Jason Bateman mostly plays friendly, kind guys you'd be happy to hang out with. Then there's his misanthropic, bitter Guy Trilby, a grown-up who muscles his way into a children's spelling bee in the new film "Bad Words."
But Bateman, who not only stars in the film but made his directorial debut with it, has sympathy for his devilish character. "He is a gentleman that has had his feelings hurt," he said during a visit to TODAY Monday. "He's not as smart as you or me or our viewing public here. He's not well-equipped to ... lick his wounds. So he's doing something kind of petulant and impulsive here, and he is crashing a spelling bee to kind of extract some revenge."
With a lot of children on the set, Bateman, who also directed the film, said he had to reach back into his own days as a child actor — one of his first roles was on "Little House on the Prairie," where he recurred from 1981-82 — to remember how that show's actor and occasional director Michael Landon treated him.
"He took such good care of all of us little kids," said Bateman. "I found myself recalling a lot of those memories about how I liked the set to be, so I wasn't so scared or if I was bored he'd make it fun."
And despite the film's focus on spelling, Bateman may not have become a better speller in the process. "I'm better than my wife, that's all that counts," he said. "I was not a great speller."
And when challenged by Savannah Guthrie on a particular word in the film (floccinaucinihilipilification), there was no chance Bateman was going to attempt to spell it on live TV. "Do you have a double segment?" he quipped, noting that on the set the word was written on multiple cue cards so he could shift his gaze while appearing to spell it.
Nor did he ever learn what it meant. "I'm just a dumb actor," he chuckled.
"Bad Words" opens in theaters on March 28.