Jason Bateman: Comically Gifted

By Sondra Barr

Generation X runs deep with the talents of many notable actors––Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, the list goes on. However, one name is glaringly absent from the various “Best Actors of Gen X” lists––Jason Bateman.

Comically gifted and glaringly underrated, Bateman has graced us with his presence since the early 1980s with roles on Little House on the Prairie, Silver Spoons, and The Hogan Family. In an era of must-see TV, Bateman was a shining star. His cherubic face peering out from the glossy pages of Tiger Beat, Super Teen, and Bop magazines before being painstaking cut out and plastered to the inside of 13-year-old girls’ locker doors across the country.

He was white hot and then suddenly not, seemingly pre-destined to travel the lonely path into obscurity like so many child actors before him. Booze, drugs, hard partying, Bateman succumbed to typical Hollywood temptations in the ’90s before an epic comeback in the show Arrested Development in 2003. The ideal showcase for his dry wit, the role as the strait-laced, well-balanced Michael Bluth revived a spark in Bateman and reignited his career.

It’s a made-for-TV Hollywood reversal of fortune that Bateman is incredibly grateful for and one he doesn’t intend to squander the second time around.

“I had all the money a 21-year-old could ever want, and I’d moved out when I was 18. It was as if my parents went out often and they left me the keys to the car and the bank-account numbers and I didn’t know when they were coming home. I spent 10 or 15 years having so much fun with all of my buddies and obviously losing my place in the business,” Bateman explained to GQ’s Brendan Vaughan in 2013.

“By the time I regained an appreciation for a career and a work ethic and all those types of things, I had a lot of catching up. It wasn’t necessarily there for me when I wanted it, and that was difficult and frustrating and extremely humbling. I just kind of had to start over––rebuild an ego and self-esteem and an identity.”

Redirecting his bad habits took effort, especially for a self described hedonist who follows an all or nothing mantra. “If my fun level is like a six when I’m out, why not take it to a 10? That’s how I was with drinking. If I’m buzzed, let’s get drunk. And if I’m drunk, let’s black out. I mean, why not? I didn’t understand why you’d stop,” he told writer Michael Muller for Men’s Health of his hard-partying days.

“If I’m enjoying something, I’d like to be able to just have it all. Frankly, that’s the way I’m approaching my career now. I’m a total workaholic.”

As Muller points out in his article, Arrested Development may have given Bateman a do-over, but he had to make good on it. Bateman did just that. He quit the booze, started running, and redirected his addictive personality in a new direction. Behold, Jason Bateman 2.0.

With Ron Howard, the renowned child star turned adult actor turned producer-director, as inspiration, Bateman has re-written the script to the second act of his life to great effect and much acclaim.

“I remember somewhere in there seeing some interview with Ron Howard, and I remember watching him be that famous, kind, affable, engaging, almost eager persona, and I remember thinking, ‘Boy,’ you know, ‘there’s no way anybody would ever misinterpret that kindness for weakness.’ And I thought to myself, ‘If I’m ever lucky enough to find some relevance again and some access and some success, that’s going to be the best part of it, that I’m going to be able to be as nice as I want to be and not be nervous that that’s going to be misinterpreted for desperate.”

It’s not lost on Bateman that fate saw to it for Howard to be the narrator of Arrested Development and one of its executive producers. “So the fact that I’ve been able to say that to Ron––I’ve literally walked him through this long-winded story––it was just really, really nice to be able to do that and to have him be a mentor and a friend and then obviously such a huge part of what was a career-defining job for me on Arrested Development,” Bateman told Vaughan.

With his fire once again burning bright, Bateman was careful to take solid roles that played to his deadpan sarcasm and expressive face. Movies like Juno, Couples Retreat, and Horrible Bosses followed.

Jennifer Aniston, who starred with him in Bad Bosses, among others, had this to say as Bateman was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017: “He looks 12. He acts 100. A head of hair that women envy. He works hard. He’s tired. Even in his most restful state, he’s one of the loveliest men to be around.”

“He always gives you deep connection, full attention, authenticity, and some of the deepest belly laughs that I can remember,” said Aniston.

When he started racking up the producer credits in the last decade was when Bateman realized he’d finally made good on his goal for lasting staying power. He has over 14 producer credits to his name, including HBO’s The Outsider and the original Netflix series Ozark. The later being the incredibly successful 2017 binge-worth drama that earned him an Emmy for directing and a SAG award for acting.

In addition to directing several episodes, Bateman also stars in Ozark. Playing Marty Byrde, a financial adviser forced by the drug cartel to relocate to the Lake of the Ozark to launder $500 million in five years to save himself and his family, the juicy role positions Bateman as the antihero you can’t help but root for.

It’s a character that’s so “close to the middle” that he can go either way that appeals to Bateman. “That’s who we all are,” he told Steven MacKenzie for The Big Issue. “Just a couple of steps left or right and you could be doing something embarrassingly funny or tragically dramatic. We’re all just trying to stay in the middle of the road and function in society but when the wheels start to wobble a little bit you can get into something that’s interesting.”

As fans eagerly await the fourth and final season of the hit drama, Bateman has his eyes set on the third act of his life with his family by his side. Married to Amanda Anka since 2001, the pair have two daughters, Francesca Nora and Maple Sylvie.

Of his relationship to Anka, Bateman told Sirius XM Satellite Radio: “There’s always going to be a hotter girl. There’s always going to be a different girl. And eventually if you want to be a husband, if you want to be a father, you’ve got to pick one.”

“And, for me, I looked around at relationships in my life that did last and those were friendships,” says Bateman. “And I wasn’t sexually attracted to buddies, so I found a female buddy that I was sexually attracted to and asked her if she wanted to give it a go and that’s why it’s lasted so long.”