Despite becoming the youngest member to be inducted into the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) at 18, Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) makes his long awaited feature directorial debut in the dark comedy Bad Words in which he also stars. The former child actor who had only directed a handful of episodes of the 1989 sit-com, The Hogan family, wanted to wait for the perfect script to tickle his funny bone.
Bad Words is an R-rated comedy written by Andrew Hodge. Jason plays Guy Trilby, an arrogant, heartless 40-year-old who finds a loophole in the rules of The Golden Quill, a national Spelling Bee and has a personal desire to hijack the competition. Contest officials, outraged parents, and overly ambitious 8th graders are no match for Guy as he ruthlessly crushes their dreams of victory and fame.
The story finds Bateman’s character forging an unlikely alliance with a 10-year-old contestant played by Rohan Chand (Homeland) who is completely unfazed by Guy’s cynical attitude to life. The film also stars Kathryn Hahn, Ben Falcone, Philip Baker Hall and Allison Janney. In our chat with Bateman, continuing off from our previous on-set interview with him, we talk about directing a full-length feature after being in the industry for decades, starring in his own film and working with other child actors.
What surprised you about the directing process that you didn’t already know?
Jason Bateman: I thought that I would absolutely love it and I was a little surprised that I loved it even more. It’s the greatest job in the world. It’s a real privilege to be able to oversee such a complex process and see it all the way through. And you know, all the way through marketing.
Now, you were in the DGA at the age of 18 and this is your first feature that you’ve directed….
Were you a frustrated director for all of those years… something like 20, 30 years?
Something like that, yeah.
What took you so long?
I wasn’t frustrated. I was paying attention….I was always.. you know, my plan was to….. my hope was to be in a position where I could utilize all that I’ve learned. And the directing chair demands that you know a lot! Or at least be courageous enough to ask questions in the areas that you don’t know a lot in. It’s nice to be able to contribute as much as you want to.
It appears nepotism was involved in the casting process; you cast yourself in the leading role…
What were your reasons behind that? Was it because no-one else could do it better than you?
Well no, I tried to get a couple of big shot actors to play the part and they were either busy or not interested. And this is a tricky tone to hit in this film. There’s some stuff that is tough to watch yet you’re supposed to laugh at it. So we gotta kinda earn that. That’s a narrow target to hit and so I thought I’d increase my odds by being in front of the camera and behind the camera and it was a big swing, but I think we hit the target. I hope we hit the target more often than we missed it.
The film was hilarious, I was laughing uncomfortably the whole way through. I was laughing in parts where I probably shouldn’t have been laughing.
Oh good. So I don’t have to apologize for anything?
A lot of your scenes were opposite a nine year-old. As a former child actor yourself, was it easier to direct kids in this film because you didn’t want to come across as intimidating or patronizing?
Right, I remember not liking being intimated or patronized when I was that age. And so I treated Rohan [Chand] as a peer and as a friend. When he needed to feel perhaps that there was somebody adult and responsible that was in charge of things and could handle something for him, then I would play that part. When he needed to just talk to the other actor in the scene with him, then we would have that relationship and when he needed to just pal around and have a laugh off camera, we’d be buddies. So it was always changing and it was a pleasure to deal with him because he was such a pro.
And lastly, has your spelling improved? Can you spell Floccinaucinihilipilification? (It’s a word Guy spells at the Spelling Bee.)
You probably don’t have enough tape for that word! But I think I can get pretty close to it. That was a long word. It was all written on cue cards, just off camera so I as cheating.
More: Kathryn Hahn Interview
Next up for Jason in the director’s chair for Bateman is The Family Fang where he also co-stars opposite Nicole Kidman (who dons a producer’s hat). It’s based on the 2011 novel by Kevin Wilson with Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) penning the script.
Bad Words hits theaters on March 28, 2014.