It might seem unusual to have an everyman such as 49-year-old Bateman at the helm of Netflix noir drama Ozark ‚Äď a show so bleak it draws instant comparisons to award-winning series Breaking Bad ‚Äď but the actor’s well-honed delivery, sardonic and pedestrian, is perfect for a series which maintains an incredible amount of restraint.
Its second season has just premiered, and follows accountant Marty Byrde, a Chicago financial advisor who launders millions for a Mexican drug cartel. When he falls foul of the cartel, he moves his family to a remote town in Ozark, Missouri, to save their lives. But in this condemned town he runs into even more malevolent characters.
Ozark is very much Bateman’s passion project. He directed four out of 10 episodes in season one, including the pilot, and also served as an executive producer. It was Bateman who convinced Laura Linney to play Byrde’s adulterous and calculating wife, Wendy.
“It’s been maybe one of the most rewarding, if not the most rewarding experiences of my career, and that’s saying a bit because I’m proud of what I’ve done. I wanted to challenge myself, to try to accomplish something that might be a bit more complicated and challenging to execute and also to view.”
“It’s not easy stuff at times. It is somewhat bleak and hopeless but again, that’s part of what we are trying to present to the audience, because there are times in life when things just become somewhat more hopeless than you would want.”
Ozark does make for hard viewing. It’s deeply unsettling. In the first episode Marty Byrde is about to be executed. In the final episode a preacher comes perilously close to murdering a baby. The show is also so dark visually that some scenes can be hard to make out even with your screen on full brightness.
Bateman welcomes the comparisons to Breaking Bad ‚Äď another series which centres on an unassuming family man’s descent into a criminal underbelly ‚Äď but insists that’s where the similarities end.
“They’re certainly similar in their central concept which is there’s a 40-year-old white guy dancing with the devil in order to provide for his family and keep them safe.”
“I feel like our show might be a little bit on the moodier side, on the more introspective side. I think it might move with a slightly more deliberate pace. We’re walking more often where they might be running.”
It is clear Bateman is comfortable as a director. His camera work ‚Äď lingering shots that only add to the series’ tension ‚Äď are instantly identifiable. But with filming in Atlanta, Georgia, he directed only two episodes in season two to be closer to his family in Los Angeles.
“It’s really, really gratifying. I’ve really tried to educate myself so that I’m worthy of that position and I feel like I’m really enjoying and not too overwhelmed with it. That’s sort of the glutton element of my personality where I kind of have two hands on the wheel.”
“I have this big presence on camera and the big presence behind camera and it increases my odds of being able to hit that really narrow tonal target that I’m really interested in film, whether it be comedy or drama. I am extremely pleased and proud of the show.”
He credits his time working with Australian Joel Edgerton on 2015 thriller The Gift ‚Äď a project Edgerton produced, directed and starred in ‚Äď as one of his inspirations for Ozark, describing Edgerton as “incredible to watch”.
“He was so comfortable and restrained in a genre that can often get overcooked from a directing standpoint, from an acting standpoint. He really had a lot of sort of sophistication in what he was doing in every area.”
With a new season of Arrested Development, Bateman has become one of Netflix’s biggest names.
When asked why he keeps going back to the cult comedy series, a show which never resonated with a large audience, Bateman credits it as the most important role of his career.
“It’s the most important and valuable and beneficial job I’ve ever had. It was my reset button. I owe everything I’m involved with now to that show. The cast is a group that I love dearly. The head writer Mitch Hurwitz is someone I just could not have more respect for in his ability to create these unique situations and dialogues.”
“It’s a really comfortable character for me to play in that I get to really enjoy bouncing off of these other characters, these other actors.”
Upon closer consideration, Marty Byrde and Michael Bluth, two men trying to plot their way out of harrowing financial circumstances, aren’t that different from one another. And while one project is comedy and the other borderline horror, you can expect Bateman will be brilliant in them both.
WHAT Ozark (season 2)