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Not winking

January 13th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman was born January 14, 1969 in Rye, New York. Bateman’s father Kent was a TV writer and director who ran a postproduction facility. Bateman’s mother was a flight attendant. At the age of 10, Bateman was living in Los Angeles, helping his dad wash the car when a neighbor on his way to audition – for the role of a father in an educational film – stopped in front of the house. Bateman recalls, “He asked me if I wanted to go along, and I said yes, and fortunately for me they were reading for the role of the son that day as well. So he told me to sneak in there and make it look like I knew what I was doing, and that I was supposed to be there. And so I did, and I got the part, and thought, ‘Well, this is fun and maybe I’m good at this.’ And so my dad took some pictures of me and sent them into an agency. They liked the pictures, and signed me up.”

Bateman landed in commercials for Honeynut Cheerios, Coca Cola and McDonald’s. In 1981, he began a ubiquitous decade on TV by joining the final season of Little House on the Prairie. Bateman found a bigger audience the following year, as Ricky Schroeder’s smarmy pal Derek Taylor on Silver Spoons. Bateman’s rising popularity got him a lead in another NBC sitcom – It’s Your Move – in 1984. Playing a teenage scam artist to a single mom (Caren Kaye), his character’s hijinks sparked so much protest from parents that the network white washed the sociopathic behavior mid-season. It’s Your Move was cancelled after 18 episodes. Interviewed by The Onion in 2004, Bateman stated, “I get a lot of really nice comments about that show. I guess there were a lot more people watching TV back then, and there were only three networks, and we were all 14 or 15 and doing nothing but watching TV and staring at girls. It was a good time to be on TV.”

Jason Bateman Teen Wolf Too 1987

While his sister Justine Bateman was being featured on the hit sitcom Family Ties, Jason was onto his fourth series for NBC, beginning a five season run as Valerie Harper’s oldest son on the sitcom Valerie in 1986. For his summer hiatus, Bateman was offered the lead in a movie, Teen Wolf Too. It was justifiably shunned by audiences. Shortly after Valerie/ Valerie’s Family/ The Hogan Family was finally cancelled in 1991, Bateman starred in another little seen flick – Breaking the Rules – playing a cancer patient who heads cross country to compete in Jeopardy! before he dies. “I load up a van with my two best friends, Jonathan Silverman and C. Thomas Howell, and we end up meeting Annie Potts, and I get married to her, and, it’s not bad, but, you know, I was 19 when I did it.” The movie did little to raise the actor’s visibility as a screen actor.

Bateman spent the 1990s in near anonymity on television. In addition to Movies of the Week with titles like Confessions: Two Faces of Evil and Hart to Hart: Secrets of the Hart, the actor was living from pilot season to pilot season. Simon lasted one season on the WB in 1995. George & Leo – starring Bob Newhart & Judd Hirsch – only taped five episodes on CBS in 1997. Some of My Best Friends, in which Bateman starred as a gay writer who takes on a straight roommate, made it to eight episodes on CBS in 2001. Bateman recalls, “There are certain networks that are better for liberal fare, and CBS, at least at the time, was not leading in that race as far as their audience and demographic. If it had been on NBC, on a more liberal night – like a Thursday – it probably would’ve had a better shot. Will & Grace was certainly having a good time there.”

Jason Bateman Hancock 2008

Bateman’s 2003 pilot season audition was for a Fox comedy series titled Arrested Development. Describing his career resurgence to NPR in 2008, Bateman commented, “My mother is British and so she gave me this very sort of dry, sarcastic sense of humor. And that works in some projects better than others, it’s more appropriate … And that was also coupled with getting older, and having a different sense of humor, and becoming a bit more cynical or sarcastic or adult, and the writing supported that, and almost, most importantly, I had Jeffrey Tambor. And this is a guy who taught me a lot about – to quote him – not winking.” Bateman was cast as Michael Bluth – the sane character in a family of reprobates – and though Arrested Development was not a ratings success during its three season run, it grew into one of the more prestigious shows on TV.

By the time Bateman hosted Saturday Night Live in February 2005, film offers were pouring in. He appeared as a color commentator in Dodgeball, a bunny suit wearing wacko in Smokin’ Aces and a sarcastic FBI intelligence agent in The Kingdom. The critical and commercial cinematic sensation of 2007 – Juno – featured Bateman as an adoptive parent opposite Jennifer Garner. In 2008, he starred with Will Smith and Charlize Theron in the summer blockbuster Hancock. Remaining self-depreciating about his career rejuvenation, Bateman told The Collider in 2007: “It has less and less to do with your talent, I think. And I don’t mean to sound cynical. But a big part of being hired is what you add or detract from the project as far as pedigree goes. And that show was very well-received. And so I’m just trying to, you know, take the good roles that are coming my way, and try to perpetuate that level of whatever it is.”

© Joe Valdez

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Tags: United Federation of Character Actors

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Moviezzz // Jan 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Back in the 1980’s, TV Guide had a rating of the best child actors. If I remember correctly, Jason Bateman got an A+, the highest rating in the bunch.

    At the time, I was surprised since I had never thought much about the craft of acting. He was always a reliable character, in some of my favorites shows (IT’S YOUR MOVE was a favorite).

    It wasn’t until I saw him in a small role in the terrible film THE SWEETEST THING that I realized how TV Guide was right. I missed seeing him, and wished he was back.

    Then came ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and he is now getting the respect he deserves. Again.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jan 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Jim: I think there are child actors who are way more talented, but where Bateman has stood out is making the transition onto the A-list as an adult through sheer persistence. I think that long after Macaulay Culkin or Haley Joel Osment have become footnotes, Bateman will still be working. For anyone looking for more information on It’s Your Move, I recommend checking out The Moviezzz Blog’s take.

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