Last week, I was lucky enough to get to interview actor Jon Bernthal for the upcoming Sicario (which is excellent, by the way - you can read my review here), which he stars in alongside top-billed Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin. While Bernthal's screen time may not be extensive ("Everyone else was on this movie every single day; I was on it for four days"), his role is a pivotal one.
So I was curious. What was it that drew him to the role in the first place without a lot of screen time?
He admitted that he'd been dying to work with Denis Villeneuve for quite some time. He gushed about costars Blunt, Brolin, and Del Toro ("I know that actors say a lot of douchey things like that and they don’t really mean it, but I had never felt so at ease on a set."), but also about how Villeneuve had worked with him to create a character that wasn't just violent and brutal, but also sympathetic:
At first, I felt that it was not really the kind of role on the page that was really right for me. But I was really touched and it meant a lot that Denis put my face on it and made it much more of a compromise, you know, a guy who was going through something and got in over his head. And that’s what got me.
It's a role that he's been drawn to many times in his career: the fundamentally good man who is forced into a world of violence by situations often outside of his control: Ted in Sicario. Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead. Joe Teague in Mob City. And soon, Frank Castle/Punisher in Daredevil.
But still, Bernthal is just so damn likable - even when his characters are being brutal, somehow, you still root for them.
As it turns out, it's all thanks to a fundamental acting philosophy he has that ties all of these roles together, and he touched upon the aforementioned Punisher role to put it into perspective:
When you talk about Sicario and [The Punisher], I think it’s really important that, whenever you play a part like that, you have to make the person [relatable]. I know it’s a trite thing to say, but I don’t just believe in good guys and bad guys. You know, he (Ted) was sort of this sinister character, but we were able to add things to this character, about him having a family and that he was in deep and in this compromising situation. I really wanted there to be a feeling that he got involved with something that was so much bigger than him, that he was in hot water. He wasn’t necessarily a bad man, but he was forced to do what he had to do. I don’t believe that people go through this world thinking, “I’m a bad man and I am going to do bad things.” I think when you’re successful in creating a character, it comes from a place of really knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing and being very truthful and honest. It’s not a truthful reason to say, “I’m the guy doing this because I’m a villain.” That’s just not how people operate, so you have to find something to hold onto that’s real for you.
It's an interesting peek into the mind of the man who will soon be portraying antihero Frank Castle on the small screen, and it's one that should give fans security. In Bernthal's hands, Castle won't simply be a vengeance-consumed maniac, but sympathetic and layered.
And as Ted, Bernthal is a modest, but powerful, engine that drives the events of Sicario forward and grants us, as the audience, a deeper understanding of what it means to be a decent human being caught up in an inhuman world.
Sicario will be in theaters on October 2nd.