Jason Bateman (‘Ozark’) on Marty Byrde’s series of ‘unhelpful lateral moves’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Jason Bateman adds even more Emmy nominations to his record this year, nominated for starring in, directing and producing “Ozark.” The multi-hyphenate won the Screen Actors Guild Award earlier this year for his performance as Marty Byrde but he has yet to win the Emmy.

Bateman recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Zach Laws about getting all those nominations for “Ozark,” his light approach to directing and his working relationships with Laura Linney and Julia Garner. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Jason, let me just start off by asking you, this is the second year in a row you’ve gotten in for acting and directing “Ozark” but now the show is in. Laura Linney and Julia Garner are both in as well. You’ve gotten a bunch of nominations elsewhere. What does it mean for you not just for you personally to get these nominations but for the show itself, which is obviously somewhat of a passion project for you, to get recognized across the board in this way?

Jason Bateman: Obviously, it’s the cliche of it being great for everybody and everybody’s input is apt here. It’s the reason it’s a cliche. It is nice to get attention for the whole show and obviously, any of these nominations are impossible without everybody’s contribution. That part is fantastic but the thing that struck me from the very beginning about the kind of perception that we got, the number of people that were watching the show, is just how lucky we are that people find this show. There’s so many people that make great shows that you just feel very very fortunate that people choose to watch this show. I can think of a half a dozen shows that are great that people just don’t find, either because it’s not on a service that people watch or a channel that people can find. We’re lucky that people are watching what we’re doing.

GD: Let me ask you this. Going back to the beginning, what about this show in particular, because you are such a driving creative force behind it, what about this show spoke to you in a personal way?

JB: The draw to the show really was as a director. I read the first two episodes that were written by Bill Dubuque and it was this dark, moody crime kind of thing and I was looking for a film to direct and I was excited about this type of material. The fact that it was an ongoing show was a tough thing to get my head around but I said, “Well if they let me direct all the episodes, that would really constitute this challenge that I was looking for by trying to bite off a big film.” That’s a much bigger challenge than I was really looking for, directing a 600-page movie. But then we tried to map out all pre-production and budget stuff like that, it became impossible for me to be able to do them all, but directing those first two and the last two in the first season stretched me right to the edges of what I thought I could handle. Thankfully, we pulled together a great crew and cast that helped me through all that.

GD: In terms of playing Marty Byrde as well, it’s a really interesting character. You look at who he was in the very first episode and who he’s become in the second season. Tell us al little bit about the way Marty Byrde has grown and developed and what kind of challenges that presented to you as an actor.

JB: I don’t know how he’s grown. The challenge with making characters smart is that things come to an end. It’s a trap in comedies. It’s also a trap in dramas. In comedies, if you get a character that gets smart, they stop making fools of themselves and pulling their pants down and losing their dignity and making dumb decisions. The same thing goes for dramas. As soon as you get smart, you call the police and the movie’s over. Marty, he’s not gone the direct opposite direction of a Walter White where they lean into it. I think he’s still battling with his arrogance and his hubris that he thinks he can continue to navigate through these obstacles and get his family to safety but still being proactive with it all as opposed to defensive. It ends up complicating things. His partner, both in the show and also in the show offscreen as well, myself and Laura, she’s providing that other oar in the water that has her own agenda but they do have to move in unison enough to propel the story and then miss every once in a while where they become adversarial. All this stuff is so well-managed by Chris Mundy and his staff.

GD: Maybe growth wasn’t the right term to use. I guess you could say he’s devolved depending on how you look at it.

MB: Yeah, makes a bunch of unhelpful lateral moves. There’s a lot of characters that surround him that make some more overt escalations or regressions that end up propelling the story a bit more than Marty. I’m always attracted to playing a normal person that is in the middle of something that is pretty abnormal and try to become that perspective for the audience, that proxy for the audience so that what you’re witnessing is as relatable as possible.

GD: Yeah, that’s what’s really fascinating to watch about the show is you talk about fish out of water. This entire family is a fish out of water in this new location and also in terms of their new lifestyles. There’s no secret to it. They all understand what’s going on and they’re all trying to adapt as they go along.

JB: Yeah, and there’s a conflict inside them about whether they should stay or go, whether they should flee or double down. That’s certainly something we’re dealing with now in this third season.

GD: I wanted to ask you about the episode that you’re nominated for as a director and it’s also the episode that you submitted as an actor as well. Is that correct?

JB: I think so. That’s the first episode, right?

GD: “Reparations.”

JB: Yeah. I’m just not good at that kind of stuff. I asked Chris Mundy and a couple other people, “What episode do you think I should submit for Actor?” ‘Cause they all sort of blend. I can’t remember which is which. I just thought for ease just keep it same episode. I didn’t wanna have to make people watch a bunch of different episodes. There’s enough stuff to watch. I just kept it that first one.

GD: Hopefully they’re watching the whole season anyway.

JB: You hope, yeah.

GD: Let me ask you, directorially, what stood out about that episode for you that made you wanna submit it in the first place for your directing submission?

JB: Last season I only directed two, just the first and the second. I did that again this year. It’s really my only opportunity to direct because if I were to direct any of the other episodes, we’d have to shut down so I can do prep. That’s what we did the first year and it’s too impactful on the budget and people’s schedules and stuff like that. That was the only choice we had, the first or the second. The first is an easier thing to watch, I suppose, because it’s starting from a clear narrative start as opposed to asking people to watch something that you might need to be informed by another episode that might impact the satisfaction of certain scenes and storylines. It seemed tidier to give that one.

GD: I wanted to ask you just a bit about as a director, and as an actor in the show, how has your career as an actor helped you as a director and vice versa? What do you take from one to use for the other?

JB: Stop me if this answer gets too long. I’ll try to keep it short. A lot of stuff goes into that because you’re trying to draw upon everything that you’ve absorbed. In my case, it’s been going on a while, thank god. I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to gather all these years of set experience and then have an opportunity to have a job that asks you to use all that experience. For me as an actor, my personal taste of acting is to not really see a lot of acting and to have it be as naturalistic as possible, which sort of equates to being as small as possible. I try to pull that into directing as well. I try not to be too showy and try not to have too much coverage and try not to distract from the audience as much as possible. In fact, I love things called oners where there is no coverage at all. You’re just creating a perspective for the audience that tries to shape it a little bit but gives the audience a chance to look at different things if they want to as opposed to tapping them on the shoulder every time and telling them, “Oh, now you’re looking this way, now you’re looking that way.” I take the same aesthetic choice with both the acting and the directing in that I try to not bump the audience into them watching any acting or watching any directing. I don’t know how effective I am with that but it’s certainly a creative challenge that I enjoy.

GD: It’s definitely a beautiful show to look at, so credit to your cinematographers and designers and all of that. It captures a sense of visual grandeur that is not necessarily showy but at the same time, I think it really does create a very effective atmosphere.

JB: It’s a really, really talented and tasteful group of people that thankfully are in line with the same things that I’m looking for. So when I describe what the production design might be or should be or what the composition of a shot might be or should be, there’s always a, “Yes, and what about this?” That “Yes, and” thing as opposed to trying to convince people of a certain sensibility or tone or aesthetic that they might not agree with.

GD: You’ve got a really great cast in the show but let me just focus on Laura Linney and Julia Garner. Working with the two of them, both as an actor and as a director, what is that collaboration like?

JB: They’re incredible at what they do, obviously, and they’ve been recognized appropriately. They don’t need anything from me. I have a very, very light touch as a director when it comes to working with actors. I just know the way that I like to work as an actor where if you do your homework, you’ve thought about the scene and you’ve tried to distill down all your ideas to the best idea. That way you’re playing that scene has to do with how you’re gonna play the scene that follows, which might not shoot for a few weeks. There’s a plan that the director might not be aware of. I’m always assuming that the actor knows what they’re doing and is doing the best possible job that they can. I watch what it is I think they’re planning on doing and how that’s going to affect everything and encourage them to continue going down that path and maybe, “Would this idea help you get what you’re trying to do done better?” That’s the only kind of conversation that I have with Laura or Julia or anybody. With Laura, there’s a brevity of conversation. We finish each other’s sentences. I can come in after a take and say, “That was great. What about if…” and she might not even let me get [to] it. She’ll go, “I know what you’re gonna say.” Her taste is very much in line with mine. I rarely need to say a thing to her or wanna say a thing to her. She’s got so many great ideas and self-directs. Julia is the same way. She’s got a lot of great taste. She’s got a meter for something that would go too far or too small. She keeps herself right inside what she’s capable of doing so that you don’t see any acting there either. That takes a lot of discipline and a lot of taste. She’s a joy. They’re both two of the nicest and most professional people that you’d ever work with. That’s incredibly helpful, too. Can’t say enough.

GD: Before I let you go I wanted to ask you, you won the SAG Award earlier this year for the show. I believe it was your career-first SAG win. You’re also a Golden Globe winner for “Arrested Development” way back in 2005, a show that just keeps on chugging along. Let me ask you what that recognition for both of these shows meant for you.

JB: The obvious, it’s a startling thing to get acknowledged by the people that you work with and around. A lot of what we do is in a bubble. They’re these little families that you create and then those disperse. When you’re reminded that a lot of people you respect and some that you’ve worked with, even, say, “Hey, I saw what you did and I really liked it,” it’s kind of emotional. It’s an honor. It’s a gift. At the end of the day, it is gravy, because we all bring the best we can to each job and sometimes those projects don’t coalesce, audience doesn’t like it or it doesn’t really come together narratively, it’s not a good show or a good film. Some are really good and some are even better than you’ve even hoped. When you can be a part of one of those and then on top of that you get the kind of recognition from your peers, you kind of are a little stunned by it all. That’s what is really fun about all this, and having these kinds of conversations with folks like you. It’s all gravy on top of it. I feel very, very grateful.

GD: I definitely look forward to seeing what happens in Season 3 of “Ozark” ‘cause it’s certainly binge-worthy television. Jason, thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the Emmy nominations for the show.

JB: Thank you so much.

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