The Idea for the film Nobody, a home invasion that propels an underestimated, overlooked man to tap into his most lethal and ruthless instincts to keep his family safe, a wish-fulfillment fantasy for tens of millions of fathers, sprung from the mind of actor Bob Odenkirk who developed the story based on personal experience.
“My home has been broken into twice, both times with my wife and kids and myself at home,” Odenkirk says. Bob Odenkirk, who is best known for playing Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. “The first time was particularly traumatic. As a dad, I felt the right thing to do was…nothing. I believe we made it through with minimum damage, but still, the experience has never left me, and I’ve always wondered if I should have been more proactive.”
The police officer said to Bob, ‘You did the right thing. It’s not what I would have done, but you did the right thing.’ That comment lingered with Bob.
It was something he talked about with Producer Marc Provissiero, who is also Odenkirk’s manager.
“We discussed what it means as a father and a husband to protect your family, in this day, where men are guided to react in a different way than perhaps our fathers did, to sublimate more primal instincts. And that evolution is probably a good thing. But then, what happens when you’re that dad and your family is in danger?”
Brainstorming the idea they pondered doing something like Death Wish, or Taken, “where a father has to protect his family, but he’s not the type of guy who just flips a switch and you know he will take down everyone in front of him? What if he’s a more suburban dad, an every-dad, and you’re not sure whether he’s capable.”
Sometimes, the man you don’t notice is the most dangerous of all. When two thieves break into his suburban home one night, Hutch declines to defend himself or his family, hoping to prevent serious violence. His teenage son is disappointed in him, and his wife seems to pull only further away. The aftermath of the incident strikes a match to Hutch’s long-simmering rage, triggering dormant instincts and propelling him on a brutal path that will surface dark secrets and lethal skills. In a barrage of fists, gunfire and squealing tires, Hutch must save his family from a dangerous adversary and ensure that he will never be underestimated as a nobody again.
Getting the Film Off The Ground
Eager to get the film off the ground, Odenkirk and Provissiero found producing partners in 87North’s Kelly McCormick and David Leitch, whose long list of action film credits includes the John Wick series, Atomic Blonde and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
McCormick was thrilled about the project. “I just fell for the idea,” McCormick says. “As a huge fan of Bob, I could see the stepping stones from his more comedic work to this role—playing an ‘action’ everyman who people could really connect to. I jumped at the opportunity.”
Leitch adds: “Kelly championed this project for a long time. She responded to the material and that it had a great central character, Hutch, who’s relatable and has heart. There’s a connection to Hutch’s family and his longing to rediscover himself. Kelly has a great sense of material, and I was excited when she brought it to us.”
After pitching the project to multiple studios, the filmmakers were thrilled when it landed at Universal, where 87North now has a first-look deal. “Nobody became the first project under our new deal with Universal,” McCormick says.
“The studio responded very quickly to the material, which was a real testament to what they felt we could do. They took a bet on us and on Bob, and they moved extremely quickly on the project. It was the perfect test for what we hope to continue doing again and again under this partnership.”
Odenkirk and Provissiero also brought the idea to producer Braden Aftergood, who was equally quick to jump on board with the project.
“Bob had this idea to make a film that was his version of 1974’s Death Wish by way of The Raid: Redemption,” Aftergood says. “Obviously, I was intrigued at the prospect of that, so I sat down with Bob and Marc at their office. Bob told me about some of the experiences he’d had in his life. I got excited about the idea, and we started putting the movie together.”
What adds an unexpected layer to the story is that in almost every other action film ever made, the actor playing the role of the “ordinary” man is anything but ordinary to the audience.
“Charles Bronson is a ‘normal’ man in Death Wish, but he’s not normal to us; he’s Charles Bronson!” Aftergood says. “The actor is bringing his public persona to the role, too. Usually, movies like this—John Wick, Taken, The Equalizer, even Rambo—are based on the premise of the bad guys messing with the wrong guy. The bad guys mess with a tough guy who is even tougher than they are. Bob’s idea was: What if the bad guys messed with the ‘right’ guy? Meaning, what if they messed with a normal guy who isn’t a threat, who shouldn’t fight back, but then he does? It explores this idea of what a normal person’s capacity for violence is—or can be under the right circumstances.”
From Idea To Screenplay: Finding the perfect narrative architect
When it came time to find the ideal person to tackle the script, the filmmakers found that person in John Wick trilogy writer Derek Kolstad.
“We developed a small wish list of writers,” Provissiero says. “Bob’s pedigree initially was in comedy. We had to stretch out of our area of comfort and seek a writer who could provide what was missing”
Kolstad burst onto the scene by scripting an original spec screenplay, entitled Scorn, which was later re-titled John Wick. That film has now spawned the most profitable franchise in Lionsgate’s history, with Kolstad also penning the second and third installments, and includes a premium spin-off television series, multiple video games and two more theatrical installments currently in development. Aside from Nobody,up next for Kolstad is Marvel’s new tentpole series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which he co-executive produced for Disney. He is currently adapting Ubisoft’s legendary IP, Splinter Cell,for Netflix; number-one New York Times best-selling author V.E. Schwab’s The Shades of Magic series for Sony; and a remake of legendary Korean film The Man from Nowhere for New Line Cinema.
“We met with Derek Kolstad, and we were working together from that moment forward. He had already been a big fan of Bob, and he really understood our idea and that we wanted to approach this action film in a more character-based way. Derek throws hundred-mile-an-hour fastballs with action. Then Bob added his own dimensionality to the character as we honed the pitch.”
Having worked with Kolstad on the John Wick trilogy, McCormick and Leitch became deeply familiar with his writing style and couldn’t imagine a better fit to write the script for Nobody.
“Derek is great at setting up a world and creating empathetic characters within that world,” Leitch says. “I love working with him in the genre space. I think he’s a master of that craft.”
McCormick adds: “Derek not only creates such relatable characters and cool genre stories, but his writing allows us, our action teams and the directors that we bring onto our projects the freedom to create really fun, iconic action.”
Once they had a script and a studio on board, the filmmakers were eager to move the film forward, but there was still one piece of the puzzle missing: a director.
Finding a Director
“We sat down with a lot of directors,” Aftergood says. “We put a lot of ideas for directors in front of Bob. A lot of people who felt fancy, a lot of people who had done work tonally similar to Better Call Saul. Bob wasn’t responding to any of them.” Odenkirk adds: “We needed someone who knew the action genre and knew me and was able to see the possibilities in bringing my presence, vulnerability and humor to a seriously played, unironic, action film.”
In came Ilya Naishuller, best known for directing 2015’s first-person action-thriller Hardcore Henry, who was high on the list of directors that the filmmakers were interested in.
“Bob and I hadn’t seen Hardcore Henry, so we watched that and some other samples of Ilya’s work, and we were amazed by how inventive and beautiful his work was,” Provissiero says. “The action is artistic, at times poetic.”
The filmmakers were excited at what they knew Naishuller would bring to the table, particularly the audacity of his vision. “Bob was looking for this movie to feel unlike anything that he had ever done before,” Aftergood says. “Hardcore Henry was an extraordinary accomplishment, and we got excited about the prospect of bringing that vision to the world of this film.”
McCormick was a fan of Hardcore Henry, but she was also captivated by Naishuller’s earlier work in Russia. “The music video that really put him on the map was ‘Biting Elbows – The Stampede,’ a first-person action music video,” McCormick says. “It was so cool and revolutionary. When David and I saw that, we thought, ‘We’ve got to watch this guy.’”
As it turned out, Nobody was exactly the type of project that Naishuller was looking for.
“After Hardcore Henry came out, I spent the next three years developing my next projects, while keeping myself afloat by directing music videos, commercials and producing comedies back home in Russia,” Naishuller says. “I told my agents that if I was to accept an American feature film, I wanted it to be an action-thriller, starring an actor that would play against type (a comedian with a shotgun was the exact description) and the action should be done by 87North. Lo and behold, in April 2018, my agents sent me the script with the following: ‘Nobody—action thriller, written by Derek Kolstad, produced by 87North and starring Bob Odenkirk.’ Ask and you shall receive.”
Naishuller read the script and fell in love with the character of Hutch. He soon jumped on a call with Odenkirk to discuss his ideas for the film.
“I pitched him my understanding of the themes and how I would make this an elevated action film beyond the expected,” Naishuller says. “The phone connection was horrible, but Bob heard enough to ask me to fly out to L.A. I prepared a 30-page presentation outlining my take on Nobody. We met with the team, I fired up the presentation, and I was on page 17 or so when they stopped me and said that I got the job. I don’t know if I was that convincing or if they were just dreading having to listen to me go over the rest of the pages. There was a lot—frankly, too much—detail.”
From the producers’ standpoint, when Naishuller presented his vision to them, everything clicked. “When you meet with a director who you know is the perfect choice, it’s a comforting feeling,” Provissiero says. “Watching Ilya present his vision of the tone, action, themes and styles of the film, we all just raised our hands and said, ‘Yes. Yes, Ilya. Please and thank you.’”
Leitch adds: “Ilya makes interesting choices as a filmmaker. He’s great with character, but, more importantly, he swings for the fences. He wants to be provocative in his imagery and his style. He’s confident as a filmmaker in areas where a lot of people aren’t. He was great about being open to ideas and aggregating the good ones to combine with his own vision.”
Naishuller, McCormick says, brought a perfect balance of his own fresh ideas and an openness to collaboration. “To me, that makes the perfect product,” McCormick says. “He’s not only a bold visionary, but he had trust in his heads of departments and the producers, which created the perfect collaborative environment. We were so thrilled to bring him into our action world.”
Naishuller envisioned the look and feel of the film to resemble a Korean thriller.
“In my opinion, Korean thrillers capture a special romantic mood that envelops the action and are largely driven by somewhat darker heroes, almost anti-heroes, rather than relying on typical story points,” Naishuller says.
“Derek Kolstad and I are huge fans of Korean cinema, and I remember giving Bob a few films to watch to familiarize himself with my intent while we reworked the script. A Bittersweet Life by Kim Jee-woon was my initial reference for mood, as it combines a strong lead performance with a simple yet affecting story. Its raw violence and action scenes feel just polished enough to be entertaining, but always avoid gilding the lily with unnecessary but expected pop visuals.”
Another element that attracted Naishuller to the project was that Hutch’s story is driven by interior conflict.
“As Hutch pivoted away from being an international assassin, he overcorrected and now spends his days in an automated, mundane and lifeless suburban existence,” Naishuller says. “If you pay close attention, you’ll see that everything that happens to him during the film is the result of his own doing. This is rare for a studio picture. I always equated Hutch’s need for violence to an addiction, and I could not recall a strong film with a similar undercurrent. I was careful to avoid falling into the awfully tempting trap of going drama-heavy, but it was important to me that the audience not just relate to his humdrum life and a ‘cool past,’ but feel Hutch’s somewhat torturous desire to spice things up in a violent way.”
Nobody fills the whole spectrum, with action set pieces, shock moments, dark moments and emotional moments, too.
“David and I are trying to bring heart to these action films every time out,” McCormick says. “There’s an emotional core to this movie that really excited David and me that we hope connects with audiences. I hope people take away the idea that you can be living your best authentic self, even if you’re not ripping down the world around you like Hutch does.” But, she adds with a laugh, “if people just come for the ride, I’m ok with that, too.”
Bringing the characters to life
The fundamental goal for the filmmakers of Nobody was to do the unexpected, and that included the film’s casting. “The question for us was, what are the unexpected casting choices that we can put around Bob that will deliver on that promise without ever taking the audience out of the reality of the film?” producer Braden Aftergood says.
It was also important that the audience feel an emotional connection to the characters. “We wanted to make sure that we set a tone within the movie where we keep the stakes real for the characters, but we also still care about them,” producer David Leitch says. “We wanted to see violence and consequences, but we also wanted there to be emotion.”
Director Ilya Naishuller had a personal motive behind his character and actor choices. “My father loves going to the movies, and we used to go together all the time, but as blockbuster spectacle began to squeeze adult storytelling into TV, I’ve struggled to find films he’d enjoy,” Naishuller says. “I made Nobody for my father, and the millions of people like him, who desperately want to see a good story, set in the real world, that features great actors.”
As an actor, Odenkirk is someone people connect with on a human level. “They feel what he’s feeling,” producer Marc Provissiero says. “So, when he decides to take these guys on, there’s an ‘Oh my God’ feeling. It isn’t a suspension of belief to watch a superhero do super things. There’s an identification with him, which I don’t think is the case with your typical action star. He represents the everyday guy who is put in a position that real people could actually envision themselves in.”
Director Ilya Naishuller spent a lot of time discussing the character with Odenkirk and writer Derek Kolstad. “We discussed his motivations, his dreams and his demons,” Naishuller says. “We all felt that while he is presented as a hero, the undercurrent is clearly that of an anti-hero, and it was an interesting challenge to walk this fine line. Nobody needed a grounded, real, relatable Hutch who would become a ferocious animal once released off the leash. With Bob’s tremendous acting and comedic writing experience and Derek’s and my thorough understanding of the genre, we aimed for a strong story and character backbone that would then allow for all the nuances of Bob’s performance.”
Odenkirk believes that Hutch shares some DNA with his character from Better Call Saul, Jimmy McGill.
“While I believe Hutch is built out of basic elements of Jimmy as well as my personal experiences as a father, I was excited by how far I would have to stretch to step into the world of intense action,” Odenkirk says.
“Jimmy is a striver, his feelings lead him into dangerous situations, he gets knocked down a lot by life and he always gets back up. While much of my career was in comedy, I am far more well known for this character in Saul. I figured if I could train hard and pull off the physical moves, that I could bring a vulnerability and determination to an action-film role.”
And training hard is an understatement for the amount of commitment that Odenkirk put into the role. “I trained for two years with the best in the business, David Leitch’s action design team through 87North,” Odenkirk says.
Russian villains are a staple of Hollywood action films, dating all the way back to the 1980s, during the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. They were so frequent, in fact, that they bordered on cliché. So, when it came to casting Nobody’s antagonist, Yulian, Russian director Naishuller was only comfortable with the character being of Russian descent if they could do him justice by avoiding stereotype. He also wanted to ensure the character was played by an actual Russian actor, and Alexey Serebryakov was always his number-one choice for the role.
While in many ways Hutch and Yulian are different, Naishuller found that the two characters’ transformations had similarities. “Yulian is a tough-as-nails gangster on the outside and a joyful, non-violent man on the inside,” Naishuller says. “Both he and Hutch are forced by circumstances to shift throughout the film, to face who they are and to accept themselves. And once they do, we see that they’re actually one and the same, and this character arc is what makes their battle so engrossing to witness.