Bob Odenkirk, the 58-year-old actor who started his Hollywood career as a comedy writer before scoring Emmy nominations for his lead role in Better Call Saul, isn’t the likeliest pick to become the next John Wick.
Best known for playing a raspy-voiced, fast-talking lawyer on TV, Odenkirk has never been a Marvel superhero. He does not possess a black belt in any martial art. What he has instead is something else entirely, according to Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller, the director behind the new Odenkirk-starring, Wick-level action movie Nobody.
“He has heart,” Naishuller tells Inverse. “With an action-thriller starring someone who hasn’t done that before, the goal for me was to make sure every moment I had was to make Bob look good. I made sure to tick all the boxes I imagined we could tick.”
In Nobody, a buzzy new thriller that’s been positively compared to the Wick films (not surprising when you learn Nobody shares DNA through John Wick producer David Leitch and screenwriter Derek Kolstad), Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a suburban dad with a boring job and a bored family. After a home invasion, Hutch finds himself in the crosshairs of a Russian mobster, compelling Hutch to fight using his skills as a former contract killer for the CIA.
Originally scheduled to begin shooting in September 2018, a delay of one year gave more time for Odenkirk to get into killer shape. For Odenkirk, the journey took two years total of training with veteran martial artist Daniel Bernhardt inside 87Eleven, a studio and stunt house that honed the action of John Wick (2014), Atomic Blonde (2017), and Hobbs & Shaw (2019).
(Following a split at 87Eleven, Nobody is officially a product of the separate 87North, but Odenkirk’s training took place at 87Eleven.)
The delay didn’t just give Odenkirk more time to master the art of fighting. It also gave the filmmakers time to iron out its ass-kicking protagonist on paper.
“We had a lot of time to rewrite the film, more time [for Odenkirk] to get physically into the right shape,” says Naishuller. “That takes time, especially when you start not at the age of 25. It took a lot of dedication.”
Naishulla says that the hardest thing for Odenkirk wasn’t the training, but the humiliation.
While Nobody was in pre-production, so too were films like John Wick: Chapter 3 and Hobbs & Shaw. For months, the facilities at 87Eleven were crowded with bonafide action stars taking on twelve (or more) stunt guys at the same time.
On the other side of the gym was Odenkirk, struggling to figure out a fight scene with just one.
“It was not easy for him.”
“It was a little humiliating when you had Jason Statham and Keanu Reeves in this little boxed-off space in this huge hangar, doing one versus 12 [men]. I went to Bob, who was practicing against one, and he was sweating,” says Naishuller. “It was not easy for him in the slightest.”
Naishuller captured an iPhone video of Odenkirk during training, which informed the precise tone of Odenkirk’s portrayal in Nobody.
“I remember thinking, ‘I hope we make this movie,’” Naishuller says. “Because Bob is exciting. Watching that dictated how we should portray the character. He should be average in the coolest sense. He’s a stumbling hero. He makes mistakes, he gets punched a lot. He bleeds. Yet he manages to have a good time underneath all of that.”
One of the movie’s most important scenes is a brutal fight between Hutch and a few gangsters on a city bus. Production received the bus just ten days before the cameras started to roll. Rehearsals started immediately inside the bus, while the crew padded the interior flooring.
“We wanted it to be claustrophobic,” says Naishuller. “This allowed for more close-ups than usual in an action scene, because it’s fun to see what the character is thinking. With an actor like Bob, it would be criminal to underuse that strong side of his.”
Supervising stunt coordinator Greg Rementer choreographed the scene, which was completed in a blazing fast two and a half days.
“We knew before shooting exactly what we were going to do,” says the director. “It’s easy to improvise when you know the ground rules and what the plan is. Bob was so prepared and Greg knew what he was doing.”
Naishuller isn’t new to action movies. He made his feature directorial debut in 2015 with the experimental Hardcore Henry, a movie that took visual cues from first-person shooter video games. Nobody isn’t as profoundly influenced by games as Henry was, but Naishuller says games and movies both share a commonality of escalation.
“On a subconscious level you understand the further the game or film goes, you elevate stakes,” he says. “That’s very video game-y, but that’s how you do a movie in the first place. [In Nobody] we start with fists, then knives, then guns, then grenades. There’s no point starting with bazookas and going to fist fights.”
(It’s at this moment Naishuller stops himself, believing this concept might actually “work.” He jokes to Inverse he’s already brainstorming the fight scene in his head.)
In the lead-up to Nobody, critics and audiences started calling it “Bob Odenkirk’s John Wick.” Naishuller welcomes the comparisons: “I was told a long time back by a smart and successful artist that if you’re compared to something people love, you shut up and take it as a compliment.”
What’s more, Naishuller says Nobody wouldn’t exist without the John Wick movies setting key industry precedents, namely that there’s still a paying audience for hard-R action movies without superheroes.
“The trailer is cut to be as John Wick as possible, because precedent sells,” Naishuller says. “Without John Wick there would be no Nobody. Without [John Wick creators] David [Leitch] and Chad [Stahelski] and Keanu and a hundred other people, we wouldn’t be able to make this movie at the studio level. We are standing on the shoulders of a giant franchise.”
But Naishuller believes when audiences see Nobody, “the comparisons kind of stop.” Unlike John Wick, Odenkirk’s protagonist isn’t forced to come back or seek revenge.
“Life is not about sequels.
“The difference is Bob’s character doesn’t need to go back, he wants to,” says Naishuller. “He’s addicted to violence, to an exciting life. Nobody is a different beast. I know Bob is a different actor from Keanu. Nobody is a deeper film. There’s more happening below the surface.”
But Nobody is still easy to explain thanks to that other hitman pushed to the edge. “It’s John Wick with Bob Odenkirk,” says Naishuller. “You’re either in or you’re out.”
With the impressive box office for Nobody, released during a pandemic no less, Naishuller is resistant to talk about sequels — for now.
“My gears start turning when I know there’s demand,” he says. “If that happens, I’ll start thinking. Most importantly, people are enjoying this one. We’re enjoying that people are enjoying it. If it does happen, it’ll be the true stamp of mission accomplished. But life is not about sequels. Life is about entertaining audiences, and we’ve done that.”
Nobody is now in theaters.