Jon Bernthal

Jon Bernthal On Doing things that make dirty look good

Interview: Holger Potye
Photo: Netflix

The actor talks about kicking some serious ass as The Punisher in Daredevil Season 2

THE RED BULLETIN: What goes through your head when you walk along the Brooklyn Bridge towards the set to start another day playing The Punisher in Daredevil?

JON BERNTHAL: I am thinking about all kind of things. There is no way I would be able to play this part if I wasn’t a husband and a father. I think it all sort of starts there. If I was a more skilled actor I would tell you that I had a wonderful time in New York, that I was at bars and restaurants enjoying myself and being with friends. That is not how I do it. I have to get into a pretty dark mind-set and isolate myself. It’s just the only way that I really know how to work these days. 

 

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That sounds like hard work.

Yes, but anything worthwhile is. Playing this part was a huge responsibility and honour. I think he is a character that means a great deal to a lot of people. When you look at comic books, you are looking at captions with a few words. It requires the audience to infuse a ton of their own imagination, which means that they have a very personal relationship with the characters that they are reading about.

What was it like living with Frank Castle, The Punisher, as an actor?

It’s not fun. Like I said before it is an honour. I have never been at this stage in my life. Things that are hard, or things that scare me, or things that challenge me is exactly where I want to be. You know there is a Grateful Dead quote: “Anybody that sweats like that must be all right.” I always wanted to be working hard. I am not interested in this being easy at all.

 

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Is the prospect of maybe getting your own series, doing The Punisher for another 6 years, something that scares you? What does your family think about it?

We will cross that bridge when we get to it. You have to take it one job at a time. I am no stranger to dark characters. I have done it before. I do believe that you lose a bit of yourself each time, and you leave some of yourself there. But this is the profession that saved my life. I care about it enormously. My work and my family is all I have. It is everything. I don’t have any interest in it being easy. 

What do you mean by “saved my life”?

I definitely had a troubled past. I wasn’t heading in the right direction when acting came into my life. I very much feel like it saved my life because it sent me on a completely different path. It made me grow up and become a man. The fact that I actually get paid to do it now is an absolute miracle and dream, and something that I am extremely grateful for. 

“My work and my family is all I have. It is everything. I don’t have any interest in it being easy”  

In 2013 you mentioned that you had your nose broken around 13 times …

14!

So did the broken nose count go up while shooting Daredevil?

I don’t think so. You know, at this point now I could sneeze a little break. I can move all the bones in my nose. It is so disgusting. I have stopped counting.

Did you enjoy doing the action scenes as The Punisher

The action sequences are unbelievably ambitious. These are movie level actions scenes on television that we’re talking about. Usually, TV fights are very limited and shot on a much smaller scale. You shoot it from a couple of different angles and then you get the stunt guys in. That’s it. This is completely different: it is beautifully choreographed, it is character based and story driven. It is not just fighting for the sake of fighting. There is a story behind it. Frank’s fighting gets more brutal as the stakes get higher and higher. There are two fights in particular with Frank at the end of the season that are going to be more violent than anything I think has ever been on television before. 

 

You’ve managed to create a likeable bad guy in The Walking Dead and now The Punisher. How was that possible?

I try to ignore anything like, “Is he a good guy or a bad guy?” I just try to identify with what the character is going through and play it as honestly as I possibly can. The way shows are made on Netflix means you can be bold enough to completely abandon the audience. There are no half measures. You don’t have to question your work like, “Okay, I am doing something bad, but it is not so bad. We don’t want to lose the audience now.”

“You can be bold enough to completely abandon the audience. There are no half measures”

F**k that! I think the goal is to absolutely abandon the audience. Absolutely go a hundred percent in one direction and be confident enough that you win them back 2-3 episodes down the road. And the fact that they don’t have to wait 2-3 weeks for that episode means it gives you the freedom to go even further in that direction. 

Was it easy to go 100%?

No. I fought the whole season for those kinds of things because The Punisher is an iconic character that Marvel takes very seriously. They want it delivered in a very certain way. I just constantly argued and fought for him to be full out at all times. 

What if The Punisher showed up in the Walking Dead universe? Would he feel at home? Would he get along with Rick?

(Laughs.) Jesus! You know I am so behind on that show, I really don’t know. 

Were you able to improvise on set?

Ever since The Wolf of Wall Street I have completely changed the way I work. The only way to create real danger on a set is to slay anything that is predictable and do it differently every time. You need to change it up and scare your fellow actors, and make them not know what you are going to do. That is the only way to make it dangerous short of actually hurting people. So I believe that on camera it is only good if it is dangerous. It is only good if it is unpredictable. And you have to be really careful to not let it get stale, so I improvise a lot.

The Wolf of Wall Street was obviously a pivotal movie for you.

It was. It wasn’t a huge role, but it changed everything for me. Everything was improvised. I didn’t say one line that was in the script. Marty (Scorcese) creates such an unbelievably fertile field for creativity. He makes everybody feel a thousand feet tall and that they can do no wrong. He really encourages you to push your boundaries and try everything possible. He wants you to completely let go and make it real, to improvise and throw the script away. I have always enjoyed working that way, but once you work with Marty it is like that gives you permission to do it. 

What is the most interesting aspect about Frank Castle in your opinion?

For me the crux of his dilemma is taken right from the comics. He is a soldier who went and fought for his country, saw unbelievable horrors while he was at war. But he was over there and he killed and risked his life for his country. He comes back and his family is brutally murdered and now he is on this killing spree. He is on this singular mission, that he has sort of justified in his own mind, that these people took his family so now he is going to go for it and he is going to kill every single one of these people as brutally as possible.

The problem is that he is not a man without remorse. He is not a man without guilt. He is not a man without shame. He is a man. So he is constantly asking himself: “Is this the real me? Am I really doing this because my family is dead? Or am I doing this because I am most comfortable killing. Is this an addiction? Is this an itch, that I need scratching?”

Sounds very dark.

It is! But I love it. I love that the dilemma there. I love that there is this constant battle. There is a level of self-revelation, self-hatred and self-loathing and it is constantly coming from a place of real disgust for himself and disgust with his actions. That makes him human in this really heightened world.

What about the relationship between The Punisher and Daredevil? Is there a mirror effect?

I think they are incredibly alike and the way it is presented is wonderful. If Daredevil and his methods are right, that means that Frank is wrong. If Frank is right, that means that Daredevil is wrong. 

You mentioned earlier that acting saved your life. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from life so far?

Appreciate every second. Don’t waste your time. You could go any time. Hug your babies, man!

 

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