Jason Bateman is not being interviewed here because he pleasures himself to a copy of this magazine in his new film The Switch. In the scene, he has to replace a sperm-bank sample that he has drunkenly spilled down the sink, and the only inspiration he can find in the magazine rack is Diane Sawyer on the cover of New York. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Diane Sawyer.)
No, Jason Bateman is being interviewed here because he is, at 41, the most likable male actor in Hollywood. I base this evidence not on rigorous reporting but on the reactions of people, of all ages and sexual identifications, when I mention his name: women, gay men, lesbians, and straight men, some of whom confess without embarrassment to man-crushes. The glazed, goopy joy his name inspires is rare; even Brad Pitt’s will curl a few lips. And that might explain the media shitstorm surrounding his iPhone purchase.
On June 24, Bateman was lined up outside an Apple Store in Los Angeles with 2,000 other people, waiting to buy an iPhone 4. After an hour and a half, he was spotted by an Apple employee, who pulled Bateman into the store, provoking two days of Internet hisses and boos, a Keith Olbermann smackdown of Us Weekly’s coverage, and a mea culpa from the star himself.
I meet Bateman a week later in L.A., at Soho House. Just as we sit down to talk, a writer friend of Bateman’s stops by to say hello. “I was driving my kid home,” the guy says, “and on the radio they’re reporting that Jason Bateman is sorry for cutting in line. I think, That’s not news!”
“I just got a coffee down the street,” says Bateman, “and another guy says to me, ‘How do you like the iPhone? Was it worth getting fucking booed for?’ ” He laughs. “I’ve been left alone forever, so it was really interesting to see how something can be 75 percent true, and then they take the remaining 25 percent and juice it for a headline that’s click-through-worthy. In the time it took me to get from the Apple Store to my office, five stories were on the Internet, and it was viral in ten hours. The whole angle was that I’m a diva, and what was completely lost was that I was on line!” His friend jumps in: “At first I thought it was publicity for a new film. I met David Duchovny last week, and only just found out the sex rehab was real. I’d always assumed it was promotion for Californication.”
“Because it was right on brand, wasn’t it?” says Bateman.
I suggest that the media fracas might have to do with Bateman’s super-nice reputation. “Right, everyone thought, Ha, ha, he’s had them all fooled. What a bastard!” he says. “I should just kick your chair over right now.”
Jason Bateman’s career can be divided in two: B.A.D. (Before Arrested Development) and A.A.D. (After Arrested Development). It’s a glib joke, though, because Bateman’s career prior to the groundbreaking sitcom (2003 to 2006, tragically cut down in its prime) was not really bad: Jason, like his older sister Justine, started acting as a child, beginning with Little House on the Prairie in 1981, then spending eight years on sitcoms, from Silver Spoons to The Hogan Family—all pleasant, middle-of-the-road shows that were never as good as he was. He did a few films, but only one stuck: “People still come up to me and say, hey, Teen Wolf!” says Bateman incredulously. “Teen Wolf Too closed a week after it opened. Where did they see it?”
Did he always know he was funny? “I got kicked out of a few schools for being a wiseass,” he says. “If I had been funnier, I probably would’ve been embraced by the headmaster rather than kicked out. Clearly I couldn’t write my own material.”
Becoming famous at an age when you’re still figuring out your identity is difficult. Drinking, drugs, and partying—often with his high-school friend Ben Silverman—were all but inevitable. Still, even while flirting with self-destruction in his twenties, Bateman had one foot in self-preservation. “I don’t feel sorry for people in the public eye getting eyed by the public,” he says. “If you’re stumbling out of a bar and people tweet about it, well, don’t be dumb. If you’re going to get falling-down drunk, stay at home—which I did a lot of. I think I was pretty smart about it. Of course, I was drunk at the time.”
His career got a little random in the nineties, including a part in one of Katharine Hepburn’s final films, This Can’t Be Love. “She gave me the greatest note ever: ‘Stop acting.’ ” Altogether? “No,” he says, laughing. “It was after a scene—it was about taking it down.” What was Hepburn like? “She only wore white Reebok high-tops, so for a dress-up scene, she’d just pull black socks over them. That’s what she was like. She hit ‘fuck it’ a long time before I met her.”