Newly minted action star Bob Odenkirk shares emotional, physical journey behind thriller ‘Nobody’

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Bob Odenkirk isn’t one to shy away from unexpected roles. Star of comedy and drama alike, he’s proven himself in nearly every arena from sketch comedy to prestige television, even making the leap to film, with appearances in such Oscar darlings as “The Post” and “Little Women.”

But on his latest project, the action thriller “Nobody,” Odenkirk has taken a sharp turn away from his best-known work. He plays Hutch Mansell, a suburban dad with a sordid past — picture a John Wick type with the Clint Eastwood factor dialed up a few notches. The role was far outside of Odenkirk’s comfort zone, so he trained in preparation for 2 ½  years, approaching the passion project with the same focus and intensity he’s employed in his previous work.

“I didn’t want to make this movie as a dilettante,” Odenkirk said in a roundtable interview with The Daily Californian. “I wanted to fucking give it over to the pros and the people who do this, and risk everything. So we took this character and we pushed him past the easy place that you could’ve gone and just had a little thrill. And that was hard, you know, to go into such intense rage.”

“Nobody” unfolds after Hutch doesn’t stop a break-in at his house, choosing instead to let the robbers go unscathed. They only take some loose change, but Hutch loses something far more valuable: his family’s respect. Odenkirk, who is also a producer on the film, didn’t pull this story out of thin air — his family went through the same experience as the Mansells, and in the moment, Odenkirk made the same choice as Hutch. Odenkirk’s attempts to come to terms with his decision in the aftermath of the incident served as the basis for the film.

“It lingers to this day that I’m not sure that was exactly right; somehow it doesn’t sit right with me,” Odenkirk remarked. “And I thought I’d use those feelings, and I shared that with (screenwriter) Derek Kolstad and he built this story from that incident that I shared with him … In a movie, you get to play out your fantasy. But I also like that when he does express his rage, it creates more trouble for him than if he had just found a different, healthier way to deal with those feelings.”

After the break-in, Hutch finds himself unable to contain the violent tendencies he’s suppressed for so many years and goes looking for trouble. The fights that ensue match the intensity of other action films, such as the “John Wick” franchise, but their timbre is entirely different, due in large part to Odenkirk performing all of the action himself.

“I didn’t need to do an action movie just to do it,” Odenkirk said. “I wanted the full experience. I wanted to push myself and stretch myself, and the hardest thing about it was not the drudgery or the hours of gym time, because that pays off in so many ways as you get older to stay in good shape and gain flexibility. But the hardest thing was the embarrassment of sucking at it for so long, and continuing to try.”

And although Odenkirk executes the action scenes with style, he plays a different type of hero than what we’ve seen in similar performances from Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves. Hutch doesn’t quite look the action hero type; he has a certain fragility, an insecurity about him. But Odenkirk doesn’t see this as a shortcoming of the film — in fact, Hutch’s lack of self-assuredness is one of its key elements.

“He’s forgotten and isn’t sure if he’s still a powerful individual in the world. And he wants to prove that to himself. Or die,” Odenkirk said. “When he empties that gun and says, ‘I’m gonna fuck you up,’ I hope that within that, you sense that he’s not sure if he’s gonna fuck them up. And also by emptying the gun, he’s sort of saying, ‘or you’re going to kill me, which is fine.’ ”

Having spent the bulk of his career in comedy, Odenkirk found it challenging to play a character with such a dark mentality. But he isn’t totally inexperienced in this arena: He drew heavily on his years of work playing Jimmy McGill in the funny, but often tragic “Better Call Saul.”

“(Jimmy) doesn’t fight, but he never stops,” Odenkirk observed. “And he’s willing to share his heart and his hopes with the world and address them directly and unironically. And I thought, that’s an action lead, except there’s no fighting. But otherwise, that’s what an action lead does. They really pursue their heart cut open and they pursue those things, those intense deep feelings.”

What’s next for Odenkirk? He’s open to doing more action, if audiences will have him, but he insisted that he’s by no means “transitioning” to an action hero. The final season of “Better Call Saul” just began production, and Odenkirk said he and his comedy partner David Cross have a project in the works — but for now, Odenkirk is content just to see “Nobody” out in the world.

“I went on a long journey that somehow played out almost the way I dreamed,” he laughed. “That never happens.”

Matthew DuMont is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].