The part reads, “mild-mannered, middle-aged white guy, kind of idealistic, sort of a cheerleader, not the utter pushover he seems.” And oh yeah, “Make him funny.”
Sounds like a job for an acting Every Man, a superhero among supporting players. It sounds like a job for ... duh duh duuuuuh ... BATE-man!
Jason Bateman, who will wear “Arrested Development” as a career highlight to the end of his days, plays a lot of those movie Average Joes, the guy who doesn’t really want to grow up and raise a child in “Juno,” the nerdy accountant seemingly immune to the magical pull of “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”
“I’m the Every Man, the straight man, the middle-aged white guy who isn’t overly skinny, overly tall, overly short, somebody who reacts to the funny things around him,” Bateman, 39, says from Los Angeles. “My mother’s British, so I kind of come by this reactionary comedy thing by default. It’s in my genes.”
His most Jason Bateman-ish role ever just might be in “Hancock,” the new superhero action comedy starring Will Smith. Bateman plays Ray, a do-gooder public relations man who wants to save the Earth, feed the hungry, house the homeless and maybe fix the wrecked image of the drunken superhero title character.
“Ray’s a nice counterpoint - naive, idealistic - to the cynicism of Hancock, creating the conflict of opposites that you need for comedy,” says Bateman, who should know, seeing as has been making comedy since he was a kid. “I typically play the guy who is the surrogate for the audience, just normal enough to make the absurdity of whatever is going on stand out. That makes the role actor-proof.”
He’s being modest. “Hancock’s” reviews aren’t the best of Will Smith’s career. But Bateman is winning almost universal praise. “No one has given him such a juicy part in years,” Stephen Farber wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. “The actor rips into it lustily.”
Bateman took the occasion of the cancellation of his much-loved, short-lived TV show, “Arrested Development,” to grab seemingly every role in sight, a veritable actor’s smorgasbord of wacky best friends (“The Break-Up”), strung-out lawyers (“Smokin’ Aces”) and wise-cracking F.B.I. analysts (“The Kingdom”), with cameos as a boorish TV star in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and an obnoxiously upbeat corporate coach, a “team builder,” in “The Promotion.”
“I have been grabbing stuff from all over the place, just to avoid being pigeon-holed again,” Bateman says. “If the TV show hadn’t come along, I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing with this half of my life. Not acting, I’m guessing. So I am working toward building the kind of broad-based, not-a-big-star, not-a-celebrity career that will give me another 30 years of employment.”
He’ll jump at the chance to work in a big summer action picture “just for the whole Will Smith of it all.” But he’s also teaming with Mike Judge (“King of the Hill,” “Office Space”) for a low-budget comedy, “sort of an Office Space 2.0, a small town workplace film, lo-fi, below the radar, and hopefully a cool comedy.”
And Bateman holds out hope that all those Hollywood fans of “Arrested Development” will find the cash, make the planets align and figure out a way to make a big-screen version of the series. A former child actor (he’s Justine Bateman’s brother) whose acting life all but ended when childhood did, Bateman says he owes everything “in this second half of my career” to the Mitchell Hurwitz-created show, something his “Juno” director, Jason Reitman, acknowledges caused him to hire Bateman.
“You look at the role he played in that cast and the way he played it, you have to be a fan of the Bateman,” Reitman says.
“All roads lead back to ‘Arrested Development,’” Bateman says. “It was a re-set point for my career, giving me the chance to have this second half. The audience for that was small, but it must’ve been entirely in Hollywood. It seems as if every job I get is from a fan of the show. So if there’s a chance to do it, the will is there.”