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Paul - Jason Bateman interview

Paul, Jason Bateman

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JASON Bateman talks about making sci-fi comedy Paul and getting to play a bad-ass character with a dark suit and a gun.

He also talks about drawing on Tommy Lee Jones for inspiration, why he thinks we’re not alone in the universe and gives us the latest on the Arrested Development movie…

Q. What was it like working with a CGI character?
Jason Bateman: I didn’t have a tonne of scenes with Paul but the few that I did… I’m such a movie fan so I love watching these technicians run around and make it all happen. It’s so involved and so organised. I thought making a movie was complicated technically anyway but you bring in effects and it’s pretty impressive what these guys can do. And then the final results are incredible. The way they make this character move and talk and the way he’s lit.

The movie is beautiful as it is… the director of photography lit and shot it so well but then you have to have all of that lighting be as good on this figure that doesn’t even exist. So, that’s also a computer effect. It’s way beyond my skill set obviously. I can barely remember by lines. But it’s an interesting process to watch as a movie fan.

Q. How do you think Nick Frost and Simon Pegg found it?
Jason Bateman: It’s interesting what they were able to do without having that character there. I mean, the movie sinks or swims based on the ability of that three-some to be able to sell it. It’s a three-hander. It’s probably a reach of an analogy but you have three colours – red, blue and green – to make up a whole spectrum and in that three-some no one of them can do the same colour. So, them not knowing what that other character was going to be… they really had to trust and guess and craft quite a bit to make it all work knowing that the final piece wasn’t going to be there until months later. So, a lot of credit goes to them, and to [director] Greg Mottola and to Seth Rogen [who voices Paul] for being valuable and making sure that all of that fits at that later stage. I mean, he had to play the scene jealous instead of angry based on how Simon and Nick played it on the day in New Mexico months earlier. So, it’s a cocktail that’s ever switching.

Q. Your scenes with Sigourney Weaver are mostly done over the radio or on the phone. How was that?
Jason Bateman: When she was recording her side and when I was doing my side we weren’t doing it together. It only got mashed later. So, we had to really sort of practice a bit. She’d ask me: “How are you going to be doing it when you do record it? Because I want to make sure I’m a good black to your white.”

Q. Do you think it’s a good time for comedy right now?
Jason Bateman: They always seem to do pretty well. I think everyone wants to laugh. The cliché that it’s more difficult than drama is true with a certain tone of comedy. I think that real broad and can’t be clowny comedy is different. I’m not good at that. But the other kind of comedy where you’re not winking… that’s really challenging. It’s difficult because you’ve got to be believable. So, you’ve got to be as good as drama to be believable and then past the drama, into a sort of heightened drama, which is where comedy lives. So, it has to be even better than normal, which is what you want to go for in drama – to try to be real. But it’s a fun challenge as an actor.

Q. And you’re playing the movie’s bad guy too…
Jason Bateman: But still trying to find the humour in that. He is an exaggerated nasty guy. I mean, there would be a dramatic way to play that character and hopefully I went a little bit past that and exaggerated him just a touch to make him a bit sort of humorous, or at least fit in a humorous movie. It was nice… it was nice to hold a gun and to wear sunglasses and a dark suit and be kind of a hard-ass. I’d love to do more of that [laughs].

Q. Didn’t you base him partly on Yaphet Koto in Midnight Run and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive?
Jason Bateman: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That was a nice model for me to look at. And, of course, Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader [as fellow FBI agents] were doing so much great comedy you just had to stand there like a wall to do your part. My job was pretty simple.

Q. Do you believe in Area 51?
Jason Bateman: There’s got to be something going on there. I mean, if they were doing something that was normal we’d know about it, right? There’s a reason it’s kept secret. You can’t get anywhere near it.

Q. So, do you think there’s something out there?
Jason Bateman: There’s got to be. But the whole concept that Paul is based on is pretty smart. I mean, that the reason we have advanced so quickly in our space exploration and basic technology everywhere is because we’ve been working with somebody that landed here 50 odd years ago – and that’s when things really exploded, starting then. So, I like that idea that we’ve got a bunch of ideas from them and a small little think-tank. We just have to feed them little titbits and keep the bigger secrets.

Q. When did you first get to know Simon and Nick? Had you been long-term fans of their work?
Jason Bateman: I’d seen two of their films and Sigourney had seen them. I’d seen Spaced too. My mother is British, so I kind of grew up around dry British humour, so it didn’t take me long to become a big fan of what they do. They’re royalty in comedy circles in the States and to be included in this ensemble was very flattering.

Q. What’s the latest concerning the Arrested Development movie?
Jason Bateman: Well, a couple of days ago Mitchell [Hurwitz] was actually here in London doing some press for something and said officially that he’s well, well, well into writing it. He said that he’d like to shoot it this year, so I guess he must be pretty far along with the script. I haven’t seen anything on the script but it was nice to hear him kind of making it official.

Read our review of Paul

Read our interview with Kristen Wiig