By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Spelling bees let children demonstrate their vocabulary prowess, though they are often rife with the drama of rivalry, pushy parents and pint-sized competitors driven to their limits to recall archaic words.
For actor Jason Bateman in his directorial debut "Bad Words," the spelling bee is the stage for a middle-aged man with a meticulous plan for revenge by exploiting a loophole in the rules.
"No one needs to see another spelling bee movie, that was a repellent to me when I read the script," Bateman said.
"Bad Words," in limited theaters on Friday and nationwide on March 28, stars Bateman as Guy Trilby, whose revenge motivations are painstakingly uncovered by a hassled journalist, played by Kathryn Hahn, as he progresses through tournaments and befriends an adorable 10-year-old contestant.
For the child actor portraying Guy's new friend, Chaitanya Chopra, Bateman wanted "a kid who had an undeniable sunshine and light and ease and lack of fear, something that would perfectly counterbalance all the cynicism and darkness" of Guy.
He chose Rohan Chand, an Indian-American from New York City who was 8 at the time of filming and had appeared in high-profile projects such as Showtime's "Homeland" TV series and last year's "Lone Survivor" film.
In "Bad Words," Rohan spends much of his screen time innocently ignoring Guy's foul mouth and sometimes racist insults, brings out Guy's inner soft side and accompanies him on a raucous night involving booze, pranks and a prostitute named Marzipan.
At the film's Los Angeles premiere, Rohan, accompanied by his parents, said his favorite part was a scene involving dropping a lobster into a toilet and watching an unsuspecting man get nipped in the nether regions.
"The innate quality he just has as a little guy, and that's what everybody really enjoys about him in the film, he's just so fresh and lovable," Bateman said of his co-star.
FROM THE PRAIRIE TO "BAD WORDS"
Bateman, 45, has been acting since the age of 10, when he was cast as James Cooper Ingalls in the TV series "Little House on the Prairie," an experience that he said influenced the way he incorporated the child actors in "Bad Words."
"Michael Landon was a director of a lot of those episodes as well as an actor in all those scenes with me, so that's where I learned a lot of how I treated Rohan on the set," he said.
Bateman said he waited until now to make his directorial debut, drawing on his years of experience in front of the camera to find funding for the film. "Bad Words," made for under $10 million, is distributed by Focus Features, a division of Comcast Corp's NBC Universal.
"It's hard to get somebody to write you a check for a few million dollars and say, 'Go make a movie.' It takes a lot of trust, and they've got to believe that you've got the know-how. That takes time to accrue," he said.
The film has so far received lukewarm reviews from critics, with Manohla Dargis at The New York Times writing that the film's appeal lies in "irresistibly disreputable characters engaging in socially unacceptable behavior."
After building a career through sitcoms such as "Valerie," Bateman carved out a niche playing the affable deadpan guy in dark comedies littered with cynicism and often absurdity, such as 2007's Juno" and 2011's "Horrible Bosses."
But it was his leading role as Michael Bluth in the FOX television series "Arrested Development," which was revived last year for a fourth season on Netflix, that the actor credits with changing how Hollywood perceived his talents.
"It was something that was vital to where I am today. Without that, I don't know if I'd even be in the business anymore," the actor said.
"I'm basically the straight man, I'm the proxy for the audience, and it's a great privilege to be able to be the lens through which the audience receives the eccentricity of that family," Bateman said of playing Michael Bluth.
Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for Netflix, said last year that there was "no question" the show would return. Bateman said he "knew nothing" about when it would be back for a fifth season or whether the DVD rental and online streaming service would make it into a movie.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Amanda Kwan)