vFrom The Sweetest Thing to Arrested Development, let’s be real…even Teen Wolf Too, I have been a longtime fan of his work and thankfully I was able to control my fangirl nerves; the fact that he was super nice and put everyone at ease immediately was a help too. I was really excited to get to talk to him about his feature directorial debut, Bad Words. This dark comedy proves that along with being a fantastic actor, Bateman is a top-notch director as well.
Bad Words, tells the story of Guy Trilby (Bateman), a bitter, surly man with an obvious chip on his shoulder. For some mysterious reason, Guy has made it his life’s mission to enter a children’s spelling bee and kick major ass, all thanks to a loophole in the rules. He is not concerned with the fact that he looks like a petulant jerk, stomping on the dreams of children. He has bigger fish to fry and will stop at nothing (including insulting and sabotaging the children) to win.
With the help of reporter, and sometimes lover, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), Guy is able to make quick work of the regional spelling bees, and inevitably ends up at the televised national competition. Here, he strikes up a frenemyship with a 10 year old kid named Chaitanya Chopra. However, Guy doesn’t treat Chaitanya like a kid; in fact, Guy introduces Chaitanya to alcohol, lobsters, and helps him get his first peek at boobs. Despite the attempts to get him out of the competition, both through challenging words and poor accommodations, Guy is never discouraged. But what is his end goal? Why does he feel the need to bulldoze the competition? More importantly, will he actually get to the end of the spelling bee?
As Jason admits himself, Bad Words is not for everyone. If you are easily offended by bad language and raunchy, adult humor, maybe you should sit this one out. However, if you are a fan of this kind of genre, you will find yourself thoroughly amused and I imagine there will be many quotes stemming from this film.
In person, not only is Jason funny, charming, and witty, but he is also incredibly insightful about his work. It’s easy to tell he is a movie fan just like the rest of us and wants audiences to have a great time laughing at his films. Thankfully, I was able to keep the fangirl freakout in check for our roundtable interview, where we talked about the awesome, original movie poster, the adult content of the movie, and what it felt like to direct himself in a film.
Make sure you go see Bad Words, which opens in theaters this Friday, March 21, in theaters near you!
Lauren B (ClotureClub.com): Welcome! Have you been to D.C. before?
Jason: I have! I really like it here. It’s a beautiful city. Actually, three of my favorite cities have been what this tour is: San Francisco, Chicago and D.C. Certainly I love New York and L.A. but those are the other three.. the top five.
Rebecca Cusey (patheos.com): So you decide you’re going to make a movie… why Bad Words? How did it come about?
Jason: Well I said to my agent, ‘Please don’t wait for there to be a gap in my acting schedule to pursue directing for me because it’s the only reason I’ve been acting for at least the last fifteen or twenty years… to try to build up enough capital or relevance for access to actually ask for that position.’ I said, “If you feel the community is going to embrace giving me that opportunity, then please send me some scripts that you think I might be able to get.” So he did, and this was one of the three that he sent. I really liked the sense of humor of it. I’m embarrassed to say I have a very similar dark sense of humor, but it also presented a challenge immediately to make that nastiness palatable… that there would be a performance component to that as well as a filmmaking component to that. Since I was going to be directing it, I knew that you would need somebody in that position that is mindful of that. So I started to think, ‘What actor would be able to be spiteful, yet likeable?’ I approached a couple of actors that would be able to do that certainly and they were either busy or not interested and before I went to choice three I thought, ‘Well maybe I should play the part.’ One, because at least from my own personal taste, I would have a good chance at hitting that tone and also I could cut down on my work load if I don’t have to direct the lead actor. For better or worse, I would be getting the exact performance I want in every take from at least that person.
Rebecca: So you were looking and this one is the one that found you.
Tam Sackman (TheEagleOnline.com): How has your experience as an actor translated into directing?
Jason: Well, as an actor you have a very good seat to see the complexities of the process and that helped me tremendously in trying to navigate how complicated the process is. You are often exposed to a lot of problems and things that are broken and as an actor, you’re a part of the solution process, but sometimes you have to be a little politic about how you suggest a fix or an answer. As a director, you’re obligated to come up with the answer. So it was nice to have the responsibility of having to answer all of those questions and fix all of the problems. It demanded that I use all that I observed and soaked up and it’s like all the acting was kind of going to college and when you come out of college you want a job. That’s what directing is. It demanded that I use everything I learned.
Tam: So do you think you’re more critical of your own acting when you’re directing?
Jason: Equally. I always am doing my acting knowing that at least one person is going to be watching it. I know that person is going to have a very, very critical eye and is going to be watching for the slightest bit of communication. So it lets me be very, very subtle because I’m performing for that audience. I just did it the same way. Between action and cut it just felt like normal; I was doing my acting. Then at cut, it was time to assess whether we got it right. That judgment was up to me for a change, as opposed to someone else. That was a daunting but gratifying challenge.
Lauren B: Can you talk a little about the trickiness of working with a child actor when the material is a bit raunchy? Is there anything that you film around and have him stand… then reset the scene with the more raunchier bits?
Jason: Are you talking about the nudity?
Lauren B: Yeah…
Jason: Well, obviously the script was written before I ever met any of the actors that were auditioning for the film. Kind of by auditioning, you’re wanting to be in the film. You’re at least partially comfortable with what you know is going to be executed. I did feel compelled to offer an explanation of tone and spirit that is under all of these things… that it wasn’t my intention to be arbitrary or gratuitous with any of the pricklier elements of the film. This was coming from a character that was involved in a drama. This is not funny to him; his feelings were hurt and he is a flawed guy. If he was as mature as us, he wouldn’t have made this immature decision and he certainly wouldn’t mistreat these people. So there was a dramatic agenda under the whole thing hopefully.
I tried to explain that to all of the kids in the film, all of their parents, and they were all very, very comfortable with it. As far as specifically the nudity scene, I will tell you that that was the one scene I was most sensitive about and one that his mother was most interested in understanding the spirit by which we would be shooting it and presenting it to the audience. You know, he wasn’t there for any coverage that wasn’t necessary for him to be in but I didn’t go out of my way to shield him from boobs [everyone laughs]. People sunbathe in Europe without tops on and it isn’t a continent full of murderers. If he was uncomfortable with it, or his parents were uncomfortable with it, we would have found a way to shoot it by going around that, but they were very comfortable.
Rebecca: I’m interested in this… in the content. I love what you did with your character. I like the way you said “nastiness palatable”, but then you learn to understand him…
Jason: Hopefully! Hopefully you find a little empathy for him and then that is an interesting transition that you go through as an audience members because there’s certainly plenty of moments where this guy is absolutely despicable. If you find yourself empathizing with him at any point that’s as an audience member… for me, I always enjoy those transitions like, “Oh, there was a combination of things presented to me by the filmmakers that took me from here to there.” That’s why I go to the movies.
Lauren: I love the poster for Bad Words. Could you talk about how that was made? I think it is the most creative, original poster I’ve seen in a long time.
Jason: Thank you! There’s a man named Blair Greene at Focus Features who’s been at the head of his class for a long time. He came up with about fifty different concepts for the one sheet that all of which would have been fantastic. We arrived at this one kind of instinctively. Everyone kind of gravitated to this one, but all were a close second. My wife is not a fan of it. She thinks it’s disgusting. [everyone laughs]
Lauren: It grabs your attention though! You’re walking by it and wonder, ‘What is that movie?!’
Jason: Yeah, she would rather a bit more of a handsome picture of me. [everyone laughs] I’m just so happy that the studio supported this decision. They’ve been great, great partners.
Tam: You often play a regular guy who has been thrown into crazy circumstances like Arrested Development or Identity Thief but in Bad Words, you are a not so regular guy who creates these circumstances for himself. What do you get breaking out of that typecast?
Jason: It’s a nice change to be the antagonist instead of the protagonist, but there is a bit of a transition in the film where he becomes a little bit more of the protagonist as opposed to the antagonist and perhaps you start to empathize with him at an equal level or maybe even more than some of the people around him (for some of the audience). I thought that was really creative by the screenwriter. As you said, I’m practiced at playing the guy who is unsure, flawed, vulnerable and wounded. I knew that to make this film and this character tolerable, you needed to show flashes of that. So I have a few of those tricks up my sleeve where you can say something nasty as Guy Trilby, but then I can throw in a Michael Bluth look and people might be like, “Oh that guy really didn’t mean that. He’s just being petulant.” Maybe there was a cocktail there that made it go down a little easier.