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‘Office Christmas Party’ takes T. J. Miller down memory lane

Jason Bateman and T.J. Miller in "Office Christmas Party." | Glen Wilson/Paramount Pictures

NEW YORK — When “Office Christmas Party” was partially filmed in Chicago in the spring of 2015, it brought back a lot of important career memories for the movie’s star, T.J. Miller.

“It was crazy for me,” said Miller, sharing his thoughts about filming the R-rated holiday-themed comedy (opening Friday). “I came up in comedy doing stand-up at the Lincoln Lodge and at Second City. So, the most surreal moment of my life came doing this film, when I was walking over the bridge over the Chicago River with Jason Bateman.

“You see, we were filming our bridge scene below the plaza and the building where I used to work, as a legal secretary at a law firm, Patton & Ryan, while I was trying to make it as a stand-up at the same time. At lunchtime, I would go into someone’s office while they were at lunch to look out the window and down on that bridge. I’d think, ‘Will I ever be in movies or on the TV?’

“Then suddenly, here I was — with Jason Bateman — and I looked up at that building where I used to work and thought, ‘You see? I’m here with Jason Bateman in this big movie! … Totally surreal.”

The movie focuses on a desperate, last-ditch attempt by Miller’s Clay Vanstone character to prevent his tough-as-nails sister and company CEO (played by Jennifer Aniston) from closing the Chicago branch of their technology company. Clay thinks that throwing an over-the-top holiday office party will win over the guy controlling a business contract that would save the branch.

That fellow is Walter Davis, played by noted actor Courtney B. Vance. “When [directors Will] Speck and [Josh] Gordon told me they had cast Courtney, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming,” Miller said. “But then I saw how brilliant it was. In the beginning you see Courtney as people usually see him on-screen — very serious and controlled. But then, he makes a real turn and goes completely off the rails. His commitment to the comedy here was just as strong as the commitment he has always given to his dramatic roles.

“It’s off the charts. Frankly, I think he rivals some of the characters in ‘Animal House’ — including John Belushi!”

As Jason Bateman sat down to chat about “Office Christmas Party,” the actor smiled. “How did you like the way we destroyed your town?” he joked — referencing the wild antics at the bash noted in the movie’s title. “I must say, I still am blown away by the ideas the production design team came up for this film — especially the party’s aftermath!”

Bateman plays the company’s chief technical officer, who is constantly trying to rein in Clay’s nutty ideas and love of partying hearty.

Turning to his memories of shooting the movie in Chicago, Bateman noted, “We really got lucky. We filmed in the spring [of 2015] and a lot of money had been put into the budget for visual effects to create and augment any snow that might still be there. As it was, you guys didn’t have any snow for couple of months before we began shooting. But lo and behold, on the first day we started filming outside, it began snowing. It did so on the second day as well, and I believe it also snowed a bit on the third day. We got really, really fortunate, given this IS a Christmas movie!”

Asked for his own Christmas party memories, Bateman claimed, “I don’t recall a lot of them. Maybe the better ones I can’t remember,” he joked, adding, “No, I get soft and boring around the holidays.

“I like to watch my little girls really dig Christmas. They are 10 and about to be 5. So, the notion of Christmas is really coming on for the 5-year-old. However, the older girl is starting to get a little questionable about it, so it’s an interesting time to live through all that with them.”

Reflecting on all the crazy things that happen in “Office Christmas Party,” Bateman chuckled, “This film clearly proves you can have as wild a time in Chicago as you can have anywhere in the world — unless you follow the Bears this year! … Thank God for the Cubs! Now that was a reason to throw a big party!”