Interview – Jon Bernthal

Interview – Jon Bernthal

Following a dream is a gift, to make a living off that dream is all gravy. Case in point, Jon Bernthal came to a crossroad in his young life going into college. Unsure of which path to take, he soon saw the light, leading him to pursue a career as an actor. Fine tuning his craft since, over the past 15 years he has become a successful film and television star known for roles in features including 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, 2014’s Fury, as well as his famous portrayal of Shane Walsh on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Taking nothing for granted, the impassioned Bernthal continues to leave it all on screen for each and every project with lively, intense performances all his own. Recently we caught up with the talented actor to talk his road to success, his diverse resume, working on the prison film Shot Caller, and so much more.  

CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in film and television professionally for 15 years now. First, briefly tell us, what inspired you to get involved in acting?

Jon Bernthal – There was a woman called Alma Becker. I went to school to play sports and I took a class taught by this woman. She was a magical woman, she came up in Magic Theatre in San Francisco in the Sam Shepard scene in the late ’60s. She really saw something in me and I owe so much to her. I decided college wasn’t really for me and I wasn’t able to finish, but I knew I really wanted to act. She was the one to lead me to Moscow and study at Moscow Art Theatre. I was in Russia for about 2 years studying over there. That really solidified it and gave me a deeper reverence and understanding of the arts. I am enormously grateful for Alma and grateful I found this. I am a father and husband now, I have a home. I really owe so much of it to acting and to this art. I was not on the best path as a youngster, this really made me find discipline and find something I love to do. It really changed my life. 

Columbia Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

CrypticRock.com – That is positive to hear how it changed your life for the better. You have had the ability of taking a variety of different roles through the years including your powerful role in The Walking Dead, as The Punisher in the Daredevil series, and so on. Do you enjoy having the ability to play such a wide range of roles?     

Jon Bernthal – Sure! Again, I am enormously grateful that I have choices and grateful I get to do this. As a kid, I remember being in a doctor’s office and looking at this old cartoon book; I used to be a baseball player and there was this Babe Ruth cartoon book. There was this one caption of Babe Ruth leaning up against the ballpark wall flipping a hot dog into his mouth and he says to a kid, “You know what kid? I am living my dream. I get payed to do what I love all day – eat hot dogs and play baseball.”

I love doing this! I love that I get a variety of not only roles, but great people to work with. I am enormously grateful for the friends I have made along the way. The people that are in this profession, it is a traveling circus, I get to meet different crews, actors I get to act with, and directors I get to work for. They are unbelievably interesting people. They are kind people and good people. I feel blessed to do what I do. 

Netflix

Netflix

CrypticRock.com – What more can one ask for! In 2017 alone, you have been involved in many projects. Recently you played an important part in the new film Shot Caller. How did you become involved in this film?

Jon Bernthal – The director, Ric Waugh, I have worked with him in the past on a movie called Snitch (2013). He gave me a real break in that movie, he gave me one of the main roles opposite Dwayne Johnson. He took a real risk on me and I owe him a lot for that. We really respect and like each other. I am going to work with him again. I know with Ric, authenticity is key. When he made Felon (2008), which is a cutting, hard-nose prison film, he embedded with the parole board and went undercover as a parole officer. He is able to get you access into the prisons and certain people that is very hard to get access with. I knew it would be a very rich experience, very well researched, and very honest. That is one of my main criteria when choosing a project. 

CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. It is certainly a tragic tale of how hard time in prison can really change a person. How did you prepare for your role as Frank?  

Jon Bernthal – I think, first and foremost, Ric was able to get me access to a certain person who had gone to prison and worked himself up through the gang system. He was a shot caller. He had keys to the yard in a major correctional facility out in California. It was a big deal. This is a guy who was out of prison now, had a green light on him. There are people from major national gangs instructed to kill him. I had to meet him in hiding. He and I got real close and got to know each other very well. We stayed in very close contact throughout making the film. A lot of the dialogue I say in the film I got from him. Many of my character’s tattoos are his tattoos. He really turned the notion and stigma of what it means to be an incarcerated gangster on its head. I’ve learned so much about behavior and how these guys act toward each other and how they communicate, their discipline. In many cases, it was the opposite of what I thought. I am really grateful we got to know each other the way we did. 

Behind the scenes of Shot Caller

CrypticRock.com – The film certainly does create an authentic feeling. One thing the film certainly does create is a sense of fear. A sense of, when on the inside, you do what you need to survive.  

Jon Bernthal – Absolutely! I think that is kind of the point. Whatever sense of reality you have about your own life goes out the window once you are in there. You are in a completely different world. For better or worse, we cage these guys up. Not to say these folks aren’t responsible for their own actions, they are. I do think so much criminal behavior is learned on the inside. Once these guys get in, their survival depends on entering into this new world and abiding by its rules that exist in it. 

CrypticRock.com – Exactly. You can see that from the start. You have an average guy who was a successful business man with a nice home, wife, and kid. He makes a terrible error and ends up in a high security prison. This in mind, what was it like working with this cast?

Jon Bernthal – It was great! Ric is attracted to people, and attracts people, who are really committed. He attracts people who want to dive in wholeheartedly. We got to shoot in a real working and active prison, I think that attracts a certain kind of actor. I made some really great friends. Omari Hardwick is a guy I have enormous respect for. I love the fact we had a scene together. Nikolaj (Coster-Waldau) is someone I consider a close friend and someone I respect a lot. Lake Bell is someone I have known for a while and I thought she was great in the film. It was a really cool experience. 

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jacob / Money in Shot Caller

CrypticRock.com – Very cool, it will be exciting to see what people think once they start to discover the film. As mentioned, you have really kept busy in recent years with work in film and television. How would you compare your work in television to feature films?

Jon Bernthal – Each job is different and presents it own challenges. I am grateful for the challenges and differences. I have done some big studio films that you really have time where you can be tactful and approach things strategically. I have also done things where your back is really up against the wall and there is not much time to think; you have to dive in with two feet and go for it with everything you’ve got.

Then there is everything in between. I think each job and each group of people is completely unique. I think the part of the job of an actor is not only getting to know your part, your character’s history, and what they want as well as possible, I think it is also adapting to the conditions you are in. It is understanding the pace and momentum of the set and style of filmmaker you are working for. 

Saban Films

CrypticRock.com – Yes, that makes sense. You bring an intensity to the screen. Do you have a similar intensity in real life as well?

Jon Bernthal – I don’t think so. I am a pretty relaxed guy (laughs). I tend to be drawn to characters where the stakes are high. I am interested in people in situations where anything can happen; I think that is life at a pitch. I think a lot of the best drama exists in that plane. I try and create the opposite in my real life. I am the father of 3 young kids, I live with them and my wife in a real sleepy little mountain town. I think what I am after in my life is to try and find as much peace as possible. 

CrypticRock.com – That is a great outlook to have. Of your many memorably roles, do you still find people referring to your time as an intricate part of The Walking Dead?

Jon Bernthal – Absolutely! You can never underestimate the influence and the power of that show, it is enormous. When we started that show, it was very humble, we had no idea it was going to be what it became. It was this sort of perfect group of people with this perfect piece of material that everyone committed to with everything they had. That core group of The Walking Dead, that original group, we are all still enormously close.

They are still some of the people I am closest with in this world. There is a reason for that, I have never really found a closeness with a cast like on The Walking Dead. I think there was something like that on Fury (2014) and some other jobs, but The Walking Dead was this unbelievable special, unique time and experience. I think that the character still resonates with people and coming up to me all the time and talking about The Walking Dead means a lot to me because the character means a lot to me. I am glad the show is so successful for the people that are on it. 

Amy (Emma Bell), Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies), Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Andrea (Laurie Holden). Photo Credit: Matthew Welch / AMC

CrypticRock.com – Yes, and you did an exceptional job with Shane. The character still resonates with the story of The Walking Dead to this day. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films? 

Jon Bernthal – Yes! I grew up and was a huge Friday the 13th fan, Part 1 (1980) and 2 (1981). Unfortunately, as little kids, we really rooted for Jason (laughs). I just loved those films. I loved the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the Halloween films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Those are all films I dug a lot. I am a fan. 

Paramount Pictures

New Line Cinema


Shot Caller opened in select theaters nationwide & On Demand Friday, August 18th
Purchase the film at iTunes 

For more on Jon Bernthal: Twitter

Feature image credit: Netflix/Marvel

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Frank Malerba
frank@crypticrock.com
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