Set Visit: Bad Words - The Cast
The first piece of direction I hear Jason Bateman say on the Golden Quill stage set of BAD WORDS was, I imagine, not meant to be heard by the rest of us. He leaned into an actor playing one of the contenstants parents and smiled, "pick a point. Same sentance, just better." The two actors shared a chuckle and because Jason's lavalier mic picked it all up, the rest of the cast followed in laughter.
The next take, for what it's worth, was much better. It's not every director who can lighten a set and make his cast comfortable with expressions like that, but this is Jason Bateman. He kind of excudes calmness, professionalism and most of all trust in everyone. I mean seriously, who effortlessly gets away with "same, but better"? Somehow Jason makes his directions sing.
BAD WORDS is hilarious and is gearing to be my favorite comedy of the year. We got the chance to speak to the cast as they were shooting the final rounds of the tournament in Los Angeles. The gang was more than happy to shed some light on how the actor/director is able to bring out their best comedic side.
Allison Janney, Dr. Bernice Deagan
On her Character:
I play Bernice Deagon, who is the director of the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee. This is her world. This is her life. She lives for it. She’s been doing it for twenty years and she is hard as nails. She doesn’t suffer fools, she means business and when Jason’s character enters into her world, she wants him out. We’re not fond of each other in this movie, he is ruining my life. Everybody is looking to me to fix it and I try… I don’t want to give anything away but it is my job to get him thrown out of this spelling bee. She will do whatever it takes. She goes to places she didn’t think she could ever go and beyond at great sacrifice and risk. I don’t play her as a villain but I see her as Jasons Nurse Ratchet. He’s an intruder on her world and we go toe to toe. She’s livid.
On Jason Bateman:
Jason and I did JUNO together but we had no scenes together, I met him on the press tour and fell in love with him! We were stuck together in a lot of the groups they would break us into and he would just make me laugh so hard. He;s so funny and so fun to be around. It wasn’t too long ago when he said “You want to do something together?” and I said yes without reading the script.
I wasn’t nervous about him directing and I’ve been really impressed with him. This man knows what he’s doing, he’s not just an actor who’s wearing the directors hat… he’s really good. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been doing this but I can’t tell you what the lens numbers are. He comes in and he’s like babbling these numbers and… he just knows what he’s doing. He should be doing this. I wish it were a series where we could do it every day, he’s that good. I find the people he surrounds himself with all are here because of there love and respect for him. I’d follow him off a cliff.
I adore Phillip Baker Hall too. He’s one of those actors where every time I see he’s in a movie I get exited. I can’t wait to see what he does. He’s fascinating to watch, such a nice man and a brilliant actor. I saw him in a play here in LA recently too.
On Multiple takes vs. Minimal takes:
I’m closer to the Clint Eastwood School. The more takes we do the more I start to doubt myself. Do they not like what I’m doing? I spiral when the director starts to ask for more takes. Jason doesn’t do a lot of takes, he tends to know what he wants and then moves on. Part of that is financial and part of that is hiring great people, people who know their lines and hit their marks. Old Jack Warner used to call me two take Janny… I’ve never been in a big budget movie where they’ve taken a lot of takes. The closest was a TV show I did way back where they shot six hours of footage for one scene. It was relentless but I can’t tell you who it was!
On the strengths of genre:
I like the ones that are not specifically comedy and not specifically drama. They are inherently funny because of the situation and the behavior… It would be like this film. It’s real life. Jason wants you to be grounded in reality. I’m not trying to be funny as Bernice Degon. She’s so committed to the Bee and the stakes are so high it’s funny. Most of the films I’ve done reflect that world I’d like to live in… real life, really. It’s all about my mother. Her stakes are high all the time.
On her extensive year:
I haven’t made a lot of money but I’ve been having a lot of fun! I did this incredible film based on Checkov’s The Seagal with Jean Reno and Cherry Jones and William Hurt called DAYS AND NIGHT… Very exiting. I find in these smaller films I get offered better roles. I did a movie called TRUST ME with Clark Gregg, another man I adore who I worked with on THE WEST WING. That was fun, it’s funny I went from THE WAY WAY BACK with Sam Rockwell and Amanda Peet to TRUST ME with Sam Rockwell and Amanda Peet. Great, fun actors. It’s been a fun year.
On current TV:
I do love HOMELAND. I’m obsessed with it. I haven’t put it out there that I want to be on it, I’m hoping that you would do that for me perhaps (laughs). I don’t know who I could play on that show but I know I could be good! They should have knocked on my door a long time ago! (laughs) I love GAME OF THRONES… BREAKING BAD, holy cow. I just started watching DEXTER. I have a friend who said “If you don’t start watching THE WALKING DEAD I won’t speak to you anymore.” I’m not into horror but I’m into AMERICAN HORROR STORY. I love Sarah Paulson.
I’d love to do a consistent TV show in Los Angeles, I’ve started actively looking (she later landed the lead on MOM). There’s some great television out there, I think it’s the best it’s ever been. It’s really nice now because reality TV kind of came in when I was on THE WEST WING. THE BACHLORE came on and our ratings started to go down. I was like “are you kidding me?” I was terrified of that. As a result I don’t watch reality TV.
On The West Wing Reunion Short Film “Walk and Talk” shot a few months prior:
That was so fun! I can’t tell you how great it was to be together again. We haven’t been in a room together since 2007 so I was happy to get to do that for Mary (McCormack)’s sister. I’m not very comfortable being an activist so something like that, which I believe in, was a much more comfortable way for me to be political. I was so grateful to help even though she didn’t win the election. God we had a good time, it made me wish we could do something like that more often. We love each other (co-stars) but I don’t see them as often as I’d like to. We all e-mail and text. Janel Moloney and Melisa Fitzgerald I see a lot. I just saw Richard in his play in New York.
Philip Baker Hall, William Bowman
On his character:
I’m the administrator and founder of the Golden Quill. I was a college professor of linguistics and somehow I became obsessed with words and language, which ultimately formed this spelling bee that attracts people from all over the worlds. In the story we’re on national television that’s a pretty big event e very year. I share the announcing booth with Ben Falcone, like they do in sports events they present and chit chat as contestants succeed or fail. There are some mysterious plotlines with him that are interesting also, outside of the event. He’s very upset with Jason’s character and his schemes. He’s a bit of a control monster given the nature of the event. It’s been going on for 30 years and now the story is this adult. Not only is Jason’s character an adult in the competition but he’s undefeatable! My character senses early on that this guy might win and destroy the reputation of The Golden Quill. So he’s at war.
On Jason as a director:
My agent sent me a copy of the script and asked if I was interested, once I said yes I immediately got a call from Jason. Jason is great because he’s both starring and directing. It’s interesting to watch directors who are also actors. He has a tender regard with the actor, as well he might since it’s been his primary vocation in life. What I find interesting in Jason in this double role is that it seems like he’s been doing this every day of his life; directing and acting. It’s a really heavy load, directing by itself. It seems like he’s at home doing it, he’s born to do it. I’m trying to think if I worked with actor/directors before… This might be my first.
Approaching comedy as a genre:
This isn’t a comedy, well I’m sure it is but there is a line through the middle of it that makes it a little tough to say it’s a comedy. I’m not sure how the studio and marketers will define this movie when it comes out but there are strong undercurrents that aren’t particularly funny. It’s a dark comedy I suppose. I’m not sure.
On preferences in multiple takes:
My preference is somewhere in between Clint Eastwood and David Fincher. I’ve worked with David; I’ve also worked with Michael Mann who’s known for a lot of takes too. The thing with a lot of takes, like 50 or more… after a certain number, maybe 20 or 25… you don’t know why you’re doing it anymore. The director probably won’t tell you either. In fact directors that do a lot of takes don’t like to be asked why they are doing so many. Why are we doing this David? (laughs) Michael Mann used to walk over to me, when it was clear that the problem was with something I was doing or not doing, he would walk over and put his arm over me and smile. He wouldn’t say anything. It was kind of disconcerting but you trust him. Every director is worried about that moment in the editing room when they are watching the dailies with the editor and they don’t have the right piece. Jason is beautifully moderate.
On what he is recognized for most often:
Seinfeld! There are a couple of other things too, any of the Paul Thomas Anderson movies although those are not as widely seen as some of the others, great as those are. They haven’t had the overall mass appeal they deserve. I went to one of the revival screenings of BOOGIE NIGHTS here in Los Angeles just this month though. Somebody surprised me asking about SECRET HONOR recently, we made that movie in 84. Can you still see that film? Oh, it’s in the Criterion Collection. Also MIDNIGHT RUN, which has become a bit of a cult favorite with young men. I don’t see many women talking about MIDNIGHT RUN, they’ll ask about MAGNOLIA but not that one.
On his family:
I have two young daughters, eleven and sixteen. They’re a bit young for some of the movies I’ve been in. Here’s a phenomenon that’s happened in our house… my kids classmates have seen many movies in which I appear that they have not seen or even know about. We haven’t told them about MAGNOLIA. How can you tell your seven year old about the great role you played as a child molester? (laughs)
Ben Falcone, Pete Fowler
On Getting involved:
Jason and my wife (Melisa McCarthy) did a movie in Atlanta, so I got to meet him. I always liked his work but I got to like him personally. I actually got to do a little part in that movie. He asked if I’d like to do a part in this movie he’s directly and I immediately said “Yeah!” It was a pretty open and close thing. Then I read the script and I thought the script was really funny.
On his role:
Pete Fowler is the announcer, a sort of Charlie Rose-ish type of guy. Phillip Baker Hall didn’t want an ESPN type of guy so he chose a National Public Television up and coming announcer. It required me to learn a lot of long speeches in a hosty-kind of fashion. Which is not my specialty at all.
On Jason as a director:
He’s bossy and prudish (laughs). Actually he’s very smart, very direct, and very calm. I have a strong feeling he’s going to be doing a lot more of it. Just because I like him as a person I imagine you’d think id say that anyway but just watching him you’d know he’s quite good at it. He knows the actor shorthand, meaning he’s capable of telling me exactly what he wants me to do simply.
On his next project Tammy:
We’re (Melisa and I) in the final steps of getting this movie together to shoot this summer. We wrote it and will produce it as well. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for quite a while. She just got so busy so quickly; we hoped to do it last summer but couldn’t quite get it together. It’s about a woman who takes a road trip with her grandmother while her life is falling apart. We’ve had a script for a while. New Line is doing it and wanted to get it up last year, but our ability to do the producing part fell through with the schedule. (The project has since gone into post-production, Ben directed it and even got Alison Janney involved in the film).
Stay tuned for our interviews with the filmmakers! Director/Actor Jason Bateman and Writer Andrew Dogde!
If you are in Austin this weekend for SXSW and have a credentialed badge, see BAD WORDS for yourself on Friday, March 7th at 10:00pm, Topfer Theatre at Zach (1510 Zoomey Road). On Saturday, March 8th join Jason Bateman in a Conversation moderated by Jeffrey Tambor (‘Arrested Development’) from 2:00pm – 3:00pm (Austin Convention Center, 500 E Cesar Chavez St, Room 16AB) and be on the lookout for the roaming pop-up bee teams, where you can win prizes by spelling words correctly.
BAD WORDS opens in select theaters March 14th and expands across the country on March 21st and March 28th.
|Extra Tidbit:||P.A.'s had to hold up large signs of the harder words for the actors when they had to spell on stage. After a take, Jason said I think I can actually spell it now F L O C C I N Quiet! Quiet! A U .. Nope. No clue. There was actually a longer word that we had, but it was just too silly...|