B.J. Novak’s new film Vengeance stars Ashton Kutcher, Issa Rae, Boyd Holbrook, Lio Tipton, J. Smith Cameron, Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, and Zach Villa. But during its brief opening scene, Vengeance also stars multi-talented musician John Mayer.
It’s not a random coincidence — Novak and Mayer have been friends since The Office days, and the writer-director thought the singer-songwriter’s quick wit would compliment his own character, journalist and aspiring podcast host Ben Manalowitz, just enough to tease what’s to come in the next hour and 47 minutes.
“I wanted to show at the beginning that this character was very happy with his life, but it was also kind of a shallow life, and sadder than he thought it was,” Novak told MovieMaker.
“The opening line in the script about the guys is, ‘Two guys who have it all figured out.’ Obviously, I say that teasingly in the stage direction. He’s such an intellectual guy, and we often think we have it all figured out, and then I go home and think, ‘What were we talking about?’” Novak laughs.
“I basically wanted that dynamic in the movie for the character, and I thought, well, what’s his version of John Mayer? His, like, cooler friend that he feels cool being around? And I thought, well, maybe John will just play a version of himself. It’s a fictional character, but obviously, it has a lot of him in it. So I just asked him if he would do it, and I spent forever writing his lines, but he ended up improvising most of them.”
That makes sense, considering that Mayer himself has a background in comedy. He briefly had his own road documentary/talk show, John Mayer Has a TV Show, in 2004; he sporadically hosts his own makeshift talk show on Instagram Live called Current Mood, and he has a comedy/musical act with Dave Chappelle called Controlled Danger.
So how did Novak meet the “Wild Blue” singer?
“It’s a funny, random story. We had accidentally put a John Mayer song in the background of an Office scene at a Christmas party and hadn’t cleared it, and word came back that John Mayer’s publishing company had rejected the request. But we were fucked because we had already filmed the scene and it’s just in the background. Toby is singing it in karaoke,” Novak said.
“And I was like, wait, I think I can get to John Mayer, because my friend, the late Bob Saget, was friends with him, I knew. So I asked Bob if he’d put me in touch, and John’s like, ‘Look, I’ll tell you why I’m not approving it. It’s because I’m an Office fan. A big one. And let me guess — it’s Michael Scott’s favorite song.’ And I was like, ‘No no no, you don’t understand, I would never!’ So we sort of bonded over that, and we ended up becoming friends.”
The song, as you could probably have guessed, was Mayer’s 2001 hit “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” which the guitarist has recently begun playing live again after a long hiatus.
“I think he was sensitive about [it] because it had been so over-exposed,” Novak said.
But the song ended up staying in that 2006 Office episode, called “A Benihana Christmas,” and Mayer and Novak have been buddies ever since.
And though Mayer’s appearance in Vengeance is short and sweet, it serves its purpose well.
“John said, ‘The great thing about your movie is that it starts with a blooper reel,’” Novak laughed. “That was just a quick way to establish his [Ben Manalowitz’s] life, and also let people know, hey, this is a comedy, so people can relax as it goes to surprising places.”
Vengeance is now in theaters.
Main Image: BJ Novak and John Mayer at the premiere of Vengeance, courtesy of Focus Features.