Jason Bateman Talks ‘Zootopia’ and the “Great Challenge” of Directing

Jason Bateman Zootopia

Critics have been raving about Disney’s Zootopia for awhile now and it’s in part due to Jason Bateman’s character, Nick Wilde. He’s a sly fox who Bateman says was like many of the characters he’s played in the past. He told The Wall Street Journal, “I’m playing a guy that is somebody who is doing and saying things that are not terribly dissimilar than characters I’ve played in the past, which is to say, it’s not that dissimilar from who I am: somebody who appreciates a dry sense of humor and knows his way around sarcasm. It’s literally a part of my DNA. My mother’s British, so she kind of gave me this dry sense of humor, and that’s just the stuff that makes me laugh.”

When asked about voice acting, the star of Arrested Development said that there really wasn’t any challenge to it. “All the hard work is being done before and after us. We stand in a booth, and we talk. Really, the animation, the production design and the writing is all of the work. The challenge that they have is to hear the line read because the talking happens first, and they decide how to animate to best support that reading. You’ve got to blend the cocktail just right to make sure the audience laughs. If you’re saying something sarcastic, your eyes are probably a little bit droopy and your eyebrows are a little high, and your fist is on your hip. You don’t think about it, but if you have to draw a picture of a person being sarcastic, you have to factor in all of this body language.”

He went on to add that  voice actors do “have to overact a tiny bit to get the kind of energy and presence in your voice, otherwise it sounds like you’re talking to somebody on the phone, and there’s really no scope to it. You have to goose it a tiny bit and do a little bit of what you try to not do when you’re doing camera work.”

The film didn’t take too much of his time, he went in for about 20, two-hour sessions over a few years which led him to devote more to to his newest passion, directing. “The directing is something that is incredibly satisfying to me and challenging to me because it’s asking me to draw on everything I’ve been able to absorb over all these years of acting and having all this set experience. Acting in something that I’m directing … I’m really enjoying it because, if for no other reason, that particular acting is like reading my mind on every single take. It’s kind of efficient, for better or worse. … For my taste, that actor is doing what I want them to do, in the way they’re adjusting it with each take or helping make a camera move work. Acting has always been very comfortable for me, so it allows me to pay attention to other parts of the process literally while I’m acting. I really like taking on that bandwidth. It’s a great challenge.”

Jason Bateman can be heard in Disney’s Zooptia, in theaters now.

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