He's played the put-upon responsible son of an Enron-style corrupt executive, and a possible pedophile (his words), in last year's surprise hit movie "Juno." He's had a TV career that spans three decades.
Now, Jason Bateman co-stars opposite Will Smith and Charlize Theron in the holiday weekend superhero release, "Hancock."
Bateman discussed his new movie, experiences from a lifetime in the business, and plans for the future (including an "Arrested Development" movie) on "Popcorn" with Peter Travers on "ABC News Now."
Playing an idealistic PR executive whose life becomes indebted to Smith's drunk superhero character, Bateman admits that he didn't have to prepare much for the role. "Some people really try to play a different person, do a lot of research, and what not," he said. "I just try to find the part of me that's closest to what I think they want out of the character."
The role of the straight man is familiar territory for Bateman. His portrayal of responsible Michael Bluth on the TV sitcom "Arrested Development" was praised by critics as one of the most complex of the type. His acting in the series simply responded to the outlandish antics of other characters (played by Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett and David Cross, among others), resulting in a deadpan character that resonated with viewers.
"You need a straight man, you need a funny man, and I'm happy to play the former," he said. "It's not the flashy role, so it's usually hard to cast that part sometimes, so I'll jump forward and take that. It also lends itself to what I think is funny: to react and to be dry as opposed to being the antagonist. I like being the protagonist, I like to react."
Bateman got his big break at age 12, as orphaned James Cooper on the television show "Little House on the Prairie." "It was a great way to come into the business as a young boy, being in the soft, warm, safe bosom of Michael Landon and his nice family there. I thought it was all going to be like that for the rest of my career," he recalled.
Future TV experiences weren't as idyllic as "Little House." But his early experience on that show taught him a lesson he still considers essential. "As I went on to these more typical, prickly sets, I knew that you could, in fact, get the day done by being nice," he said. "So, I knew that this didn't have to be that day and ... if I was ever in the position to influence a tone of a set, that I would do it the way Michael Landon did it."
His success at a young age turned him into a teen idol, starring on such shows as "Silver Spoons" and "The Hogan Family," and movies like "Teen Wolf Too." Bateman tried to prevent it from going to his head. "Anybody who's a teenager, who was on a television show, was a teen idol. It comes with the package. So, I never took it seriously unless it was a sad day. Then, I'd go out and buy a teen magazine and look at myself a little bit and find a quiet room somewhere," he joked.
The 1990s were a lean time for Bateman. He appeared in bit parts on TV shows and the odd movie role here and there. It was "Arrested Development" that brought him back to the public spotlight. "All roads lead back to that," he said. "There were not a lot of people -- well, there were a few million -- that watched the show, but a lot of people in Hollywood did, and those are the people that hire in my line of work, so that was lucky for me."