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The Change-Up - Jason Bateman interview

The Change-Up

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JASON Bateman talks about pushing the envelope with R-rated comedies and body swap comedies in The Change-Up and how he is as a real-life dad when coping with dirty nappies and sleepless nights.

He also talks a little about the long-awaited Arrested Development movie and working with Vince Vaughn again.

Q. This sets the tone from the very first scene with the dad trying to cope with changing babies and ending up with poo in his mouth…
Jason Bateman: Some people get really pushed out of shape about that… my wife gets really pushed out of shape about that first bit with the shit in the face and the mouth. If you can get past that, the film’s very, very enjoyable. Some people never bounce back from that one. But I guess it’s good that we’ve done a different version of the body switch movie because we certainly don’t need to see the other version of that anymore.

Q. I gather you said ‘no’ at first for that very reason?
Jason Bateman: Actually, I didn’t have a bias towards it because I’ve never seen those films. They were never attractive to me because they tend to be a little bit more family oriented. All I focused on for this was that it was written by the guys who did The Hangover and directed by the guy who did Wedding Crashers and the opportunity to play two parts. I was just seeing that and only later realised that perhaps people might be a little wary of going to see the same old concept again but I can assure them that this is a version that’s never been done. I can’t believe they’ve never done an R-rated version because if you switch bodies with someone you take advantage of it!

Q. I gather you knew Ryan Reynolds from years back… when he first came to Hollywood from Canada?
Jason Bateman: Yeah, Ryan and I have been friends for a long time and certainly have gotten closer since doing this movie. It was very helpful that we were close because obviously we work together a lot in the film and chemistry is really important in a comedy. In this case, we have to share characters, so you need some co-operation to say the least.

Q. How much is improvised and how much on-script on the day?
Jason Bateman: Well, first of all the script was fantastic before we started. I mean, that’s what got us there to begin with. But once we started rehearsing, he and I and the director and the writers were in a room for two weeks and really tailor-made the script to look and sound the way we wanted it per how he was going to play his Dave and Mitch and how I was going to play my Dave and Mitch. So, there was a lot of improvisation during rehearsing and then that was implemented into the script… the writers had their laptops with them and as soon as we mutually agreed upon some of the changes they all went in there. And then on the day, of course, Ryan and I would come up with different stuff, different versions of the same joke perhaps, depending on what the other actors were doing, what the location leant itself to. You have to stay somewhat nimble, especially in a comedy.

Q. Was it always set in stone which of the two characters you’d play?
Jason Bateman: Yes, once Ryan was on board. But there were a few other actors that almost were in the film with me where it would have made a little bit more sense for them to start as the conservative guy and switch into the crazy guy and vice versa. But fortunately that scenario never worked out because this was how I originally loved the script. I mean, I’m always hired to play the straight guy, so the opportunity to play the crazy guy for 90% of the film, which is what you do if you start out as Dave, was really appealing to me.

Q. How crazy is too crazy for you? Is there anything that was pushing it too far?
Jason Bateman: No, in fact we added lots of crazy stuff. In fact, speaking of that first scene with that baby shit in the face, I suggested to the guy who was firing the gun with the chocolate pudding in it that he hit me in the mouth as soon as I start to talk. So, that’s definitely crazier than it hitting me in the eye. Whether it was tasteful or not – no pun intended – I don’t know but we all agreed that we were going to push the boundaries with this as much as possible in the interests of not doing Freaky Friday Part 2.

The Change-Up

Q. Have you had nightmare nights like that as a dad?
Jason Bateman: Yeah, I mean kids can get into a lot of stuff, including their own nappie, so it can get interesting…

Q. You’re a pro at changing them though?
Jason Bateman: Oh yeah, I’ll have to remember some of it next year when we have our next. But I am good at it if I do say so myself! I can change a nappy and swaddle with the best of them.

Q. And you’re good at taking it in turns each night, as you and Leslie Mann are in the film?
Jason Bateman: Yes. I’m pretty good at that. I mean, I’m out of town a lot so when I am in town I’ve got to carry my weight.

Q. How were these two babies on the set? I gather one was a bawler and the other warmed to you?
Jason Bateman: Yeah, I mean I get along with kids really well. I don’t know why… maybe it’s because I started acting when I was really young… certainly not as young as the twins in this movie. But I like little kids a lot. Their parents were great. I got along with them very well too and they were certainly game and co-operative with all the stupid, crazy shit we asked those little kids to do.

Q. How was working with David Dobkin? I’d imagine he was one of the initial draws?
Jason Bateman: Absolutely. He’s a technician. That guy is incredibly well prepared. It was interesting that he didn’t know how well prepared he is as a director because directors never work with other directors – actors work with a different director on every job. So, he was always sort of amazed every time I came up to him and said: “Wow, I can’t believe you know exactly what we’re going to be doing in an hour from now.” He would be like: “Well, I’m the leader… I’m the boss on this set. You would be furious with me if I didn’t know where it is I’m asking you to travel…” I agree with him; it makes a lot of sense. I’m always shocked at how many directors are not prepared, so he was fantastic to work with.

Q. R-rated comedies are in rude health this year. Is it that the time is right for them?
Jason Bateman: I don’t know… I think Hangover changed a lot of that. Well, first of all Wedding Crashers was the first, or the biggest R-rated comedy ever, and then Hangover supplanted that and then Hangover 2. So, you’ll probably see some more next summer. It’s a genre that’s making money, so you will see the entertainment industry chase that. There’s a big panic to make money in the business because things are getting so much more expensive to make and to market. So, if it works they’ll keep doing it.

The Change-Up

Q. How easy a trick is it to pull off to make them outrageous but at the same time have them grounded in a level of reality?
Jason Bateman: Well, I think obviously if you have seen something before it’s no longer outrageous, so just by definition you’ll start to see things that are more and more obtuse and out there, which will put more pressure on the actors and the directors to execute those absurd situations in a way that’s not only hopefully tasteful but relatable. I liked that challenge all the way through this film, and I think for the most part we got it right. But I’m sure we missed the mark a couple of times. But I think that when you go and see an R-rated film you’ve got to assume that not everything is going to be as comfortable as an old shoe.

Q. Did you also enjoy pushing the likeability of the characters? There are moments when both behave like complete dicks…
Jason Bateman: Yeah. That’s something I’ve always loved playing. Give me a despicable character and it’s my job to make that character likeable. In Arrested Development, the motto in the writers’ room was to make these characters as unlikeable as possible and then it was the actors job to make them as likeable as possible, so that was sort of the recipe that we played with. I like that.

Q. Given the notion of the role reversal and wish fulfilment – your character wanting to get back to partying and sleeping around for a bit – are you done with that on a personal basis? You describe your 20s as being like Risky Business… You’re happy with where you are at the moment?
Jason Bateman: [Smiles] Yeah, I did it so intensely, I suppose… well, I don’t know if intensely is the right word. I had exactly the right amount of fun that I wanted. I didn’t really hold myself back much at all with the foresight of wanting to be a great father and a great husband. So, that was always the goal and I sort of knew that if I didn’t get it all out of my system I might screw up a nice domestic situation in the future. So, it was all in benefit of where I’m at today.

Q. Are you enjoying leading man status?
Jason Bateman: If that’s where I’m at, sure. It’s hard to have objectivity but I have absolutely zero complaints about the career right now. Certainly, things that I’d like to be doing that I’m not doing are not frustrations, they’re goals. And as soon as I start to approach accomplishing those goals I hope to be setting new ones. So, I hope to always be in that state of: “Well, I’d really like to be doing that…” Or: “I’d really like to be doing this.” So, I’m real happy and I feel very lucky.

Q. Given the longevity of your career, do you get nervous around certain co-stars still? Dustin Hoffman springs to mind as a screen great you’ve starred alongside…
Jason Bateman: Sure. I actually went to go and see Ralph Fiennes last night in The Tempest. We went up to say ‘hi’ to him in his dressing room afterwards and that was very, very surreal. I’m a huge, huge fan of his and I hope to never lose the appreciation of what I’m doing or who I’m doing it with. I like to always keep a foot in the world of the audience. It’s helpful for perspective and it’s also helpful for comedic timing. It’s helpful for relatability to the audience. We are in service of the audience. Without the audience we don’t have anything, It’s a partnership, so I like to always maintain an audience element in my everyday life.

Q. You dabble in drama every now and again…
Jason Bateman: Whenever I’m asked I’ll do drama. Unfortunately, I’m asked to do comedy mostly but I think that’s because that’s what I did last and the industry is not too excited to take huge risks. I’m not implying that hiring me to do a big drama would be a huge risk but it is certainly safer to hire me to do something that the audience has already accepted me in.

Q. But you enjoy doing those dramatic roles as well?
Jason Bateman: Oh yeah. I’d love to split my time evenly between the two but you’re not going to win any roles by playing hard to get and sitting quietly not doing anything. So, as I play these comedic parts in these comedic movies I look for opportunities to exercise the dramatic side as well, not only for personal enjoyment but also to perhaps inspire a future director or writer to hire me to do that.

The Change-Up

Q. Do you think comedy is sometimes overlooked and under-rated in that regard, because quite often there is a lot of drama involved in them?
Jason Bateman: Well, I don’t know if it’s under-rated but at times it’s misunderstood as something that is easy or somewhat frivolous because, by definition, you’re laughing when you’re watching it. The truth is you have to find a dramatic truth in something before you can access the comedy of it because it is reality, only heightened reality. If you’re looking for your keys in your house, there’s a dramatic way to do that and there’s a comedic way to do that. In both instances, it has to look believable that you’re searching for your keys but in the comedy you have to be a little more panicked about trying to find them for it to be funny and that lives past the realistic effort to find your keys. So, you have to travel through it to get there and I don’t think people really understand that until they try to do it. It’s sneaky tough.

Q. Do you ever get stumped looking for a new way to tackle a scene, or days when you’re just not on it comedically?
Jason Bateman: Yes and oftentimes that will be a result of trying to find the funny way to do something and that’s a mistake… it’s sort of a trap you can fall into. Anytime yo try to be funny you probably not going to get there. You really have to kind of figure out who the character is, what it is they’re saying and why it is they’re saying it and the funny kind of takes care of itself.

Q. And is that when a co-star becomes important, such as someone like Ryan who you have a history with and a rapport with?
Jason Bateman: Sure, advice is always welcome, at least when I’m working. Oftentimes, if you’re working with people who are really good they have already established a comedic tone with their work that you can kind of follow alongside or behind and they can kind of figure out a lot of stuff for you tonally. Jeffrey Tambor did that in Arrested Development. He was somebody who immediately identified what the kind of funny would be – it would be a very serious, non-winking, almost dramatic tone to it. And that was the funny of the show. This situation was so serious to these idiots that it became funny to those of us watching it.

Q. Are you amazed by how popular Arrested Development continues to be? You keep getting asked about it and the possibility of a movie…
Jason Bateman: Right, yeah well… it’s hard for me to tell if it really is still loved. Of course, I get a lot of questions about it but that’s because I was in it. I don’t know if it’s a part of people’s everyday conversation away from me. I hope it is since it does look like we’re going to do the movie probably the middle of next year. I hope that certainly enough people come out and see the movie where it makes it somewhat of a success. We’re not looking for a huge success since we’re not going to spend a lot of money to make it. But like the show it will probably be pretty pared down and pretty low-tech, so we don’t need a huge audience. But I hope the people that loved the show will come out and see the movie because it will probably be pretty similar. So, I’m excited to do that because I miss those people a lot.

Q. Are you working with Vince Vaughn again as well?
Jason Bateman: Yeah, we may do something first part of next year. We’re working on the script right now and I think if everything falls into place we’ll probably start that maybe in February.

Q. Are you writing it then?
Jason Bateman: No, it’s pretty much like what we did with The Change-Up, we’re working with the writer. When you get an actor to come in and live the role you have written, that part will change just a little bit – the dialogue will change just a little bit once you incorporate the creative direction of the actor. So, that’s what’s going on right now.

Q. Will you look to write and direct again one day – you were the youngest DGA director of all time way back when…
Jason Bateman: Yeah. Writing is very, very difficult and takes a lot of time. But directing is something I’d like to split my time doing and maybe I’ll start doing that toward the end of next year, I think I may direct a movie.

The Change-Up is released in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16, 2011.