Jason Bateman on his new Netflix money-laundering drama Ozark
A prudent Midwestern financial planner is about to take his family to the Ozarks for a getaway that should not be described as idyllic or restorative. Think more along the lines of illicit. Traumatic. Lucrative. Deadly.
One month from today, on July 21, Netflix will unveil Ozark, a drama starring Jason Bateman as a clean-cut Chicagoan named Marty Byrde who finds himself in a world of hurt when drug lord Del (Esai Morales), for whom he’s been laundering money, suspects that Marty and his business partner, Bruce (Josh Randall), are skimming profits. Gun to his head, Marty desperately bluffs that he can turn those missing millions into $500 million and relocates with his two kids (Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner) and wife (Laura Linney) to the Lake of the Ozarks to start cleaning cash, while a cocksure FBI agent (Jason Butler Harner) follows the money/dead bodies.
“[Marty must] wash $8 million or his whole family will be killed,” sums up Bateman. “And as that clock continues to tick, there are things he’s forced to do that double down on the jeopardy…. He’s finding that pragmatism, survival, and an animal instinct to provide are taking over and driving all of his decisions, and if people don’t like it — family included — f— them.”
While Bateman has dramatic roles on his résumé, many fans who know him from Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses may see this role as an intense curveball. “By design, I play characters that live close to the middle as far as dramatic/comedic, ethical/unethical, smart/dumb,” he says. “That allows me more flexibility and latitude to pull and push the audience into ‘I’m for him.’ ‘I’m against him.’ Marty Byrde is right on the bullseye.” Bateman, though, was even more intrigued by what he could do behind the camera. “The acting was something that I was completely comfortable and excited to do,” says the actor, who recently directed such films as Bad Words and The Family Fang. “But what drew me to it was the opportunity to direct something like this.” (He helmed four of 10 episodes and serves as an executive producer on Ozark, which was created by The Accountant screenwriter Bill Dubuque.)
As the dark drama spirals, you’ll see the regimented Marty out of his element while trying to sell business owners on his financial acumen. “Things go sideways when he tries to ‘big-city’ some of these local religious zealots or meth-heads or biker gangs,” hints Bateman. “Marty might underestimate the intelligence or savviness of what he perceives to be a simpler, less complicated breed of person. There’s a physical danger, emotional danger, financial danger. That learning curve is steep for him—and it costs some people some lives.”
Comparisons with chemistry teacher-turned-meth maker Walter White are likely to be made, but Bateman assures that Ozark will break a different way. “We were very, very conscious not to do the beautiful work that Breaking Bad did,” he says. “That’s not the direction that he goes. But there’s an education and an emancipation that happens.” There’s also a throwing of caution to the wind, season 2 be damned. “We finish the movie,” analogizes Bateman. “We’re not saving some for next year.” In other words: This summer, it all comes out in the wash.