Daredevil Season 2 will introduce a number of new characters, including but few are as anticipated as The Punisher. The heavily armed vigilante has been a Marvel fan favorite for decades, but so far, he hasn’t had much luck in live action. That’s all about to change.
Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) plays Frank Castle, the tortured veteran who wages a merciless war on crime. Expect plenty of ideological and physical conflict between Punisher and Daredevil, two vigilantes with drastically different approaches.
We spoke with Jon Bernthal about playing an iconic anti-hero, joining Marvel’s Netflix universe, and the physicality of Daredevil Season 2.
The first thing I noticed when you arrived on screen is that you really created a distinct posture for Frank Castle. How did you take on a different posture as Frank?
Yeah, look, I think always you have to figure out the way the guy walks and talks. The Frank Castle in Daredevil isn’t The Punisher. He’s not there yet. He’s a guy who just got home from war and he just went through the most traumatic event of his life, losing his family and he’s reeling from that.
He’s unhinged. He’s literally living a nightmare and he’s a man on a mission. His mission is to find the people who killed his family and kill them as brutally as possible. I think that all goes into the way that he walks and the way that he talks and the way that he articulates, and how much voice he uses. I think it’s all part of it.
Do you keep walking and talking like that on and off camera, or can you go back to Jon Bernthal’s posture in between takes?
For the most part, I really stay in it, man. If I were a better actor, maybe I could be on my iPhone and go to the bar and hang out, go to restaurants and just show up and be that guy, but that’s not how I am. I stay in it pretty fully. It’s just my own way of doing things.
I don’t walk around making people call me Frank or anything like that but I do try to stay in that mindset.
You took the Castle family photographs with the wife and daughter. Was that a heartbreaking photo shoot?
A lot of this process is heartbreaking. I think that’s the point.
I don’t think I ever would be able to play this part if I didn’t have a wife and kids. That’s sort of the best preparation for this role that you can possibly have. You learn to love something way more than yourself and there’s people in this world that you would happily give your life for.
Until you have people that you would happily give your life for, you can’t begin to understand what it would be like to have those people taken from you. So there’s all kinds of heartbreak involved.
Photographs are something we take for granted. That’s set dressing, but is it an awkward thing to be doing a photo shoot to be those background props?
There were awkward parts of it. It’s one thing when you’re working with actors and you develop a rapport, but then all of a sudden in one day you have these people who are supposed to be your family and trying to convey that for a bunch of pictures.
But, it’s tremendously important. It’s all part of it. It’s one of my favorite things about what I do. It’s a big puzzle piece and a huge collaboration. Every part counts.
Everyone knows there’s going to be great action between Frank Castle and Matt Murdock, but were you happy there’s also those juicy, meaty conversations between them?
I haven’t seen it yet but I hope people respond well to it. I think it’s really important that we see these two characters clash and their philosophies really come up against each other.
I think that what’s great about the show is I think if you were doing a two hour movie, you wouldn’t be able to take as deep a dive into all this. I think what’s great about this show is it’s not a superhero show. It’s a character driven story about a man. These people change, they evolve, they affect each other. I think the characters and their conflict will grow. I think real admiration will develop, a respect. I think they will really influence each other and I think both of their philosophies will drastically change because of the influence they have on each other.
Some of those conversations extend over multiple episodes. How long did you have to work on that with Charlie Cox and the directors?
Not long, man. That’s the thing. It’s TV so you’re always racing the clock. If there are scenes that are taking place in one or two sets, if you’re on that rooftop, you probably have a day to shoot the dialogue and you’ve got a day to shoot the action. You would be surprised how little time we had.
Then there is the action. Has Daredevil been more physical than even The Walking Dead?
I think so. Everything is sort of in its own way. I’m no stranger to physical work. I started off as an athlete in high school and college, as a boxer. The physical part usually comes really easy for me.
I think as far as the fight choreography this is the most ambitious stunt fighting that I’ve ever been a part of. We’re doing movie quality fighting in a TV schedule. I think we’ve got one of the best fight choreographers in the business with Phil Silvera. What he does is both extremely ambitious and extremely, I think, not just intricate and beautiful but it’s character based. It’s story based. There’s a story behind every punch that’s thrown. I think it continues and develops. When you see some more episodes, you’ll see.
I think Frank Castle’s fighting style really develops, changes and evolves. It becomes something totally different by the end. I do promise you it will get very, very brutal.
It’s already pretty brutal. Do you have a little more flexibility in the fights because you’re not wearing a full costume yet and Charlie is in the red Daredevil suit?
I think what it really requires is I work with Phil and I have a stunt double named Eric Linden who’s great. What we do, it’s really not based on anything except for, yes, I’m not wearing a mask so you can’t really shoot Eric from certain angles.
Basically, by the end, we really developed an awesome rapport and we figured out, because we’re always racing the clock, we really became a well oiled machine. When Eric would work, when I would work, which angles we would use in order to get the fight done and make the fight as good as possible in the time that we had.
Has Eric been your stunt double for many shows and movies?
No, actually, Eric and I met on this show. I think if people respond to this character and what we did, I think he deserves a lot of credit.
I know you went to comic book shops and read up on Frank Castle, but did you want to or did you end up seeing any of the three movies they made of The Punisher?
Yeah, I did, sure. I think they’re all very different. They’re all very unique takes on the character. I think first and foremost, it’s my job to really get familiar with the scripts that these writers wrote.
There were iterations in the comic that I really, really responded to and really, really influenced the way in which I went about playing this guy. I got tons of little ideas from the comics. A movie is different.
When you’re in a movie, you’re sort of beholden to that one and a half, two hour time frame, the very specific story they’re trying to tell. I think we’re doing something different. This is not the Punisher show. This is Daredevil. We’re really trying to tell the story of Frank Castle and how he fits into Daredevil’s world. I think that’s something very, very different.
Were there any particular arcs of the comic you were a big fan of?
The Garth Ennis Punisher Max series is sort of like the end all, be all for me. That’s the stuff that I read and reread over and over and over and over again. I really like that but I really feel like the crux of Frank’s struggle, Frank’s dilemma and his inner conflict comes from the comic.
So much of the comic is delivered in soliloquies. It’s him talking basically directly to himself, to the audience. That’s great as far as getting in touch with the character. I think he’s constantly asking himself, “Who is the real me? Why am I really on this killing spree? Is the real me the guy who’s running around Hell’s Kitchen mowing people down? Or is the real me the guy who was raising kids in the suburbs? Why am I doing this? Was I more at peace when I was at war or was I at peace when I was home?”
It’s the sort of inner struggle that’s just laden with self-hatred and self-loathing and shame and regret. I think that comes right from the comic book. I tried to breathe that sort of thought process into all the work that I was doing.
Was there one episode of Daredevil that was more difficult than any of the others?
You know what, man? Yeah, there were different episodes which were difficult for different reasons. There are some things that were just really, really hard, that were really tough physically just because of scheduling and how ambitious the fights were, and how violent they got. Especially the stuff towards the end.
I will say that the monologue in the graveyard at the end of [episode] four, just emotionally that was a really tough place to go to. I hope that does the writing justice. It’s a really beautifully crafted speech.