Nobody has already made a name for itself. The Bob Odenkirk-starring actioner topped the on-demand charts and the box office when it was released in the US. Now, the John Wick-style thriller has its sights set for a release across the pond in the UK – and in cinemas to boot.
Bob Odenkirk, best known for his comedy exploits on Mr. Show and, latterly, as shady lawyer Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad universe, may not seem like the perfect fit for a Keanu Reeves-type role filled with bullets and bruises. But, as director Ilya Naishuller explains in our interview, Odenkirk put in the work – and then some.
Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, a seemingly ordinary family man with an explosive past. When a home invasion goes badly wrong, Mansell brings out his decades of experience in a tale of revenge, Russians, and a stolen kitty cat bracelet.
Backed by the able hand of Naishuller, whose other feature film Hardcore Henry captured the imagination of fans with its unique first-person perspective, it became one of 2021’s surprise hits. However, things could have turned out very differently.
Speaking to GamesRadar+, Naishuller reveals how the project evolved over time, possible plans for a franchise, and the challenges behind filming a hard-hitting scene that later made its bow to an audience of millions at the Super Bowl – as well as working with movie legend Christopher Lloyd
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity and some spoilers for Nobody follow after the spoiler warning.
Nobody interview with director Ilya Naishuller
Ilya, for some Bob Odenkirk might not be an obvious fit for an action hero. Some generations might know him from Mr. Show, some from Breaking Bad. Why was he the right fit for Nobody and what qualities did he bring to the role that maybe even you didn’t expect?
Ilya Naishuller: In terms of qualities that I don’t think anybody expected was that Bob went out and trained for a year and a half and wanted to do it in an honest, real action star way. Not just phone it in and get a stunt double to do all the hard work. So when you have an actor who’s a fantastic dramatic actor and combine it with actual physical skills, it’s a very special treat.
For you, personally, what were some of the influences and inspirations for you when directing Nobody? John Wick seems like an obvious frame of reference, but what else was brought in and came to mind for you when making it?
IN: I think when I first met Bob and Derek Kolstad, the writer, it was a slightly different script. We started reworking it. There was a slightly different tone. My references were – I explained [it] to the guys: ‘Let’s imagine it’s a South Korean film made in America by a Russian director, that’s what we’re going to go for.’
Derek was a huge fan of South Korean cinema. Bob had seen a few things. We sat down and watched a couple movies and went from there. This is pre-Parasite, right, so when you say South Korea people are like ‘What? What are you talking about?’ So thank you Parasite for making it easier! [It’s] the tone of the character that’s driven by inner conflict rather than just exterior forces attacking him. That was I think the biggest takeaway from the South Korean approach.
I think I showed Bob “Bittersweet Life” and we watched Oldboy. You can never go wrong with watching Oldboy.
How different was that early tone?
It felt more light and more comedic. We wanted to keep the action and make it a little more gritty and more thriller-y rather than Bob kills a hundred people in 90 minutes, which was more of that in the beginning. This [draft] is more [character-based], which I think is very important.
One scene I want to talk about – and it’s the scene that drew a lot of people’s attention towards Nobody – is the scene from the trailer with the bus fight. Can you break that down a bit in terms of the challenges around filming it, the preparation – what was that like on set?
No action scene is easy to film. This is no exception. It was not particularly hard because we had a great stunt team. The real prep came from Bob training – we did a pre-vis of the fight and Bob went out and rehearsed it over and over again. We basically improvised very little on the shooting day.
In terms of technical prep, the entire bus is a soft floor to prevent the obvious injuries. The rest is just lots of rehearsing and muscle memory for everybody. In terms of the camera, there’s a simple shot of when the thugs are coming in prior to the fight. There’s a steadycam and Bob smiles for the first time in the film.
It seems like an easy shot to make: you get the camera you go and Bob sits there, Bob smiles, you get it. Unfortunately, the bus is a tight space. That’s the biggest complication for the DP and Pavel and myself as a director. You just have to make sure you don’t want to use too wide a lens. I’m not a fan of wide lenses. I’m not a huge fan of wide lens. I made my last movie [Hardcore Henry] only in one set of wide lens, so I’m kind of over that. It’s a challenge to make sure you have nice-looking shots in such a tight space – especially following frantic action without making it the shaky cam.
One thing I really admired about the film is it gets straight into the plot. There’s no let up – I counted and it’s around four minutes and you’re straight in. Was that a conscious decision on your part to go straight through with no wasted energy whatsoever?
If you’re making a summer film – this was originally a summer release, August 14 – I think the interesting challenge is how do you make this a character-driven story and still keep it as vastly entertaining as possible? That was a lot of fun.
We had versions in the drafts where it took longer. Originally, the bus fight was on page 42 on the first draft that I read which is 42 minutes to get in. It’s a wonderful 42 minutes; Derek can make those 42 minutes read like 10 pages.
But it still took too long. I remember looking up Oldboy, and I remember the very first fight was the 23rd minute, but the real fight – the corridor sequence – was minute 41 or 42. I was thinking, ‘Oldboy is different, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour movie.’ It can get away with that. We can’t.
So, it was the question of getting right into the action. The wonderful thing with Bob is you don’t need 20 seconds of him looking sour and dour to sell he’s not in a good mood. You have five seconds and you get right over it.
When we put the assembly together it was a longer picture, but it just didn’t need to be. I’m a big fan of getting in, doing the job, and getting out while people still want more.
Christopher Lloyd has some real standout scenes. What was it like working with such a huge movie legend?
It was fantastic, that’s the most honest answer. It was fantastic.
He was very gentle. In the first call we had with him where we wanted him for the part, I had an idea with the old man wearing a lot of shotguns. I remember talking to him saying “Mr. Lloyd, we’re going to get a bunch of props because they’re heavy.’ One shotgun is not that light, two progressively so.
He said – and this is my horrible Christopher Lloyd impression – [horrible Christopher Lloyd impression]: “Ilya, you know how sometimes in movies actors sometimes have coffee cups and there’s no coffee? The audience always knows.”
So, the shotguns were real until the hard action started. He took it very seriously, which is great. It’s the energy of the crew, and me, and Bob, and everybody – we all believed we were doing something special. Everybody who comes into that circle, they feel it and they get with the program.
Every time he appeared on set – I hate to use the word ‘magical’ but it’s going to be the word magical. He’s just sitting there in a chair and I’m going “That’s Chris Lloyd and he’s kicking ass” and he’s so amazing. He’s very kind and sweet about everything.
I think the first shot we did with him was him and Bob sitting down and asking “How are you? You don’t look okay.” They did it one take, it was perfect. I’m sitting there like, “I guess my job’s done.” Obviously, let’s get another one for safety but that’s the wonderful thing working with fantastic actors. They know what they’re doing – if the scene is written correctly.
MAJOR Nobody spoilers beyond this point!
You have some seriously creative deaths in the film. Does one stand out as a favorite? And what was one that was particularly tricky or interesting to film?
Great question. I think it was Yulian’s death, our villain. I always thought to myself that if I ever do action movies, I’ll always make sure the villain goes out in a spectacular, unexpected, fresh way. I don’t think anyone went out the way he does in this movie.
That was fun because it’s a combination of [it being] not the most simple stunt, good CGI and great special effects. That was fun to put together, so I think that’s my firm favorite.
Apart, of course, as my cameo as one of the killers – that’s my favorite death scene! That’s my foray into the world of act-ing! If the director thing doesn’t work out, I’ve always got that.
Can you envision Nobody turning into a John Wick-style trilogy or franchise? There’s scope maybe for a prequel with Hutch’s past life?
I think the character has more films in him. In today’s day and age, there isn’t a single film being done by a studio where they’re not talking about potentially having a franchise. That’s just the way the business is. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
We did discuss what would happen if there were – if there’s demand for more. There’s definitely things we could do that would be exciting to follow up the story.
You really seem to capture the imagination with your projects, from Hardcore Henry to Nobody. What’s next for you?
I was taught to have a few irons in the fire – because you never know. Potentially, there’s a film based on a New York Times bestseller called Leaving Berlin. I have a thing I’ve written with a friend of mine… which will be a Neo-Western.
Nobody is out in UK cinemas from June 9.