Star Apps: Jason Bateman

The actor-director chats about "Bad Words," eyeing the director's chair, playing an unlikable character, whether he would direct again, and swearing over Twitter.

Jason Bateman is best known for his acting: "The Hogan Family" and "Teen Wolf 2" if you grew up in the '80s, and "Arrested Development" and "Identity Thief" if you're watching him now. But he's also been recognized for directing. Bateman ran an episode of the "The Hogan Family" at the age of 18, thus becoming the youngest person inducted into the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Recently he has capitalized on both talents with the feature film "Bad Words," in which he plays Guy Trilby, who ruthlessly hijacks a children's spelling bee without explanation. "Bad Words" is currently playing in select cities and opens nationwide on March 28.

Jason Bateman directing Bad Words

Jason Bateman (pictured on the set of Bad Words) was once the youngest director in the DGA.

(Credit: Focus Features)

You were the youngest director in the DGA, for directing an episode of "The Hogan Family."
Yeah, they called me the week I was doing that, and I was pretty giddy about that. They said I had beat Malcolm-Jamal Warner by a couple months and Steven Spielberg by a couple more months, which was pretty neat.

That must have felt amazing -- to beat out Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
That was a treat to be able to do that at that age. I had been looking at the director's chair for a long time. My dad was a big fan of film and would take me to the movie theater instead of the park to throw a ball. He showed me what was good acting and what was bad acting, and good direction and bad direction, etc. So I've just been clocking it for a long time and always dreamed of having the opportunity to direct a film, which is a much more robust and involved process than you find in a multicam show or single-cam show.

Between "Bad Words," "Arrested Development," and "The Switch," you really seem to enjoy working with children.
I certainly don't look for that. But once I'm there, I find that it's a particularly interesting relationship that one can have with a kid if you treat them like an equal. You can be a peer if you elevate that child and give them a lot of credit and treat them with the kind of maturity that they might deserve in certain areas.

It's always fun to watch an older character and a younger character on a peer level. In this movie, my character is not emotionally nor spiritually advanced, so he considers himself on an even playing field with these kids, especially the main kid. So he has no problems talking to this kid, because he feels like he's talking to a peer.

How would you describe your character in the film?
He's a complicated guy. If he weren't so screwed up, he wouldn't have made this bad decision to crash this bee, and we wouldn't have a movie. It's certainly nothing malicious he's doing. He just has no graces.

Were you concerned about how the audience would react to such an unlikable character?
With this character comes a huge challenge, because you need to not hate this guy. Otherwise you want to leave the theater. So I liked that challenge. Because I was so excited by that challenge, I pushed the script, and I took it further, especially once I decided I was going to play this character. There were ample opportunities to show enough vulnerabilities or flaws with this guy, that I thought we could take an even bigger swing here or there. I think that's an inherent deal with the audience. If you do this, you've got to give me that. In the final bit, the kid and me have that soft moment, and you want to offset it with giving him the bird. So there were a million opportunities to find the right balance.

Ultimately he's a guy who gets his feelings hurt, and then he's not equipped to deal with it in the way that you and I would, and that's sad. It's a pretty melancholy story, and on the way we get a lot of laughs. But certainly he would much rather deal with things in a less immature way.

Jason Bateman in Bad Words

Guy Trilby (played by Bateman) is not too adult to disrupt a children's spelling bee.

(Credit: Focus Features)

How do you think your experience as a young actor informed how you approached the more adult content with the young actors?
I do remember wanting to be treated like an adult when I was a kid actor, unless I got really nervous, and then I wanted to be taken care of by a parent or adult figure. I was always aware of that when trying to find the right balance when working with all the kids. Then when we had challenging scenes with off-color material, you wanted to do the same thing but downplay it a little, so the kid is not scared off. If they don't understand something, you might not want to explain it to them. [laughs]

When directors, such as yourself, decide to act in their own films, how do you know you're right for the role?
That's the risk. You've eliminated that checks-and-balances system and have to be honest about whether you have a better than fair chance of hitting the necessary target. I knew I had a good shot of hitting that quality of unlikable yet likable.

From where are you recognized the most?
"Arrested Development." I've done stuff that's not great, and people who know me from that will walk right by you or say "You suck." But "Arrested Development" was a really well-made show, so the people who like it come back and say so, and it's great.

Since "Arrested Development" is now a Netflix series, I'm curious about how you consume entertainment.
For the most part, it's on my DVR, because I have a couple little girls, and they have the TV or my attention until I have 45 minutes left till I pass out.

I will watch stuff on my iPad and less so on my phone because of screen size. I still remember the day when the download speed was so slow. I thought about one day being able to watch something by hitting Play without waiting for it to buffer, and the fact that we're there now is so exciting to me. I wish I had a long commute, because then I'd choke a lot down, but we're driving, so it's not smart.

A major part of the "Bad Words" social-media promotion involved using the hashtag #badwords on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Have you ever used any bad words over social media?
I hope so. [laughs] I don't think so, because the only social media I'm involved with is Twitter, and that's only used for business stuff, so I'm not cursing on that. Some people use it and say, "Terrible f**king traffic today." I just find it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in me and traffic, so it's mostly professional stuff, and therefore it wouldn't be appropriate to use bad words.

Have you ever said anything you've regretted over social media?
Never. [laughs] The obvious answer would be yes, and the obvious follow-up would be, "What is it?" And the obvious answer would be, "I'm not telling." But yeah, a lot. I think we all do.

What's your favorite bad word?
I don't have one. I really like them all. One can abuse them, but used in the right way, each is useful at times.

Check out a favorite app that helps you generate bad words.

Would you direct again?
It was the greatest experience next to the birth of my children. It was everything I wanted it to be. Yeah, I can't wait -- starting in May.

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