In conversation - Jason Bateman

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After 42 years and more than three decades in the business, Jason Bateman is having what he modestly calls “a moment of relevance” with roles in two of this summer's biggest and brashest comedies. First up is Horrible Bosses (out tomorrow), in which he plays a bullied employee with homicidal urges, alongside Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Colin Farrell’s combover. We spoke to him at home in LA between his daily 5 mile run and a business lunch.

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ESQ: Are business lunches a big part of your life?
JB: Oh yes, lots of business is done at lunch in this town. I’ve got my lunchtime-meeting hair snapped on, I’m ready to go.

Is your lunchtime-meeting hair very different from your normal hair?
Well, if I go swimming, the piece that I use has a zipper on it, but if I’m going out I can use the snaps, then if I’m working I usually go with the tape. Each one is very different, they’re very expensive to clean, right now I’ve got them all back from the dry cleaners and I’m going to go with this one today. I look pretty good right now.

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You have quite an exercise regimen at the moment. You’ve done marathons, been on the cover of Men’s Health – why the sudden interest in working out?
Well, Tim, I’ve got nothing left. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I try to restrict my sugar intake, I’ve got nothing. So I’ve got to turn it inwards. But I think I’m actually running too much. My legs won’t straighten, they will only extend to whatever legs do when they’re jogging. So I’m 42 and although that’s still not 22 I shouldn’t be as stiff as a 62-year-old.

You had a reputation for being pretty wild in your early days. Do you remember them fondly? Oh yeah, it was outstanding, I loved it. I’m a bit of a hedonist, so if I’m having fun and I’m running along at a seven and there’s certain elements in front of me that can take it to a ten, whether it’s a group of people or a place to go or some booze or drugs, it was a no-brainer to say, “What’s better than a seven? Let’s go to a ten.”

Any regrets from that time?
No, absolutely not. I got a lot of stuff out of my system and here I sit with all those memories and all those itches scratched. In my early thirties, I just felt I had to grow up. Get yourself a wife instead of a girlfriend, get yourself a career instead of a job, get yourself a kid instead of a dog – let’s go, you’re halfway to 60, it’s time to step up.

And then Arrested Development came along – was that a coincidence?
I don’t know if it was the chicken or the egg, but all these things fell into one another. I don’t know if I would have been able to do as good a job on Arrested if I was still being an idiot and I don’t know if I would have gotten the job on Arrested if I had not decided to not be an idiot. And I don’t know if I would have been able to be as adult if I didn’t have a job underneath to prop me up and give me the confidence you need to make that transition.

Your mother is British – can we claim you as one of our own?
100 per cent, please: I love England. She, I think, is from Shrewsbury and her dry, cutting humour is definitely mine. That sarcasm and that non-winking, deadpan type of stuff is very British. Also the particular funny of above-all-else-do-not-embarrass-oneself; John Cleese is a master of that, he’s a hero of mine. As is Ricky Gervais. You guys definitely gave us humour.

The screen you and the real you seem to share some hefty similarities. How much of what you do is acting?
Well yeah, I’m not Daniel Day Lewis, there are only a couple of him and the rest of us just do versions of ourselves. I try to stay inside my skill set and my skill set is me, but I do bank on myself. I’m not the best actor in the world but if I say yes to a movie that means I’ve a really good idea about how to play a character.

The film we’ll see you in next is Horrible Bosses and your character is kind of an idiot. Is this the jackass Jason Bateman?
When I first read the script, I couldn’t believe how much I liked it, even though it’s a lot sillier than something I would normally be drawn to. Then we shot it and of course we are doing a bunch of silly, crazy crap and I thought it was just going to be silly and crazy and crappy. But it’s just fucking great, it’s the biggest, broadest film possible but it’s edited with such sophistication and cleverness. I’m a big cynic, I’m waiting for stuff to be terrible, but it’s this perfect cocktail and they bend things so far without making it dumb.

It’s never seemed to bother you being the star of the film. Does it feel good now?
It does, but you know, I’ve always been cautious to be too exposed on films. I’ve avoided a slightly higher profile and a slightly higher paycheck to work with better people on better projects but in a lesser position. I’m in this for the long haul and I’m not interested in being a huge celebrity or grossly rich, I just want to work for another 30 years. The fuel for longevity is respect and carrying a nice pedigree behind you, but I have no problem being up front now.

Interview by Tim Lewis - read the full feature in our August issue, out now. Horrible Bosses is out on 22 July