Many people are surprised when it’s pointed out that forty-four year-old Jason Bateman has been acting for over thirty years — he began his career in 1981 on Little House on the Prairie. Most of that surprise is because Bateman’s current high profile is the latest “up” in his lengthy up and down career. In a lengthy interview with GQ, Bateman talked about his current success and his low points in his lengthy career.
After his breakthrough starring role on Arrested Development, the cult favorite television serious that (in case you have been living under a rock and haven’t heard yet) will be returning for a much-delayed final season on NetFlix, Bateman transitioned from small roles in comedies like The Break-Up and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story to starring roles in high-profile comedies like Horrible Bosses, The Change-Up and Identity Thief.
However, Bateman recalls his less successful years when he was first starting out as an actor. He says, “I remember when things were really dry for me in my twenties, when things really slowed down. It was a confusing time for me. I was really having a hard time with, literally, how to behave at an audition. Your natural instinct is to go in there and let them know how much you want it and be affable and be ambitious. Yet in this business, much like high school, a sexy indifference will go a long way, sort of that playing-hard-to-get thing. I never wanted it more, but I never felt more conflicted about looking like I wanted it. So I’d go in there and I’d be acting twice. But my point is, I remember somewhere in there seeing some interview with Ron Howard, and I remember watching him be that famous, kind, affable, engaging, almost eager persona, and I remember thinking, ‘Boy,’ you know, ‘there’s no way anybody would ever misinterpret that kindness for weakness.’ And I thought to myself, ‘If I’m ever lucky enough to find some relevance again and some access and some success, that’s going to be the best part of it, is that I’m going to be able to be as nice as I want to be and not be nervous that that’s going to be misinterpreted for desperate.’ So the fact that I’ve been able to say that to Ron—I’ve literally walked him through this long-winded story—it was just really, really nice to be able to do that and to have him be a mentor and a friend and then obviously such a huge part of what was a career-defining job for me on Arrested Development.”
When asked if he ever missed out on roles he wanted because he didn’t know how to act at the audition, Bateman answers, “Tons of them. You never find out exactly why you don’t get the job, but I can tell you that I wasn’t accurately representing myself. I wasn’t being me.”
In fact, Bateman suggests that because of the issue of taking on different personas he doesn’t recommend parents pushing their young children into professional acting, adding, “This business, to a young kid, is kind of a mind-fuck. This is one of the reasons I don’t really recommend parents putting their kids in the business as an actor. I grew up training myself to pretend to be other people. If you do that at an age where you’re trying to figure out who you are, which is when you’re a kid, you don’t develop schizophrenia, but you can really slow down an organic process, which is trying to find your identity. I didn’t really have a great engine to navigate this confusing period of my life.”
Ultimately, Bateman gives credit to luck for success, pointing out that it factors into everything. He says, “It’s so easy to be irrelevant in this business, and it’s so easy to be relevant, too. Everybody is just a job away. For me, it was Arrested Development. I didn’t take any talent pill the morning before that audition. If I didn’t get that job, I’d probably still have all the time in the world to be over there playing golf all day and not doing anything.”