ComingSoon spoke to actor, writer, and director B.J. Novak about his upcoming mystery film, Vengeance. Novak discussed transitioning from writing for TV to a feature film and which of his previous characters he’d most like to revisit.
The synopsis describes the film as “a darkly comic thriller about Ben Manalowitz, a journalist and podcaster who travels from New York City to West Texas to investigate the death of a girl he was hooking up with.”
Jonathan Sim: You have had a phenomenal career writing for TV. Was it a challenge for you to go from writing TV episodes to writing a feature film?
B.J. Novak: It was definitely a challenge to go from the TV format to film, but one that I was really excited to do. The Office was such a writer’s dream, because you had all these characters already established that we could fall in love with. And so the idea of doing something different where we didn’t already know people, we got to sort of meet new characters, and explore them over the course of an hour and a half [to] an hour and 40 minutes … that was exciting for me to go to a new location, a new landscape, new hidden sides to people. And it was really about surprise. So for me, I kept a lot of the sense of humor of The Office, because that’s the way that I write, but exploring the world of Texas and the podcast. And it was really amazing to make something on that kind of scale.
Vengeance is a film that you got to not only write, but direct, produce, and star in. Did you get any advice from anyone you collaborated with before taking on this project?
Yeah, I got advice from a director of The Office, Randall Einhorn who told me to direct to everyone the way you direct an actor. Generally, when you direct an actor, you don’t say, “say the line like this,” you say why you want them to say the line, [and] what the character thinking to get in their head. So Randall was basically telling me, “direct the cameraman that way,” which I also took [as] “direct the costume designer that way really get everyone’s creativity on the same page.” And it worked. I ended up with something so rich and inspired because all of these people were so inspired by their own talent.
Given that you’ve had this long acting career, if you could reprise any of your past roles and bring them back for a movie or a show, which character would you want to go with?
Ryan changed so much over the years that I would kind of like to see what he is up to now. In a way the movie opens … the version of me at the beginning of this movie, Vengeance, I hate to say — has a little bit in common with some Ryan that I had left over, which I wanted to show as a way of showing someone go in completely new directions. So yeah, I’d love to know what Ryan Howard’s up to now.