By Dan Snierson
November 12, 2020 at 12:27 PM EST
Credit: Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

Bob Odenkirk rose to sketch comedy fame with Mr. Show. He switched gears to explore a tragic-clown character in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and has nabbed four drama-acting Emmy nominations (so far). Now he’s leaping genres and subverting expectations again — this time by breaking badass.

The 58-year-old actor becomes an improbable action star in the Universal thriller Nobody (out Feb. 19), playing Hutch Mansell, an unassuming family man who cowers and folds during a home invasion. His post-traumatic shame disorder reignites a long-cooled fire within, and he summons a secret lethal skill set for a revenge mission, only to see it backfire spectacularly and put his family in greater jeopardy.

Nobody boasts action cred behind the camera — written by Derek Kolstad (John Wick)! produced by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde)! directed by Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry)! — but it slams down its lead actor into unfamiliar territory. Which is exactly what Odenkirk craved. “I get the s--- kicked out of me in this movie,” he says proudly. “I really wanted to go way far outside, like 180 degrees outside my comfort zone. Just commit to this guy, commit to his rage, and commit to his commitment to what he’s doing.” And when this violence addict who swore off the sauce two decades earlier indulges in a wild relapse, Odenkirk’s Hutch reawakens a treacherous enemy (Aleksey Serebryakov) from his days in three-letter agencies doing off-books deeds. “It’s not a clean, vengeful narrative,” he says. “It’s almost like collateral damage causes him more trouble than his initial problems.”

The seeds for Nobody — which also stars Connie Nielsen, Christopher Lloyd, RZA, Gage Munroe, and Paisley Cadorath — were unfortunately planted in Odenkirk’s own yard, as the actor and his family were victims of multiple break-ins. “I think I handled them well, but you can’t help but kind of wish you’d done more,” he shares. “I thought I’d just work with that dark energy to see if there was a story there.”

Odenkirk (who brought the idea to Kolstad and serves as a producer) also found inspiration in... Jimmy McGill. “It started with an advertisement for Better Call Saul in China that my brother-in-law sent me,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, they’re watching Saul in China! I wonder if I could do a film that could play around the world.’ Action-genre movies with strong, clear character drives and challenges play around the world. I’m in pretty good shape. I can get in better shape. They know me around the world as a character who’s striving, earnest, failing, getting back up again. It’s essentially an action lead without the fighting.”

Ah, yes, the fighting. Odenkirk trained for two years with standout stuntman Daniel Bernhardt, learning a melange of boxing, jujitsu, karate, and judo moves, and delighting in the camera-ready beatdowns. “The fist-bloodying fight sequences were as much fun as being in a comedy room,” he says. “I mean, I've never had that much fun since we wrote Mr. Show. It's a group effort. Anytime you see a fight sequence in a movie that has a bunch of people, as soon as they yell 'Cut!,' everyone laughs. There’s all this interaction and group problem-solving that goes on.”

Mastering martial-arts moves wasn’t the actor’s most daunting challenge, though. “The hardest thing to do was the lack of irony,” he reveals. “Scenes with high-concept feelings, with characters who are enraged or bereft, but there’s no joking in it. You don’t get to puncture the moment with a laugh or a wink; you have to just live in it. I’ve done some of that in Better Call Saul. But this is closer to a ’70s action movie — the lone guy walking the streets.” Bob Odenkirk as the next Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson? Who would have thought it? Nobody.

Credit: Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures
Credit: Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

Related content: