In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum and senior reporter Daniel Holloway talk with Jon Bernthal, the star of Netflix's "The Punisher." Bernthal opens up about why he signed on for the part, why he fought for keeping Frank Castle unlikable, and what he’s most worried about.
"If there was any back-and-forth with me with the powers that be on my show that’s where the crux of any argument lay, in saying let’s say bold. He’s not trying to win people over." I’m not interested in making him relatable," he says. That's why he fought for keeping Frank Castle unlikable, embracing his violence. "I’m not interested in making him likable. He’s a guy who’s living in darkness.
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Jon Bernthal photographed exclusively for the Variety Remote Controlled Podcast
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But when the project came to his attention, he learned more about who "The Punisher" is and he was convinced. There was something about that that scared the you-know-what out of me and left me intrigued." "He didn’t have any super (powers); he didn’t have a mask," he says. "He was a grieving father and husband who was reeling from this unbelievably traumatic event.
They give the performance time to breathe and you get to know who the guy really is. The character was first introduced in "Daredevil," and the experience of working on that series convinced him he'd made the right decision. And then I saw Vincent D'Onofrio do his thing. There’s so much patience," says Bernthal. "You don’t see that much on TV and especially in that genre. This is a world I want to play in." "Seeing the liberty and the time that Charlie Cox was given — in the first episode he delivers this monologue.
There’s something about the act of reading a comic. You have to honor that sense of ownership. The audience has to infuse and fill the breaks between the captions within their own imaginations. You don’t want to get it wrong." But he's worried about how comic book fans will react, given their passion for the character — and his experience on the "Walking Dead." "I’ve become plagued with worry about it," he says. There’s a real sense of ownership there.
Bernthal admits he resisted the idea of playing the character. "Fully candid, being part of a superhero franchise was not something that I really had an ambition towards; it wasn't really on my radar," he says. "A lot of the people that I really admire, actors that I really look up to have avoided that whole thing."
"I love my wife and my kids more than myself. That the role is also an origins tale appealed to him — and terrified him, he admits. "I always try to gravitate to stuff that scares me," he says. Just that kernel of an idea, it scared me." Until you understand love like that, you can understand what it would be like to lose it. I’d willingly give my life for them.