By day he’s Frank Castle. By night he’s The Punisher, a man on a mission. He’s a vigilante who sets the bad guys straight. He’s also a major component of Netflix’s critically acclaimed Marvel property Daredevil. Actor Jon Bernthal makes his Daredevil debut in the second season of the streaming series. His anti-hero story is as compelling as anything we’ve seen thus far in the brutal series.
I caught up with actor Jon Bernthal to talk about playing the crime fighting hero. We also talk about an important moment in season two where his alter-ego gives us a peek into his vigilante soul.
Can it be that The Punisher really isn’t that bad after all?
Were you always a fan of Daredevil growing up?
To be honest, I really wasn’t. My first real exposure to the comic books and the comic book world was through The Walking Dead. It was also an exposure to the comic book fans and their enthusiasm and how much it means to them. I had no idea how committed that fan base is. There’s something with comic books, and the medium requires so much imagination on the part of both the reader and audience. It ignites the imagination and gives the audience this sense of ownership of the characters and of these worlds. I think that’s a reason for the passion. I experienced it firsthand with The Walking Dead. With this character, Frank Castle, I really dived into the comic book. I got a lot from the books and the research process was fun.
What was it about this particular guy that made you say, this is who I want to play?
I wasn’t desperately trying to get into the comic book world. [laughs] For me, it’s about the human being. He has no superpower. His superpower is his humanity. It’s his drive, his rage, and his loss. I could never have played this part if I weren’t a husband or father. Until you really understand what it’s like to love somebody more than yourself and to willingly give your life for them, only then can you understand what it would mean if they were taken from you.
I really dig this Netflix model of 13 episodes. All at once delivery system of material because it allows for real freedom in the way that you tell a story. You can be bold and take risks or abandon the audience and go very far. The way most of this material is digested all at once. They don’t have to wait 3 or 4 months to win the audience back to explain their actions. I really dig it.
As a character study and acting, you can’t ask for anything more.
You really have to hand it to Netflix for giving us this binge-watching culture. It’s like a choose your own adventure. You decide where to go next be it one episode, two, or the entire season.
With the TV model, whether cable or network, you sort of have to operate in these gray areas where if your character is going down a road where you could lose the audience, you have to keep it gray and play it both ways. A character like Frank Castle, he goes all the way, and later on humanity sets in. The regret, humiliation and shame pour in later with him.I love that you don’t have to tell all these different stories and let that affect you in a natural way. There’s no question that the Netflix model is a real ally in that.
I love your take on Frank Castle and The Punisher. You nail the dark, gritty edge to him. But what’s it like with those battle scenes? Again, you nail those scenes.
I think when you’re talking about characters like these, the way they fight, what’s motivating the fight is very important. Beating someone up to drag them into jail is different than someone who is exercising his rage on people. The Frank Castle you find in this story is not The Punisher. He’s reeling from the loss of his family. He’s driven by rage and is on a singular mission to find these people who took his family from him, and do it as brutally as possible.
This team that’s been assembled, they’re unbelievably ambitious. The fighting in this show everybody working together. I also believe the way in which he fights tells you volumes about the character. There’s a story with each and every punch, and they allow us to approach it like that. These guys are good enough to choreograph in that way.
Which scenes stand out for you from this season?
A big part of this guy is a guy searching for himself. He’s got pain, regret and remorse. There’s the graveyard scene where he opens up. He delivers this scene where he explains what it’s like to come home and see his daughter. It was such a gift from John C. Kelley. I had been away from my kids for three months, and I was at the crux of my own torture, going through that.
I really tried to drive into what this guy was going through. Not only was it beautifully written. What it allowed was a man who doesn’t open up much, doesn’t share, who has been alone, and this circumstance found him where he didn’t think he’d be able to get up from that gravestone. He has this opportunity to open up. Those moments and that speech gave me the ammunition to go as far as I wanted the other way. You could be as brutal as possible, as depraved, as tortured as possible because at that moment, the audience got to see what was going on in that man’s heart, and he’s unbelievably human. He’s in an unbelievably amount of pain. That speech was the anchor of the season for me.
We’re getting to see who he is
It’s very rare for characters like this and these broken people on a mission is a necessary part of being a soldier and being a man on a mission. To say things like shame, regret, and humanity. I’m not letting those things penetrate me because I’m just about this mission. What was great about that was that it reminds us that it’s impossible to build a wall around your heart. It also tells us that all humans are reachable, and some light penetrates that wall, and feelings are underneath there. What an opportunity for a guy like this to share that and open up about it.
What lies ahead for Frank and The Punisher?
[laughs] I have no idea. We are going to do a show with him next year. I’m really excited about that. We’ll have to see.
Does anything surprise you about the Frank character at all?
I think the relationship with Karen surprised me the most. It was a rare thing that can happen when you have a real collaboration between writers and actors. These writers and producers watch the dailies, they see things that were happening. You might not be able to put words to it, and they develop that. In the same way that there’s this connection between Frank and Karen and we never explain exactly what it is. I felt what it became was that I thought he looked at her as, this is the kind of woman his daughter could have become, bold and intelligent, and courageous, independent, bold and caring. I think he saw his daughter in her. I think as a man that swore off caring about anything besides his mission and completing it, I think he started to care about her, her well-being, and her opinion.
Jon Bernthal and Marvel’s Daredevil is now streaming on Netflix.