Jason Bateman Interview – THE KINGDOM

     September 27, 2007

While I’m sure most of you know Jason Bateman from the amazing television show “Arrested Development,” I’ll always think of his work on “Silver Spoons.” So when the opportunity took place to ask Jason a question at “The Kingdom” junket in Beverly Hills a few weeks ago, guess what I asked about…

Anyway, opening tomorrow is a great Hollywood big budget movie and it stars Jason along with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and a ton of other great actors in a Peter Berg film. The movie is obviously “The Kingdom” and here’s the synopsis:

When a terrorist bomb detonates inside a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, an international incident is ignited. While diplomats slowly debate equations of territorialism, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Foxx) quickly assembles an elite team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and negotiates a secret five-day trip into Saudi Arabia to locate the madman behind the bombing.

Upon landing in the desert kingdom, however, Fleury and his team discover Saudi authoritiessuspicious and unwelcoming of American interlopers into what they consider a local matter. Hamstrung by protocol—and with the clock ticking on their five days—theFBI agents find their expertise worthless without the trust of their Saudicounterparts, who want to locate the terrorist in their homeland on their own terms.

Fleury’s crew finds a like-minded partner in Saudi Police Captain Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), who helps them navigate royal politics and unlock the secrets of the crime scene and the workings of an extremist cell bent on further destruction. With these unlikely allies sharing a propulsive commitment to crack the case, the team is led to the killer’s front door in a blistering do-or-die confrontation. Now in a fight for their own lives, strangers united by one mission won’t stop until justice is found in The Kingdom.

During our press conference interview, Jason came across as extremely thankful to being given a new career after “Arrested Development,” as well as extremely intelligent and funny. It’s a great interview and one that’s worth your time. The only thing to know is spoilers are discussed….

And if you missed the movie clips I previously posted, you can click here to watch them. As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 here.

“The Kingdom” opens at theaters tomorrow.

Q: You provide all of the humor in this movie. A lot – much of the humor in this movie. Is it hard for you to balance between…

JASON BATEMAN: Being kidnapped and being funny?

Q: And – was it hard for you to find the comedy? Was it very instinctual? And how much improv did you end up getting to do?

JASON BATEMAN: Well, Peter Berg and I did a scene in – I did one scene, he did a few scenes, in Smoking Aces, a Joe Carnahan movie. And Joe wrote this great monologue. And after doing it for a few hours, he basically said, you know, I want you to start to get a little looser with the lines, and make up some stuff. And I started to make Peter Berg laugh a lot that day. And so I guess he saw that I could sort of talk on my feet, or improvise, or whatever. And I guess he figured that that would be perfect for this part. And so he said to make up a lot of stuff. There were a handful of lines written for the character in the movie. But – none of them were particularly funny. I didn’t think the character was supposed to be funny. But he figured that some – you know, a character that could bring some levity would be helpful in this. And so I did have to sort of, every day, kind of be on my toes and find moments to crack wise. But I had to be mindful of the fact that this is a drama. This is – you know, I’ve got – you know, Jamie on one side, and Chris on the other side. You know, with a couple of Oscars. And Jennifer’s got her Golden Globe. And it’s – you know, there’s – there’s this jeopardy that they’re trying to maintain in the movie, this tone. And so, let’s not be an idiot. So I tried to pick and chose. But it – it was – I couldn’t phone in any days. You know? I couldn’t come to the set and just say, “Oh, well, I’ve got this dialogue to memorize, and – and I’ll just say that dialogue when we get to my scene.” It’s like, every scene I had to be ready to perhaps put something in. So it was – a little bit more work than one would think, with the limited amount of dialogue that was scripted for me.

Q: Jason, you seem to be having this career resurgence, where you’ve redefined yourself. You started out as a juvenile. How does it feel this time around with it? How do you feel about acting, about celebrity, about work?

JASON BATEMAN: It feels – yeah, it feels really – I mean, lucky. You know? Not a lot of people get a second chance. And I think for a while there, my name kind of got in my way a bit, based on all of the television I was fortunate enough to do. But after a while, you sort of wear out your welcome in that genre, in that medium. And – and then, you know, multi-camera was atrophying, and single camera was coming up. And no one wants a multi-camera guy in a single camera show. And so then I was really screwed. So. I was very surprised to get a reading for Arrested Development, because it really seemed to be the opposite of that which I was known for doing. And fortunately, I guessed right on that day in the audition room, you know, as far as what they wanted from a character. And – and they ended up giving me that part. And not a lot of people in America were watching the show. But the people here in LA were. And they were some people that were in charge of giving out some good jobs. And – so I’ve kind of been able to hit the reset button a little bit on who I am, and what people think of when they hear my name – I hope, I think. And a lot of that goes to your hirability. It has less and less to do with your talent, I think. And I don’t mean to sound cynical. But a big part of being hired is what you add or detract from the project as far as pedigree goes. And that show was very well-received. And so I’m just trying to – you know, take the good roles that are – that are coming my way, and try to perpetuate that level of whatever it is. And try to get another few years of employment out of this tough town.

Q: Preparing for torture/kidnap scene?

JASON BATEMAN: Well, obviously there wasn’t a whole lot of prep. I – you know, I kept asking my wife to tie me up, and – I just want to know how it feels. She wasn’t game for that. But – the – the fact that my character gets kidnapped just sort of – you know, dictated the way I played the character up until that point. You know, one wants the audience to really have a lot of empathy for this character once he gets kidnapped, because it’s this – you know, final act sort of drama. You know, and jeopardy in the film. And so as much as I was being a smartass in the movie, I still tried to make him as likable as possible so people would care that he’s bound and gagged. That was – that was fun. It was fun that – because originally, my character didn’t get kidnapped. And so there was a little less of a purpose for him to be in the movie. And it was – just the way that I work, I kind of work backwards from the ending. I look at whatever the finish line is for the character, and then kind of act backwards from that, and play him in such a way so that that finish line is more rewarding. So if the guy almost gets killed – well then, let’s play him in such a way that people are gonna like him. You know, as opposed to the opposite. So, it was – it was fun. It was easy. I mean, you know, my mouth was taped for 30 pages of the script. And that originally wasn’t the plan. I mean, that was sort of a last-minute thing that I said to the director, and to – I think a prop guy. I said, “You know, if I’m gonna be tied up for 30 pages, every time you see my character, realistically I’d be screaming and yelling for somebody who could hear me in another room to let me out. And I don’t want to do that.” I mean, you know, that’s just – how many times can you say “Get me out of here?” So I said, “Why don’t we just tape my mouth?” And then I could sort of – then I kind of powered down, for the movie. You know. The other days, I was sort of – you know, having to be on my feet, to improvise. But then I was like, “Screw it. Could you just tape my mouth? So I can just show up on the set every day.”

Q: So what about those stunts? Were they hard to do? Can you talk about them…

JASON BATEMAN: I threw up one day on the set when it was really hot. That was about it. But – you know, it’s not – it’s sort of common for us pansy SAG people. No, there want any real injuries on my part. The stunt people were extremely professional, and our second unit director and stunt coordinator were amazing. And – I’ve really become a big sort of – I’m kind of awed by these action movies. I saw Bourne Ultimatum the other day, and – just felt bad that I was able to just drive away from that after two hours and say, “Boy, that was a great movie.” But, I mean, these guys – the amount of work that goes into action sequences. And that one, particularly, from start to finish is all action. And – I really feel like they can charge more. If – if they want. You know? There’s just so much work that goes into it. And – this one I’m doing now, you know, with Peter Berg again. It’s about this superhero. And so there’s flying and special effects, and things are blowing up, and trains are getting tossed. And – you know, it’s so much work.

Q: Who are you in that?

JASON BATEMAN: I am a guy that Will Smith saves in the first, kind of like, ten pages of the film. And then to pay him back, I tell him I’m gonna help him revamp his public image. Because he’s persona non grata, because he’s a drunk and when he solves crime he creates a lot of collateral damage because he’s banging into buildings and landing on cars instead of a sidewalk. And so they don’t like him. And so as I’m – teaching him how to navigate those waters, and be more polite in press conferences. And I’ve gotta – you know, get him a little outfit and a cape, and everything –

Q: You’re a publicist.

JASON BATEMAN: Basically. Yeah, I’m a corporate PR guy. Then he starts making moves on my wife, which is Charlize Theron. And so there’s this – sort of this weird dark love triangle. And – it’s very – very Pete Berg. You know. But it’s – you know, it’s this gigantic Sony movie that I’m just so sort of fortunate to have this great seat to watch. Cuz it’s – you know, this flotilla of trucks and effects, and it’s – I’m a lucky boy.

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Q: Did the Arrested Development people stay in touch?

JASON BATEMAN: Is it difficult to stay in touch? No. I mean, you know, phones work everywhere, and e-mail – you know, is great. And Will is actually – Arnett is in town quite a bit with all of his work. Michael was just here, obviously, a couple of weeks ago for the junket and premiere for that, so I saw him – saw him at that. And then – you know, we’re all really, really happy for one another. We had, like, the greatest time you could ever imagine doing Arrested Development. And as grateful as we are for the careers we have afterwards, it was – we still miss it. Cuz it was – it was – you know, we were all so proud to be a part of that, and we were all such big fans of the show. And perhaps we’ll all get back together again, and – you know, fire up those characters again in some form or another. We’re all sort of hoping. But – you know, I think Michael is gonna be around for a real long time, doing what he does so well. And Will Arnett is – I’ve always said I would be starstruck around if I wasn’t so close with him. I just think he’s a genius. So. We all – we’re all doing okay. And – we’re all very, very close.

Q: What’s Peter Berg like as a director?

JASON BATEMAN: Peter is – you know, he is a director that is so comfortable on the set, and has got such a specific technique with his cameras, with the way he deals with actors, that I’m – I like it a lot. Everyone’s very much on their toes all the time. He’s got three cameras going at all times, so you never really know when you’re on camera. There’s no marks on the floor. Lighting is sort of sparse. It’s not dissimilar to Arrested Development, in that sense. He’s sort of news-gathering, you know? As opposed to, “Okay, let’s just shoot out this direction, and just light it perfectly, and then we’ll turn around and get this direction.” He’s got two cameras going. And these guys are – they’re handheld. You know, and they’ve got these big thousand-foot magazines of film on there, and these big heavy things, that if one camera rolls out, the other two are still going. So he’s reloading while we’re still acting. And you hear this reloading. And you think, “Well, sound’s gotta be annoyed with this.” But the sound department knows the way Pete’s working, so they’ve got you all on wireless mics so they can pop that stuff down. I mean, it’s – it’s very, very active and a lot of fun to work. I don’t know if a – an acting purist would yell at him at one point for not letting them get to the end of the scene, before he starts – you know, saying, “No, no, wait, back up, say that line one more time.” It’s very much on your toes sort of acting, which is very exciting for me, and efficient. We had very short days, and he gets everything that he needs. So, I’m – I’m a big fan of it, and him, obviously, being an actor, is beneficial for us because he speaks our language.

Q: Whose choice was the Orioles cap?

JASON BATEMAN: Whose choice was the Orioles cap? I think that was the wardrobe department, because we were outta DC. Certainly would have been – would not have been my choice. [LAUGHTER] I’m a Dodger fan. I wear – I wear Dodger stuff in this new one. In – Hancock.

Q: I wonder if Joe had contacted you about doing another Smoking Aces?

JASON BATEMAN: He has not. But he is busy writing a film that we hope to do probably next year, strike-willing. Or maybe the year after that. So, I’m really excited about that.

Q: So what about Silver Spoons on DVD.

JASON BATEMAN: I haven’t. I haven’t watched it yet. But – I should. Although it’s tough to see you acting at that young an age. You know, I don’t know how well your parents sort of did or kept home movies. But it’s very odd to have every year of your life on camera from ten to – you know, 38. Lot of bad hair. There’s a lot of weird voice stuff. But it’s – you know, I remember having a lot of fun on that show.

Q: You had said before, originally you weren’t originally kidnapped

JASON BATEMAN: No, no. No, no, it was – it was a draft that came in. You should definitely ask Peter about that. I don’t know if he’s gonna be around today. Or Matthew Carnahan. Or anybody from the studio. But it was – you know, I think just a process of really good, intensive scrutiny on this script. And making it as good as possible. I guess they figured…

Q: But when you got the offer, you were originally kidnapped?


Q: Oh, okay. By the time you got to filming,

JASON BATEMAN: Right. And I will continue to spin that in a positive direction. It wasn’t as a result of people hating me, and wanting to see my bound and gagged. I won’t go there, at all.

Q: Talk a little about the film in terms of how it deals with the very real political situation, and – it’s kind of an entertaining action movie.

JASON BATEMAN: Yeah. I mean, I’m – I would not – I would not start talking about politics. I’m just not that smart about it. But it seems to me that the action genre is a genre we all enjoy, and one looks for new and fresh arenas to couch action. And this is certainly a relevant, topical situation. And, why not throw it in that situation? I don’t – I think that they very successfully navigate the waters of, let’s not be too didactic, and let’s not – you know, hammer some precious little theme or message at the end. I think they touch just enough on perhaps what you could gather from this film, without saying, “Hey, this is what you must walk with.” Again, you should speak to somebody smarter than me about that. But. The bits that I did learn about the situation over there, I appreciate it. We had a great political consultant on it, this guy Rich Klein, that just answered any question that I had, and I’ve retained a bit of it. But, you know, I have to watch Charlie Rose and brush up on it every once in a while.

Q: Do you get offered other TV shows?

JASON BATEMAN: No, not yet. If you’ve got something, I’ll take it from you at the end of the meeting. No, I just – I’m so proud of Arrested Development, that it would – I would like to wait at least a bit more before I step back in there. Yeah. I mean, I did so much television, to be able to leave on that high note. And – you know, couple that with being invited to this new medium – why not? If my goal is longevity, then why not – you know, graduate television, and become a freshman in a new medium? And that should speak to longevity. I mean, that’s the plan. And it’s also why I’m gonna try to take a slow path in that, and not jump up to the top of the call sheet, you know, just because I get an offer to do that. I would like to sort of – excuse me, pay my dues, and work with some of the people we’ve talked about today, and learn as much as I can. And try to get a bunch more years.

Q: What about doing theater?

JASON BATEMAN: Absolutely. I haven’t done a whole lot of it. But every time I go to New York, you know, it’s – I see as much as I can, and watch these people do this, and think how fun that would be. And I love that city so much, it would give me a great excuse to live there for a while. It’s such a tough thing to schedule, because there’s such a long lead time, and there’s such a long commitment. And I’m trying to ingratiate myself into this new medium. And so it doesn’t make too much sense for me to block off a bunch of time right now and do that. But I would be surprised if I’m not doing something there the next couple years.

Q: How’s your sister?

JASON BATEMAN: She’s great. Thank you. She’s – she’s got a couple of beautiful little kids that are five and, I think, two and a half. And – not that she’s done raising them by any stretch, but the heavy lifting is sort of subsiding for a little while, and I think that she’s making a little bit more of a proactive effort to get back into the business. And you may see her here soon.

Q: So, she retired, but she’s ready to go back to work now?

JASON BATEMAN: I don’t think she officially sort of retired. But she certainly wasn’t as ambitious as she was before, and just really enjoyed her kids. And her husband works really very hard, and is a very successful real estate guy. And so she wanted to stay home with them, and do that thing. And having a ten-month-old myself, I get it.

Q: Is it awkward at all between the two of you, that you’re so busy, and have got this resurgence going?

JASON BATEMAN: No. She’s been in the business almost as long as I have. She gets that – you know, it’s up, it’s down. You know, when she was on top of the world of Family Ties, I certainly wasn’t sticking pins in a – you know, sister doll. But – you know, it comes and it goes. And – you know, if she had been on Arrested Development and I wasn’t, then the shoe would be on the other foot. So she gets that. And consequently is out there every pilot season looking for something great.

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