"When we first met, I kept telling him he was really good in Doc Hollywood," wisecracks Ricky Gervais, who directed Bateman in The Invention of Lying, due in September. He calls Bateman's exquisite poker face the height of "comedic confidence," noting that "there may be 50 ways to play a scene in drama, but sometimes there's only one way to nail a joke."
"I would have walked to Boston for that," Bateman says of working with Gervais, "but they sent a ticket, which was nice." He thinks he's always identified with dry British comics like Gervais and John Cleese because his mom is English. But he also knows this shtick is no sure ticket to the A-list. "No one ever clamors to play the straight man."
"Like the khakis?"
Bateman is lounging in his trailer on The Baster's (now called The Switch) midtown Manhattan set, genteelly rocking a blue dress shirt, a striped knit tie, Hush Puppies, and tan slacks. He has flecks of gray around his temples, but that's just movie magic, administered to make him appear fortyish, as his own genes are of little help in that regard. ("Maybe it was all the drugs," Aniston says of her costar's freakish youthfulness. "What have the rest of us been doing wrong?")
Today is the last day of principal photography, and even though he's skipping the wrap party—Anka and their 2½-year-old, Francesca, returned home to L.A. earlier in the week—Bateman gets attached easily, as maybe only someone who's spent much of his life on-set can. "I'm feeling a little melancholy now that it's the other side of lunch."
More surrogate families are imminent: There's a reshoot for Extract next week, then he'll be spending the summer crisscrossing New Mexico for the new Simon Pegg movie Paul. "It's a good-news-bad-news thing I'm trying to become friends with," he says of his new schedule. And though he's loath to utter the words, what he'd really like to do is direct—make that direct again (at 18, he got behind the camera for an episode of The Hogan Family and became the youngest-ever member of the DGA). He's developing two projects, and he says he's hopeful he'll have a production deal within the year. His iPhone chimes. "Sorry," he says. "I'm getting an important text message from Charlize Theron."
If Extract finds Bateman dipping his toes in leading-man waters, then The Baster (now called The Switch), adapted from a Jeffrey Eugenides short story, is a headfirst dive. He again plays a swell fella who's committed a ghastly act while under the influence—in this case, jerking off and replacing a sperm donor's specimen with his own, just before it's fired into America's sweetheart via the titular implement.
"The movie is about this great guy who's right underneath your nose and you don't realize it," says codirector Will Speck. "That's Jason—he's doing something people might consider reprehensible, but there's something so inherently charming about him. He'd be an amazing serial killer."
After a shot, Bateman retreats to a director's chair. A few takes later, it's a wrap for Jeff Goldblum, who plays Bateman's business partner. The crew applauds, Goldblum thanks everyone in a way that sounds like he's explaining chaos theory, and Bateman feigns tears, looking for a hug.
"It's okay," I say. "He's going to a better place."
"Yeah," Bateman deadpans. "A series."
Of course, he isn't really envious of Goldblum's Law & Order gig, or, frankly, of anyone else's at this point. Whether thanks to karma, Kismet, or a little bit of both, after 30 years Jason Bateman is on an unlikely winning streak that even he doesn't seem to be betting on.
"This isn't a way to make a living that you can have any control over," he says. "You can't kiss the boss's ass and work extra hard to get that promotion. Things are going better now than ever, but in 24 months?" He shrugs. "I could be hearing crickets."Read More:
See more photos of Jason Bateman
Video: Jason Bateman
Interview: Bradley Cooper
Would You Let Your Wife Have Another Man's Baby?