For this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, we tackled two exciting red carpet events for the very first time! Vengeance, a unique mystery/thriller/dramedy written and directed by B.J. Novak, was first on the docket. Assembling an all-star cast, we chat with Novak along with co-stars Issa Rae, Boyd Holbrook, J. Smith-Cameron and producer Jason Blum about filming in New Mexico, the thrall of Novak’s vision, and the authenticity of the podcasting world.
The latest in a long line of podcast-inspired mysteries similar to Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, Vengeance tells a searing and deeply funny tale of doing whatever it takes to unearth a story. When Ben’s casual hookup shows up dead of a suspected overdose, her shaken brother, Ty (Boyd Holbrook, Narcos, The Cursed), begs Ben (B.J. Novak, The Office) to come to her funeral. Ty is convinced that Abilene, who allegedly “never touched so much as an Advil” has actually been murdered, and wants Ben to stick around in Texas to help bring the bastard down. Ben views this as a perfect window to his podcast, and begrudgingly agrees at the service of a great story. Before his very eyes, Ben becomes deeply knit into Abilene’s welcoming (and very Southern) family. As he gets closer to unearthing the truth, a target forms squarely on his back. Check out the red carpet interviews after the jump!
What was it like filming in New Mexico, and do you have a favorite memory to share from your time on set?
J. SMITH-CAMERON: We had crazy weather while we’re shooting! So it’d be like really hot, or really windy, or a snowstorm suddenly out of the blue. I like to swim, and I swam in a blizzard because the pool was huge, it was outdoors! That wasn’t on set, that was at my hotel. It was a very happy cast, like we really got a kick out of each other. We had to shoot these scenes at Whataburger–I’ll never forget them! They’re really funny. We’re kind of like up-all-night giddy.
As the Shaw family matriarch, Sharon really sets the stage in the film for how Ben views the family. What were your primary inspirations for the character of Sharon?
J.: Well, I mean, I’m a mother myself, so that goes a long way. I did think of a woman I knew… when my daughter was in fourth grade, she had moved with her two sons to New York from Texas. She had to get used to everything, and she was kind of in culture shock. She was lovely. She’s really smart, but she was also really girlish. She had his beautiful smile, and she was like a beauty queen. But also be like, don’t mess with her. I thought about her a lot. She was badass!
Issa, do you have any familiarity in the world of podcasting, and did you work closely with B.J. in forming Eloise’s character?
ISSA RAE: You know, I have a deep familiarity in the world of podcasting. I am a true crime podcast aficionado. I produced narrative podcast series, so I connect with Eloise in that way, but I don’t even think I put two and two together in making them. I don’t think we even discussed that, but B.J. was very collaborative in terms of finding who Eloise was. We did that together, and established this dynamic. It was just really great to work with him.
Boyd, I am so used to seeing you in gritty dramas or horror such as Narcos, Logan, and The Cursed. What drew you to the almost satirical tone of Vengeance?
BOYD HOLBROOK: B.J.! You know, he’s so smart and clever and just his writing is fantastic. So you know, I always wanted to do a comedy, and I had the opportunity with B.J.! He thought I was funny from some other stuff. I was like, ‘wow, really?’ I wasn’t trying, so that’s bad.
Between this movie and Black Phone, you have a pretty busy Tribeca. Which one are you more excited for audiences to see?
JASON BLUM: I could never pick favorites like that! It’s like asking about my favorite child, how could you do such a thing? I love both my children.
I’m very excited about Halloween Ends. Is there anything you can tease about that?
JASON: Let’s see. I saw it about three or four weeks ago. It’s gonna be terrific! It’s very satisfying. Audiences will love it. We’re gonna do a little more work on it, but you’re in for a treat. Or a trick. Both!
B.J., I was reading that the script for Vengeance, as you said, was the scariest thing you’ve ever written in your life? Can you elaborate on what the process was like writing the script?
B.J. NOVAK: Well, I thought, am I crazy? Or is this funny? Am I crazy? Or is this interesting? Every sentence began: is this crazy in my head? Because I was thinking, who am I to star in a movie called Vengeance, or make a movie about such big issues or try to make it funny. So the more people that signed on, the less scary it became.
It was a joy chatting with Jason Blum, Boyd Holbrook, B.J. Novak, Issa Rae, and J. Smith-Cameron—we cannot wait to see their next projects. There are plenty of exciting films on the pipeline!