PALS: Jason Bateman's role doesnÂt have him playing… (Miramax Films )
Jason Bateman may not be a male model, but he's also not, as he says, a "booger-eating mouth-breather."
His above-average looks actually almost cost him the lead role in "The Switch," the romantic comedy opening Aug. 20 in which he stars with Jennifer Aniston. In the film, he plays Wally, the perennial best friend to Kassie (Aniston), who has turned to artificial insemination to have a child. Right after she tracks down the perfect-seeming sperm donor in Roland (Patrick Wilson), Wally, in something of a drunken stupor, secretly replaces the Ken doll's sperm with his own.
When Bateman first read the script, he wasn't, as he says, "perfect for the part." The original script had more of a "Beauty and the Beast" vibe to it, with Wally as an overweight guy who "was a very unlikely candidate to be the sperm donor."
Lucky for him, the character eventually morphed and became less of a troll. Still, Wally isn't the coolest guy around — he's a neurotic hypochondriac who has weird habits such as moaning while eating and a hesitancy to speak his heart, both of which have launched him permanently into the friend zone. While Bateman said he's never quite been in a comparable situation, he did relate to the idea of a romantic relationship that blossomed out of a friendship.
"One of the reasons I think that my wife and I are so happy today is that we basically married each other as a result of us being such great friends," he said. "I made a decision in the interest of only getting married once — which I think everybody desires — that I'd look at the relationships that lasted the longest. Those were my friendships, as opposed to my girlfriend relationships. So I thought if I could find a girl I was friends with that I was also really attracted to, that would probably be the best candidate for longevity."
In the film, directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, one of Bateman's special relationships is with Thomas Robinson, the pint-sized actor who plays Sebastian, the child born from the switched donor sample.
"He's a naturally expressive young boy that was just perfect for the part," Bateman said. "I don't want to take anything away from his acting talent, but he was similar to that part in his sweetness and accessibility. Some kids are sort of shelled off, but he was wide open."
Interacting with Robinson reminded Bateman of his own beginnings as a child actor on such popular shows as "Little House on the Prairie," "Silver Spoons" and "The Hogan Family."
"I started when I was so young, when I was 10, so I related to and empathized with his situation, and that was a lot of fun for me," he said. "I didn't necessarily help him, but I supported him and tried to anticipate some of the moments that might be more challenging for him."
After years of playing supporting characters, Bateman really gets the chance to show off his leading-man chops in "The Switch." It's a transition he's still not completely comfortable with.
"The bigger parts are given to the bigger stars, so if you're lucky enough — like in this case — where those people are either busy or they don't want the part and it comes down the list and your name comes up … you grab it," he said. "If this is well received, that's great for me. If not, I'm still in a fortunate position where I'm asked to do great roles that may not be on the top three spots on the call sheet. I'm in this for the long haul, and if I start trying to sprint, I could end up losing it."