John Mayer, Life of Dating & More –

BJ Novak’s first feature film. Revengewhich hits theaters on July 29th, is kind of what you’d expect from the breakout comedy star known as Ryan from Officeand part of the territory that you immediately (and correctly) decide is unfamiliar to him. Revenge tells the story of Ben Manalowitz (played by Novak), New Yorker a writer who travels to a small town in Texas for the funeral of a girl he briefly dated. He meets her family, who are convinced her death was not an accident, and thinks he has found the perfect basis for an exciting podcast that can diagnose all of America’s ills – the kind of podcast he’s long hoped to make. But the same family played by Ty Holbrook, J. Smith-Cameron. Dove Cameron and many others have Ben question his initial cynical assumptions about them and their lifestyle, as well as question his own lifestyle. spoke with Novak and Holbrook about the making of this film, how Ben’s experience fits with Novak’s life, and what they hope viewers will learn from it. RevengeA look at digital life, cultural clashes and more.

Let’s get that out of the way: “My real name is Ben. My Ellis Island family name was Manalowitz,” Novak says—yes, the film is about him and a certain era in his life from which he sought to break free. Novak clearly doesn’t mind comparisons: throughout the production process, he wanted to be as true to himself as possible, hoping to tell a more honest story.

“I [named Ben that] to remind yourself, play with yourself as much as you can; play the truth about yourself anyway,” says Novak. “And that means showing people what you don’t want to show them. And it might be better than you think, or worse than you think. I would consult with [executive producer Leigh Kilton-Smith] after every take and she really just made me take away everything I was trying to be funny, trying to be cool, trying to be cute, like no, no, no, no.”

BJ Novak and Ashton Kutcher in Revenge
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection.

However, he had a story about his life that he wanted to tell, and so he accepted the challenge: “I wanted to tell a story about where I was in the world that I lived in,” he begins – and that he He speaks. The next one could easily have been cut lines of dialogue from his feature film.

“We think we are connected to everyone, but we are not. We meet people, but they are just names on our phones. And we listen to music, but it’s really just playlists where you don’t remember the names of the songs. You say “lol” to someone, but you’re not actually laughing. And we don’t know how close we are or not to people.”

“The hardest thing is to be yourself in all areas of life.”

As Novak discusses the parallels to his own life, I can’t help but ask him about the opening scene where he and John Mayer are standing at a bar browsing through dating app options, explaining the coded ways they store female names on their phones to remember key details. and chat about the importance of realizing your potential. Was it also just that Novak was as real as it could be?

“That’s the only scene I feel like I’m kind of showing the audience, it’s kind of the opening credits, a bit, and it should be a little more like a joke version of how we meet,” Novak admits.

“I know John Mayer in real life and I don’t think we’re that superficial. We also talk about other things, not just – but you know, we really think we’re cooler than we are. The script was about two guys who think they’ve got it all figured out. So to me, it’s a parody of guys who think things are going well and you look at them from the side and think, “Oh my God, those guys.”

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Issa Rae in “Revenge”
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection.

So Novak wrote a character who looked like himself, and then took that character as far out of his digital comfort zone as he could imagine: Texas, a place so unfamiliar to the Massachusetts native and now Los Angeles-based Novak, as you might think.

“There is something funny and interesting about taking someone like my character out of that comfort zone and into a real revenge story, an emotional story and a family story,” he explains. “All the things he has nothing to do with, instinctively – and see how he adapts. So there’s comedy in it, but there’s also the emotion of growth.”

For Boyd Holbrook, who plays the brother of the now-deceased pseudo-ex-Ben, the challenge was to balance the obvious comedy of Novak’s script with the need to make his Ty Show character so appealing and real that both Ben and the audience would want to mock him. he will be stripped anyway.

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BJ Novak and Boyd Holbrook in Revenge
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection.

“I’ve never played a character as vulnerable as Ty, who was such a selfless character who was willing to put himself in the line of fire to find out what happened to his sister,” Holbrook explains. “So yeah, like me, Boyd, I know there’s a lot of laughs written on the page. But the hardest part was not making a joke. You had to always stay grounded in reality and just know that the comedy would take care of itself.”

The entire Shaw family must work to Revengelike a film to have the desired effect, and they do it so well that I ask Holbrook if the actors did any extra work behind the scenes to develop that relationship before filming began.

“We all went to the water park and risked our lives together and played with fireworks, just dangerous things to know we can rely on each other,” Holbrook shared – and J. Smith-Cameron, who plays his mom, blew them all away . her willingness to take risks.

“She comes across as a very well-built woman, but she’s reckless and deadly in a way you won’t believe,” Holbrook shares. “The character she plays succession she doesn’t look like an apostate at all.”

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J. Smith-Cameron, Eli Bickel, Boyd Holbrook, BJ Novak, Luanna Stevens in Revenge
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection.

Both Novak’s dialogue and Holbrook’s and Smith-Cameron’s winning performances make it easy to fall in love with the Shaw family and their world, far from Twitter wars and instant gratification. Novak, whose passion for the digital world is evident Revenge script as well as previous projects such as roomsays he doesn’t have the “answer” for how to get out of the traps that social media can set for us, but he hopes a movie like Revenge may remind us that there is more.

“The opening of the film and its characters is that we spend so much time online that we kind of think, well, this is who I really am. And this is not so, ”says Novak. “When you put people in the same room, they communicate much more than the exaggerated ways you use to get attention. [online], which looks like a connection. There [are] all these tricks that are played on us online that really tear us apart – to use a cliché, but it’s true. So I think the film is about the emotions and the comedy of being suddenly offline.”

Watch our full conversation with BJ Novak above.

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