Jason Bateman on ‘Ozark’ and How Directing Informs His Acting

Jason Bateman talks about working on 'Ozark' as both the lead actor and director and working with his co-stars in both capacities.

My personal taste of acting is to not really see a lot of acting and to have it be as naturalistic as possible, which sort of equates to being as small as possible.” – Jason Bateman

Few actors have succeeded on television the way Jason Bateman has — both as an actor and a director. Currently, he stars on the Netflix series Ozark as a disgraced financial planner in over his head with criminals. In an interview with Gold Derby, Bateman talks about working on the series as both the lead actor and director of a few episodes and working with his co-stars in both capacities.

Bateman points out that how actors need to be careful with changing their characters too much over the course of the series because the character can never become smart enough to lead to a resolution. He explains, “The challenge with making characters smart is that things come to an end. It’s a trap in comedies. It’s also a trap in dramas. In comedies, if you get a character that gets smart, they stop making fools of themselves and pulling their pants down and losing their dignity and making dumb decisions. The same thing goes for dramas. As soon as you get smart, you call the police and the movie’s over.

While Bateman has a long history in comedies, he often portrays the straight man in the face of comedic chaos, like in Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses. On why he gravitates toward these roles, he says, “I’m always attracted to playing a normal person that is in the middle of something that is pretty abnormal and try to become that perspective for the audience, that proxy for the audience so that what you’re witnessing is as relatable as possible.

In addition to acting, Bateman has directed television and film dating back to a handful of episodes of Valerie in 1989 and 1990 when he was just twenty years old. On how his acting informs his directing (and visa versa), Bateman explains:

For me as an actor, my personal taste of acting is to not really see a lot of acting and to have it be as naturalistic as possible, which sort of equates to being as small as possible. I try to pull that into directing as well. I try not to be too showy and try not to have too much coverage and try not to distract from the audience as much as possible. In fact, I love things called oners where there is no coverage at all. You’re just creating a perspective for the audience that tries to shape it a little bit but gives the audience a chance to look at different things if they want to as opposed to tapping them on the shoulder every time and telling them, ‘Oh, now you’re looking this way, now you’re looking that way.’ I take the same aesthetic choice with both the acting and the directing in that I try to not bump the audience into them watching any acting or watching any directing.

With Ozark, Bateman not only co-stars with Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz and Julia Garner, but he also has directed them. He spoke about directing them — or in some cases, not directing them — and how they share ideas and thoughts during production:

“I have a very, very light touch as a director when it comes to working with actors. I just know the way that I like to work as an actor where if you do your homework, you’ve thought about the scene and you’ve tried to distill down all your ideas to the best idea. That way you’re playing that scene has to do with how you’re gonna play the scene that follows, which might not shoot for a few weeks. There’s a plan that the director might not be aware of. I’m always assuming that the actor knows what they’re doing and is doing the best possible job that they can. I watch what it is I think they’re planning on doing and how that’s going to affect everything and encourage them to continue going down that path and maybe, ‘Would this idea help you get what you’re trying to do done better?’ That’s the only kind of conversation that I have with Laura or Julia or anybody. With Laura, there’s a brevity of conversation. We finish each other’s sentences. I can come in after a take and say, ‘That was great. What about if…’ and she might not even let me get [to] it. She’ll go, ‘I know what you’re gonna say.'”

More: Jason Bateman on Playing a “Nasty” Character

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