Jason Bateman is sitting on a white wingback chair, onstage, in the International Ballroom of The Beverly Hilton in L.A. (the very same venue where the Golden Globes are held every year in January). Hands loosely folded on his lap, Bateman fields questions from a roomful of reporters interviewing him about season 2 of his Netflix drama, Ozark. As he contemplates queries on character evolution and comparisons of projects, this actor, director and producer frequently defers to co-stars Laura Linney and Julia Garner, pulling them into the conversation — the epitome of a gracious lead. “This isn’t tennis. It isn’t painting…. This is a team effort, and if any one of them is not doing a great job, we will just clank,” he says.Bateman, of course, has been around this block before — once, maybe twice. This is a room he has been playing to since his preteens, when he was hired for TV series Little House on the Prairie and Silver Spoons. Still, over the course of a film- and-TV career spanning nearly four decades, doing press for Ozark is special for Bateman, now 50 years old. Not only is the role an untraditional one for the renowned comedic actor, it is also a character he has crafted from the ground up.
In a town where child stars often grow up encountering a host of issues — job rejection, substance abuse and poorly managed funds — Bateman seems to have zigged where others have zagged. At the ripe age of 18, he followed in the footsteps of his director father, Kent Bateman, stepping behind the camera in the mid-1980s to direct episodes of the sitcom Valerie, in which he also starred. By the time he was 30, his resumé was packed with more than a dozen TV roles, and through his 40s, he earned big-screen leading-man status opposite the likes of Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey and Rachel McAdams. Meanwhile, his TV game is as strong as ever, thanks to Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development, as well as his most recent triumph in landing the No. 1 spot on Ozark’s call sheet.Then there’s the recent multiyear first-look deal he inked with Netflix under his production banner, Aggregate Films — a similar long- term gig the streaming-service giant has made with other legendary TV producers, like Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes. In essence, Bateman’s collaboration with Netflix allows him to continue pumping out projects for at least another decade.“I hope it’s because they like whatever the hell it is they think I do well, and they would love to have a literally first look at that. That’s what the deal is,” says Bateman. “It’s a wonderful partnership because they’ve got great taste, and their reputation of supporting the creative effort is totally well earned. I hope to be there for a very long time.”
When he signed up with the Ozark series, which revolves around Marty Byrde — a money-laundering financial planner in the city of Ozark, in Missouri — the creative appeal was that Bateman would direct all 10 first-season episodes. As the lead character, he wound up having time to do only the first and last two. The role was a dark departure from his lighter small- and big-screen work, where he’s known to play the nice-guy straight shooter, typically in fluff comedies. Comparable to Bryan Cranston’s turn in Breaking Bad, Bateman’s part in Ozark entailed a deep character dive that rewarded him with a dual-Emmy nomination for acting and directing, proving the need for an Everyman in drama and comedy alike.“What’s really attractive to me about those characters is [that] they are somebody that could be familiar to us, the audience — [to] us, normal folks that aren’t living in a family like the Bluths [Arrested Development’s dysfunctional family] or running with drug cartels,” Bateman says. “These roles are hopefully Everyman, somebody that could be your proxy.
I try to play [that] in as many characters as I can because I love shaping an audience’s experience. That’s why I’m attracted so much to directing. Oftentimes, that central Everyman character provides that same sort of service on camera that I might [offer] behind the camera.”If Bateman has his way, the second season of Ozark, released last summer, is just the beginning. While admitting the show can’t go on forever, given the close-ended nature of each season, he likens his aspirational career trajectory to Ron Howard, another child actor who transitioned into directing and producing despite Tinseltown’s tropes. And that’s where Netflix comes into play.
“I’ve always admired what Ron Howard did with his acting career, and [how] he started to absorb how the sausage is made, wanting to have that chair, and that privilege, that honour of overseeing the complexities of making fake life,” Bateman explains. “It’s kind of sneaky. He did that inside his company, going into comedy and drama, and television and film, and small and big. “Netflix covers all that and then some. They were open to supporting that dream of mine…. I’m not sure what the output is going to be like or what the frequency is going to be, but it won’t be for lack of effort. I like to work really hard and I’m at the office every day, working on television, film, documentary, you name it, to bring to them, and to execute.”
Sounds like an Everyman plan that’s working just fine.
By Amber Dowling – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Winter 2018
Photography by: Robby Klein, Contour/Getty images