Last night, Jason Bateman came to the Toronto Film Festival to promote his new ensemble drama, Disconnect, about people searching for human connection in a tech-obsessed world. Also starring Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard, it’s the first fiction film from Henry Alex Rubin, director of the Oscar-nominated wheelchair rugby documentary Murderball. But of course, all we wanted to know about was Arrested Development. Bateman very nicely indulged Vulture’s grilling for a few minutes amidst much schmoozing at a prescreening cocktail hour.
They’re having this party before the movie, so I haven’t seen it.
I haven’t seen it! I get to see a movie for free. That’s all I know.
But you’re in it, right?
Yeah. I am part of this dramatic ensemble, you know. I don’t get to do a lot of drama, so it was nice that I’m sure the first 25 people they went to passed and they ended up with me. And those that have seen it seem pleased with my work, so I’ll see if they’re just bullshitting or what.
You play a dad?
I’m a dad with a wife and the son gets into trouble with his social media efforts and I try to get in there and be a more present father and that kind of crap.
Are you social-media savvy?
I have from time to time, but for business. I don’t know why I have any followers, because I’m always sort of peddling something.
You are aware that you’re the number one leaker of Arrested Development information, aren’t you?
Well, I don’t know if it qualifies as a leak. I wish. Actually, I’ve been accidentally leaking. [Mitch] has been yelling at me because, like, stuff in the background I’m accidentally getting that actually has some relevance and I don’t realize it. So I’ve stopped.
What did he get mad about in particular?
Well, I wanted to take a shot on the first day of lights and camera and, like, “obviously, he’s on a set,” and in that shot are a couple of cast members from a show Workaholics. And after I took that picture, like hours afterwards, I was talking to those actors and a kid came up asking for their autograph. And I said, “Are you guys in a movie or a show or something?” And they were like, “Yeah, we’re in this show called Workaholics.” And I was like, “Oh cool, I gotta see that.” And then of course once the Tweet was up, I’d already sent out the Tweet, but I didn’t put two and two together and a day later I saw that it was all over the boards: “Oh my god! The Workaholics are in it!” Mitch said, “Hey man …” [does scowling Mitch impersonation].
You had to re-create all the sets, correct?
Yeah, because Twentieth [Century Fox], like, sold the sets and everything. I guess that’s what they do when they cancel a show, they sell all the assets. So, yeah, they’ve been in the process of rebuilding, which is kind of cool. I don’t know if it’s unprecedented, but it’s certainly not common for a cast to get back together.
Do you have the same bike?
I haven’t been on a bike yet, but we were shooting on a street the other day where I did ride my bike on it and I said to Mitch, “Hey, I used to ride my bike on this street!”
What about the stair car?
Yeah, that’s back.
A new stair car?
I don’t know if that’s the old one. I haven’t been in it yet. I’ve done scenes around it, but I haven’t sat in the seat yet.
Sorry that I’m pumping you for Arrested Development info at your movie party.
Oh, it’s okay.
The last episode had Michael leaving on a boat with his father and son and fleeing the family business. Everyone thinks that the photo you Tweeted is a sign of Michael returning to the family business.
Oh, I see. Well, all I can tell you is that obviously the family does have some sort of reconnection, otherwise you’ve got nothing. Yeah, we all do end up finding each other again.
Judy Greer and Scott Baio are coming back. Are there new exciting guest stars?
No, I mean, truthfully we’re only a little bit of the way through. Almost halfway through it. And a lot of us haven’t seen what is to come. So, yeah, there could be, but I know if and when the movie happens there’s been a lot of talk … there are people that have kind of reserved spots in that that would be very exciting.
Is there anybody you got sick of during the shooting of the first three seasons* that you now, after some time has passed, are happy to see again?
Myself. Playing Michael Bluth.
No, I was always very aware of how lucky I was on that show playing that character. So there was never a point where I was bored or anything. But however excited I was back then, I’m twice as excited to be back there now.
You’re also directing your first movie, Bad Words.
Actually prep started today without me, so I get back tomorrow afternoon and get into it.
The script was honored on the Black List of best unproduced screenplays. Is that why you wanted to do it?
Yeah, it’s a super funny script. It’s a dark comedy. I play a guy who finds a loophole in the entrance rules for a spelling bee and I get in there and basically participate to settle a score, a dramatic score. Like, my character doesn’t know he’s in a comedy. It’s very serious business.
Did you actually do spelling bees?
No, and I haven’t seen any of those spelling bee movies, but I’m about to when I get home. Actually, I’m lying! I did do a spelling bee once. And I didn’t put the “W” in “answer” and lost in a very early round.
How old were you?
19, 20? No. [Laughs] I was 13, maybe.
I lost on “chandelier” in fourth grade and it was very traumatizing.
That’s a respectable word to lose on.
From a similar teen-star era of yours, one of the Facts of Life co-stars is going to be on Survivor.
Really? Which one?
Lisa Whelchel. Blair!
Oh, all right.
Did you guys ever do any kind of competition together, like Battle of the Network Stars?
I go back almost that far. There was Circus of the Stars. They came to me a couple of times, but Battle of the Network Stars, I would have done in a heartbeat, only to get close to Kristy McNichol. I see these shows as a nice way to keep track of people you haven’t seen in a while.
You’ve been to the Toronto Film Festival before?
Yeah, I came for Juno and Up in the Air.
How is it different from other film festivals?
I don’t know if I’ve been to other festivals. Juno and Up in the Air both launched here and it’s kind of the last festival of the season. I’d like to, though. It’s obviously nice to be around a bunch of people that love film.
And you can get some poutine when you’re here.
Fries and gravy and cheese curds.
Oh my god, that sounds great. You think they’ll be open after the film? They’re open late?
Yeah, but I think there’s not one near the theater.
Okay, well, if you see me on the street later, please bring me some soggy fries with gravy.
* Two original mistakes in the post have been since corrected: 1) Arrested Development was on for three seasons, not two. 2) Jason Bateman was never on Facts of Life, but he was a child star in the same era, so we thought he might conceivably have participated in a Battle of the Network Stars death match against Welchel. Alas, it was not to be.