Considering all the times Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman has been beaten, battered, bruised, threatened at gunpoint and otherwise put through the wringer on “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” one might reasonably assume Odenkirk would be drawn to a film role that would put him safely behind a computer monitor in an office, or exchanging witty banter in a Victorian drawing room, where the only weapon available is dry wit.
Maybe next time. In the frenetic action comedy “Nobody,” opening Thursday (my review is coming later this week), Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell gets knocked around the screen like a pinball, but whereas Saul isn’t exactly a physical counterpuncher, Hutch hits back with a vengeance and won’t stop hitting back — or stabbing back or shooting back — until someone can’t get up. He’s a wolf in meek clothing.
Not that Hutch is all action when we first meet him. Like Saul Goodman in his post-Albuquerque days, Hutch is a guy who once led a dangerous, sometimes violent life, but is now hiding in a plain sight and living a life so mundane and so filled with routine it’s like a working man’s “Groundhog Day.”
“Hutch is a normal, everyday, suburban dad who works at his father-in-law’s tool-and-die plant as an accountant,” said the Naperville-raised Odenkirk in a recent video chat. “He’s a guy who has kind of disappeared himself into the background of life. The drudgery that we all feel from the last year of the pandemic, that feeling of living the same day over and over — we made this movie before the pandemic, but that is very much how he feels.
“It’s kind of a common thing that dads and moms feel: ‘I just exist to sacrifice to the group, to the family, and I don’t get to do anything on my own, I don’t get to own my life and make crazy choices,’ and of course you don’t. You have to serve the family unit. It can be hard, and I think it would be quadruple hard for a character like this who’s had this wild life before the family, and now has to suck it up.”
Through a series of circumstances best left for the viewer to discover, Hutch re-opens the door to his past life — and let the choreographed, brutal, sometimes wickedly funny violence begin.
“He’s a person with a past as an agent for various three-letter organizations,” said Odenkirk. That past clashes with the present in a sequence on a bus when Hutch takes a stand against a half-dozen thugs who are threatening a young girl. At first it appears as if Hutch will demonstrate “Equalizer”-type skills and wipe everyone out in 30 seconds, but it’s more of a knockdown, drag-out, all-out brawl where everything is a possible weapon, and people keep getting beaten to the floor and getting back up again, and before it’s over, Hutch and the thugs AND the bus have been through hell.
With a number of elaborately choreographed fight scenes, involving all manner of props and shattering glass and bruises and blood and bullets, one imagines it makes for some long days of shooting.
“Yeah, but it’s super fun. It was the most fun I’ve had since being in a comedy writers’ room,” said Odenkirk, whose early work includes stints writing for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Ben Stiller Show.”
“You prep the fight, you choreograph it, you learn it, it’s a group effort — but when you get to the set, it always has to change here and there. And then it becomes problem solving and adrenaline rush, and there are lot of laughs … At one point in a fight, the guy who trained me, Daniel Bernhardt [who also plays one of the bad guys] maybe the greatest stunt actor of our generation, he’s got bloody teeth, and he’s got a big smile, it’s 3 a.m. in Winnipeg in October, it’s freezing, he looks at me and he says, ‘It’s like being a kid, isn’t it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, it is.’ We had a great time. It’s just fun to do. It’s one of the reasons I hope to get to make another action movie.”
As for “Better Call Saul,” the sixth and final season has begun production in New Mexico under pandemic protocols.
“We’re shooting ‘Saul’ right now,” said Odenkirk, “and it’s going really well. It’s going to be one big explosion after another, it’s going to be a hell of a final season.”