Although he started acting when he was 11 on “Little House on the Prairie,” Jason Bateman found time to enter one spelling bee when he was a kid. He didn’t make it past the first round when he left the “w” out of “answer.”

“Spell check is a great friend,” Bateman says of his spelling skills.

Bateman, 45, didn’t worry about spelling with his new dark comedy, “Bad Words.” He stars in and directs the film about a 40-year-old who uses a loophole to enter a national spelling bee for elementary school contestants. Bateman left the writing to Andrew Dodge.

The script has Bateman – who traditionally plays the good guy – portraying a foul-talking, assault-throwing, ego-breaking speller who will do anything to win. That anything means humiliating children who get in his way. The role might look like it’s a long way from the years Bateman spent playing the nice guy in “Arrested Development,” but he spells out the similarities of the characters.

“I certainly like stories about people who are less that bulletproof. That’s a fun thing for an actor to get to play,” Bateman says. “I like to build an environment around the character and then either support it or juxtapose it with what’s going on.

“I always try to build a vulnerability into any role I play. If you don’t do that, then the audience won’t go on the journey with you. If you can find the relatable thread, the humanity of the character, then you will have the audience’s attention. Whether you are playing an (expletive), murderer or saint, you need to be relatable enough to communicate what you’re trying to do with the role.”


The humanity in many of his characters is apparent, but it takes some close scrutiny to find it in his “Bad Words” role of Guy Trilby. He saw, both as the actor and director, that this was a character that has major problems and who clearly isn’t addressing adult issues.

One opening he gave the audience was the way Trilby deals with awkward 10-year-old competitor Chaitanya (Rohan Chand). The pair form an odd bond away from the spelling bee battlefield.

After more than three decades of working in films and TV, Bateman felt confident he could handle the directing duties of “Bad Words.” His only concern was finding the right actor to play his 10-year-old nemesis.

“I saw 30 kids and Rohan was the second one to audition. After we saw all those kids, we went back and looked at his tape. I decided he had the quality I was looking for,” Bateman says.

Any last doubts vanished after Bateman and Rohan spent hours on Skype. He found the young actor so charming that he knew he had found the right fit.

Bateman wasn’t as immediately certain about casting himself in the lead role. Because this was his feature film directorial debut, he wanted to be able to concentrate on what happened behind the camera. As the list of actors to star in the film dwindled because they either weren’t interested or not available, Bateman decided that he would do the double duty.

It was actually triple duty since Bateman was also busy getting the NBC comedy “Growing up Fisher” off the ground. He’s both an executive producer and the narrator for the comedy about the relationship between a young boy and his blind father.

Starring in and directing “Bad Words” was a lot of work, but Bateman’s glad he made his film directing debut after guiding several TV shows.

“When you direct a TV show, it’s all about the producer and writer. It’s much less of a director’s medium,” Bateman says. “But, with film, you are able to participate is every department from which lens to use to costuming. I look forward to directing more films.”

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