By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
TORONTO—Jason Bateman stars in “This is Where I Leave You” as one of four siblings who return to their family homestead to attend their father’s funeral. During their unplanned week together under the same roof, the adult children hash out lingering issues with each other and help each other cope with current problems in their life.
The dramedy, based on the Jonathan Tropper novel, is directed by Shawn Levy (“Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Night at the Museum”), and features an all-star cast including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Dax Shepard, Rose Byrne and Corey Stoll.
Bateman, 45, began his career as a child star on TV sitcoms including “Silver Spoons” and “The Hogan Family.” As an adult, he has established himself as a solid leading man, mostly in comedies.
Having just wrapped his second directing project (after this year’s critically acclaimed “Bad Words”), Bateman says he was pleased to be part of a dynamic family drama with just the right blend of humor.
Q: What drew you to this project?
Bateman: Well, there was a version of it that was close to getting going at one point, and then that didn’t come together fully for a bunch of reasons. And then when Shawn (Levy, the director) came onboard, he kept me a part of it. So basically, it was like through the same door, after a lunch, and him saying that Tina was going to do it. It was very exciting.
Q: What appealed to you about the story?
Bateman: What I think is kind of interesting about it is that there’s not some big, high-concept story. It’s just about a family getting together and talking about stuff. That’s obviously going to be a marketing challenge, but for us, as actors, that’s what you want. It’s not our job to figure out how to sell it but just try to figure out how to be believable with it. There’s great writing in it. People talk good in this movie. That’s about it.
Q: Can you have a family drama where you don’t have a dysfunctional family? Is that tension a required element in movies?
Bateman: There is nothing interesting, funny or dramatic about a family that works perfectly well. It would be tough to charge $14.50 (for a movie ticket) for a family that behaves themselves.
Q: Did you come on board without knowing who the rest of the ensemble would be?
Bateman: For me, it is important because, while there are many, many, many great actors and there are many different kinds of great actors. With something as low concept as this, you can do many, many different versions of it. There’s a bunch of different tones of this movie. Depending on how you cast it, it makes it one flavor or another. There are some things that I just don’t do very well, and I don’t know that I would do very well with a certain flavor of this movie.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about what it was like being cooped up in this fairly small house for a whole month with this big cast and crew?
Bateman: It was a big, beautiful house, so that did help. And we all really liked each other, which was helpful. But it was hot, and it was an old house. There wasn’t air conditioning, but we brought some of that in. We had to share one bathroom with a terrible toilet seat.
Q: Why didn’t they build some of those rooms?
Bateman: Because it was a cheap movie. (He laughs.) There was a lot of good bonding there. So it was really fun. It was as close as a working actor can get to summer camp.
Q: You’ve got this movie that you’re directing now?
Bateman: Finished last week.
Q: Is it a totally tone different tone than “Bad Words?”
Q: You’re in it too, right?
Q: What did you learn from your second film-directing experience?
Bateman: I don’t know. I’m just absolutely crazy about directing. It was absolutely as fun as the first time, and I can’t wait for the third. Truly.
Q: When do you think it will be ready to be released?
Bateman: I’ll start editing next week, so maybe, hopefully—knock on wood—I’ll see you back here next year with it.
Q: That long?
Bateman: You know, I’m not cutting an online movie! It takes a little while.
Q: Are you approaching movies differently now that you’re directing, and are you a different guy on set as an actor, looking at things you didn’t previously look at, taking notes?
Bateman: I don’t. If I do, I hope it’s not noticeable, and I also hope that those things are ultimately beneficial to me. I’m much more appreciative and respectful of how difficult it is to make a movie, and the acting is just one part of it, and so, the least I can do is to not be a pain.