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Jason Bateman hopes ‘Bad Words’ spells ‘s-u-c-c-e-s-s’ at box office
Jason Bateman makes his feature film directorial debut with “Bad Words,” a film about a 40-year-old man who finds a loophole in the national spelling bee competition — allowing him to compete against the usual contestants: 10 and 11-year-olds.
During a recent Chicago visit to promote the film (opening Friday), Bateman talked about why his young children cannot see the movie in which he also stars — plus how he tried to apply a concept to “Bad Words” that he learned from doing “Arrested Development.”
Q: Would you say there’s an irony here: This film is about the national spelling bee, but kids can’t go see this “R”-rated movie?
A: No, this film is certainly not for kids. This is an adult movie, and it’s really not even a spelling bee movie. It is fo that adult portion of the comedy audience that isn’t super-interested in the studio comedy kind of popcorn glossy stuff. This is a drama to everybody inside the movie — I mean the characters — and the fact they are so dramatic about certain things is what makes it funny to us watching it. But for sure there is a deeper agenda going on here than a guy pulling a prank.
Q: How do you think good comedy works?
A: Comedy usually lives with the underdog, or people who are flawed — people who are not perfect. This guy [who Bateman plays] is certainly that. If he was more emotionally advanced. if he was more spiritually enlightened, he would not have made the decision to mend his hurt feelings by crashing a kids’ spelling bee. He certainly is on a cathartic mission here.
Q: Your principal adversary in this film is Allison Janney, who plays the longtime director of the national spelling bee competion — who won it when she was a child. What was it like having her in the movie?
A: Allison was the first person I went to when we were putting this together. She is someone who is very authentic with her comedic performances. She never is winking or obviously going for the laugh. She always is playing these characters who are very eccentric, but she plays them in a very believable way – and that takes a lot of dramatic talent to pull off.
Q: You also co-star with young actor Rohan Chand, who plays a terrific competitor in the bee. Did it bring back memories of your own career, since you started at about the same age as Rohan?
A: It did. I remembered how helpful is can be if you set up a comfortable place for young actors — where they will feel safe and have fun, but also know what the structure needs to be and what the discipline elements neet to be. I remember that balance from when I was about his age.
Q: Obviously there’s “movie magic” here and you didn’t need to really be able to spell all those tough words. But, are you a good speller in real life?
A: I’m pretty decent speller, but I have to admit, spell-check helps solve a lot of things these days. I guess I’m better than most, not as good as kids who compete in spelling bees for real.
Q: Were you able to bring anything to “Bad Words” from your “Arrested Development” experiences?
A: Yes. The specificity of the humor. Mitch Hurwitz, who created ‘Arrested Development,’ always said that the job of the writers on that show was to write characters as unlikable as possible. Our job as the actors was then to make them as likeable as possible.
I think the audience [of “Arrested Development”] picked up on what that combo could yield and why that was funny.
I hope they will do the same with this movie.