Bryan Cranston. Steve Carell. Chris Pratt. Kumail Nanjiani. Many of our modern Hollywood badasses, whether they’re on screens small or big, started as comedic actors, headlining Judd Apatow movies or beloved ’90s sitcoms before some huge studio paid them to get an eight-pack. But an unlikely candidate for the gruff action hero transformation has been Jason Bateman who, over the course of two decades of film and television, underwent a low-key evolution from comic actor to semi-tough guy. Here’s how it happened.
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20th Century Fox Television/Kobal
The Evolution of Jason Bateman: Arrested Development (2003–)
Role: The sensible son of a real-estate mogul turned treasonous fugitive.
Michael Bluth is the straight man of the house, constantly at his wit’s end with his selfish siblings. He’s in full comedy actor mode here, though there is one episode where he dresses up as a police officer to fake a drug bust.
Bad Words (2013)
Role: A salty 40-year-old who uses a loophole to force his way into a kids’ spelling bee.
While Arrested Development got him a decade of roles in comedies from Juno to Horrible Bosses, Bateman’s breakout bad-guy part in Bad Words was the one that shattered the mold. In what was also his feature directorial debut, Bateman is more than crass: He’s mean. He can’t just win the spelling bee; he has to make the kid contestants cry, too—this is Bateman’s first antihero role.
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Role: A financial adviser who launders money for a cartel, then opens a riverboat casino.
The second act of Bateman’s career saw him headlining dark comedies like the Horrible Bosses series and Game Night. He even starred in a horror-thriller, The Gift. Ozark, his most serious role to date, was Netflix’s attempt to capture that Breaking Bad lightning in a bottle, transforming another comic actor into a take-no-prisoners badass. In two seasons, he goes from a nervous bookie to a professional criminal and killer, and Bateman got rave reviews and several Golden Globe and Emmy noms for the part.
The Outsider (2020–)
Role: A Little League coach who, in the wake of a gruesome murder, becomes suspect number one.
Bateman’s turn as coach Terry Maitland here is as dark as Bateman’s dark side gets. HBO’s Stephen King adaptation starts with police arresting Terry in the middle of a Little League game for the murder of a neighborhood kid. There’s something sinister at the heart of this small-town murder mystery, and Bateman clearly loves playing the gruff, menacing suspect.
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