Jason Bateman (‘Ozark,’ ‘The Outsider’) on what inspired both shows [Complete Interview Transcript]

Jason Bateman has nominations at this year’s Emmys for producing and starring in “Ozark” and for his guest spot on “The Outsider.” He won the Best Drama Directing category last year for the Season 2 premiere of “Ozark.”

Bateman recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow about his restained performance on “Ozark,” the status of “The Outsider’s” potential second season and his approach to hiring. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: I would say my least fruitful line of questioning as an interviewer is asking people to judge themselves, but you constantly direct and produce yourself, so I have high hopes here. Over the last three years, I don’t think I’ve seen an interview with an “Ozark” cast or crew member where they didn’t go out of their way to praise Jason Bateman as a collaborator, as a boss, as a human being. You’ve been in this industry your whole life. You’ve clearly picked up on how people should be treated and managed. What do you think you’re doing differently?

Jason Bateman: I’m not sure. It’s not a difficult thing. I’m sure you would do the same if you were lucky enough to be in a position of leadership. I think most people instinctually would want to create an environment that is collaborative and that is kind and respectful, for no other reason than you just want a nice, pleasant place to work. The fact that it also yields great contributions from really talented people is something that people should consider as well. So I appreciate people saying that. I appreciate you saying it, but it really is no big heroic feat, I think, to just follow one’s instincts, to treat people kindly.

GD: I think maybe the first thing that I noticed about your “Ozark” performance is how deliberate it was in its restraint. You hear about a show where somebody is directing themselves and you kind of expect showboating but Marty is much quieter than Wendy, than Ruth, Ben, Darlene. How did you come to this decision to calibrate your performance at this level?

JB: Well, first and foremost, I think it’s just sort of in the fabric of the show that the character of Marty is somebody who is, along with Wendy, really the eyes and the ears for the audience into this abnormal situation, and so, I’m just trying to be true to that, I suppose, just try to be a normal, everyday Joe that is acting a bit like you or I would, except for the light lawlessness. He thinks he’s a little bit smarter than he actually is. So I also think that that’s sort of common with a lot of us as well and the moment that you find out you’re not quite as smart as you thought you were usually ends up being a moment that can either bring drama or comedy. So I like playing that character in both comedy and drama because in comedy, it’s usually when you’re losing your dignity it ends up being pretty funny. In drama, it’s when you’re losing your sense of safety and well-being and it can be kind of tragic and scary. So I like playing that guy and also, my taste in acting right now is I really appreciate actors that do as little as possible as opposed to some actors are fantastic at being big and playing these eccentric characters. I’m just not one of those actors. I just don’t have the talent or the interest or skillset or whatever it is. I really gravitate towards the naturalistic style nowadays. So I love it that this character lends itself to that.

GD: I think along those lines, there’s that fourth episode of the season titled “Boss Fight,” where you get kidnaped and tortured. Over at Gold Derby, we’re always trying to think about which episode are they going to submit to the Emmys as their acting showcase. That one seemed like such an obvious one because it’s such a departure for Marty. He’s really going through it. Instead, you actually submitted the sixth episode titled “Su Casa Es Mi Casa,” which does have that opening therapy scene that I know you’re really proud of. Can you speak about what part of that episode struck a chord with you?

JB: You know, to be honest, I asked our head writer, our showrunner, Chris Mundy, what he thought. I’m just not good at picking an episode so I really left it all up to him. I didn’t really know. When he said Episode 6, I was like, “OK.” I honestly couldn’t remember which was what. I appreciate and respect any award show, any group that comes together to vote for things. It just makes me uncomfortable to pursue it overtly and part of picking an episode, I guess, is a pretty overt practice. It’s strategizing and I don’t know, it made me a little uneasy. So I kind of just deferred to him. I hope that whoever is voting is watching the whole season and again, as you said, my character, his job is to really be the portal for the audience and not really try to swing too hard for tall fences with acting scenes and I think that there’s other actors that play loud or flashier parts and perhaps that’ll warrant the trophy. But I don’t know. I’m proud of the whole show and everything that the cast is doing and the crew is doing and to be a part of this ceremony is and has been a real honor. So I’m just happy to get this far, truly.

GD: I do still have one more Emmy submission question. The directing categories at the Emmys have an additional rule that others don’t have in that you can’t be on the ballot multiple times even if they’re for different shows. So you won the directing Emmy last year for “Ozark.” This year, you didn’t submit your directing on “Ozark” because you were submitting the pilot of “The Outsider” instead. And now seeing as you won last year, you might have been the default frontrunner to win again this year. I feel like I know exactly why you submitted “The Outsider” in its place, but I want to hear it from you.

JB: Well, you tell me if you guessed right. Really, the reason that I chose “The Outsider” is because it’s the first episode of the show, a pilot episode. There are a lot of things that were a little bit trickier than the two episodes that I directed on “Ozark,” and maybe it was trickier because it was different. Maybe “Ozark” is just incredibly comfortable for me now. Maybe those episodes were super challenging as a director. My lens was a little bit more towards “Outsider” just because it was, I don’t know, there were a bunch of directing things I was really proud of that we all pulled off over there and so, in addition to that, having, as you said, won for “Ozark” last year, I felt like, “Well, we’ve had some great directors through there this year and I think it would be more fair for me to kind of submit ‘Outsider’ and have all the oxygen available for those other directors,” and it worked out really nicely for Ben Semanoff and Alik Sakharov, the two nominations that we got. I’m disappointed that “The Outsider” didn’t get that nomination in addition to some of the other nominations that I thought the show was worthy of. But again, just having this conversation, it’s nice that it’s in the conversation, that people saw “Outsider.” I’m really proud of it in addition to all the viewing that we got on “Ozark.” Was that what you thought?

GD: That’s exactly it. I feel like the Emmy voters might be catching up on “The Outsider” now. So it’s August now. “The Outsider” is the most-watched show that HBO has aired in the last year. I know it’s based on the novel of the same name and you exhausted that IP in the first season but Stephen King has actually published a sequel in the form of a novella. Plus, you have that mid-credits cliffhanger in the finale. HBO has made a point to call it a drama series instead of a limited series most of the time. So basically, where is the announcement of the second season?

JB: Truly, you’d have to ask HBO that. I’m not sure of the conversations that they’re having in-house about a possible second season. I haven’t been updated on that lately. Perhaps I will get an update tomorrow or the next day. So our timing might just be a little off, with respect to this interview. But I’m sure it’s something that they’re considering and a bunch of great people on that show. So I hope that there is a second season.

GD: I interviewed your camera operator, Ben Semanoff, a few days ago. It seems like a factor in you wanting him on “Ozark” and I guess “The Outsider” was that he had shot “The Night Of” before that. He said that you talked extensively about making that show and then on “The Outsider,” you actually teamed up with a whole bunch of people who made “The Night Of.” So I’m wondering, what would you say particularly influenced “Ozark” regarding “The Night Of”? And was it much more of an influence than other shows?

JB: “Top of the Lake” was a big influence for me for “Ozark.” “The Night Of” was a big influence for me for “Outsider.” I think in both instances, both references are similar in that there’s such a specific environment, visually and musically, that those two shows, “Top of the Lake” and “The Night Of,” drop the viewer into so that they are conditioned to receive all of the really incredible writing and performances that both those shows brought. You need to set the table for the meal you’re going to put in front of the audience and if it’s a checkerboard sort of placemat, you’re expecting fried chicken or burgers or something. If it’s linen, you’re expecting a different type of meal. So you’ve got to kind of set the audience in the right place so that, if you put some incredible filet mignon on a red checkerboard thing, the eater might think this is like the worst piece of fried chicken I’ve ever had. But it’s a great filet mignon. They’re just not in the right mood for it. So it’s sort of a weird analogy to say that there was some specifics to “The Outsider,” as well as “Ozark,” that there needed to be the proper visual component and musical component so that the audience is in the right mood to take them into the world that I was trying to put him in.

GD: I was looking at the credits when “The Outsider” came out and it felt like you really assembled this all-star crew. At this point, you have such respect as an actor, as a director and a producer in both TV and movies. It feels like you can kind of get anyone you want to some extent and anyone will want to work with you. So when you’re in that position of power, how do you weigh going with people like Leo Trombetta and Igor Martinovic, who are guaranteed to deliver excellent work just because of their resumes versus taking a risk on people who are just as talented but because of their race or gender, haven’t had the same opportunities to prove that?

JB: Well, that’s a great point. I certainly never look at race or gender as I’m doing my hiring as a bias. But I have talked to some that suggested perhaps I should and that I should only look at those that are in a minority group, and it’s not a terrible idea, obviously. It’s something that we look at, that we try to implement as much as possible on “Ozark” as well as “The Outsider.” As far as directors go, unfortunately, there aren’t as many minority directors as there are non-minority directors and we need to do our part to try to populate that pool so that it better matches what our society is. So we’re trying to do what we can on “Ozark” and on “Outsider” as far as there’s a shadow program that I started to try to get minority folks that are looking to get into directing. So they can come and they can observe and they can start to get the experience and get into the pool of consideration and have them not be a rookie right out of college so that they can get the proper consideration and it can be a little bit more apples to apples when they’re trying to compete for a job against somebody that may have been doing it for 20, 30 years. It’s a little unfair and people, I think, are willing to hire those without a lot of experience, but they’re less comfortable hiring those that have zero experience. So we’re trying to do what we can to try to populate the pool so that maybe in a couple of years or however long it’s going to take, there are more people to choose from because those that have experience and all the qualifications, they get snapped up immediately. So it’s tough.

GD: And finally, I’ve heard that you’re not directing on “Ozark” this coming season, but I just wanted to clarify if you meant both 4A and 4B because I would at least think that you would want to do the series finale.

JB: Yeah, I was supposed to do, as I always do, the first two episodes, but as we started to get into looking at some of the protocols and guidelines for COVID, I realized that as a producer, it probably wouldn’t be smart to have the actor also directing, because as a director, you’re exposed to location scouting and production meetings and all of these opportunities to become sick. If one of the cast members gets sick, we all have to stop for weeks. If a crew member gets sick, they do get to maintain their salary, I’m making sure of, but we can hire a replacement while they are quarantined. With an actor, obviously, you can’t do that. So I just thought it was smarter for me to not direct right upfront until we get our protocols and guidelines in place and establish a safe environment and then perhaps later on in the season, I mean, we’re booking and scheduling our directors now. So I want to be sensitive to that, too. I don’t want to book somebody and say, “Yeah, you know, by the way, I want to direct that episode.” So I haven’t really got into the weeds yet on that. But you’re right, directing the finale of the show would be something I’d really love to do, obviously. So I’m thinking about that. But it looks like I’m gonna be directing something right at the end of the show as well and so there’s a post-production tail to directing. So if I direct the final episode, then I can’t start preproduction on the film I’m going to do and so I want to be responsible for all parties and as you can tell, I’m thinking about all of it now and trying to honor acting, producing and directing and figuring out what the smart recipe would be.

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