Jason Bateman Interview – JUNO

     December 22, 2007

While “Juno” has already come out in select cities, it’s currently expanding to a lot more this weekend and next week. And since this expansion was pre-planned, I decided to wait to post the interviews till more of you could see the film. I thought with a movie like this, something unusual and great, it could use a bit of extra help and perhaps running the interviews late might cause more of you to see it. While I know the Collider audience isn’t massive… we do have a number of readers.

Anyway, if you haven’t yet heard the deafening buzz about this movie, let me add some fuel to the fire. “Juno” is a refreshingly honest portrayal of a teenager who has to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Playing Juno is Ellen Page, and she gives one hell of a performance. While watching I never saw her acting…I just saw a teenager trying to figure out what to do and how to deal with a difficult situation.

The film was written by Diablo Cody, and there is a reason why she’s the flavor of the month. Her dialogue is razor sharp, with characters that are three dimensional and not the usual cardboard cutouts that we always seem to watch in every movie. With the amount of films I see every week, it’s a joy to see something that surprised me in so many ways.

Starring alongside Ellen Page is Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons,Olivia Thirlby, Allison Janney and Rainn Wilson. All give great performances, but credit once again has to be given to Diablo Cody for writing such great dialogue.

Anyway, I recently participated in small roundtable interviews with a lot of the cast and the one you’re about to read is with Jason Bateman. During our time he discussed the great year he’s been having, how Jennifer Garner helped him get a few parts, and what he might have coming up with Joe Carnahan once the writers strike ends. It’s a solid interview and one worth reading.

And since I won’t be transcribing all the interviews I did, if you’d like to hear Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody or J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney just click on their names. Finally, if you missed the clips I posted for “Juno” you can watch them here. As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio as an MP3 by clicking here.

Question: So you had a kid before you started this?

Jason Bateman: I still can’t figure it out. She was born October 28th. We shot this—no, I think I had had her just after the end of The Kingdom. Yeah, because there was a question whether I’d get back for the delivery. Just worked it out, yes. And I think we did this in February or March or something like that.

Q: So how did that or did that contribute to your take on the character?

Jason Bateman: Well, the idea of making sure that you are an adult before you start having adult stuff come into your life, that is optimum. And I did. I was pretty good about getting a lot of crap out of my life before I got married and had a kid. Things work out better that way I hear and so far it’s turning out to be true. This guy, Mark, the character I play, did not get that memo so he’s still sort of stuck in a bit of an arrested development and his life is not going so great as a result. He finds somebody that somewhat enables that in “Juno” and maybe that’s what that last scene is about. That he wants to continue being a much closer friend with her outside of the relationship with Vanessa. I don’t know if because he wants to date her or just simply hang out with her a little less apologetically. I don’t know. Reitman and I never really landed on which it’s going to be. I begged him to tell me which side is it. I’ll play it ambiguous if you want me to, but let me know and he never did. The fucker. So I kind of had to sort of dance the middle and hope that he cut it together in maybe a specific was or an interesting way down the middle, which he did I think.

Q: I spent a lot of the movie saying to myself “okay is this the scene where Mark learns a valuable lesson from Juno and stays with his wife and has the kid” and that obviously never happens and I loved that. Was the part of what drew you to this and also when you have a guy at the end of the movie is going to just disappear from the film, leave his wife to raise a child by herself, how do you make sure you that you keep that guy sympathetic?

Jason Bateman: Well, first of all, the only thing that drew me to this project was who was doing it. I came on very, very, very late, so the whole cast was already set. The script obviously did not suck and it was a real kind of no-brainer. It was just a couple of weeks—2 or 3 weeks in Vancouver. Plus I just had the baby and those fuckers cry. I just had to get out of here. I called my agent and said “anything out of town?” And so as far as keeping him sympathetic, you know that wasn’t– my reasons for that are not as contrived as maybe—I thought it just simply more interesting to play a guy that is a little bit guilty about not taking the growth that everybody else in the story does. Everybody else seems to kind of emancipate themselves and/or take a big pro-active step forward in life as far as responsibility goes and he doesn’t. He’s sort of somewhat righteous about that at some point and then I tried to—maybe he’s got a little bit of guilt about that and that you sort of empathize with—at least the guys in the audience I thought, I would hope would empathize with that because any guy north of 20 starts to deal with or has already dealt with saying “okay, it’s time to stop being really good at being a young adult and let’s have the balls to be a rookie at being an adult” and with that comes a more substantial relationship with a girl that might not be some incredible arm piece but somebody you can actually get along with longer than sleeping with her a few times. Then maybe thinking about having a kid and maybe a better job. One you might not like as much but pays better and speaks more to the future. There’s that moment when a guys got to start flirting with being a man and it’s a little scary and you’re kind of left to do it on your own. You don’t have a teacher or a father probably in the house that’s sort of motivating you to do that. That’s a lot of self-motivation and this guy doesn’t really have the balls to do that or the work ethic to do that and that is somewhat—you can empathize with a guy like that. It’s a little pathetic and I hope it’s somewhat interesting to watch as opposed to just being sort of one dimensionally just kind of a prick.

Q: Has my annoying what are Ellen and Michael Cera like question been asked yet?

Jason Bateman: No. What?

Q: Well, can you just talk about—you mostly work with Ellen and I guess you worked with Michael on the TV show. Can you just talk about what’s unique about each of them?

Jason Bateman: Well, Ellen was very easy to be good with. She doesn’t do a lot of acting. She’s very, very natural as you can see if you’ve seen it. She—those were real simple scenes. Michael Cera the same exact way although we didn’t have any scenes in this movie but they’re both very, very good about not spinning dialogue and looking for the home run and trying to solicit as much laughter as they can. They’re not hams. It’s really important with a script as stylized as this because if you get actors in there that are trying to hit home runs with everyone of these quirky lines of dialogue, it just becomes an eye rolling fest. I think they’re smart enough and have a small enough ego where they let themselves disappear as much as they could and let the script be the star. Let Reitman’s technique be the star and that’s why this film succeeds is because they had the courage and the lack of ego to support the star of the film which was the script and the director. So they really, really deserve a lot of respect for that I think, especially coming from 2 people who are 20. That’s usually the hammy age. It was for me.

Q: Since “Arrested Development” was cancelled, your career seems to have gone into the stratosphere.

Jason Bateman: Dad. (lots of laughter)

Q: Has it been a great year for you?

Jason Bateman: It has. My career was just about flat-lining before “Arrested Development”. I mean I was still a working actor but in comparison to the activity I had thus far it was like well, they didn’t want to see me on another TV show. I mean I think “Arrested Development” was my 10th. I’d sort of worn out my welcome in that medium, plus it had been in a pretty aggressive movement toward single-camera which is something I was not known for and if one wants to cast a single-camera show, you don’t need some festige of the multi-camera world. So I was kind of on my way out and looking to direct multi-camera television—the few that were still on the air and my goal was to become Jim Burrows and be the king of multi-camera directing. But I went in and read for “Arrested Development” and guest write and played the character in a way that made me laugh. That very sort of hopefully subtle and dry sarcastic guy—that’s my sense of humor but I wasn’t really able to do that that much on multi-camera because tonally format wise multi-camera is about performing. You’re playing to an audience and that is not hidden. There is a live laugh track so there’s a partnership there. Its theatre so it’s much more performance based. There’s not a lot of room for subtle takes and no winking. You have to wink in multi-camera. So I read the script, I read the disclaimer before the script saying if there’s any pansy prima donnas that need a big trailer and lots of craft service do not even read the script because that’s not what we’re doing here. It’s going to be shot on HD hand-held video camera. This is basically dogma, you know, it’s a mockumentary, so if you’re into that go ahead and read the script. So I read the script and I thought oh my God this is so great and it’s so left of center, but they’re never going to see me for it because I’m the antithesis of what they’re going for. Not only is it a single-camera but it’s a mockumentary. They don’t want some cheesy sitcom star in there. So I went in there and read for it and guest write and got it and that gave me a bit of a reset button push on my career and gave me another shot at relevancy and fortunately the people that did watch the show are the people that are handing out these great jobs. You know, America didn’t really watch it, so I’m trying not to get kicked out again. I’m trying to sort of not screw it up.

Q: Now you were doing “The Kingdom” I’m sure when this job came up and you would know that you’d be working with Jennifer Garner again. How much of a shorthand did you guys have then when you finally got on the set of “Juno”?

Jason Bateman: Yeah, this came about after “Kingdom”. Didn’t know about it during “Kingdom” but Jennifer was very, very influential in getting me this part. I mean she basically said “get him” and that got back to me and so I’m big on flattery. I’ll go do anything if someone gives me a compliment, so I said sure.

Q: How instrumental was Jennifer in getting you your role in “Hancock”?

Jason Bateman: Not. Pete Berg was. Pete Berg was in this one scene I did in “Smokin’ Aces” and so he gave me the job in “Kingdom” because he directed that too. Then from “Kingdom” he gave me “Hancock” and that little scene in “Smokin’ Aces” got me “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”, too. I mean that was a good morning of work.

Q: I’m curious about that scene. You stole the entire picture with that scene. I’m just curious like you walked in and Joe Carnahan said go nuts?

Jason Bateman: No, I begged him for that scene because it’s such an incredible monologue that he wrote so if there were any stealing he did it on his own. A monkey could read that monologue and get a laugh. I mean he’s just fantastic. I was lucky and I was lucky that he put Pete Berg in that part. Because Pete Berg basically had a 6 hour audition for Pete Berg as he watched me kind of improvise and do that stuff. So it worked out well.

Q: Do you think it’ll work with Carnahan again on “Killing Pablo” or “White Jazz” maybe?

Jason Bateman: Actually he’s writing something for me that’s called “Remarkable Fellows” about basically “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” meets “The Bourne Identity”. It’s about these brothers who have a revenge business internationally. So when the strikes over, he’ll finish that up and maybe we’ll do that next year.

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