STACK caught up with director Ilya Naishuller ahead of the trailer launch for Universal’s new action-thriller, Nobody.
A terrifying real life home invasion led Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk to ponder how he might have better handled the experience had he been physically prepared.
His quest for personal clarity on the traumatic robbery brought him to screenwriter Derek Kolstad and ultimately to Russian director Ilya Naishuller, who has transformed the usually mild-mannered middle-aged actor into a badass killer in the new action-thriller, Nobody.
Echoing Liam Neeson’s desperate father in Taken, Odenkirk’s former contract killer Hutch Mansell, aka Nobody, will stop at nothing to protect his family.
While Naishuller welcomes the comparison to Taken, he also references John Wick, given that Nobody is executive produced by Wick producer David Leitch, Odenkirk working with many of Keanu Reeves’ action advisors.
Odenkirk’s own home invasion had a huge impact. “It’s not my story to tell but I think I can say that Bob felt like less of a man because he did not resort to violence. It’s definitely Bob’s baby, which I was allowed to raise,” says Naishuller, who trained with Brit director Roland Joffe and legendary Russian producer/director Timur Bekmambetov before cutting his action chops directing Hardcore Henry in 2015.
“Bob told me he thought Hardcore Henry was very funny, which I took as a big compliment since I’ve been a fan of Bob’s since Mr. Show in the ‘90s.
“They wanted an action director who could bring something else, because anybody can direct action,” says the director who flew from his home in Moscow to talk with Odenkirk.
Hired five hours after his pitch, he spent a year in development during which they worked on the script while Odenkirk hit the gym.
“Nobody is a story about a guy who’s a James Bond type of character, not the martini playboy guy, but the more recent versions. He’s traveling the world and killing bad guys with explosives and having a grand old time. By the time he hits his late-30s, he’s ready to start a proper life, a human life – and he has no idea what’s that like. Mentally, that’s got to be very complicated to let go of his past,” explains Naishuller.
As married man and father, Odenkirk’s Hutch is handling his new life as well as he can… until he suffers a home invasion. It’s just too much to bear when his young daughter’s room is raided, leading to Nobody’s classic line, “Give me the goddamn kitty cat bracelet” when he finally confronts the robbers.
“Nobody is a guy who is addicted to action and for 20 years, he hasn’t had a sip from that bottle and now he’s in the bar and the shots are lined up and everyone’s drinking. He needs an excuse to drink and then the excuse presents itself and here we go,” Naishuller offers as an analogy.The director reckons the older-man-turned-hero trope exemplified by Taken is popular simply because it’s relatable.
“As much as I love Breaking Bad, I love Better Call Saul more because Saul is not a genius in chemistry. Saul is a guy who constantly makes the wrong decision.
“So when you see a guy in his 50s kicking ass, I relate to that more than when I see a guy who’s my age in much better shape, simply because the older man is the underdog. At first the bad guys don’t even take him seriously because he’s just an old dude, until he deconstructs them. Fully.”
Odenkirk was in fighting shape: “Bob never asked for a stunt guy. Instead he went to the gym with some of the best trainers in the world including Daniel Bernhardt, who made him into a killing machine. He went to the same gun range as Keanu Reeves. So this is not me doing amazing stuff with the camera, Bob is the real deal.”
Filmed in Winnipeg, Canada, Naishuller deliberately set out to make Nobody’s location look like anytown, USA.
“The original script was set in LA and the bad guys were Koreans, so those were my first changes. I wanted the bad guys to be Russians because Hollywood rarely gets it right. It’s the equivalent of casting a Brit as a German villain – the accent is always wrong.
“Russians always laugh at the caricatures but I wanted to get it right this time. If I’m a Russian making a movie, I don’t want to make it about South Koreans because I know very little about them. Instead I cast actual Russians as my bad guys.”
If film lovers think they’ve already seen enough middle-aged guys kicking ass, Naishuller argues that Nobody will surprise them.
“Nobody has all the elements of the expected action-thriller, all the desserts and ice creams of explosives and gunfire and tough men beating the sh-t out of each other. But the special thing about this is how it presents the steak of the meal. There’s a real character; he’s not just there to kick and fight and shoot because he does that beautifully, but there’s a real conflict and story in him.”
• Nobody is in cinemas on March 4, 2021