Siren call

Ja­son Bate­man, star of Ozark, rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to di­rect the se­ries.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Tv - By FRA­ZIER MOORE Ozark,

IN his new drama se­ries Ozark, Ja­son Bate­man doesn’t aim to make waves as Chicago fi­nan­cial ad­viser Marty Byrde – more like rip­ples that leave no one around him un­touched or un­ex­posed.

When not ad­vis­ing clients on their 401(k) plans, Marty laun­ders cash by the mil­lions. But now he’s jammed up with the South Amer­i­can drug car­tel he cleans that money for.

So, he and his fam­ily bolt for the Mis­souri Ozarks, a safer base of op­er­a­tions where he hopes to make things right be­fore the Byrdes end up dead.

The in­tox­i­cat­ing saga that pow­ers the 10 episodes of Ozark (avail­able on Net­flix) is full of un­ex­pected twists and is for­ti­fied by a splen­did cast in­clud­ing Laura Lin­ney as Marty’s ac­com­plice-wife and the mother of their two kids.

The drama churns around Marty, yet, for Bate­man, this star­ring role was just his means to a more com­pelling end: The role of di­rec­tor.

At 48, Bate­man be­gan his act­ing ca­reer in child­hood on Lit­tle House On The Prairie and Sil­ver Spoons, and is per­haps best known as a mem­ber of the flakey Bluth fam­ily on the cult comedy Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment.

But af­ter decades on camera, Bate­man found an even greater pas­sion. He di­rected (not just acted in) a pair of fea­tures: Bad Words (2013) and The Fam­ily Fang (2015). He wanted more of that.

That’s where Ozark came in. He signed on as its ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer with plans to di­rect all 10 episodes. (This proved lo­gis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble; he di­rected the four that book­end the sea­son, pass­ing the reins to oth­ers for the mid­dle six.)

His act­ing job was sec­ondary. The chance to di­rect “was the draw”, he says. “That’s what got me vi­brat­ing.”

A yearn­ing to di­rect? What ac­tor doesn’t hear that siren call?

But what makes Bate­man’s case a bit dif­fer­ent is his attitude to­ward act­ing, and how, in Ozark, that less-is-more pol­icy in­forms his per­for­mance.

Though slammed with one fear­some chal­lenge af­ter another, Marty re­sponds in mostly mi­cro­scopic ways. The au­di­ence can tell things eat at him, but it’s mostly buried deep be­neath the sur­face.

Marty seems so dis­con­nected from his feel­ings, the viewer is obliged to do the con­nect­ing for him, to fill in the blanks Bate­man sketches out. The viewer is sum­moned to help Marty feel.

This is Bate­man’s kind of role. “The char­ac­ters that I’m al­ways drawn to play is ‘us’,” he says, “as a proxy who shapes the ex­pe­ri­ence for the au­di­ence.”

Even in his sig­na­ture role on Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment, his char­ac­ter, Michael Bluth, serves as the au­di­ence’s sur­ro­gate – the san­est mem­ber of this clan who shares and shapes view­ers’ won­der­ment at the lu­nacy whirling around him.

“Act­ing changed for me a while ago when I started to be­come disen­chanted with pre­tend­ing to be other peo­ple,” Bate­man says.

“I’m not in­ter­ested in trick­ing you into think­ing I’m some­body else. My chal­lenge with act­ing has now changed into a dif­fer­ent goal: to give me another hand on the wheel, along with di­rect­ing, to steer the au­di­ence through the story.”

It seems like heresy: The no­tion that an ac­tor isn’t al­ways play­ing let’s-pre­tend, and wouldn’t want to claim the spot­light at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

“I’m try­ing to not do ANY act­ing,” Bate­man in­sists. “I’m try­ing to be not dis­tract­ing at all. I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to do any­thing where the au­di­ence goes, ‘Oh! Look at that per­for­mance!’

“I’m just try­ing to ser­vice the story. I’m try­ing to be as nat­u­ral” – a long, con­tem­pla­tive pause – “and in­vis­i­ble as pos­si­ble.”

Or, put another way: “This ISN’T Daniel Day-Lewis work,” he says with a smile.

Suf­fice it to say, Bate­man didn’t study money laun­der­ing or con­sort with drug king­pins to pre­pare for play­ing Marty Byrde.

And when asked if he had any prior in­ter­est in the un­der­world econ­omy, he says, “None. And I’m still not re­ally sure what it means.” – AP

In Bate­man plays Marty, whose money-laun­der­ing scheme goes wrong and has to re­lo­cate his fam­ily in or­der to stay alive. — Hand­out

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