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Vengeance's Boyd Holbrook On Working With B.J. Novak, The Film's Message, The Sandman, And More - Exclusive Interview

In "Vengeance," the feature directorial debut of former "The Office" star B.J. Novak, a smart yet self-absorbed journalist and podcaster named Ben Manalowitz (played by Novak, who also wrote the script) travels from New York City to West Texas to attend the funeral of Abilene, a young woman with whom he had a casual series of hook-ups while she was in the Big Apple.

Although her official cause of death is an overdose, Abby's brother Ty — who thinks Abby and Ben were in a serious relationship — believes something else was afoot. At the urging of Ty, Ben begins to probe the circumstances of her death, turning it into material for his podcast. Ben believes he is uncovering truths about the way people in America live — but he may be discovering more than he bargained for.

Ty is played by Boyd Holbrook, best known for playing DEA agent Steve Murphy in the Netflix series "Narcos" and the villainous Donald Pierce in Hugh Jackman's final film as Wolverine, "Logan." Holbrook tells Looper that working with Novak in his unsettling mix of dark comedy, true crime, and social commentary was exactly what he was looking for: "It was great to be able to embody a character that's something that I haven't really stuck my toe in before," he says. "[He is] full of real love and compassion."

While "Vengeance" is the kind of intelligent, thoughtful independent film it's getting harder to find these days, Holbrook's other recent projects are about as big as you can get: he's starring as the Corinthian in Netflix's long-awaited adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," and will appear opposite Harrison Ford in the untitled fifth "Indiana Jones" adventure, due out in summer 2023.

The timely message behind Vengeance

What got you into this? Was it the script, the character, working with B.J., or all of the above?

Definitely all of the above. I've always wanted to do a comedy and was trying to wait around for the right one and be patient. Luckily, B.J. came to me and gave me a great script with a true eclectic, eccentric group of characters that you really felt like you knew. It was great to be able to embody a character that's something that I haven't really stuck my toe in before, where he is full of real love and compassion, almost to his own fault, sometimes.

You're from Kentucky, which is not Texas, but we all know we have a divide going on in this country between, for lack of a better word, the blue states and the red states. Does this movie touch on the nuances of that?

That's the genius of "Vengeance," which shows us that we all have these conceptions about people and where they may be from, and they must be like that. B.J. does such a brilliant job of bringing that out and showing us that we're all really not that different after all, we all have the same problems. We all have the same exact range of emotions that we go through and we navigate them a bit differently.

Your character is very much a metaphor for that — when you first meet him, you think he might be a certain type of guy from Texas, but more of him is revealed as the movie goes on.

Wrangling B.J.'s character, Ben, into the family, it's highly intelligent of him to do that. He sees such a savior in his character that he might be able to help us solve the mystery of Abilene's death — to the point where he may play up the assumptions that he's this country hayseed. At the end of the day, he knows what's going on.

What B.J. Novak is like outside The Office

Was it interesting to work with B.J. as both actor and director?

I was completely jealous. I love a hard challenge, and getting to see him wear all these hats and pull it off so gracefully was really inspiring. I was so excited that we had just worked on a TV show together that he directed and wrote ["The Premise"], but then this, he was going to produce, write, direct and act in. I got some really good front row seats to watch it all go down.

Is directing something you might want to try yourself at some point?

I think so. [I'm] waiting for the right thing. You don't get too many chances at this in life, so you got to pick your shots.

So many people know B.J. as Ryan from "The Office," which comes with a certain amount of baggage. What would people be surprised to learn about the real B.J. and working with him?

It shows what a creative person he is to undertake all this and come out with such a unique and fresh film — I don't feel like I've seen anything like this before. It shows all of his range as an actor, and the expansion of his empathy, being able to write characters from Texas. He's not from Texas, he's writing this shallow socialite type of character in Ben, and embodying that. [It also shows] the technical difficulty day to day of having so much pressure on you and to charge forward.

Next up for Holbrook: Sandman and Indiana Jones

You are playing the Corinthian in Netflix's adaptation of "The Sandman." Did you feel any pressure to deliver in terms of the character and the expectations of fans who wanted to see this for so long?

100%. We shot the series over the pandemic, and even in our hazmat suits, you could still feel the pressure. It was a wonderful experience, again, to have a character like the Corinthian, that's been around for 34 years with such a fan base in this graphic novel from the brilliant mind of Neil Gaiman. I don't know what I've done in previous lives to deserve the opportunities.

You have another big opportunity working with the great Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones 5." Did you get to actually work with him a lot and interact with him, and what was that like?

Incredible, actually. [Director] Jim Mangold is a dear friend, and I've worked with him before and he's taken the helm of directing "Indiana Jones" and Harrison's still going. He's a mad man in the best sense possible. It's incredible, the tenacity that this guy has in his older age, but you wouldn't notice a bit. It's incredible to be able to be part of a franchise that I was such a fan of as a kid. The other franchises I wasn't really that big into, but me and my sister were chomping at the bit to watch these films growing up and to be a part of it really reinvigorated me in being a storyteller and an artist.

You worked with Jim Mangold five years ago on "Logan." What's your memory of doing that?

Working on that film was a big leap for me in transforming into a character and being a part of something like that at a high level of filmmaking. So that was a big leap for me. Jim called again and asked me to do a little character in ["Indiana Jones 5"]. It's just incredible to be a part of these films that are just standing the test of time.

"Vengeance" is now playing in theaters.