All about the Byrdes: Jason Bateman on Ozark life, and pulling Marty out of his shell
Now the Byrdes are back in Ozark Season 2, with Bateman still at the center as the fast-thinking, smooth-talking Marty who must concoct new schemes to keep his family safe.
By Scott Huve
“The Byrde family is trying to end this show,” says Jason Bateman of the central family at the core of his hit Netflix series “Ozark,” of the clan – forced to flee from there New York suburban life to a dangerous, money-laundering existence in the Missouri Ozarks. “The Byrde family is not interested in Season 2, 3, 4, 5. Like, they want to get home. They want to be done with it. All the decisions are made to end this and make this healthy again, get boring again, as a family. So that is interesting to watch and to try to perform.”
Of course, viewers responded passionately to last year’s debut season of the series, which Bateman also executive produces and frequently directs. He was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards in both the Lead Actor and Directing for a Drama Series categories (the show also received nods for production design and cinematography). And now the Byrdes are back for a second season, with Bateman still at the center as the fast-thinking, smooth-talking Marty, who must constantly concoct new schemes to keep his family safe from both the law and his own criminal employers.
“He's emotionally repressed, and that's something his wife gets on him about in the second season, so, he tries to emote a little bit more,” offers Bateman, who otherwise remains mum about the signature complications and plot twists the season will throw at the family. But he does say how much the enthusiastic audience response to the series has both surprised and delighted him – and inspired the creative team to push its boundaries even further.
“Any time you do something and you find out that people are enjoying it, is a huge relief,” he says, “And it supplies great encouragement, because we're all in a bubble and we don't know if anyone's watching or if they're going to like, and so it does sort of give you permission to continue to doing at least what you have been doing. And the writers, understand that the audience deserves an escalation. If there's going to be more episodes, you don't want redundancies.”
“Plus I think there's so much good television out that the demand is high to keep bringing it and making it better than the last bit, and sometimes that comes in ways of plot escalation or emotional complexity, or aesthetic,” he continues. “And adding great actors and killing off some that you think might not ever die; how could they carry on the story if they kill that person, and that's another dynamic that's present in today's TV. So it's a fun process, for sure.”
His co-star Laura Linney says she’s confident the audience is going to be just as responsive to the latest season. “I think they’ll be excited that the intensity level is upped,” she says. “It’s up and it’s deeper and it gives us all a lot to play and the characters are wonderful. There’s this fantastic ensemble, so it’s thick.”
“She's a very instinctive person,” Linney says of her character Wendy, who despite her strained marriage has teamed with Marty to keep their family safe at every turn. “She's shrewd and she's smart. She's not the most emotionally mature human being. So she's surprising that way because she is so effective, but her decisions can be questionable, at best. And really, everything stems from survival. I mean, she's trying to survive. And so she goes to a very primal place in which to do that. And she sees where there are spaces that are not being filled, and she realizes she’s got to fill it, she’s got to do it fast. And she becomes impatient.”
Bateman says “pressure” isn’t quite the right word for what the team felt when it came to assembling the second season storylines in the wake of “Ozark’s” enthusiastic reception. “There's sort of an intoxicating feel of encouragement that you have, that people are liking what you're doing and they'd like to see more,’ he says. “So it's somewhat comforting, I guess, in a sense that what we are doing instinctually is being well-received. So, it's a nice, calming thing to know that you can just work off of instinct and that that is fueling something that people like.”
Bateman credits the show’s streaming service parent – for whom he also stars in the continuation of his beloved comedy “Arrested Development” – for getting the word out on “Ozark’s’ quality amid a tidal wave of increasingly worthwhile television content.
“Netflix is incredible at letting people know what’s happening, what’s on, where you can find it and at what point, and you hope that you do good work and you’re with a partner that can get you that initial sampling,” he says. "And then, hopefully, you’ve got the goods where people keep coming back…And, hopefully, the fact they’re coming back is because they’re recognizing all the good work that everybody, top to bottom, side-to-side, is doing on the show because these kinds of shows, if they work, I think it works because of the contributions from multiple departments as opposed to, ‘Oh, they do explosions really well,’ or ‘They do jokes really well,’ or ‘They do this really well.’ We don’t really have a lot of bells-and-whistles on this show by design, and so it is kind of a cocktail."
Bateman tells Meaww that he doesn’t know if he sees Marty Byrde as a darker reflection of his “Arrested” character Michael Bluth, an inherently decent guy constantly sucked into his family’s toxic manipulations. “I'm not sure,” he muses. “What I do know is what's really attractive to me about both those characters is that they are somebody that could be familiar to us, the audience – us normal folks that aren't living in a family like the Bluths, or dealing with drug cartels. But that this is hopefully kind of an Everyman, somebody that can be your proxy.
“I try to play as many characters as I can that are that, because I love shaping an audience's experience,” he continues. “That's why I'm attracted so much to directing. Oftentimes that central character, that every man, that straight man, provides that same sort of service on camera that I might behind camera.”
Every member of the show’s cast and crew are encouraged to contribute ideas that will help the show become richer and more resonant, he adds. “Laura, right off the bat, had some incredible ideas about what her character could and should do, and obviously they were more than receptive to hear anything that Laura Linney might have to say about what she can and would like to do because that's an incredible asset that we have.”
Linney says her contribution focused on “what I thought I saw the potential was for her and the foundation of which to start -- you hope to have a foundation that's going to propel you forward and you're going to be able to develop something slowly but meticulously over, hopefully, a long period of time. So there were clues here and there that I saw that I just wanted to confirm with them was that the case and is that what they were seeing. This was the dynamic I think maybe could be interesting. Does that work within the framework that you've all started?”
“It's a very collaborative group of people, and it makes going to work a lot of fun,” she adds. “And it also gives all of us an added ownership into the show. We all feel that we're contributing in ways that, I think, on a lot of shows there's no room for or there's fear of, but we have a showrunner who likes good ideas and is happy to talk with all of us.”
Ultimately, with its dark corners, pitch-black comedy and through-line of deep family bonds, Linney says “Ozark” has a rich, multifaceted appeal. “It starts with family, and then it goes cultural and then it goes psychological thriller and then it goes crime-suspense and it’s sort of braided together, sometimes with an emphasis on one thing and then on another,” she tells Meaww. “It’s also a strange look at America and the different cultures that are in this very very large country and it deals with a lot of different things.”