x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jason Bateman directorial debut intentionally cringeworthy

Jason Bateman says he was attracted to Bad Words – his feature-film directorial debut – because the humour came from the 'deeply flawed' characters.

Jason Bateman, centre, at a spelling competition in the darkly humorous film Bad Words. Focus Features, Sam Urdank / AP Photo
Jason Bateman, centre, at a spelling competition in the darkly humorous film Bad Words. Focus Features, Sam Urdank / AP Photo

After audiences see Jason Bateman’s new movie, Bad Words, the actor, who makes his feature-film directorial debut with the comedy, will have one question: “Do I need to apologise?”

Best known for his blunt approach and dry sense of humour in the television show Arrested Development and in films such as Horrible Bosses, Bateman’s turn as a vengeful wordsmith who competes against kids in spelling bees is perhaps his most hilarious role yet.

Bateman says he was attracted to the film, written by the first-timer Andrew Dodge, because the humour came from the fact that the characters “were deeply flawed”.

“It takes a certain audience member to appreciate that. There will be plenty of people who do not and that’s absolutely fine,” he says.

In the film, Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a bitter genius who exploits a technicality in the spelling competition’s rule book: a contestant must not have passed the 8th grade. Since he hasn’t, he’s free to compete. Not only does Bateman’s character beat the youngsters, but he also messes with their heads in a cringeworthy fashion.

“This is a film done for a small budget,” says Bateman. “We’re not financially obligated to appeal to 100 million people. That gives us the privilege of doing something a little more challenging to watch.”

Bateman also directed the film and admits the job, while satisfying and rewarding, came with a set of difficulties.

“It’s like going into someone’s brain and controlling what they’re thinking and feeling,” he says. “That’s a lot of responsibility. The most challenging part is to illuminate choices and make sure there is some consistency and strategy to the end result.”

Luckily Bateman had his pal Ron ­Howard to call on. The Oscar-winning filmmaker was one of the first to see the movie.

“It was a privilege to get that real high level of scrutiny,” says the 45-year-old Bateman, whose first experience behind the camera was as a teenager, when he directed an episode of the sitcom he starred in, The Hogan Family. “There really is no wrong way to do this. I just had to be open and let the film be what it wanted to be.”

His co-star Kathryn Hahn, who plays a journalist and Bateman’s love interest in the film, says he was “confident and calm”.

“There was no chin-stroking behind the monitor. You never saw doubt,” she says.

Eager to continue to split time between acting and directing, Bateman says he keeps a close eye on the careers of other successful actors who have also focused on directing, such as Ben Affleck and George Clooney.

“I’d love to find that balance,” he says.

He’ll soon get another opportunity to do just that when he directs and stars in the drama The Family Fang, opposite Nicole Kidman.

“I’m excited to see if there is anything I can possibly do to help her process,” he says. “I’m lucky that access matches with ambition right now.”

artslife@thenational.ae