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Walking into a room late when it’s a few of your friends is one thing. Walking into a room late where BJ Novak, surrounded by a bunch of LA journalists, is talking about his role in Inglourious Basterds is a completely different story. But thanks to Los Angeles traffic and an unwillingness to pay $15 for valet parking (apparently it was validated for press. Awesome.), that sometimes happens.
Nonetheless, I got a chance to roundtable with the beloved Ryan from The Office, otherwise known as Smithson Utivich from Inglourious Basterds, otherwise known as BJ Novak. Those attached to Novak’s image as Ryan (who would be?) will likely be very disappointed, as he comes off as far less of a pompous douche bag than a humbled actor who’s more than excited to be working with the likes of Quentin Tarantino.
When asked about how he got the role, Novak says, “I don’t really know because...everyone tries to take credit on so many different levels.” During his meeting with Quentin, conversations were had about The Office, Quentin’s movie library and the script of Inglourious. Novak continued and discussed the process of doing a reading with Quentin: “I was making certain facial expressions and certain timing and he was literally buried in his own script sort of blowing me out of the room.”
One of the best stories, though, was BJ’s recounting of his unintentional van rides with Christoph Waltz. Quentin wanted his actors to have a built-in fear of Waltz’s character so he made sure to keep everyone separate from Waltz throughout the shoot. Unfortunately, the transportation department didn’t get the memo. Every morning, BJ would take a 30 minute ride to set with Waltz.
Novak further chatted about his own writing, making sure to stress that he never did and had no intention to edit or punch up any of Tarantino’s script. “I figured I probably only had one chance in life to say Tarantino dialog and I was not going to short change myself there.” The script, in a lot of ways, defies a lot of normal film conventions, something that Novak admired a lot. “You have love stories that can't really go together. You have military plots that can't all work together”
The best part of my session with BJ, as well as with many of the actors that I got to talk to that day, was that they all seem just as much in awe of Tarantino as the rest of us. It’s almost as if the dude doesn’t exist, as if he’s a far-off deity that comes around every four years and bestows upon us a heavy gift of cinematic joy. “I signed up to do Tarantino fantasy camp,” Novak stated. “And that’s what I got. I got the fantasy camp.”