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Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy join comic forces in ‘Identity Thief’

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Updated: February 5, 2013 2:43PM



NEW YORK — No matter how rich and famous they may be, all parents share some of the same issues. High among them: flying cross-country with the kids.

Jason Bateman, who has been up since 2 a.m., recounts the trek from Los Angeles to Manhattan with his wife, Amanda, and daughters Maple, 1, and Francesca, 6.

“As I’m flying over on the plane, Maple figured out how to make a really loud noise with her mouth. She started going ‘Ah, ah’ like a bird. It was the weirdest thing. All the other passengers are looking at me. All the headphones went on,” says Bateman, 44. “And I thought to myself, ‘Why did I do this?’ It’s a two-day trip, and I always want to bring them. It’s just so fun. There’s room service.”

Says Melissa McCarthy, who is flying solo on the East Coast while daughters Vivian, 6, and Georgette, 2, are back home with their dad, actor Ben Falcone: “It’s not real bright, but it’s part of your charm. I did not bring my kids. I got seven hours of sleep. It’s the first time in four years.”

Bateman is a bit rueful. “I was watching you on Letterman last night. You looked so well rested and were in such a good mood. I’m like, ‘That (expletive) didn’t bring her kids.’ And why would she?” he says to her.

In Bateman’s case, at least, art mimics life. Like the character he plays in “Identity Thief,” Bateman is all about his family. In the comedy, opening Friday, his corporate middleman Sandy has his identity stolen by a crafty Florida grifter played by McCarthy. As his finances implode and his credit crumbles, he flies from Denver to the Sunshine State to find her and have her arrested.

“It was important for this guy to really be (an everyman). Nothing bad could happen to him. He’s sweet, and his lake is placid, until she throws this big rock in the middle of it. Sandy seemed like a kind and meek central character, and that was fun to play,” says Bateman.

And his character’s unisex name was equally well thought-out and is one of the film’s running jokes. “We went through a long list of names. Gene and Aaron. But Sandy seemed right,” he says.

Despite both moving in top-tier comedy circles, Bateman and McCarthy had never met before this script came along. He went to the premiere of 2011’s Bridesmaids and was stunned by McCarthy’s portrayal of Megan, a woman so bold, so cocksure and yet so good-hearted that she strutted away with the movie. Bateman had been developing Identity Thief, and even though McCarthy’s role was originally written for a man, the script was revised and he pursued her for it.

“This one brings the noise,” Bateman says of his co-star. “In this, she played the character so humanely. That’s the line of work available to this woman, and it’s victimless. It’s not malicious or skeevy.”

McCarthy, after winning an Emmy in 2011 for her CBS series Mike & Molly and wowing audiences and tastemakers alike with her no-holds-barred turn in Bridesmaids, is Hollywood’s current hot commodity. She signed on after a casual lunch with Bateman and bought his pitch of playing a scammer with a killer left hook and a penchant for claiming to have fibromyalgia. And the end result is all the product of Bateman’s pursuit and planning.

“I found it undeniable when I read the script. It was tailored perfectly for (McCarthy),” says director Seth Gordon. “Everyone knows how funny she is and how relatable and winning, but the emotional complexity of this character is not something people expect, or how great an actress she is. Jason is wonderful in it and does that straight-man role better than anybody I know, but this shows a side of Melissa that a lot of people won’t see coming.”

Her character is precise, meticulous, crafty, physically tough, and a brawler when the need arises.

“There’s no apologies. That’s my favorite thing about her. I love that she’s stealing from people because she’s lonely. She’s found out that the way she can connect to people is through buying stuff. I love the mix that it’s really funny but also heartbreaking,” says McCarthy, 42.

McCarthy and Bateman sealed the deal in the most ordinary way possible, over a handshake and a smile.

“We had a meal and talked about what the concept was. And she was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ She was so casual about it that I knew I was going to get a call in traffic,” says Bateman, who predicted that her immediate acquiescence was a front.

McCarthy laughs, shakes her head. She had no intention of backing out, especially given that Horrible Bosses’ Gordon was directing. “We both had similar senses of humor. We both have an aversion to wacky,” she says.

That’s not to say the film features a refined or dainty McCarthy. There’s a rather, uh, raw sex romp with Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet, who proudly displays his posterior.

“America has waited long enough to see it,” says McCarthy. “I’m going to say that maybe he’s a speedwalker. Just throwing it out there.”

Films aside, both Bateman and McCarthy seem to have similar sensibilities. They are both understated in person, with none of the manic antics found in other comedians. And they both seem pleasant and courteous.

“It’s not too much of an effort to be kind. I think everyone is innately kind. Insecurities generate bad behavior. If you can either be accountable for your insecurities or do some therapy, either way, I think it’s human nature to be kind. It’s not that much of an effort for me to be nice. To not be nice would make it hard to sleep at night,” says Bateman.

As for McCarthy, “I refer to myself in the third person. Can you imagine?”

No, we can’t. McCarthy says she’s choosy about her roles; she just wrapped the summer comedy The Heat with Sandra Bullock and continues shooting Mike & Molly (9:30 p.m. ET Monday). She plans on doing the show “as long as they’ll have me. I had dinner with (co-star) Billy (Gardell) last night. We have the bizarrely nicest group.”

She’s not complaining about the demands of her surging career, or her ability to balance parallel projects with the needs of her family. “I’m not quite sure how I do it, but I waited a long time to just get a job and call myself an actress and that be the way I support myself. The fact that I have multiple opportunities to do that, I pinch myself every day,” she says.

She’s not as sanguine or dauntless as Sandy, and she lacks her character’s false bluster.

“Part of what is great about the bravado is that it is false, which I always find interesting. I’m certainly not shy, but I like playing it because I love those characters that are incredibly confident but really still a mess. I’m really happy in my life. I don’t storm around doing whatever the hell I want in my daily life,” she says.

Gordon calls McCarthy “the coolest, funniest, friendliest. This sums it up: My assistant had never worked on a film before this, and Melissa gave her a gift of a great chair for her on set as a welcome to the industry. That’s not something people do. It was special.”

Yet when you talk to her, the topics are ordinary in the best sense. Inevitably, all the chat veers back to family. Like all parents, famous or not, McCarthy and Bateman both commiserate about kids’ temper tantrums. His tip: Dig deep into your untapped reserves of patience. McCarthy, who’s now dealing with an older daughter who is very picky about her clothes, doesn’t have an answer.

“I know those fights. I tried ignoring. I tried soothing. I tried being louder. What if I went up and over them? My husband is always like, ‘None of it works. Nothing works.’ But I’m going to keep trying the ineffective stuff,” she says.

Her home life aside, McCarthy’s career is on the ascendance, but as anyone with a television knows, Hollywood isn’t typically kind to actors who aren’t a size zero. Might she be relegated to the kooky-best-friend roles?

McCarthy, who played the sidekick on Gilmore Girls, doesn’t need to worry about that, predicts Bateman.

“She’s way overqualified for that. She leapfrogged that with her performance in Bridesmaids. She’s so comfortable in her skin that I don’t think she’s going to be pigeonholed,” says Bateman. “She’s a woman that women would want to be. I admire how confident and talented and comfortable she is. She won’t ever be relegated to the drinking buddy. She’s all woman. She’s too smart to take those parts,” he says.

Says Gordon: “I totally understand the question, but she transcends everything because her talent is so raw and pure and she’s a force of nature. She will become an icon. She’s one of the comic greats.”

Gannett News Service



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