Believe it or not, Jason Bateman, at 47, has been on our screens for 35 years.
Starting out on TV shows like “Silver Spoons,” he became the rare child star to forge a successful adult career.
He’s perhaps best known as Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development,” but he has also starred in films like “Horrible Bosses” and “Juno,” and directed movies, too (the dark spelling bee comedy “Bad Words.”)
Now in “The Family Fang,” his second directorial effort, Bateman and Nicole Kidman play siblings, the adult children of a quirky performance artist couple (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) who enlisted their young children in their strange and sometimes shocking work, like executing a fake bank robbery and shooting.
In an interview during the Tribeca Film Festival, where the movie screened, Bateman talked about “Pulp Fiction,” his upbringing and “Arrested Development.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: How did this movie come to you?
A: Nicole liked “Bad Words,” and she had optioned the book and had a pre-existing relationship with (screenwriter) David Lindsay-Abaire from doing “Rabbit Hole,” so once they had their script, they asked me to consider it. I said yes almost before I started reading it.
Q: What was it like to direct Oscar winners like Kidman and Walken?
A: It was simple, because they don’t need their hands held.
Q: What’s your favorite Walken role?
A: Something he and I talked about as a reference was the monologue he has in “Pulp Fiction,” where he presents the watch to the kid. The way in which he spoke to that kid was so unapologetic. He was so convinced that what he was doing was a really nice thing, he didn’t hear anything inappropriate about the story he was relaying. It’s that kind of tone deafness that was important for his character in this film to have.
Q: How much did you know much about performance art before making this?
A: Zero. It didn’t really matter to me. What they did for a living was really secondary to how they see what they do in comparison to their responsibilities as a parent.
Q: If you did performance art, would you be Chris Burden, crawling through broken glass, or Marina Abramovic, staring into people’s eyes?
A: I think I’m actually much too shy to do any performance art. I admire the big swings those guys take, but I’m not a one-man band.
Q: You and your sister, Justine, were child performers. Does that echo in the film?
A: The upbringing that Justine and I had was in no way as traumatic as what goes on in this movie. That’s why no script has been written about our life and never will. But there’s certainly thematically some things I could relate to, like how what Annie and Baxter are going through is at times dramatic and at times comedic. I could relate to the confusion of that traditional parent-child relationship sometimes getting wobbly.
Q: Will “Arrested Development” ever return?
A: There are no plans to do any more at the moment. I haven’t heard about anything solid. I do know there’s a willingness to do more from all parties. Regardless, I hold no power over that being a reality. But speaking purely creatively, it was the best thing I’ve ever done, as far as having fun and what it did for my career.
Q: What are you directing next?
A: A series at Netflix called “Ozark.” I play a guy who’s laundering money for a drug cartel. I’m going to direct roughly half of these 10 episodes. I’m executive-producing it, so I’ll be able to have my hands on just about every part of process that I would as a director in feature films. It’s probably going to be the hardest work I’ve ever done, and that’s good.