Interview: Jason Bateman on going to the dark side with ‘Bad Words’

Jason Bateman plays a grown, profane man who crashes spelling bees in "Bad Words," which he also directed. Credit: Getty Images
Jason Bateman plays a grown, profane man who crashes spelling bees in “Bad Words,” which he also directed.
Credit: Getty Images

For his directorial debut, Jason Bateman puts some pretty terrible words in his mouth as Guy Trilby, a grown-up spelling bee contestant making life difficult for his tween-aged competitors with some truly withering insults. That coarseness was something Bateman didn’t want to shy away from. “No one needs to see another PG spelling bee movie. We’ve seen those,” he says with a laugh. “Or another heartwarming tale about an adult befriending a child or vice versa. There’s a bunch of great movies that have done that and I didn’t want to do another one of those.”

Luckily Bateman had an ace in the hole to avoid things getting to dark: himself. Known more for playing the nice guy, Bateman has an actor has a decent amount of goodwill built up with audiences on which to rely. “I wasn’t afraid about pushing the envelope as far as possible because I knew that I’d be playing the character, and I was somewhat confident that I would be able to play him in a way where you would excuse his behavior,” Bateman says. “Or at least I knew that would be a nice challenge for me. I don’t know whether I hit the target, it’s not for me to say. But I do like that I was increasing my odds of hitting that narrow target and managing that very specific tone by being able to have a huge presence on camera as well as behind the camera.”

Surprisingly, though Jason Bateman the actor was not Jason Bateman the director’s first choice for “Bad Words,” but he eventually managed to talk himself into it. “I went after some pretty big actors, some heroes of mine to play the part, and they were either too busy or not interested,” he admits. “Then I thought, maybe I should play the part because it’s actually going to end up being a little easier. For better or worse, every single take is going to be exactly the way that I want it. You have no idea how long it takes sometimes for a director and an actor to get on the same page while the whole crew waits before you can roll.”

But while that lack of debate and discussion with a lead actor saved time and made things easier, wearing both hats did prove logistically challenging in other ways. “As a director, traditionally you can sit there [at the monitor] and you can know exactly what you’re getting as you’re getting it. I didn’t have that perspective, so I wasn’t able to see that,” he says. “We had to adjust our process a little bit where we would rehearse a lot more with my stand-in in there so I could see what the camera was seeing. Then once I was satisfied that everybody was doing it the way I thought that it needed to be done, then I went in front of the camera. And then after a couple of takes I would go and watch playback. If you watch every take in playback, by definition you’ve doubled your time in the day, so I couldn’t do that. I had to be judicious with that.”

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick


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