Bob Odenkirk’s new film, Nobody, isn’t quite what you think it might be based solely on the marketing. From the trailer, we are kind of led to believe Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell is your average, everyday working stiff. And he certainly appears that way to the outside world, but he’s actually a former assassin who, when pushed too far by a home break-in, returns to a life of fighting crime: and in this case that means taking on the entire Russian mob himself. Nobody is much more Atomic Blonde than it is Falling Down. Think, maybe, Atomic Bob.
“Action star” is maybe the last genre for Odenkirk to conquer. Between Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, Fargo, and his, at this point, pretty legendary comedy bona fides – between Mr. Show and SNL – he has pretty much all the other bases covered. So Odenkirk started working with a trainer to get into fighting shape (literally) and now he’s presenting himself to you as an action star. Well, at least an action star who there’s still the possibility he might lose.
Ahead, Odenkirk explains why Nobody is a strangely therapeutic movie to watch right now (and it’s hard to explain, but he’s right) and he talks about the origins of some of the most famous SNL sketches of all time. We know them as Chris Farley’s Matt Foley/motivational speaker sketches. but Odenkirk wrote that character for Farley and performed the role of the father at Second City, a role we’d eventually see Phil Hartman play on SNL. Odenkirk has called it the thing he’s most proud of in his career and, ahead, he explains just how it all came together.
This movie is strangely therapeutic. I don’t know if that makes sense.
No, Mike! You’re not the first person to say that!
Okay, I thought I was the weird one.
No. A lot of people. Here’s what people are saying. Somebody said, “This was a movie I needed, and I didn’t even know I needed it.” And I’m going to tell you, we’re cooped up for a year, there’s no one to strike back at.
There’s nothing to hit. There’s nothing to yell at. There’s nothing to push out of the way. Every day, you wake up, you can’t get the vaccine yet. You have to just be cool. You just have to suck it up. You just have to maintain. And it wears you down. And this movie is a guy who has been worn down. He’s been sucking it up. He’s been holding his breath. And I would argue it’s his own fault. Everybody’s got to find their outlets, but he didn’t. And he has this notion of being undercover, which maybe he’s taken that too far, and he explodes. And this is purely happenstance. We made this movie, there was no pandemic yet, but I do think it’s relatable. It’s like, yeah. That’s how I feel. I want a Russian gang to walk on a bus, so I can beat the living out of them.
Oh yeah, that scene got put on the internet today. I re-watched it.
As an exclusive clip, not illegally.
The whole scene?
At least part of it.
You’ve seen the movie?
Yes, I have.
They don’t show me falling out of the bus, do they?
I don’t think it’s the whole thing. That scene goes on a long time.
Good. Please, don’t put the whole thing. I want the audience to come to the theater and see it.
You know what movie I kept thinking of during this? I kept thinking of True Lies…
Because you play this guy, and it makes some sense that no one realizes his past. In True Lies, Jamie Lee Curtis is like, “Harry? He’s just a computer salesman. What do you mean he’s a spy?” And it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s like, well, yes, of course, he’s a spy. I can believe both sides of this with you.
Listen, when I was thinking about why I wanted to do and what I want to do, there were so many things that drove me to ask if I could do an action movie. And then search for a writer and try to find somebody who wants to do it. And I got some positive appreciation or interest almost from the get-go, which really surprised me. But I thought, I can really be that guy. I can be the guy you genuinely don’t think he’s going to be okay. You don’t think he’s going to beat these guys up! You think he really is just a regular dad. And I can play him with reticence and uncertainty and, hopefully, make that authentic. And that’s a fresh thing that you haven’t seen. Because most of the action stars of the last 10 or 15 years literally behave like robots that kill. And they sort of switch into this mode of “kill mode,” and they dispense with everyone. And that’s fun to watch. But I thought one thing I could do that would be different, a contribution, something unique, would be: you really don’t think this guy’s going to make it through the fight. When I say that line, “I’m going to fuck you up.” I really try to say it with doubt in my eyes.
And then he has some problems. Oh, so I looked up the clip. It’s 1 minute and 12 seconds, that’s it.
So it’s not the whole bus scene?
It’s not the whole bus.
The bus fight was so important. Because it was like the planting a flag of what I think I want to show you and what I want to try to do and how far this character can go further than you think. And also to do it with no irony and no safety valve of comedy, just pure, blazing rage.
Speaking of the pure, blazing rage. When you were deciding to do this, was this the thing missing from your resume? Because you’ve got almost everything else covered. You said, “You know what? I need to play a fighting machine.”
No, I don’t need to do it. But yes, I was fully aware of the outlandish distance that it inhabits from everything else I’ve done and where I started my career. On the other hand, I would argue that it really is just an extension of the character I play on Saul. It is an extension of the earnest, fighting guy, who’s trying to achieve something and never quits. I know it’s crazy. And I think really the craziest thing about it is not the fighting, it’s the lack of irony in the character. For a person who comes from comedy, where all we did was make fun of heightened emotion – earnest emotion, earnest drama – to go to a place of action genre? Where it’s utterly earnest and kind of big feelings played simply, that is a real journey. And that, to me, is the joy of being an actor. To do things that are far, far away from everything you’ve done so far.
You mentioned Better Call Saul. Were you filming this around the same time as that past season?
I shot this movie in October, of 2019, three weeks after we finished season five.
Because I noticed while watching last season that you were, not that you’re not always an in-shape human being, but you were very in-shape for that last season, and especially when you were wearing short sleeve shirts.
I’m not bulked up like a Marvel superhero
You had some guns though. I saw them.
Yeah. But I think I have the guns that he did, could get if he lifted those goddamn weights he has that are sitting in the corner of his room. I still wanted to look like a regular guy, maybe one who works out regularly, but otherwise not Superman, and I think I do. I started training in 2017. In February of 2017.
Oh, wow. Okay.
I started training with Daniel Bernhardt, who’s maybe the greatest stunt actor on planet Earth right now. And he’s one of the guys I beat the shit out of in the bus. And you’ve seen him in Atomic Blonde and Barry. He was amazing in Barry. I mean, Daniel, he’s really the fucking best. And the fact that he took the time to train me for two-and-a-half years is a tribute to his patience and his kindness and generosity. So I trained, and then when I would shoot Saul. I would train here, at a gym, and Daniel would send me videos of things to do. But, basically, I just was steady at it for two-and-a-half-years before we shot.
A couple of months ago I was reading how you said the “Motivational Speaker” sketch from SNL with Chris Farley is your favorite thing you’ve ever gotten to do, writing it by yourself in a small Chicago apartment. I’ve always wondered, was that ever based on something you saw? Like a local commercial in Chicago or something?
Well, I mean, it was based a little bit on Chris Farley’s improv from the night that I wrote it. We had done the improv set at Second City and he had played a coach of a high school team. It was some scene where people were doing anti-drug speeches, and he played a version of Matt Foley. Which he’d done in his life before that, but had none of the backstory, the “van down by the river.” It had none of that. It was not a motivational speaker. He was the high school coach, but he did some of the moves. “You can’t, because you don’t get it.”
And he was berating the kids in that way. I just gave it a story, but it was a pretty unique story. And I think it landed really well. There’s a lot I’ve written, thousands of comedy sketches, and I can list the five or seven that came out exactly the way they’re done and that worked so well. So it’s really special. A special piece to me. And, additionally, playing it on stage for seven performances a week with Second City for the summer that I was there, was probably just pure … it was pure joy.