Jason Bateman Talks Zootopia

Jason Bateman. Handsome, funny, charming and just like his character Nick Wilde in Disney’s latest movie Zootopia, you can’t help but love him. I grew up watching Jason on Little House on the Prairie and then Silver Spoons, so meeting him was almost like seeing a friend I grew up with rather than the seasoned actor he happens to be.

via Disney

Sharing a little of what it took to play Nick Wilde and how it’s nice to have something that his young daughters can see him in, Jason was funny and giving with his time.


Jason Bateman Talks Zootopia

You’ve done some animation work prior, but this is your first animation film, what can you tell us about the process? 

The other animation work was really so quick. This is for all intents and purposes my first (film). It’s a really interesting process, for you know, as an actor, you say your line and then you’ve got your face and your body language and everything to kind of contribute to the whole thing. With this, obviously you just have your voice to use and then you hope that the animators that you pass that line reading off to are going to — they are going to make the character do something that either supports what you’ve done or offset it or juxtapose it. Cause it’s kind of a cocktail to make somebody laugh with something. You don’t realize how many little components there are. I mean, I don’t mean to sound like some kind of a comedy scientist but I mean we all do it, you know. When you tell a joke or a story there’s inflection and then there’s facial gestures and it’s a pretty strange thing to just hope that the rest of the recipe gets cooked in the right way. And there’s not much of a fear that that they’re going to mess that up in a  Disney animation. So it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

As a dad of 2 little girls, how do you go into role like this? Obviously the other films that you’ve done are more appropriate for adult audiences. This is so different because the whole family from top to bottom will love this movie. Do you have a different mindset? Especially being able to watch with your girls?

JAson Bateman and kids
Michael Buckner/Getty Images North America

Yeah, it’s very, very cool to be leaving home to do a job that I can prove that I was actually doing. (Ha, we all laugh)

I have two little girls, nine and four, and knowing that they are going to see it…yeah, it gives you pride. First of all, the only movies that I see now. We all know, like a kid movie comes out, you have to take them and you just hope that it’s good. And if it’s not good, you are still buying a ticket to it.You still have to sit there. You just might catch a little nap, you know? But with this one there won’t be any napping cause Disney is so good at braiding some stuff in there for us that whether it be thematic or just with the jokes, there’s always kind of that parallel lane of satisfaction for the adults. 

And in this one, there are some really great issues and teams that, I don’t know if my nine year old really picks up on some of the nuance and sophistication of kind of these heady, highbrow issues in here yet, but I’ll bet you some of it kind of permeates, and when the coin finally does drop maybe when she’s another year older or something when we’re watching it for the 20th time at home, as we all buy it again when it comes on. It’s a nice tool for me as a dad to talk about issues like in this film, racism or xenophobia or fear mongering or bullying. When I have a character that I can pause and I can say explain certain situations going on in the film, so it kind of makes the medicine go down a little bit easier and it makes it a little less ominous for them to kind of broach these subjects. It’s a nice tool for me as a parent. I like that. 

Have children have seen the film?

The nine year old has, yeah. The four year old hasn’t yet. The two screenings I have been to have happened after her bedtime and she’s garbage after her bedtime.

What are some of her favorite moments in movie?

I didn’t really get a lot of specific like,  “oh dad, you were great when you did this, you did that”, she was kind of focused on Shakira, and of course Judy Hopps, who is really the star of the movie. Judy’s perspective as she’s going to this, you know, moving to a big city to make it and is super optimistic and doesn’t have a lot of fear or judgement. It’s just a great message and character to follow and then have it all work out for her. She runs into somebody who says, “take it easy, slow your roll, the world’s not that great”, and in fact she perseveres and ends up making my character a little less pessimistic. So it was fun to kind of look over and see her get all absorbed in it.

Was it strange for your four year old to think daddy is a cartoon now?

via MomStart.com
via MomStart.com

Yeah, the nine year old, thank God, is smart enough to put it all together. The four year old, we were at a movie theater a few weeks ago and there was one of those cardboard standees, I think they call them, you know, where they’ve got the fox and the bunny there and I walked her over to it and I squatted down next to her and I pointed out to the fox who is life size and I said, I said, “See this guy? He’s in a movie with this bunny, they’re going to solve a mystery. They’re on an adventure”. And she said, “Oh can we see that movie?” I said, “yeah, yeah and you know this fox talks, you know? It’s a talking fox.”  And, and she said “oh yeah”. I said, “and when it talks it sounds like me.” She said “really?”  I said “yes”. I said and “it’s because I’m the voice of that fox. I recorded all of his lines”. And so she was trying to understand like what means. She doesn’t know what a microphone is. She certainly doesn’t know the way movies are made. So, she just looked at the fox and she looked at me. I’m really excited to be sitting next to her in a movie theater and see how many minutes into the movie she’s going to hear that familiar, you know, sound.

And Nick looks like you!

They do put a little bit of everyone’s face in there a little bit, right? Like a mini caricature. It’s not super obvious but yes!

Watch Nick Wilde’s face, you can totally see Jason’s expressions.

Can you talk a little about the process of playing Nick?

The animation happens much further after the voice. So the first time I saw the animation really was when I saw the premiere. I mean, I saw little tiny clips but they are very kind of basic. There’s just so much work that goes into it. So you see sketches and things like that.

They videotape you when you are recording your lines. There are a couple of cameras in there. So the animators use that as a guideline. I mean there’s like a sound, you know, an easel or whatever it’s called in front of me, so you can’t really see my whole body and I’m not doing anything to try to guide them, but you can’t help but your face moves a little bit when you say “hey wait,” you know, or “what are you talking about?”  You know, there’s a certain way my face folds or not,  and so they do use some of that and they are that good, you know, to really fine-tune it.

Does any of your personality go into your character?

Yeah, I mean, I’m not a big fan of seeing a lot of acting, you know? Like I mean, I think that’s the goal, to not act, right, to look natural so I try to use as much of me as possible in any part that I play plus that I’m also pretty lazy so, any character I play is always inside my skill set, my sort of my goal post. If I read a script and there’s a character that is so far from me that I would have to do a lot of acting to play that character, then just kind of by definition I probably shouldn’t play that character because then you are going to see acting, you know? And so yes, there is quite a conniving, sarcastic fatigued part of me. My mother is British so she kind of taught me that kind of sense of humor, that dry, reactive sort of sense of humor.

via MomStart.com
via MomStart.com

How long did your part of the process of making Zootopia take?

The call first came in about a little over three years ago and we started sessions right around then, so about three years of recording sessions and those happened like once every couple of months and each one would take two hours, so about 20, 25 sessions, two hours a piece, and with each session you do about two or three scenes, which are anywhere from three to five pages each. And the way you do it usually is they record you reading through top to bottom and the director will kind of read the other part. You’ve got to make sure you don’t overlap because his voice would be on my track then. And they record that a couple of times and then you go in and you record each line individually about six to 10 times a bunch of different ways. You do one kind of fast, one kind of slow, one kind of angry, one kind of happy, and just give them a bunch of choices because they don’t know what the other actor is going to do that’s actually reading the line that follows you, you know, in this kind of conversation.So, there’s just an immense amount of work that they have to do to cobble it all together and blend that cocktail, you know? It’s a neat process, it really is. 

ZOOTOPIA  will be out 3/4/16

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*I was invited by Disney to be part of a press trip covering Zootopia to share my experience and opinions with my readers. All opinions are my own.
Trippin with Tara
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