man good looks.
“I had that just recently,” nods the 42-year old New York-born actor. “In a restaurant, the beautiful Kirstie Alley called me Justin Bateman. Just as I was heading over to do an interview at another table. Naturally, that became the intro to the whole piece…”
Such muddles over his name are likely going to become an awful lot rarer by the end of this year, as Jason Bateman delivers not one but two major box-office contenders where – and this is the important part – his handsome face is on the poster.
Later in the summer, we’ll get The Change-Up, a role reversal comedy co-starring Ryan Reynolds, and this Friday, it’s the crass Horrible Bosses, a comedy that’s already proven a major hit in the US.
In the latter, Bateman plays Nick Hendricks, patiently doing just about everything and anything his cruel boss (Kevin Spacey, in full Swimming With Sharks mode) desires in the belief that he’s about to be promoted. Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) is the dental assistant suffering from Brad Pitt Fever – he just doesn’t find his boss, Jennifer Aniston’s Julia, sexually attractive, despite her many desperate come-ons. Rounding out the trio of buddies who decide a dead boss is better than a nasty one is Jason Sudeikis’ Kurt, having trouble getting over the death of his beloved boss (Donald Sutherland) and the rise to the top of his coke-addled, hooker-banging son (Colin Farrell, in full Les Grossman mode, complete with potbelly and nasty comb-over).
The makers were clearly aiming for another Hangover, but what we get is closer to Top Gear Meets Scooby Doo.
PAUL BYRNE: With Horrible Bosses, the rise of The Foul-Mouthed Hollywood Comedy continues. Easy to watch your good buddy Jennifer Aniston uttering lines such as “You’re going to f**k my slutty little mouth”?
JASON BATEMAN: Well, it felt like we weren’t making a movie at all, just hanging out at Jen’s place. I think people are going to flip when they catch Jennifer Aniston in this movie, because she just goes for it. She lets it all hang out, literally, and she certainly isn’t shy about delivering some choice lines either. You can tell that Jen had a wonderful time. Even if she did have to go home each day and wash her mouth out with soap and water.
You seem to be having fun too, once again playing the everyman, the one the audience can relate to, no matter how high the madness escalates…
That’s the role I enjoy most, because you are taking the audience by the hand through whatever madness the director or the writer has conjured up. And you need that when you’re dealing with comedies like Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses. There’s an unreality there that’s acceptable if you have someone who the audience can relate to all the way through. And that’s usually my role. I’m just too square not to be that guy.
The supporting cast of Horrible Bosses is like a Who’s Who of former box-office champs – Farrell, Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Ioan Gruffudd… I’m guessing co-writer John Francis Daley – who achieved some fame as the kid lead in TV’s Freaks & Geeks back in 1999 – knew how they felt. John pops up too as one of your co-workers…
I think Hollywood is littered with former box-office champs, and future ones too, so, you know, you’ve got to give everyone a break. Once they’re right for the part. Everyone here got involved because there was fun to be had, simple as that.
And I myself know how long and treacherous a path being an actor can be. It took me, oh, about 30 years to make the move from TV to movies, to actually get to the point where I’m playing one of the lead roles. So, my heart goes out to everyone who’s involved in this eternal struggle. And I’m sure I’ll be struggling again later in my career…
What’s the secret to success then? Or maybe there isn’t any?
The secret is simply to make work that you genuinely feel good about. Make each one count. You don’t have to deliver Shakespeare, but you can deliver the best performance you can. It’s that simple really. I think if you look back over any successful career, it’s really all about the work. People know when something is true, when something is good, and it stays. It’s always there, and it means you might just be too.
This is your third movie with Jennifer Aniston – is there something going on here?
Other than my simple good fortune, no, unfortunately. We work well together, and we have fun when we meet up, so, I’m guessing that might be part of it. We’ve known each other for a long, long time, and that counts for something when you just want to get on with the job. There’s a shorthand amongst friends, and you can get to the meat of the matter much, much quicker that way.
But it’s also down to just plain ol’ luck. I’d like to be working with certain people on every movie, but, Hollywood just won’t listen to my demands.
Fame came to you pretty young, and you’ve admitted to partying hard back then, describing your youth at one point as “like Risky Business”. Did you ever step close to losing it all, as so many young stars do?
I guess I might have, without fully realizing it. I had a long stretch there where it was a lot of parties, but I was still working. So, maybe I never stepped too close to that edge. I certainly became aware early on of what that entailed, seeing friends just slip away into that world, and they suddenly found that the work had dried up too. I’ve been lucky enough to always have work, and that probably kept me somewhat on the straight and narrow. Eventually.
And now you’re a fitness freak, happily married, and a teetotalling non-smoker…
Yeah, it’s the only way to go when you get to my age. Unless I’m planning to play Keith Richards in biopics for the rest of my years, staying fit and healthy is a crucial part of my job. It tends to widen your chances when it comes to roles, as the homeless look can only get you so far.
And what of the Arrested Development movie. It’s been about to go into production for five years now, ever since the TV series ended…?
Like an awful lot of movies, it’s still in pre-production. Mitch Hurwitz has the script, and it’s all about signing on the dotted line basically. I think it’ll definitely happen, given the love we all have for it, and the love that’s out there. So, I’m like everyone else, just keeping my fingers crossed that it’s sooner rather than later. While Mitch can still afford me…
WORDS – PAUL BYRNE
HORRIBLE BOSSES is now showing in Irish cinemas
Jason Bateman also appears in THE CHANGE UP – A new comedy from the writers of the Hangover. You can watch an early preview of THE CHANGE UP at Movie Fest, Ireland’s new film festival.