Jason Bateman is clutching a can of Red Bull, scourge of the dreaded jet lag, and weighing up what’s left of his life in a fancy London hotel room. “I’m in a good place,” he says. “I’m 48, an adult, and I’m actually doing what adults are supposed to do.” He seems momentarily surprised by himself. “I mean, I have some friends who are 48 and they’re still living at home. Yeah, Los Angeles is a weird place.”
Frankly, Bateman has every reason to feel contented. A multi-medium comedy A-lister, his arch good looks (he’s basically the sardonic Rob Lowe) have graced both big screen and small, in everything from Horrible Bosses to, of course, cult comedy juggernaut Arrested Development. And now, with two decently received but mid-scale movies as a director under his belt, he’s just hit the mother lode, with “basically a 600-page movie” called Ozark.
The 10-part Netflix series, in which he stars (and is executive producer and director of the first two and last two episodes), has been dubbed The New Breaking Bad, and it’s easy to see why. Bateman plays everyman Marty Byrde. A father of two married to Wendy (the ever-ace Laura Linney), he ekes out an existence as an accountant in the Chicago suburbs. At least, that’s before he gets drawn into laundering money for the second largest mob cartel in Mexico. And when some of their cash goes missing, Marty must move his family deep into the Ozark mountains to survive.
“Hopefully you feel about Marty [in the same way you do about Walter White], ‘Well, if I was in the same situation maybe I’d do the same thing’,” says Bateman. “All the reasons he got into the business were his own doing, but he finds ethical excuses as to why he does what he does. He’s not arbitrarily bad. That’s why audiences can live vicariously through him.”
Bateman is clearly proud of the show and rightly so. It’s scripted majestically and cast immaculately, not least when it comes to Linney as Marty’s long-suffering wife. “Laura is one of our best,” he observes. “I knew casting her would send a message out to our industry that that was the quality we were going for.” And it’s shot, by Bateman, like a stunning Nordic noir, all bleak landscapes and desaturated greys. To say too much of the plot would only be to ruin it. But to miss it would be, well, criminal.
Ozark is on Netflix now.