Ozark: Jason Bateman on Saying Goodbye to ‘Ozark’, Fate of the Byrdes and His Directing Future

Marty and Wendy Byrde were in survival mode for four seasons. 

They've fought cartels and crime syndicates, petty criminals and law-breaking CEOs, corrupt law enforcement officials, and even members of their own family, all while conducting a money laundering scheme that may erupt at any moment. Despite this, Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), as well as their two children, were somehow still alive as the hit Netflix program ended its 44-episode run. Given "Ozark's" enormous corpse count, that would be a great achievement in and of itself. The Byrdes, on the other hand, are in unexpectedly terrific shape as the show comes to a close. They've eluded the law, amassed a political following, and outwitted their adversaries. 

Bateman, who served as the show's lead, executive producer, and director of nine of the show's episodes, is hesitant to call the Byrdes the winners. Instead, he believes that the show provides them with a happy ending, albeit one with a catch. 

"It has a scarlet letter or a black eye on it," he claims. "In classic 'Ozark' style," says the narrator. Bateman discussed his passion for directing, his readiness to return to the world of "Ozark," and the guest he's trying to land for "Smartless," the podcast he co-hosts with his friends Will Arnett and Sean Hayes, in a wide-ranging conversation. 

How does it feel to bid "Ozark" farewell? 

It felt great to complete something that we had all worked so hard to execute in a very specific and accurate manner. I'd like to think that everyone came close to hitting the lofty goal we set for the event, but I'm also aware that the longer you stay, the more difficult it becomes to leave on a high note. It's only a matter of time before you plank it. 

"Ozark" is one of the most commonly mentioned shows when people talk about binge viewing. Was the show intended to be watched in this manner? 

Not at all. There are a lot of good shows on right now that are utilizing the long-form format. [Showrunner] Chris Mundy and his team did an excellent job of keeping each episode self-contained while also including the necessary — I hate the word cliff-hanger, but I mean stuff to make you want to see the next episode — cliff-hanger. There was always something that piqued your interest and made you want more. They took full advantage of the ensemble's breadth and depth. They came up with a number of interesting plots and personalities. There was something for everyone, so even if one plot bored you, there was always another that might be more up your alley. There was also the matter of the story's general relatability. "Ozark" is a show about a family at its core. That's something that everyone has. A bag of money and a pistol are just the things that complicate all of those family dynamics in our story, and it's sort of interesting to watch. 

Did you always have a vision for how the series would end? 

It wasn't at all planned out. One of the benefits of performing anything without a planned finish is that you can react to the actors, characters, and audience to evaluate which storylines and characters are resonating and which aren't. Then you make the necessary adjustments. In terms of how it all ended, Chris and I debated whether or not the Byrdes should be required to pay a bill. Is it possible for them to get away with it or not? We experimented with a variety of alternative endings. Laura [Linney] added one of her own. We ultimately wanted Chris to make the decision, and he was very enthusiastic about coming up with a nice ending with a smudge. It has a sticky quality to it. We see that they got away with it after we fade to black, but at what cost? 

"You don't get to win," says Mel Sattem, the investigator who has been following the Byrdes for the whole of the final season. Of course, this is just before Jonah Byrde murders him, so we all know how that ended. Are Marty and Wendy, on the other hand, true winners? 

Everyone has a different response. Personally, I don't believe it's much of a victory if your son has just committed murder and, on top of that, has killed a cop. Yes, Jonah has pledged his allegiance to the family and is demonstrating his respect for his parents by trusting that the ends will justify the means, but we're not here for the ends; we're here for the methods. Wendy's plan to amass enough political capital so she may put their money to good use, something selfless, may succeed. What are the chances? However, that is a significant question. 

Many individuals are dead by the time the credits roll on the series, but at least four of the primary characters are still alive. Is this a show that you'd watch again? Could there be more seasons or a film adaptation of "Ozark"? 

You'd love to go back to any employment or work environment that was good and where you like the people you worked with and the product you were generating. It's difficult to keep anything that is truly enjoyable all of the time. That was the case with "Ozark." So I'd do it again in a heartbeat because what we had wasn't something that happens every day. 

Wendy was having an extramarital affair when "Ozark" began, but the Byrdes' marriage seemed to survive, if not strengthen, during the duration of the show. Why? 

Their priorities shift throughout time. It's partly due to necessity, but when they left Chicago [for the Lake of the Ozarks], ambition and power became their top priorities. Perhaps there was a desire for something a little more difficult than what they were doing before. That took over for a while, and they liked the collaboration they had built, which lasted a few years. They can now return to their marriage now that this stage is completed. If the cameras were to stay for another year, week, or month, you'd see them dig into it. So, what's left? 

Marty and Wendy insisted that they had laundered all of this money and were working with the cartel to help their family. But didn't they like it as well? 

Because "Breaking Bad" accomplished it so beautifully, I was always allergic to the idea. I was clearly well aware of all the inevitable similarities that would be drawn between that show and ours, whether justified or not. I didn't want to sound repetitious or redundant, but power desire isn't limited to the Walter White and Byrde families. And once gained, authority can be used to justify a variety of dubious decisions. The truth is that Byrdes are arrogant enough to believe they can keep up with everything for a little longer than they can. They'd either be dead or in prison if the show ran another year. It's fortunate for them that the camera has been turned off. 

You're directing a film starring Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, and you've also directed numerous episodes of "Ozark." Is it true that you're giving up acting? 

I still enjoy performing, but I believe that I will enjoy directing even more. A lot of it has to do with all I've been able to absorb in my 40-plus years as an actor. You observe what everyone on set is doing to create what the audience enjoys, and the actor is only a little part of that, but a director gets to experiment with every department, including acting. I'm just looking around in a more 360-degree manner. Acting is still fun for me, but I'm a bit of a hedonist, and directing is where I'm having the most fun right now. However, nothing beats directing and acting, so that was a lot of fun on "Ozark." I'm probably just going to direct the next thing I do. I'm not sure I'll be a part of it. 

What's the plot of your upcoming film? 

It's all about the Apollo 11 lunar landing. "Project Artemis" is the working title, but it will most likely change. 

From Paul Thomas Anderson and Tom Hanks to David Remnick and LeBron James, you've had a diverse range of guests on "Smartless." Is there someone in particular you'd want to book? 

It is constantly changing. When I'm stopped at a red light, something will occur to me. For example, I was listening to Elton John with my 15-year-old daughter the other day and thought he'd be a terrific guy to chat to. So, I'm going to text our producer, and hopefully, he'll respond and tell us that Elton is in. It's a thrilling experience. It's like being caught in an elevator for an hour with an icon, where you have their whole attention and can ask them anything. 

"Ozark" has a particular aesthetic to it, with everything being saturated in a bluish color. Did you have any input into the aesthetic? 

The pilot was directed by me. So I went out and investigated locales, imagining how it might look and feel. I wanted the show's aesthetic to complement the plot. I wanted to express the risk and unpredictability of the Byrdes' lives. It would appear like a Disney program if everything was spotless, the colors were bright, and the camera angles were broad. You might not be as concerned about what follows. However, if it appears to be undernourished, you may be better prepared for the type of environment we're asking you to spend a few seasons in. 

Marty appears to be unyielding. Even with all the death and chaos surrounding him, nothing seems to bother him. Why did you choose to portray him in this manner? 

Because I'm the lens through which the audience sees all of these obstacles, I didn't want to portray Marty in a hysterical way. He should be someone who is attempting to maintain his composure. Otherwise, having a proxy who is coming apart or clinging to life by his fingernails can become a little irritating. That wouldn't make for a believable and enduring protagonist. The greater the punches you can take with the people and situations he's dealing with, the more measured the core of your story is. Marty acts as a counterweight. For the sake of the audience, he's sort of absorbing everything. I've had a number of opportunities to play that role in films and television shows. I enjoy taking the audience's point of view. I'm pretty excellent at being the straight guy.

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