Funny man Jason Bateman is headling the latest workplace comedy from director Mike Judge entitled, Extract. The actor has been in the business for almost 30 years, and has made his mark in feature films by starring in mostly supporting roles. In Extract, he steps out of the shadow of Will Smith and Vince Vaughn to showcase his skills as a leading man.
We recently caught up with Bateman to talk about his current project as well as a few from the past (Arrested Development, Silver Spoons). We wanted to know what it was like working with Judge as a director, and whether or not he sees himself behind the camera one day. Here’s the rundown of what happened when we got to sit down with Michael Bluth aka David Hogan aka Jason Bateman.
What was it like working with Mike Judge as a director?
JB: He’s very, very easy. It’s very effortless. I think he does most of his work before the production starts. He writes a great script, and then he casts people that do exactly what he’s written these characters to do. I think it’s probably just indicative of how lazy he is. He doesn’t have to work very hard on the set. He likes to sort of just watch TV, and say Yes and No, Cut and Action.
You’re known for playing mostly supporting roles in your films. Is it a risk for you to star as the lead in a comedy?
JB: It’s not a risk if Mike Judge is out in front. I’ve got this thing with Jennifer Aniston next year, that’s a lead but she’s out front. This Couples Retreat thing, I’m safely at number two underneath Vince [Vaughn], he can carry it. I’m fine with that. I’m not looking to be the star of a movie, just to be the star of a movie. I’d love to be the star of the movie if it’s a director’s vehicle like this is. Any sort of celebrity director, these filmmakers, these Michael Manns or Peter Jacksons or Steven Spielbergs, whatever it is, then yeah obviously I’d want to be number one. A lot of times actors will attach themselves to a project, and then they’ll just hire whatever director is available to shoot the movie and that’s usually a recipe for disaster.
Would you ever want to work with Woody Allen?
JB: [Jokingly] I don’t think so man. Yeah, he’s running first, second swap with the Coen Brothers, as far as people’s dreams to work with. He certainly is for me.
In the movie Dodgeball I read that the tattoo on your character’s neck was your idea. In Extract, was there a personal touch you added to your character?
JB: I don’t think so. No, I think I wanted to make sure that his hair was short and sort of work place, kind of blue collar. Mitch Horowitz [Arrested Development creator], he sort of clued me in on that. At times I wouldn’t get a haircut during Arrested Development, and he’d say, “Let’s get the haircut.” I was like, “Why? What difference does it make to you?” Well, the longer a guy’s hair is the more it sort of looks like he can deal with stuff. It’s kind of laid back, and I was like, “Oh I get it, alright.” That’s about it, but I’m reaching to even come up with that one. I just sort of deferred everything to Mike; he’s got a very specific eye for things. Coming from animation he knows the way things should look and feel and sound.
Did you know the pot scene from the film would be a featured moment in the trailer?
JB: When we were doing it, no. You never really do, you never know what marketing is going to come up with. It’s certainly funny. I don’t know honestly if it sets the table properly for what you’d expect from the movie. I personally feel that the teaser, which is what’s out there, there isn’t even a trailer for this film, but it’s the teaser that everyone’s been looking at. There’s a guy who gets his ball sack blown off, and I take a big bong hit. It makes you think that you’re about to see something that is a bit more like the recent comedies that have been out, as opposed to stuff that is more consistent with Mike’s sense of humor and comedic tone which is a bit more muted. Those two moments in the teaser are a bit high concept, and a bit broad. His stuff is much more character based, the scenes are very long, and there’s a lot of conversation and dialogue as opposed to big comedic set pieces. I hope it sets the table properly for the audience, and the audience doesn’t go into it thinking it’s going to be a movie full of those kinds of moments. If that’s what they’re expecting they’re going to walk away from the film and give it what I think would be a false negative, thinking “Well it didn’t live up to that.” If it were me, I would have cut a different trailer or actually cut a trailer, and set the groundwork for people to be in the right mood, the right gear for this brand of humor, which is a bit more subtle than what the teaser indicates.
What was your reaction when Mike told you that he had you in mind for this part?
JB: We share a manager Michael Rotenberg, and he knew that Mike had this script or this idea. I think Mike started writing this back in the Office Space days, so when Arrested Development started to take off Michael remembered this script that Mike had. He thought that I would fit this part in this movie quite easily, because they [Michael Bluth/Joel] are very similar. They’re sort of these straight men, these conservative guys in the middle of a bunch of craziness. So, we showed Mike some episodes of it and he agreed, and that’s how this kind of came about.
How would you feel if you were put in a management position like your character? What if you suddenly had minions at your beck and call?
JB: I would hope that I would handle it well. I’d hope that I wouldn’t take advantage of my power and my influence. I aspire to that position, to the equivalent in by business, which would be a director. It’s something I’m trying to ramp up and fade out of acting and maybe into that or maybe split time like a Ben Stiller or a George Clooney. Hopefully someday that will take off for me. It would just give me a chance to use what I’ve learned.
What type of material would you like to direct? Are you talking comedy, dark comedy, drama?
JB: Right now my taste is in the dark comedy arena, but those don’t tend to make a ton of money. I think you need to sort of make money for one or two and then they’d let you make dark comedies. I don’t know. I’m not a genius. It doesn’t really matter to me what I would direct. I just like that position. You get to work with multiple departments, and multiple department heads, as opposed to just learning your lines, coming in saying your lines, and walking away.
Are there any actors or performers that you are a big fan of?
JB: Ricky Gervais, Sacha Baron Cohen, Will Ferrell, the Coen Brothers, I could come up with a bunch more. I like things that are a little left of center. I just saw the trailer for Jared Hess’ new movie, Gentlemen Broncos and that looks just incredible. It’s something that’s very innovative. I like stuff that is very down the middle and goes down easily. That stuff is essential to keep our industry alive, but I would love to support those who are kind of trying to widen that a little bit. I think that’s indicative of the audience, I think the audience is ready for stuff that kind of bends stuff a little but more than they used to.
Tell me about your character Agent Lorenzo Zoil?
JB: This is the film Paul that I just finished; Simon Pegg and Nick Frost wrote it and are starring in it. Greg Mottola’s the director of it. It’s a great ensemble that Greg put together; I’m very, very lucky to be a part of that. My character is the government agent that is sent to go out and grab Paul the alien, and drag him back to Area 51. He’s a very humorless and expressionless government agent, very similar to either Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, or even Men in Black and also Yaphet Kotto in Midnight Run. I’ve got a couple of deputies Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader, and it was just really, really fun. It’s a road movie. These guys, Simon, Nick, and Paul are in a motor home and I’m in a late model, black Crown Victoria in hot pursuit.
Does he get what his name is or no?
JB: That’s pretty funny. We shot two versions of that. That was Simon’s idea. When we were actually shooting that scene, we shot it one way where I’d say my name, because it’s always Agent Zoil, Agent Zoil, Agent Zoil. In one of the last scenes I introduce myself as Lorenzo Zoil. He says, “Oh, thank you. Nice to meet you Agent Zoil,” and I go “Oh, you can call me Lorenzo.” He goes, “Oh, Lorenzo Zoil?” and I go…[followed by a puzzled look of realization]. I don’t know if they’re going to use that one, but its kind of funny the idea that the guy has never thought about his name together. It’s kind of retarded, but we’ll see.
Your scenes with David Koechner are hilarious. What was it like to shoot those?
JB: It was a lot of wasted film. He really cracked us up. Kristen Wiig and I would just lose it every time we did a scene with him. He just does such a good job in that part. That part and Brad the gigolo played by Dustin Milligan are my two favorite characters in the movie. Those two actors did not waste the parts. They did a great job.
You have such an extensive resume of TV shows and films. Have you kept any souvenirs from any of the projects you’ve done? On Silver Spoons did you ever ride the train?
JB: I rode the train a lot, and Ricky [Schroder] and I became really good at Pac-Man, Dragon Slayer, Missile Command, Asteroids…
So you’re a gamer?
JB: Well of those, I haven’t gone into the current game stuff. Some of my friends have. Will Arnett is, he should probably go into some sort of a 12 step. He’s got the headset and he argues with 10 year olds in Iowa. It’s pretty embarrassing.
So did you keep any of the souvenirs from the shows?
JB: I’ve started to with the movies lately. There’s usually one little thing I’ll grab and I keep them on my desk, but nothing from Silver Spoons. Actually, I’m lying. I have a lock of Ricky’s golden hair, one little curl.
Have you been involved with Pete Berg and Will Smith discussing any Hancock 2 plans?
JB: No, I read the same thing. I don’t think there’s much to read into with that. I bet you Pete was just answering a question and said, “Oh yeah, yeah a sequel why not? We probably should have this, that, and the other. I don’t know if we’re going to do it but…” Then all of a sudden it went out there and now there’s a sequel in the mix. We were talking about a sequel in the middle of shooting that film. I think anytime Will does a movie, there’s not only going to be a sequel, but it’s a franchise. Listen, if I’m invited I’ll be there, but I know it’s something that they’ve talked about since day one. There hasn’t been any significant movement other than just a “Yeah, why not.” kind of thing.*
Have you seen Mitch’s Arrested Development script yet?
JB: No, he’s still writing it. I don’t know when he’ll be done with it. My guess would be another few months. Once he’s done writing it there’s going to be the process of trying to schedule it, which will be difficult. I put that at least a year away.
In an ensemble like Couples Retreat, I assume each couple fulfills a sort of archetype. With you and Kristen [Bell], what role do you play?
JB: We’re the A Types. We’re the types that really probably only move their bowels once a month. We’re not a relaxed couple. We’re having issues in our relationship, and in the toilet. We want to go to this tropical island that specializes in rehabilitating relationships. We don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it, so I find a group rate. I ask my three other buddies if they’ll join me with their wives so I can qualify for this “eight some,” they oblige and off we go.
With such a great ensemble in that movie was it hard to keep a straight face?
JB: Yeah, I mean there’s nobody funnier than Vince Vaughn. There’s nobody more creative with improvising than he is, so you never know what he’s going to say. It’s very hard to be ready for what he’s going to say.
In Extract you have great scenes with Ben Affleck and J.K. Simmons. How much on book did you stay? Did Mike make you stay on script or did he just let you go?
JB: I don’t remember any real significant improvising in this movie. We really didn’t need to. He doesn’t write a ton of jokes. When a script is filled with jokes, you can very often pull that joke out and put another one in. He writes character comedy, so if you start changing the dialogue, you start changing the character. He writes real well, there’s no need to punch it up or change at all. We’d keep it loose, because he likes conversational sort of free flowing type of acting, non-acting. We would do that, but he didn’t need any dumb suggestions from us.
* In terms of the Hancock question, there has been movement on the sequel front. They have hired two writers to pen the script.