I was invited to a press junket for Disney’s Zootopia, and provided with this exclusive opportunity to interview Jason Bateman for this post.
While some of you 70’s mamas might remember Jason Bateman for Silver Spoons and Little House on the Prairie, us 80’s mamas remember him for shows like The Hogan Family and movies like Teen Wolf Too! His career has spanned over five decades, which is an accomplishment for an actor who is only 46. We grew up watching Jason and, let’s face it, many of us pined for this older man. Here we are almost 30 years after watching him as David Hogan, and he is playing a character for a movie that my kids are watching. Not only that, but he has children around the same age as my own. It’s funny how small the world really is afterall.
Like Ginnifer, we also got a chance to interview Jason for the upcoming movie, Zootopia. He voices a sly fox named Nick Wilde.
What’s it like being part of a movie that you can actually do with your family and watch with your kids?
Jason- Well, it’s, it’s good just for pride, ‘cause they think I’m kinda cool that I’m in a movie that, you know, got that Disney logo in front of it…
Like that means something good’s coming in their mind. And then, you know, as far as, you know, parental stuff, it’s helpful to have kind of this tool of these characters that are talking about kind of these heady issues at times. It just kinda helps the medicine go down easy. If the issue starts to resonate with them, or they want to kinda talk about bullying, or, you know, they touch on, racism in this and bigotry and xenophobia and fear mongering, and all of that stuff. Some of those things it’s gonna take a little bit more time for the… nine year old to kinda get with. But it’s nice that I can reference it and, like, well, you see how the lion there was being kinda nasty to the little badger…
A lot of the Disney films are like that…
My Commentary: I also feel that the movie facilitates discussion and provides lessons to our children, in an easy to understand format.
How did you feel when you saw that they were making the fox’s face to resemble your own…
Jason- Yeah I picked up on it a little bit… They didn’t tell me anything about that.
But it was actually after… I started to see it a little bit in Ginnifer, with Judy Hopps… And, um, I saw a little bit of it with JK Simmons with the lion.
I saw little bit of Octavia Spencer in her character, and then I was, like, well, wait a second… You should take a look at yours, too…
And then I, I did kinda see that, you know, sort of these, these droopy eyes, and, and kind of the general body language of it, and, and all of that stuff was, was… It was pretty cool. They were very subtle with it. It’s kinda neat.
My Commentary: Of all the characters, I think Nick resembles the actor who voices him the most. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see myself in a cartoon animal.
Would you say you had any of the same traits?
Jason- I mean, you know. My job is to be kind of full of it. So I kind of know that and I’m pretty sarcastic and dry, you know. My mom is from England, and she gave me a lot of that dry British, sarcastic sense of humor, and that comes pretty easily to me. Plus I’m pretty… I’m pretty laid back, and my heart rate never really gets up pretty high. So, I appreciate how Nick’s kind of lays back and lets life kinda come at him.
My Commentary: You could tell Jason was very laid back, and you can totally see the sarcastic side. I don’t think it’s limited to England though, because I too suffer in the South because of my New York sense of humor. People get insulted or take things literally, that we can brush off easily. I saw a lot of Jason in his character.
Was there anything specific that would help you get into character?
Jason- I mean, not really. You know, you go into these- It’s a really cool process. You go into the recording booth and they put these, they put… What they do is they take each page of the script, and they mount it on this black piece of cardboard, right? It’s kind of like, like art. Each page has its own cardboard piece of board on it. And they put it on this musical tray and you read through the scene, and you know, the script is always so fluid, and always being rewritten that you not really sure what you’re gonna be recording that day, and where its place is in the whole context of the story. So you read into this scene. And then you look up to the directors, like, you know, this close to you. And they’re waiting for your reaction, like… do you get it? Do you get what we’re going for in this scene? And oftentimes it would be kinda that moment of, like, oh, I see what’s kind of layered through here, and so you’re gonna want me to be kinda like this at this part, and then this there? And they say yes. So that’s really the extent of preparation. You’re really deferring a great deal to them, their guidance, and how your very tiny piece in a process fits in with what they’ve been doing for, you know, years.
My Commetary: He really painted the picture for us of what the experience was like. You can tell that the creatives behind the movie were very supportive and acted as guidance, without micro-managing the actors.
Did you add your own thing?
Jason- Yeah, you know. You record it quite a number of times, and often they’ll say, you know, and now just do what you want to do, and say what you want to say, and do you have any ideas, or would you say anything different there? And so that’s… That’s kinda fun. And sometimes they laugh just because it’s different than what they’re used to hearing. So I’m not sure if it’s necessarily funnier, but I can’t remember what was written, what was made up. You just kinda forget, you know, what they keep.
My Commentary: I love that they allowed him to have some improv in this movie. According to Ginnifer, his “Improv skills are sick.” It really turned out well, and flowed naturally.
Did you have any laugh out loud moments?
Jason- Yeah. I mean, there’s- It can get pretty silly in there because it gets a bit monotonous at times. You know, you’re doing the same four or five pages over the course of two hours. And again, for the same sort of reason you can just end up saying something different, or even, like, you know, curse, you know. You know, it’s kinda odd to hear, you know, a cartoon character say a bad word.
It’s a cheap, easy trick, but, um, sometimes it’s fun to just kinda break the mood in there.
My Commentary: Having to do the same thing over and over sounds monotonous. When he brought up the idea of the cartoon cursing, it made me laugh. I can imagine it would help lighten the mood.
We all put on a show when we read to our kids. Are you looking forward to doing that with your kids?
Jason- Um, with this film?
Well, you know, when I first started the, the process with this film, I asked them if they wanted me to put on, like, a voice. You know? ‘Cause I don’t really know how to do that. People that do that really well are- It’s sneaky tough.
And thankfully they said no, just do what you regularly do. So they won’t really see that. Although, you know, the nine year old has seen it a couple times, and she says you do something a little different with your voice in this thing. And I said really?
I said I wasn’t trying to. She says, no, you’re very sort of… She didn’t say deliberate. But that was… that was the spirit of what she was saying, because…
At times it’s not good to- at least I’ve found from listening to playback- to make it too conversational like this. It sounds too casual. It sounds like a voicemail message. You know? It’s just…
You’d go to sleep. So you do have to kind of enunciate a bit and be a little bit more deliberate, and clearer. You have to lean into it a little bit. And she picked up on that, which is kind of interesting.
My Commentary: 8-9 year olds can be pretty smart. Dittles is always saying things that surprise me, like, I can’t believe she picked up on that. I can see why you’d need to enunciate a bit more, because the character is really relying on your voice to carry the story.
Your character was really condescending to Judy at times. How did you get into character for that?
Jason- [LAUGHS] Did I tap into my thoughts about women? No, you know, what they’re doing, obviously there is… They’re setting Nick up, so clearly on one side of the spectrum to…
…to give him an enough of a satisfying starting point to appreciate the… you know, the growth that he goes through. So, you know, they start him out being pretty simplistic and cynical, and a bit of a sexist and condescending and all that stuff. And then of course, like any good two hander in any film, the other character is gonna kind of enlighten that other one, And Nick, hopefully, has a little bit of gain on her as well, and gives her a little bit more of the thick skin and has her be a little bit more pragmatic about how fast she can expect to achieve the things she’s looking for…
You know. So hopefully he’s… he’s a lot nicer at the end. If there is a, you know a continuation to this story, uh, obviously, you know… spoiler alert, the fact… that they become cops together, they can go and start, you know, cracking all these cases together as policemen with a little bit more, uh, mutual respect, and maybe they end up a couple. I don’t know. I’d like to see what animal…
What animal would they create, you know… A fox and a bunny would be funny! [LAUGHTER] Thanks, guys. See what I did there…
My Commentary: And of course, this was my question. Leave it to the women’s empowerment ambassador. 🙂 Jason handled the question nicely, and I could definitely see setting him up to make a change during the movie.
Do you have a favorite scene from the movie?
Jason- Just as a fan of the artistry of the animation that they do at Disney, the part where we go into that scary building with the waterfall that’s at night. It just looks beautiful to me. When the wolves start howling, To me that looks like a Fincher film. I think it’s gorgeous.
My Commentary: I agree that the animation was beautiful. I really like that it felt more like the older cartoons in appearance, and not too plastic or smooth.
Do you think you could have played a different role better? What’s your spirit animal?
Jason- Uh, yeah. If I saw somebody else play that part, I would have been, like, why wouldn’t you ask me to play that? So, I’m glad they came to me with the character that I like to paly a lot, that I’ve… you know, that I’ve… I got practice at.
My Commentary: The role was the perfect one for him in this movie, hands down.
Did you have a Disney movie that you really liked growing up?
Jason- I was always a Donald Duck fan. I liked him a lot. And then, the film that I really loved since I’ve started watching animated films again, you know, having kids was The Princess and the Frog. I love that. I love that soundtrack.
My Commentary: I could see him being entertained by Donald. I was surprised to hear about The Princess and the Frog. Having visited New Orleans last year, I could see the heart and soul captured by the soundtrack.
What message are you hoping that the movie brings to kids?
Jason- I would say that… You know, he’s got a bit of a defeatist attitude at the beginning. He’s really cynical. And, sort of mocks Judy for her optimism, and her enthusiasm. That’s such a lazy and easy place to sit and be. You know? It’s a very defensive kinda, like… No one can hurt you if you don’t try.
Um, and that’s just kind of a dangerous thing and luckily Judy does come into his life, and shows him that it’s okay to let people know that there’s something different than what is on the surface of you. And, you know, that has relevance emotionally, but also clearly racially. Um, religiously. I mean, there’s all kinds of things where people make judgments on, you know, perceptions very quickly on who they think you are. But what about what’s on the inside? Like, she has no vanity at all. She has no idea how she comes across. It’s all inside out with her and I think that’s probably, you know, you’re never too young to learn that one.
My Commentary: He pointed out even more lessons to be taken from the film, that I had even thought of.
Overall, we had a great time getting to know Jason and his character, and I am excited to share my thoughts with you when the movie opens on Friday!
Check out Nick Wilde in this Zootopia Teaser Trailer: