As Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher, in Marvel’s Daredevil, Jon Bernthal did such a stellar job that he’s just been given his own spinoff show–which will be Marvel’s sixth collaboration with Netflix. Bernthal was no stranger to the comic book genre, having done a stint on The Walking Dead. He credits comic book fans as the most “passionate and intelligent audience there is”.
In order to get close to the mindset of Frank Castle, the married-with-children Bernthal forced himself into isolation, as he says, “I really felt that for me, to eliminate the creature comforts, to isolate myself from my family, to really actively engage and be open to a relative level of darkness in my life, I think really serves the character and really was essential explore.”
Now, with six film projects in the works and the spin-off coming up, Bernthal seems unstoppable. “I’m just fighting the fight,” he says. “If it’s a good project and they’ll have me, I’m there.”
What first grabbed you about the role of Frank Castle/The Punisher?
I’ve been totally upfront about this. I don’t think that I ever had any real longing or clear conscious aspirations to jump into the whole superhero genre. It was never really something that I pursued. What grabbed me about Frank is that he’s the quintessential opposite of that. He has no superpowers. He’s unbelievably human. It’s humanity that makes him such a force to be reckoned with. He’s a man who suffered immeasurable loss. The Frank Castle that we find in Daredevil Season 2 is not a guy who’s out there trying to rid Hell’s Kitchen of the criminal element. He’s a brokenhearted, completely isolated man who’s lost his wife and kids. He’s reeling, he’s filled with shame and remorse and regret and pain, and he’s a man on a mission. He’s trying to find these people who have taken his heart from him, and he’s trying to kill them, as brutal a way as possible. I think that’s as sort of old and classic and human a tale as possible. I’ve said it before, I don’t think that I would ever begin to be able to step into these shoes and take on this role if I wasn’t a father and a husband myself. To really, really understand what it means to love somebody, to love people more than you love yourself, and to willingly give your life for them in a heartbeat. Until you really understand that, I don’t think you can begin to understand what it would be like to lose that love. I just think for me at this time in my life with three young kids and a relatively new family, it was something that really scared me. It’s always been a mantra of mine. In art, if it scares you, run to it. That’s where you’ve got to go.
In prepping for the role, you spent time alone away from your family–why did you need to do that?
I think it absolutely deserves an element of immersion. I don’t think it would be respectful to the character that so many fans have adored for years, I don’t think it would be fair to the members of the American military who have worn the Punisher insignia on their battle armor and have fought and died for our country. I don’t think it would be fair to the members of law enforcement that have adopted this character, and the millions of fans it means so much to. For me to be at nightclubs and bars and restaurants and hanging out with my kids and just being a happy guy, and being on my phone, turning up on set, playing pretend, that’s not how I work and that’s not how I want to work. So shut off the other things, to shut off the comfort, and to shut off the escape and television and things like that, I think that that’s part of the job. It’s definitely how I worked on with Frank.
Why do you think Netflix makes a good home for Marvel projects?
It’s an absolute joy working for Netflix. I love their model. There’s no better system to deliver a story. It lets you be incredibly bold with your storytelling. It lets you take huge risks. It lets you risk alienating your audience and abandoning your audience, and then being courageous enough to know that you’re going to win them back four episodes down the line, but you know that they don’t have to wait four weeks until they get that episode. I think with a character like Frank Castle, it’s really important to go all the way. When he has a moment of brutality, to make it fully brutal, and then try to explain what he did with the regret and the remorse and the shame. Let that seep in a couple episodes down the road. But to try to play the brutality and shame at the same time, I think it’s not real. I really love the Netflix model, and I think they’re really on to something.
What are your thoughts on playing a character who uses guns so much, in light of the current debate on gun control?
Look, what I think should happen is I think that one of the most notable things that art can do is hold a mirror to society and make you ask questions. I think that if you’re asking a question, then we’re doing our job. I think that’s the point. I think what’s really interesting about Daredevil Season 2, and as far as the issue with guns, and guns in America, and guns in the streets, and guns for justice, and all these things–what’s interesting about that is I think that wherever you fall on the gun control debate, I think you can make arguments based on our show that would support either side. I like that. I think that’s what we should do. I think that our job is not to give you an answer. I don’t think our job is to tell you which way to think. I think our job is to hold a mirror out to reflect society and show both sides of it. That’s kind of where I fall. I think that it’s a very, very complicated issue and I think if we’re successful, we’re going to raise those questions.
What’s the situation right now with your spinoff?
I’m tremendously excited about it. I look at it as a real joy and a real responsibility and a real honor to play Frank Castle. I feel like he’s in my bones now and he’s in my heart. I’m ready to keep going with him. As far as what this show’s going to be, and what it’s going to be about, and when it’s going to shoot, and where it’s going to shoot and all that, unfortunately I don’t know anything. It’s kind of part and parcel with the way that Marvel works. Information is definitely on a need to know basis. I am nervous, and I just want to do this character and this world justice.