B.J. Novak of “The Office” fame is taking viewers to Texas in a true-crime comedy with his directorial debut film “Vengeance.” Novak, who wrote, directed and starred in the upcoming film, still remembers the nerves on the first day on set.
“Day one, I was so scared,” Novak told Variety at the Los Angeles premiere for “Vengeance” at the Ace Hotel. “You know how you see a photo of yourself and you’re like, ‘Burn that photo?’ I was like, ‘What if I feel that way about a whole scene?’ So honestly, it was my fear that I would get in my own way like that. But fortunately, it didn’t happen.”
“Vengeance” follows an aspiring podcaster who travels from New York to Texas to investigate the death of a woman he had been hooking up with, and unexpectedly finds himself drawn into a full-scale mystery. The film stars Novak as well as Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, Issa Rae and Isabella Amara. Novak said his character mirrors his own self in a variety of ways.
“You know, like all comedy, it has to come from a real place,” Novak said. “So I think, you know, it’s about being one of those guys who can be a little lost, think he’s cooler than he is and smarter than he is and think he has real connections when he might not. I think that’s something many of us struggle with.”
Holbrook co-stars in the film as Ty Shaw, native Texan and brother of the deceased. The star has high hopes for the new film, saying that he believes “it’s going to be the comedy of the summer.”
“I feel like I got a good front row ticket at watching somebody pull off something that’s on paper impossible,” Holbrook said of Novak’s directing. “You know, writing something from scratch and producing and starring in and directing it. It was incredible.”
Behind-the-scenes, Novak’s film was composed by Finneas O’Connell (better known simply as Finneas). The Grammy-winning artist and producer for sister Billie Eilish first met Novak at a party, where they raved over Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for “The Social Network.” The two loved how the score didn’t feel like classical sheet music — which Finneas does not have experience with. But for Finneas, composing for film isn’t all that different than his work in music.
“I think when I’m producing for Billie, writing for Billie, with Billie, writing with other artists, you’re trying to tell their story,” O’Connell explained. “And when you have a scene playing in front of you with two characters, and whatever the emotional context is — if they’re having a fight, if it’s a love scene — you’re just scoring that emotional context. So it’s pretty similar in some ways.”
Alongside Finneas, another music legend is involved with Novak’s debut: John Mayer. Mayer, a close friend of Novak, appears in an early scene of “Vengeance.” To him, the decision to appear in the film was quite simple.
“He had the idea. And I’m just entranced by all of B.J.’s ideas,” Mayer explained. “He doesn’t have bad ideas. I mean, I’m in a very lucky position where I get to sit and listen to B.J. come up with thoughts. All of them are interesting and exquisite in their own way. So when he said, ‘I’ve got a scene for you,’ I went, ‘Okay. I’ll do it.’”
Mayer, who just recently finished a tour with group Dead and Company, also told Variety about his next moves, hinting that more Dead and Co. tours are likely.
“Every year we do [a tour] I go, ‘I’ll just wait for the next call,’” he said. “So, yeah. It’s never over.”
“Vengeance” premieres Friday, July 29 in theaters.