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 ten-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.
We all do good things and we all do bad things,” smiles Naomi Watts. “And this character struggles with both worlds, good and bad. I thought that was a great opportunity – men get to play those roles mainly.”
On one level, Gypsy, the new Netflix drama in which Watts plays therapist Jean Holloway, is a charged, exciting psychodrama, in which the doctor finds herself drawn in dangerously close to the lives of her patients. On the other, it’s one more notable step forward in an industry that has just turned another key “medical” professional, Doctor Who, from a man into a woman (Jodie Whittaker recently being announced as the person taking over the scarf from Peter Capaldi). Gypsy stars Watts and Sophie Cookson, was created by showrunner Lisa Rubin, and had its first two episodes directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy and Fifty Shades of Grey, among others).
“Is there a different energy, working with women?” repeats Watts when asked about this series’ all-female key collaborators. “Yes and no. I think with women we probably expect a lot from each other. And we get close very quickly. The experiences I’ve had with women have all been pretty great. I love that a woman is telling a woman’s story – it just makes a lot of sense. We are witnessing a change, and it’s not just taking place in our industry.”
As for the parallels that have been drawn between Gypsy and the movie role that truly saw her break out, playing both Betty and Diane in David Lynch’s awesome mind-bender Mulholland Dr. in 1999, Watts sees the reference points but doesn’t buy into them wholesale. “I suppose the comparison to be made for me is the living of a double life, that lining up with the Betty and Diane duality of which one is real and which one isn’t,” she says. “But otherwise they are two different things. One is grounded in truth, the other in a heightened reality, a surreal world.”
Watts chuckles when we remind her the last time she committed to a long-term TV series was back in 1997, on the nonsense sci-fi Sleepwalkers. “And that lasted all of a minute!” she laughs. “But that was a different time in my career. That was just a job. Now, with the film industry bottoming out, a lot of the best stories are going to TV…”
Gypsy is on Netflix now.