Obsessions: Jason Bateman is having a moment ... finally
By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN
UPDATED: 10:34 AM EDT 07.08.11
"I forgot Jason Bateman was in that movie" seems to be the most common reaction to the veteran actor's stacked resume, but that's about to change.
For a long time, the actor -- who's been steadily working since he started out as "Little House on the Prairie's" James Cooper Ingalls in 1981 -- seemed to fade into the background.
But with "Horrible Bosses" opening Friday, and "The Change-Up," co-starring Ryan Reynolds, hitting theaters on August 5, the 42-year-old's ability to carry a major motion picture is finally being recognized by the industry.
Hilarious cameos in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" and "Starsky & Hutch," and supporting roles in "Juno" and "Up in the Air," have all contributed to Bateman's recent popularity. Though he chalks headlining two summer blockbusters up to his work on "Arrested Development."
"The show was a career saver for me," he told Entertainment Weekly in May. "And also happened to be the job I'm most proud of."
In a way, Bateman's career has mimicked the same slow road to success as the Fox sitcom, which gained critical acclaim and a devoted fan base despite being canceled after three seasons. The ratings didn't reflect the talent -- at first.
"In TV, you have someone in your living room every week," said casting director Tammara Billik, who's worked on "Married with Children" and "Unhappily Ever After." "They become your friend. TV actors make successful transitions to movie actors because we already feel like we know them -- especially someone like Jason Bateman who grew up in front of our eyes."
Bateman's character on "Arrested Development," Michael Bluth, allowed the actor to showcase his knack for playing the straight man, which, in Hollywood, refers to a reasonable character who plays off the comics -- the eccentric Bluth family in the case of "Arrested Development."And it's a good role to master because, as Billik says, the everyman can be challenging to cast.
"It's hard to find guys in (Bateman's) age range who are well-known enough so you feel comfortable casting them as leads in movies, but who aren't stars," Billik said.
"He's lovable and people root for him," she added. "He's not a great-looking guy, but he's pleasant to look at. Women adore his sweet side, and guys don't find him threatening. He's the guy they could have a beer with."
Some industry watchdogs compared Bateman's likeability to that of Tom Hanks, or a less-zany Chevy Chase.
Billik said casting him alongside Jennifer Aniston in last summer's "The Switch" was "nice casting" for that reason. However, the film fell short at the box office, taking in only $8.4 million its opening weekend. But, like with his other flops -- "Extract" and "Couples Retreat" -- Bateman can't be held solely responsible.
He's such a pro that he sort of fades into the background, "like a piece of furniture in a film," said Marlow Stern, the assistant culture editor of Newsweek/The Daily Beast. "I think he really likes being a piece of an ensemble as opposed to an A-lister. He's very collaborative."
Sara Vilkomerson, a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, agrees: "(Bateman) is one of those actors that works well with others. ... He's one of those people that's not a flashy performer. He's quiet and subtly really funny."But that subtleness, Vilkomerson added, is what's so great about him. Take his performance in the 2008 Will Smith-starrer "Hancock": "He turned in this really good performance and people ... realized they were taking him for granted. ... He's easy to overlook until he's in a leading man spot."