Jason Bateman on how his 'Ozark' character stacks up with Walter White

The actor and filmmaker opens up about his new Netflix drama, how it compares to "Breaking Bad" and more.
Ozark
Jason Bateman in 'Ozark.' Photo by Jackson Davis / Netflix

If you tune into Netflix's new series "Ozark" this weekend expecting to see Jason Bateman play another doting dad like Michael Bluth, think again.

 

The 48-year-old acting veteran is taking a dramatic turn with his new show that has way more in common with "Breaking Bad" than "Arrested Development." Bateman plays a financial planner named Marty Byrde who's forced to move his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks after falling into debt with a Mexican drug lord.

 

As you can imagine, there's plenty of criminal intrigue, action and drama going on in "Ozark," but it was the behind the scenes opportunities that really attracted the actor to the series. 

 

"This came along as a piece of acting business and I said, 'If they’re interested in allowing me to executive produce, oversee the whole project and direct every episode, then that’s kind of in line with what we’re looking for, which is an escalation in scope and scale,'" Bateman says. "I eventually talked [the head of Media Rights Capital] into it, and we  sold it to Netflix and off we went. Unfortunately, I couldn’t carve out enough pre-production time to direct all 10 of them, but we worked out a way to do the first two and last two."

 

Here's what else he had to say about his new series and how it compares to "Breaking Bad."

What are your thoughts on all the "Ozark" and "Breaking Bad" comparisons?

We’re obviously flattered to be compared to something that was so well received, so well done. I understand the basic premise and concept of it that might have some baked-in-the-cake similarities, but we have something that is its own thing. The only time we really talked about "Breaking Bad" was we knew we didn’t want my character do the same thing that Walter White did, where he sort of leaned into that criminal world. They did that so well and we weren’t interested in stealing or replicating that, especially since my guy starts as a guy already involved in criminal stuff.

Do you think Marty would be buddies with Walter White?

They’re probably both smart enough, arrogant enough and filled with enough hubris to actually think the other guy is kind of a fool. Both of them suffered from the same level of being really smart, but just not smart enough to stay away from this problem, and kind of overplay their hand a bit. If they were super smart, you wouldn’t have a show, because they wouldn’t make mistakes. They’d probably look at each other with a little bit of pity as really not having it as together as they themselves have it.

Marty and his family are affluent city dwellers from Chicago who are forced to deal with backwater, rednecks in Missouri. The dynamic between those worlds seems to mirror the political divide between urban and rural life in America today.

It’s an interesting microcosm, what’s going on in this show versus what’s going on in America. The people in the big cities clearly should not be underestimating the voice and the determination of the people in the middle of the country. They have a very clear idea of what they think is best for themselves, what’s best for the country and they simply can’t be ignored. We have to find a way to braid their agenda into the agenda of the coast and try to make it all work.

How did you balance working as a director, executive producer and star for the series?

Balancing all those responsibilities is not as difficult as you would think. The acting part of it is so comfortable for me, and something I’ve been doing for so long that it really allows me the opportunity to be aware of all the other parts of the process, all the other things that really a director needs to be focused on. It does feel like directing, period, with the added benefit that lead the actor is someone that is reading my mind with every take, and he’s doing exactly what I want him to do. There’s no creative negotiation and I don’t have to direct him at all. It’s actually more efficient than if I weren’t acting in it. Not to say what I’m doing is perfect as an actor every time, at least it’s exactly what my particular taste is looking for with every take, every scene.

You spent part of your early childhood in Boston. Did the city leave any sort of impact on you?

I was only there between the ages of 2 to 4, but I went back there and visited a few years ago. I just kind of saw the style of residential architecture and the mature trees, everything is so wooded there. I realized this is probably where a lot of my affinity for all that got started, and I simply don’t remember it. It’s just a beautiful state and the city itself is filled with all the American history you could want as well as all the modern cosmopolitan elements that are kind of cool to be around. I love it there.

As a big sports guy who’s spent time in Boston, New York and L.A., would you rather see your Dodgers face the Yankees or the Red Sox in the World Series?

Boy, either one of those come with a great deal of history, pedigree. The Dodgers and the Yankees certainly had a bunch of really great series. I don’t know if the Dodgers have ever played the Red Sox in the World Series. Maybe they did way back, certainly not since the Dodgers have been in Los Angeles. That would be pretty cool to have a Dodger Stadium-Fenway Park series. But either way, both those teams have to get past the Astros first. Good luck to the winner.

'Ozark' premieres on Netflix July 21.

 
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