We’ve heard stories of filmmakers wanting to make family pictures for their kids.
Ilya Naishuller, the Moscow-born director of the 2016 bonkers actioner Hardcore Henry (shot entirely in first-person POV), wants to make a family movie, too — one his father can enjoy… without dozing off.
“We went to see Iron Man and he likes Tony Stark but when Tony Stark started to fly, my dad (fakes snoring) automatically,” Naishuller, 37, tells 8days over Zoom. “He can’t take CG and all that stuff.”
The dearth of action flicks with adult narratives (read: not PG13 rated) thus sparked his search for “a good story, set in the real world, that features great actors.” It was the least he could do for his businessman father who turned young Ilya on to world cinema through pirated VHS tapes he bought from the black market.
Per instructions to his agents, Naishuller wanted to follow up Hardcore Henry with "an “action thriller”, starring an actor playing against type, and lastly, the action should be done by the folks behind the heady gun-fu-ery of John Wick and Atomic Blonde.
It seemed like a tall order, but Naishuller got his wish answered (after three years, no less) when he took a meeting with Bob Odenkirk, the star of Better Call Saul, Derek Kolstad and David Leitch — the writer and producer of John Wick, respectively — to discuss a project they would eventually make: Nobody, now showing in cinemas.
Nobody follows Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk), a regular suburbia bloke with a soul-sucking 9-to-5 desk job — until a home invasion sets off a chain of events that forces him to revisit his former life. Turns out this family guy — a nobody — is also a lethal weapon with a reputable history of violence.
“It’s a Russian director making a South Korean thriller in North America,” recalls Naishuller of his initial sales pitch to Odenkirk (also the producer) Kolstad and Leitch, citing A Bittersweet Life, the 2005 gangster thriller starring Lee Byung-Hun, as a major influence
“[That movie] combines a strong lead performance with a simple yet affecting story,” he says. “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.”
In fact, the villains were originally South Koreans. “Look, I love South Korean thrillers, I have seen a lot of South Korean cinema, but I don’t really know the people,” says Naishuller. “If I were to direct them, they are going to feel like the Russian bad guys in John Wick, which in Russia, we kinda laugh at because it’s a fun movie but it’s also very inauthentic.”
In the movie, the Russian heavies are played by real Russians (led by Russian-Canadian character actor Alexey Serebryakov), with their dialogue in real Russian. “It’s such bulls***t when I see movies where they have these American actors [speaking with fake accents],” says Naishuller.
Perhaps another director would’ve gone down that cliché path but not Naishuller: “Because I live in Russia, I don’t want people looking at me like some idiot; I want to make it properly, I want to be respectful.”
Elsewhere, Naishulller is grateful for the chance to work with Odenkirk, who trained for two years — even before the movie was greenlit — to get into combat shape. “He’s that type of character actor who you put the camera on them and you see the gears turning inside their head,” he observes. “They are not just standing there — they are living their character.”
“A two-second shot in the bus sequence and you’ll understand Hutch is not in a good space, mentally,” says Naishuller, referring to a key moment where Odenkirk’s alter ego flies off the rails and unleashes his fists (and kicks) of the fury.
“I am spoiled rotten by the opportunity to work with him, Christopher Lloyd [who plays Hutch’s father] and Aleksey Serebryakov,” he raves. “You give them directions and they always give you something better than what you expect.”
Together, Naishuller hopes they achieved what they set out to make: “A character-driven story that masquerades as a pop-corn action blockbuster which you see on Friday night and, hopefully, still remember on Monday morning.”
Since Nobody and John Wick share the same creator, what are the chances of these retired-but-yet-extremely-dangerous killers crossing each other’s paths onscreen?
“Look, I would love to see if it happens,” says Naishuller. “I think they would make an interesting dynamic.” But he doubts the Bob Odenkirk-Keanu Reeves mesh-up would ever happen: one franchise belongs to Lionsgate, the other Universal. “That’s your answer,” he continues.
Then again, since when has corporate red tape prevented rival studios from joining forces? A case in point: Sony allowing Spider-Man to play in the Disney-owned Marvel Cinematic Universe sandbox. Like Naishuller said, stranger things have happened. Also, it doesn't hurt to dream about it.
Nobody (NC16) is now in cinemas.