Four years after his queer sitcom fizzled, Jason Bateman earned a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination for playing the quintessential straight man on Fox’s Arrested Development; even so, gays are still some of his best friends. So with Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium now in theaters and Oscar-hopeful Juno out in December, we treated the ’80s teen idol — and onetime wolf — to some friendly ribbing about his sex symbol status and “uncool” career choices.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: When The Advocate last spoke to you in 2001 you were promoting your role as gay journalist Warren in the series Some of My Best Friends, which was then canceled after five episodes. What went wrong?
Jason Bateman: It wasn’t the show’s fault, and it certainly wasn’t my fault, Brandon. I kept thinking that perhaps it was on the wrong network and the wrong night. Those are legitimate excuses — I don’t think they’re just things that help you get to sleep at night. There are certain networks that are better for liberal fare, and CBS, at least at the time, was not leading in that race as far as their audience and demographic. If it had been on NBC, on a more liberal night — like a Thursday — it probably would’ve had a better shot. Will & Grace was certainly having a good time there.
Maybe you should’ve played Warren like your flaming Captain Reggie in the “Gays in Space” sketch when you hosted Saturday Night Live in 2005.
The CBS demographic would’ve probably run screaming. That was a lot of fun, though. With that type of burlesque sketch comedy, one wants to take any character to the utmost extreme, cliché, and offensive place you possibly can. And that’s why it’s relegated to 11:30 p.m.
Trust me, I know some Reggies.
I know a few too — and they’re some of my best friends. Growing up in the entertainment industry, and also having a mother who was a flight attendant for 30 years, I’ve been surrounded by the best and the worst of the gay community. But I’ve always said that I’ve never met a dumb gay guy. You’ve got to be smart and insightful to know what’s going on with you and then live by it. It takes a lot of balls to walk proudly as a gay man, especially outside of the more liberal cities like Los Angeles and New York. So I’ve got a great deal of respect for the gay community. I think that it shows in my friend circle, and I’m really proud to be accepted by them.
Really, Jason? No gay idiots? Because that’s all I ever seem to date.
[Laughs] Well, I’m sure there’s quite a few. We gotta keep the bars filled with something, and you gotta sell the cheap booze to somebody.
You respect our “balls,” but do you have any closeted peers?
Yes, but it’s become less and less. In this day and age, at least in this town, you’re not truly hip and popular until you’re out and in AA. So that’s encouraging a lot of those who were on the fence. One of my best friends and ex-roommates, a producer, finally came out a couple of years ago, and he’s never been happier. He’s stopped a lot of his abusive, self-destructive behavior because he’s been able to get this big weight off his shoulders.
The Hogan Family was a contemporary of Doogie Howser, M.D. Were you just waiting for Neil Patrick Harris to come out?
I actually didn’t know him at all, and didn’t have my suspicions until he started doing musical theater. That’s usually a flag.
Have guys ever hit on you?
I don’t know if I’d be able to tell, only because I’m so flirtatious with gay men anyway. They usually have great senses of humor, so I just get my flirt on, and they’re probably not enjoying my humor as much as I’m enjoying theirs — maybe all those laughs are just come-ons and I’m getting hit on the whole time. But I do enjoy my time around homosexual men, to the point where people have thought I’m gay for years. I had to get myself a wife just to prove otherwise.
It seems to be working.
Yeah. I still don’t know her name, though.
If you were gay, who’d be your type?
Oh, God, who am I gay for… Well, Will Arnett, the guy who played G.O.B. on Arrested Development. I’ve been trying to get in his pants since the pilot, and he’s just not giving it up. His wife, Amy Poehler, is safely on the East Coast, but if she ever wanders out here, I got something for her ass.
When I interviewed Arnett for this column, he said that when you visited him on the set of Will & Grace, you happened to be friends with fellow guest-star Janet Jackson. He assumed that you had met on the set of Good Times. True?
I was actually her tall skinny brother. I’m actually Jimmie Walker. People don’t know that. It was just a little face paint.
On VH1’s 100 Greatest Teen Stars you’re ranked 47th, sandwiched between Usher and Christina Aguilera. How do you feel about that placement?
Well, I guess that sandwich would be good depending on who’s behind me. As long as Christina’s behind me — if she doesn’t have a strap-on — I’m OK.
Being a teen star practically gives you an excuse to be out of control. Were you boring, or did we just not hear about your partying?
I just wasn’t a stupid idiot about it. If you’re going to get drunk and climb behind the wheel, stop your stupidity there and don’t take pulls off the bottle at red lights. I just never got caught — I’m lucky. Then I got my shit together in time.
What was your most “Corey Haim” moment?
I’m not going to tell you. I just said I got away with it all!
Do you have any sage advice for Britney and Lindsay? Because if they can’t turn to Jason Bateman, to whom can they turn?
Yeah, that’s true. But it doesn’t seem to me like they’re doing that much that’s all that bad. It’s just that there are a zillion more paparazzi around now. Unless they want to completely take themselves off the market by getting sober, getting married, and holding down a job, they’re going to be the poster children of what the industry is. Look, Lindsay’s not doing any acting, and until recently, Britney wasn’t making any music. So that’s their job: bad-behaving celebrity. They’re self-marketing. So why should they stop?
In the mid ’80s, you did a public service announcement for teen abstinence called "How Can I Tell If I’m Really in Love?" with your sister Justine. Were you really the best poster child for that message?
No, and I don’t know what the hell that was. Believe me, I’ve seen that on YouTube. It’s just awful. But it’s nice to see how flammable my hair was back then. Justine was working for Paramount, it was a Paramount thing, and they wanted us to do this crap they could sell on VHS. I loved the sound of my voice almost as much as I love it now, so I was like, Someone’s going to pay me to talk? Great!
I thought that actually might’ve been your gayest project — until I discovered the Ice Capades TV special you hosted with Alyssa Milano in 1989.
Oh, no, there’s more, Brandon. You need to search deeper. God, I thought I was so cool back then, and it’s amazing how many uncool things I did. I feel half as cool now, but my cool-edit button is so much sharper.
Did you feel like a sex symbol?
Anybody who was under the age of 20 and on television was a teen idol by definition, so I didn’t take any of that stuff personally. I did think I was pretty fucking cool, but I certainly didn’t think I was worthy of Scott Baio or Kirk Cameron adulation.
Now that you’re 38, the industry thinks you’re sexy enough to play the husband of Jennifer Garner in Juno and of Charlize Theron in next year’s
Yeah, that’s not bad. I’ll take that. But listen, it’s not without tireless work. I run like a Kenyan every morning, and I haven’t had a loaf of bread in my house since the late ’90s, OK? I do all of that and I still look like some fat-faced teenager.
You must’ve been pretty comfortable with your body this past year to have done a nude locker room scene in The Ex and a scene wearing only ladies’ undergarments in Smokin’ Aces.
I was not happy about either one of those things. I was very fleshy for both. God, I wish we could do another take of those. Jesus, you should see me now. You could do laundry on my stomach!
So the undies bit was scripted?
Actually, it was a character choice. They said, “We need to come back and see you in this hotel room watching TV.” And I said, “Well, you left me a couple of hours ago, and I seemed weird, so I’m probably in the throes of something even weirder now. So let’s get some coke on the nightstand, and if wardrobe has a bra-and-panties set, let’s get it up here.”
Do you think Teen Wolf Too won you fans within the bear community?
[Laughs] Well, it’s not a group to sneeze at. Again, like the stupid sex-PSA thing, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But here we are, 20 years later, and it’s still haunting me, so I probably should’ve gone left instead of right.
Were you disappointed that you didn’t get to sing “The Penis Song” in The Sweetest Thing?
No, but I did get to sing that Bangles song, “Eternal Flame.” Love that. I actually put that on my wedding CD.
I haven’t seen Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, but I know it’s rated G. Does your character still get the girl?
No, he’s pretty neutered. Everything’s taped down in that one. In fact, Natalie Portman and I both look like teenage boys with our little hairdos. There’s a very subtle gay theme that runs all the way through it. You really have to look for it.
In Hancock you’ll play a PR consultant who attempts to repair a fallen superhero’s image. How much of your own image has been influenced by a PR team?
I don’t think very much of it. In fact, they get on me all the time about being too honest and disclosing too much. I got a speech from my stepfather the other day about how “some things are better left unsaid.” But people are going to think what they want, so you might as well paint as accurate a picture as you can, so that you don’t have misconceptions out there. I certainly don’t have anything to hide.
The Advocate, December 2007; extended online version.