Jason Bateman and Christopher Walken on ‘The Family Fang’ | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jason Bateman and Christopher Walken on ‘The Family Fang’

The Actor/Director and his Co-Star Discuss Their Latest Film

Apr 29, 2016 Jason Bateman Bookmark and Share

Baxter Fang is a young adult novelist whose career is floundering. His sister, Annie, is a washed-up starlet and former tabloid “wild child” similarly on the decline. Their parents, Caleb and Camille, are performance artists and provocateurs, infamous for roping their two young children (sometimes unknowingly) into their projects and impromptu “happenings.” The now-grown Baxter and Annie Fang are estranged from the famous parents they feel exploited them, but when Baxter injures himself and is taken in by their folks, it leads to an unplanned—and most unusual—family reunion.

Actor (and budding filmmaker) Jason Bateman directs The Family Fang, which was adapted from Kevin Wilson’s novel of the same name by Pullitzer Prize-winning writer David Lindsey-Abaire. He also stars in the film as the down-on-his-luck Baxter Fang.

“In the book he’s actually called Buster, but I switched that because in Arrested Development there’s a character named Buster,” Bateman says, grinning, referencing the cult-favorite series in which he also starred. “I thought that might be a little bit weird. I said to Kevin Wilson, who wrote the book, ‘I think it’s such a coincidence that your character’s named Buster. And [Kevin] goes, ‘Well, that’s no coincidence at all. I named him after the character in Arrested Development!’”

The book had initially been optioned by actress Nicole Kidman, who co-stars as Annie Fang and also produces. She had been impressed with Bateman’s 2013 directorial debut, Bad Words, as well as his acting oeuvre. She reached out to him about not only helming the project, but starring opposite her in the film. Bateman loved the script, and leapt at the opportunity. He considers himself fortunate that Christopher Walken, their first choice to play Caleb—the siblings’ detached, performance artist father—was intrigued by the story.

“For me, it was an interesting part,” Walken explains, through many of his famous, often-imitated pauses. “I was never part of it, but growing up in New York as a young man, there was performance art all over the city. ‘Happenings.’ … I saw a lot of it and often didn’t know what was going on. I remember walking into my bank once, and there was some guy doing a show. I guess they took him out, but he was there for a while.”

Bateman described the opportunity to work with such high-caliber actors on only his second directorial feature as “a mindblower.” Rather than letting that intimidate him, however, the still-green director found that working with these talented professionals made his job much easier.

“They don’t need some idiot like me telling them what they need to do: they know exactly what they’re doing,” says Bateman. “It just cuts down on my workload … I got to do what I really wanted to do, which was play with the other elements of filmmaking that actors usually don’t get to play with, which was cameras, lighting, editing, and composing.”

His ability to switch off between roles in front of and behind the camera even managed to make an impression on Christopher Walken. As someone who has appeared in more than 100 films and television shows across a five-decade-long career in show business, it takes a lot to impress him.

“Jason is a wonderful actor,” Walken says. “But also, the way he directed—he’d be in a scene, and then step out and be the director. He did it so easily and effectively.”

Unlike some actors-turned-filmmakers who find wearing two hats on set to be too much of a distraction, Bateman doesn’t mind having to juggle two different roles on a film.

“It eliminated one of the actors I needed to direct,” Bateman explains. “Now, that can be bad if my thoughts on that performance are off-base; there’s not a checks and balances system in there to say, ‘Hey, buddy. You’re way off there. You suck.’ …. I’d be reluctant to take on that combination [of directing while acting if] I didn’t have a firm idea of what to do.”

Bateman went on to explain how he tries to bring a little bit of himself into every role he plays. However, what his character goes through in this particular movie taps into a pretty universal theme. As unexpected circumstances force Baxter Fang and his sister to dig into their family’s past, they start—Bateman admits, a bit later than most—to see their parents through the lens of adulthood.

“Anybody who is here, or has ever been here, has or had parents,” Bateman says. “Therefore, everybody has gone through that inevitable moment where your parents become human. They become as flawed as you are. You become old enough and perceptive enough to see through the disguise that they know how to wear; that veneer that you’ve been working to build yourself as you become older.”

As their stubborn, ill-tempered artist father, Caleb Fang is a character certainly within Christopher Walken’s wheelhouse. He smiles when explaining how he’d like to play “a normal guy” one day, but for the time being he’s thankful for the steady stream of nutjobs and psychopaths that are offered his way.

“If you’re an actor, particularly in the movies, and if you’re lucky enough to get some sort of ball rolling, you can get caught up in that,” says Walken. “Early in my career I started playing troubled, disturbed people. Suicidal, villainous. I did that, and I may have crossed some sort of line, because that’s pretty much all I get offered.” He pauses, then smiles. “But some actors don’t work much, so I can’t complain.”


The Family Fang is now playing in NYC, and expands nationwide and on demand on May 6th.


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