Jon Bernthal on His Approach to Acting and How Investing Himself into a Role Makes for Better Performances

Actor Jon Bernthal

“One of the drawbacks of playing the Punisher would be the high exposure. There’s a real downside to that as an actor” – Jon Bernthal

Jon Bernthal is the fourth actor to play the Punisher on screen. And while he might not be Dolph Lundgren, fans have approved of his performance as Marvel’s take-no-prisoners anti-hero. While Bernthal may have been a new face to most watching the Marvel Netflix series, Bernthal has created an impressive resume of performances since the early 2000s. In an interview with The Independent, Bernthal spoke about his approach to his work, including how investing himself into a role makes for better performances.

For Bernthal, one of the most important aspects to playing a character is authenticity. He explains, “For me, this job, what I do, I strive for authenticity. Not just for the movie watchers but for people who the story is about. During Fury, I hope people who are tank operators would look at that and relate. When I play a small-town police officer in a Georgia town, I want those police officers to buy that. What that requires is being granted access to the people who are like that. Some of the best relationships I’ve made in my career are with those people filmmakers bring on board, to teach you the tricks of the trade. There are cops in LA that I’m still super close with, a best friend who’s a Navy seal who I worked with. When somebody opens up their life like that, it’s unbelievably humbling.”

Naturally, investing that much into a role is incredibly time-consuming — but that’s a sacrifice that Bernthal is willing to make to make his work stand out. He continues, “I’m enormously busy, no question about it. I do this for a living and I’ve built a home from it. My mantra is ‘be where you are while you’re there’. So, when I’m making a movie, I’m in 100 per cent. I don’t stop for anything. I don’t take breaks, get drunk, go to bars. I’m packing things in the whole time. When there are people to meet to build that authenticity, I’m there. Same when I’m with my family. There is no cell phone, no meetings, half-in, half-out, I’m with them 100 per cent. That’s the only way I know how to live right now. My own personal happiness is dictated by how much I’m with that philosophy. If I’m not living that, I’m unhappy. ‘

Despite his leading role on The Punisher, Bernthal is mostly known for playing smaller roles and supporting parts. However, he doesn’t see much a distinction between the two. He says, “What I got to do in Wind River, in Sicario – where I pop up for just one scene – I’m just as grateful for that as Frank Castle in The Punisher. I came from the Moscow Art Theatre School where they coined the phrase ‘there’s no small part for a small actor’. What I love about these small parts is they really have a sense of history to them, a sense of you can believe this character existed before the scene, and will exist after – unless they get killed! These characters really add to the tapestry of a film, and if you can bring something authentic you make the world seem real.”

In fact, Bernthal sees having the opportunity to play different types of smaller roles as something much more desirable than being typecast as a certain type of lead actor. He says, “There have been some things that would have been splashier, bigger projects career-wise. There’s nothing I have done that I regret, nothing I wish I had. Honestly, I’m not here to make a huge splash. One of the drawbacks of playing The Punisher would be the high exposure. There’s a real downside to that as an actor… Having those splashier roles can be the enemy sometimes. You have to reinvent and challenge yourself.”

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