If Bob Odenkirk had told his 25-year-old self that he would be making a full-tilt, no-holds-barred action film when he was 58 years old, he’s pretty sure how the younger version would have replied.
“He would have said ‘what are you on? Are you OK? Sit down, let me talk you though it’,” says Odenkirk with a hearty chuckle over Zoom from New Mexico, where he is filming the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul.
Before Breaking Band and its hit crime drama spin-off – featuring his multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominated role as lawyer Jimmy McGill – made him a household name, Odenkirk was best known for his comedy chops as a writer and performer.
Indeed, despite his many nominations, his only Emmy wins to date have been as a writer for US comedy institution Saturday Night Live and the Ben Stiller Show three decades ago. So, the fact that he is now busting heads and blazing guns in the revenge action thriller Nobody, is as baffling to him as it is to anyone else.
“It doesn’t make any sense, James, what can I tell you?,” he admits. “There is no logic to it, it’s a complete psychotic break. There truly is a fundamental inconsistency to the fact that this movie exists.”
It was mostly curiosity that drew Odenkirk to Nobody, in which he plays Hutch Mansell, a seemingly mild-mannered worker drone and family man who just so happens to be a former government agent. When his home is invaded – and his masculinity and self-worth threatened – he revives his suppressed suite of extremely lethal skills to wreak terrible revenge on those responsible. Odenkirk says he’s an action fan – namechecking Jackie Chan’s Police Story, John Woo’s Hardboiled, the Bourne franchise and Atomic Blonde – but never really had any desire to contribute to the genre and he’s pretty sure his younger self would have been dismissive of the whole idea.
It wasn’t until he realised he was running out of chances to make one – and the fact that the very idea seemed so preposterous in his 50s – that he became determined to test his limits just to see if he could.
“If I was 26 or 32 and you asked me ‘would you do an action movie’ I’d have said ‘no, not even if they asked me’,” he says. “And then you get older and you realise no one is ever going to ask you. The clock is at 11.58 and … at that moment you say to yourself ‘maybe I could … could I try that?’. Only when you’re sure it’s about to be taken away forever do you think ‘well, I’d like to try … I’d like to see if I could push myself in that direction’.”
Once he’d convinced himself to try and linked up with John Wick producer David Leitch and writer Derek Kolstad, Odenkirk was determined to go all in. He didn’t want any half measures that would wink at the genre or make fun it, and to do justice to the role of a finely-honed killing machine, Odenkirk surrendered his 50-something-year-old body to two years of gruelling physical training as well as extensive, unfamiliar weapons training.
“That’s a pretty neat thing to do when you are 58 years old,” he says. “To do something that nobody, including, you ever expected you could do. So, it was a stretch in a physical way and a mental way and even in a spiritual way.”
It was Odenkirk who developed Nobody’s home invasion premise, based on personal experience. The actor’s home had been broken into twice, both times while his wife and children were there. At the time, the police told him he was absolutely correct not to try to fight back, but he was more scarred by the experience than he realised at the time.
“It left me with a lot of feelings of frustration and rage at the person who had violated my home and my family’s sense of security and safety,” he says. “I am really glad I didn’t have a gun because it would have been a worse situation.”
It also made him question not only his role as a father and a husband but also led him to ponder the more animalistic aspects of human nature. He extrapolated that to come up with a movie that is “retrograde and revels in toxic masculinity” and the character of Hutch, an older man who feels like he is being silenced and ignored, and almost gleefully embraces the chance to reawaken his suppressed urges for violence.
“There is a feeling of suffocation that you have, that I thought I could build out into a bloody, vengeance-filled, action-drama,” he says. “These are feelings that should never be played upon in the real world but they are real feelings and real people have them. Movies are a safe place to play out all kinds of dark and crazy feelings that human beings have.”
Odenkirk says that Hutch shares some DNA with his Better Call Saul character Jimmy McGill, who he describes someone who can be funny and earnest at the same time, with a never-say-die attitude.
“Jimmy is a guy who with all his heart wants some things in the world and tries to achieve them,” Odenkirk says. “And then when he is pushed down or denied he keeps trying. And those to me are the basic components of an action lead.”
Odenkirk says he’s curious to see where Jimmy ends up when the final season airs late this year or early next, but he’s ready to move on from a character he’s now been playing on and off for more than 12 years.
“I always heard Bryan Cranston say he was glad to be done with Walter White and I read how much James Gandolfini was glad to be through with Tony Soprano,” he says. “I will say that I do feel like I am very much looking forward to seeing where his story goes and then I will be excited to play other people. It’s a lot of time spent with one other person’s desires and needs and shortcomings and hurt feelings.”
Nobody opens on April 1.