Bob Odenkirk is accustomed to playing a character whose greatest weapon is his gift of gab, but in Nobody, his action movie debut, the Illinois native is finally letting his fists do the talking. Written and produced by two-thirds of the John Wick brain trust, Derek Kolstad and David Leitch, Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody centers on Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell, whose dark past is unlocked by a home invasion. After his own Los Angeles home was burglarized twice, Odenkirk pitched the idea for Nobody to Leitch and his producing partner Kelly McCormack. And while they were putting the movie together, Odenkirk spent nearly two years training at 87eleven, the same facility that turned Keanu Reeves into John Wick and Charlize Theron into Atomic Blonde’s Lorraine Broughton.
Once Odenkirk showed up to the set of Nobody in Winnipeg, Canada, the detailed action set pieces provided him a much-needed release after the trauma his family endured by way of two break-ins.
“I channeled all those feelings into it. It was absolutely cathartic, too,” Odenkirk tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Getting to fake beat the shit out of those guys on the bus left me feeling a little bit lighter.”
Odenkirk, who’s currently shooting the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul in Albuquerque, New Mexico, expects the ending of Saul to have a significant impact on the audience’s perception of Breaking Bad.
“I’ve been told by [co-creator] Peter Gould that when Better Call Saul wraps up, everyone will see Breaking Bad in a different light,” Odenkirk shares. “I think there are more amazing things to come that will comment on or inform the actual incidents of Breaking Bad in a surprising way.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Odenkirk also discusses his two-year training regimen for Nobody and why Better Call Saul’s Jimmy McGill has yet to tell Kim about Chuck’s last words.
So what was more difficult: 18 shooting days on Better Call Saul’s “Bagman” or 87eleven action training?
(Laughs.) Well, 87eleven action training was a lot more of a time commitment. For years, I went two or three times a week for three hours, but yeah, “Bagman” was harder. Two weeks in the desert, 110-degree heat, 12-hour days — that was harder. I’ll tell you what, though; I liked the training. I don’t like going to the gym, but this is training for a reason. You’re using your mind and your body. You have to think as you’re learning this choreography. So you’re always learning, and it’s a lot more fun to work out if you’re learning stuff.
When I saw the Nobody trailer back in December, the first detail I noticed was Hutch’s travel mug, which featured a WM logo that was very similar to the WM logo that Jimmy McGill designed on Better Call Saul season two. Was Hutch’s WM travel mug a coincidence or an homage?
(Laughs.) It’s a coincidence and an homage. Obviously, I did not design the logo, but when I saw it, it made me smile. Maybe the designer did that on purpose; I don’t know. Of course, you just don’t even think that Better Call Saul people, who pay attention, are going to go, “Hey, wait a second!” (Laughs.)
You’re used to playing a character who resolves conflict by talking his way out of dangerous situations, but in Hutch’s case, he’s able to turn just about anything into a weapon. Did you enjoy being the physical aggressor for a change?
Yeah, Jimmy can be an aggressor with his thoughts and plans. He can really undermine people or trick them to win the day, but he doesn’t fight physically. Of course, in Nobody, Hutch seems to be a little bit shut down as opposed to Jimmy. He’s all internal and he’s kept it all inside. So he has nowhere for that energy to go until it explodes out of his fists. The fight sequences were the most fun I’ve had since being in a comedy writers’ room.
You’ve mentioned elsewhere that there were three incidents from your own life that inspired Nobody including two break-ins. Are you the kind of actor who will channel those memories and feelings for a scene like the bus fight?
For sure — and during the bus fight. I never really got training in acting, so all I can ever do is draw from the feelings and experiences that I’ve had. This Mike Nichols book that Mark Harris just wrote [Mike Nichols: A Life] is so great because they talked about Mike’s way of directing and how he got people to know what he wanted. If a first date didn’t go well, he’d get people to know the feeling he wanted through a memory. You can imagine a shared memory that people have of awkwardness, sadness or whatever it is. So I think that’s how all actors work, but maybe there are some who don’t. That’s how I work, and I channeled all those feelings into it. It was absolutely cathartic, too. Getting to fake beat the shit out of those guys on the bus left me feeling a little bit lighter. (Laughs.)
Whether it was Saul’s altercation with Jesse (Aaron Paul) in season 5B’s “Confessions” or being threatened in the desert during his debut episode, I recall you saying how much you enjoyed your few moments of action on Breaking Bad. Did those instances whet your appetite for full-fledged action a la Nobody?
I just like physical stuff in movies and TV shows. As much as words and situations can cut a character open emotionally, violence — or even something as simple and common as clumsiness — can really open you up emotionally to whomever is seeing you. When we started Better Call Saul, I told [co-creators] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] to put this guy through the wringer. I’ve dumpster dived, I’ve dragged my ass through the desert, I’ve drunk urine. (Laughs.) A person really shows their heart and vulnerability in a big way when there’s an unexpected physical altercation of some kind.
I’m convinced that there’s nobody better than you at phone acting, especially payphones, something Better Call Saul and The Post have demonstrated. Did Mr. Show sketches like “Phone Sex,” “Kidnapper” and “Change for a Dollar” help you develop this prowess to some extent?
(Laughs.) “Kidnapper” is the best! I don’t think they contributed, but every time I do phone acting, I try to get a little better at it. So I like to think that I’m the best at phone acting and fake waking up. These are the things that they should teach in acting class at Juilliard. Phone acting with no one on the other side of the line, and fake waking up…
Rhea Seehorn: (Chimes in from the background.) And fake eating!
Odenkirk: Yeah, and fake eating, which I’m really good at too. It’s where you don’t eat anything. You don’t even take a bite, but it looks like you’re eating a big mountain of food. Sometimes, you’ve got to use a spit bowl, but it’s more fun to try to trick people and do this half-mime thing. You take an incredibly infinitesimal amount of food, but you mime your chewing and swallowing in the most delicate and modulated manner so that anyone watching is convinced that you took a massive bite.
In the first John Wick movie, John (Keanu Reeves) had a tough time putting Daniel Bernhardt’s character away, but in Nobody, Hutch handled Bernhardt’s character fairly quickly. Thus, should John Wick start looking over his shoulder? Could Hutch give him a run for his money?
(Laughs.) No, John Wick is perfectly fine. Keep in mind, I don’t think that their paths would cross. John Wick lives in this netherworld of bad guys and cool places with glass walls. Hutch doesn’t go there. He lives in the suburbs of a medium-sized city in the middle of nowhere. He’s not going to ever meet John Wick unless John Wick goes home to visit his parents or his brother who’s an insurance adjuster.
Within the films themselves, there aren’t any direct connections, but has a potential crossover been discussed at least?
Gee, I don’t know. You’d have to ask [screenwriter] Derek Kolstad, but I don’t think so. I think there’s a magic quality to John Wick that Hutch doesn’t have. Hutch is more grounded I’d say. The world of John Wick is almost like gods and monsters. There’s a magical super reality to it, but that’s just my appraisal of it.
Shifting to Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s unusual manner of grieving frustrated Kim a great deal in season four…
Was it an unusual manner? We talked a lot about it, but everyone grieves in their own way. You’ve heard that said before, but it’s really true. There can be people close to you who die, but you kind of go numb, you don’t feel anything and you don’t cry for months or years, even. And then there could be a stranger, whose death you hear about or see on the news, and it shakes you deeply. Jimmy didn’t grieve in the way that Kim wanted him to. She wanted him to show and feel this massive gulf of sorrow and loss, but he just wasn’t there yet. He had so much resentment towards his brother [Michael McKean’s Chuck McGill] — and justifiably in many ways. So Jimmy just wasn’t there to grieve like that, at least not for a while.
Despite the conflict that his manner of grieving created between them, Jimmy never told Kim about Chuck’s last words: “The truth is you’ve never mattered all that much to me.” Why hasn’t he told Kim about this exchange when it would explain so much of his recent behavior?
Honestly, it’s a good question. I’m not sure she would believe him, but also, I don’t believe Chuck. If anyone says that to you, it probably means you mean way too much to them. (Laughs.) That’s why they’re saying that. It’s because they’re trying to push all those feelings away in order to stop feeling them. But Jimmy certainly believed him in that moment, and Chuck’s words were devastating to him. It’s also a tribute to Michael McKean’s acting.
Once Jimmy left Chuck’s house in utter silence, the audience could recognize that Chuck seemingly regretted what he said, but Jimmy wasn’t privy to that moment, obviously.
Yeah, I just don’t believe Chuck for a second that Jimmy didn’t mean much to him. He meant way too much to him, frankly.
In Breaking Bad’s “Sunset,” Hank (Dean Norris) had Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse cornered while they were hiding inside the RV. So Walt called Saul to get them out of it, and that’s when Saul had Francesca (Tina Parker) call Hank to pretend that Marie (Betsy Brandt) had been in a car accident. Once Hank left in a hurry, the show cut to Francesca, who looked upset and asked for a raise. Saul also had an anguished look on his face as he broke his burner phone and reflected for a moment. When I watch that scene now, I’m able to tell myself that they’re not only protecting their golden goose in Walter, but they’re also remembering Kim’s serious car accident from six years earlier. They know exactly how Hank is feeling because they probably got a call about Kim that was just like the one they gave him. So this is my roundabout way of saying that Better Call Saul has already recontextualized Breaking Bad in a rather rewarding way. Are you looking forward to watching Breaking Bad someday through the lens of Better Call Saul?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, I’ve been told by Peter Gould that when Better Call Saul wraps up, everyone will see Breaking Bad in a different light. I don’t know what that means. I don’t have any specifics beyond that, except that he knows what happens throughout this whole season of Saul and I don’t. But I think there are more amazing things to come that will comment on or inform the actual incidents of Breaking Bad in a surprising way.
Each show makes the other one better, and that moment with Saul on Breaking Bad’s “Sunset” is one of the few examples where he seems to be ruminating on his past life.
Well, that’s amazing. I don’t even remember that moment, but it’s really cool that you’ve pointed that out to me. I have to watch it again.
You just mentioned that you don’t know the entirety of Better Call Saul’s final season. Do you prefer to take things script by script, or would you rather know everything right now?
I way prefer to only know what my character knows, which is the little bit that’s right in front of his face. I don’t think Jimmy is particularly good at long-term thinking, and it’s one of his greatest weaknesses. He’s great at cooking up a devious plot, a clever override or undermining something. But he doesn’t think ten steps down. He only thinks two steps ahead, and he gets very excited about his notions. My feeling is he’s growing in self-awareness, and I like that very much. I’m an older person playing a younger person, and he’s younger in every way. He’s physically younger, he’s mentally younger and that’s really the hardest part about playing him. It’s his naivete about himself, but thankfully, that’s going away like it does in a real person. He’s definitely gained a sense of uncertainty and hesitancy, a lot having to do with the “Bagman” incidents. But it’s the whole snowball of all the incidents across the five years of this story that they’ve shown, and I really like it. I like that he has this self-awareness, and he knows now that his instincts, while exciting and fun, have very often led him into a worse place than he started.
There’s a misconception about Better Call Saul, as well as prequel storytelling in general. A number of people believe that if a Better Call Saul character wasn’t shown on Breaking Bad, then they’re undoubtedly condemned to death. However, characters can exist off-camera, and when you invent the past like Better Call Saul has done, you’re also recontextualizing the future like that moment I over-explained from Breaking Bad’s “Sunset.”
I completely agree with you. That’s not at all true. In fact, there’s some version of life where Kim and Jimmy stay married and live a Mary Matalin and James Carville-type situation. (Laughs.) Kim would be a superpowered lawyer with the white-shoe law firm, and he would be the complete scumbag ambulance chaser across town. And at night, they go home, take off their disguises and be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s where we’re going to go, but in real life, those weird and seemingly conflicting relationships can be very real. They can happen. It’s probably easy to think that Kim dies, or that anyone who’s not visible passes away. But there’s still a lot of people who die on these shows; the stakes are high. But I’m with you in that anything could be the case.
Nobody is now playing in theaters nationwide.