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B.J. Novak Channeled Woody Allen, Wanted ‘Vengeance’ to Emulate ‘Manhattan’ with a Jordan Peele Twist

The "Inglourious Basterds" star also shared what Quentin Tarantino taught him about directing.



Focus Features

B.J. Novak set to out to write, direct, and star in “Vengeance” with other auteurs in mind.

The “Office” alum, whose directorial debut premiered at 2022 Tribeca, penned the dark comedy thriller with the concept of it being a “collision of two movies,” as Novak told Variety. “I wanted it to be a conversational smart movie — like ‘Manhattan’ — the kind I grew up enjoying myself. And then I wanted a real-ass vengeance movie.”

“Vengeance” follows New Yorker writer and serial womanizer Ben Manalowitz (Novak) who learns his ex hook-up Abilene (Lio Tipton) died from an opioid overdose. Ben travels to her West Texan hometown for the funeral and quickly is wrapped up in a murder investigation led by the deceased’s brother, played by Boyd Holbrook. Ben pitches the case to a podcast producer (Issa Rae), calls it “Dead White Girl” as a true crime satire, and soon becomes morally entangled with avenging near-stranger Abilene. “Vengeance” opens in theaters July 29 from Focus Features.

Novak was determined to partner with Blumhouse Productions founder Jason Blum after watching Jordan Peele’s own first film “Get Out.” During the Tribeca Q&A post-screening, Novak compared “Vengeance” to Peele’s Oscar-winning drama.

To Variety, Novak echoed the sentiment, saying that longtime pal and fellow “Office” alum Mindy Kaling attended the premiere because she didn’t want Novak to “become Jordan Peele and abandon [Kaling] without [Kaling] becoming part of the ride.”

Aside from the influences of director Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and Peele’s “Get Out,” Novak revealed he learned from the “most gifted director alive” Quentin Tarantino while starring in “Inglourious Basterds.”

“I could never come up with the things that he has in his mind, but I could take that as a lesson: Whatever you are thinking about, there’s a way to communicate it clearly and inspiringly,” Novak gushed over the “intuitive” auteur. “That guy enjoys himself, but he would never let a frame suffer. Filming is so finite and you’re at the mercy of so many chance elements. It’s probably easier to let yourself go, ‘Whatever we get in 12 hours is whatever we got.'”

And the idea of intuition leading the way is the crux of “Vengeance” itself.

“Even though it’s not horror, I wanted to make it fun and funny and sort of suspenseful. So the ideas to me are very present. I started with those, but it is about different types of belief and intuition. When a lot of people intuit onto the same thing, are they onto something?” Novak explained at the Tribeca premiere. “The balance between the intuition and logic and gut and all of us sensing something is wrong, how much of that is being right? It’s a very important question that I don’t have an answer to and neither does my character.”

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