Jason Bateman knows a thing or two about making people laugh. Whether it’s as part of the ensemble behind the hilarious Arrested Development television series, or in movies ranging from Dodgeball to Juno and Horrible Bosses, Bateman has made a career out of making people laugh on screen. But prior to this weekend’s Zootopia, where Bateman plays a sly fox named Nick Wilde, the actor had never tried to crack jokes in a Disney animated feature, and he realized, in doing so, that it taught him something totally fresh and new about his approach to humor.

When I had the chance to interview Jason Bateman with regards to Zootopia, I asked him about the difficult process of line-reading jokes in a sound booth, and not being able to play off of another person, the way Bateman is used to doing comedy. While he admits that the process has its challenges, he told me that he learned:
There’s this little recipe that you have to hit, pretty well, to get somebody to laugh. And it’s a combination of the way in which you say something, with the facial expression that you have, married with the body language that you have, etc. … All of this stuff really has to kind of coalesce each time you want to make somebody laugh. … The fact that I’m just reading lines, that I’m just providing the voice, it’s just a fraction of what needs to go into really a successful laugh.

No matter how many animated films Hollywood produces year after year, I never grow tired of peeling back the onion to figure out how the process works. Action operates differently in the animated genre. Comedy operates differently, as well, and I love picking the brains of the people responsible for the behind-the-scenes creativity. Bateman’s a veteran at comedy, and yet, the act of finding the humor in a Disney comedy was something foreign to him. It sounds like working on Zootopia taught him a new approach to comedy, one that I assume he’ll try to bring to future projects.

Here’s a longer interview with Jason Bateman:
In Disney’s Zootopia, Jason Bateman voices a sly fox who begrudgingly helps a rookie rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as she works to crack her first case. The animated gem opens in theaters on Friday, and we will have plenty more coverage from our interviews with the cast as the weekend approaches.   

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