“Bad Words” is a comedy about a middle-aged, middle school dropout who enters the National Quill Spelling Bee.
Carroll News: How do you feel directing is different than acting as an artistic outlook?
Jason Bateman: With acting you’re trying to convince people you’re someone else and with directing you’re trying to create a completely fake world for the audience and trying to shape and experience for them for two hours for what they see, hear and feel. To me it’s a much more challenging and gratifying creative effort. I was excited for taking on the challenge of more responsibility.
CN: Can you explain what it was like being on the selling side of the industry and Focus Features purchasing world rights to distribute your film?
JB: We took the film up to Toronto and that was a place for us to find a distributor, l I was hoping that it would land with Focus. There are only a couple other distributors that are known for distributing things that are super specific like this and know how to do a platform release which is where you put it in a couple of theaters the first weekend, then more the following weekend and just grow word of mouth. So it was very exciting that a company I really respect ended up respecting this movie. It was one of those classic nights where you’re at a festival where it goes really well with the audience and you’re sitting in your hotel room hoping everyone liked it and they did. It ended up in a bit of a bidding war through the night and Focus matched everyone dollar for dollar and it was really exciting.
CN: How challenging is it to direct yourself in a movie?
JB: It felt comfortable. The character is somebody I had a pretty good idea about how I wanted him to be so I went after a couple of actors who I thought could play it that way but they were not interested for one reason or another. Before I went on to choice 3, 4 or 5, I thought, “Why don’t I give it a shot since I’m so clear about what I feel this character needs to be in order to get away with all these things?” I also thought it might lighten my work load by not having to direct the lead actor and trying to hit this specific tonal target with this character, we could be there for a while trying to explain what this character needs to be.
CN: Did being a child actor help you while casting for this film, especially for Rohan?
JB: Well being a kid actor myself, I kind of remember what I felt like when I thought I was giving my best performance. In this case it was vital that the character be very sunny and non judgmental and counterbalance my character and this kid is the greatest kid you could ever meet. He’s just so sweet and smart and nonjudgmental and just happy to be there. It was a pretty easy decision to make.
CN: What was the most difficult scene to direct, act or direct and act in?
JB: Technically speaking there’s a big national spelling bee at the end and it’s being televised on public television in our movie so we had to create that whole infrastructure in our film. We were basically shooting a television show and a movie at the same time and that was pretty preparation-intensive. Acting the toughest scene was probably the first day for some dumb reason I schedule my scene with the most dialogue, I had a 3 page monologue and that was the first scene we shot.
CN: You’ve mentioned that you wanted to get into directing before, what specifically made you decide that now is the right time to direct?
JB: Kind of some practical issues, business-wise where it was a good time for me to disappear a little bit. The year before I think I was in 3 films and believe me these are good problems to have I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining but you do kind of fall off the map when you’re directing a film. I had just done a couple big studio commercial comedies and it was a good time for me to do something small and semi-artistic and try a different job, it just kind of worked.
CN: Did you’re vision for Guy change at all after you decided to take on the role yourself?
JB: Not really, no. I was adequately confident that I could make him likable enough only because you know I’ve been playing the protagonist for a long time now and so I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve about how to look vulnerable or doubtful or nervous and I knew that you’d need to see some flashes of that and exposure of his core to make his prickiness work. I knew when I gave those flashes I knew I’d keep them in the film so the audience could see that. It needed to have that balance.
CN: Is there anything that you would change with the film looking back at it now through the process of being an independent film?
JB: No, there was a very specific way I wanted this film to look, to sound and the way I wanted it to feel to the audience. I really wanted to set an environment with the audience where they felt a little off center where this is a raw group of people and circumstances and there’s a look to that. You don’t want it to look and feel like some light, bright, poppy, candy kind of studio comedy. This just felt like raw people going through tough times and them not being their best selves, and there’s a pallet for that. That was a big, big process that I got to be a part of that I’m usually not involved with.