Nathan Edmondson, scribe of Image Comics series “Who is Jake Ellis?,” “Where is Jake Ellis,” “The Activity,” “Dancer” & more, recently set his pen to Marvel’s “Black Widow” and “The Punisher.” Perhaps the most notable aspect of Edmondson’s take on Frank Castle is the relocation of the character to Los Angeles, California — where CBR’s home offices are based. During Edmondson’s trip to the City of Angels, he stopped by the CBR Speakeasy to discuss moving Frank to LA, the appeal of the city, including real world locations in the series and more. Plus, he details an appropriately epic story about how a joke landed him a future role on “Rizzoli & Isles.”
On setting “The Punisher” in Los Angeles: There were two reasons [I set it in LA]. When they offered us the series to relaunch the Punisher, which is a pretty hefty gig, … we wanted to do something new, something that said, “This for the new generation.” Also, there was an interest for there to be a formula, we would like this to work for television rather than features, so there was a discussion of that. We wanted to build a model that worked in that way and that was a fresh take — something really exciting, something really new that felt like ours and that reached to an expanded audience for new generations for the Punisher. Part of that with New York felt like we knew what stories we were going to tell. It was fairly familiar territory, we knew the streets, the villains — it felt like we’re going to be retreading a lot of familiar ground. I also don’t like New York very much, and I don’t know it that well. I know LA, I like LA and it made a lot more sense to me. Once I started thinking about the west coast, the character clicked. I said, “I know how we can take this and make this our thing without contradicting anything that makes the Punisher the Punisher.” As we described in issue #2, home is where the hunt is, for him.
On pulling inspiration from real life for “The Punisher”: We’re not headline pulling, but we are certainly pulling from the reality of — look, this is a town where MS13 controls blocks that the cops won’t touch. In some ways, it’s a besieged town in areas. I just placed a feature script and initially, it was partially based in LA and we had an element where we’re dealing with the Maras, and we had an exec say, “You’ve got to change the names. Nobody’s going to touch it. Everybody’s afraid. If you really start talking about them, they’re going to show up.” And that was kind of shocking to me. But what we do, what we believe, it has echoes of reality — that there’s this nasty, growing, cancerous gang element.
On bringing in Electro to “The Punisher”: Well, you’re going to see that he’s kind of for-hire and playing a big role in the gang’s designs. As is oftentimes the case, there are some nefarious political things going on behind what even the gang is doing. Part of what we wanted to do is we’ve got the Howling Commandos coming after the Punisher, he’s got to struggle through our series. He’s not Chuck Norris with two machine guns just mowing down jungle or city blocks. He’s up against it. We wanted to pit him against somebody who hot lead has no effect and see how he adapts.
On setting part of the comic in the Nickel Diner: We needed a home base. He doesn’t have a home, you’re not going to see him wake up — so we needed a place where we saw him interact with other elements of humanity; get a glimpse into what he’s thinking. I did a little thinking, talking, asking — what’s the right location? We needed something downtown, and the Nickel Diner has this great history. Kristen and Monica, who took it over, were telling me the other day that for several months after they had taken the place, people would come in asking for the #4 special, and then flipping out when it wasn’t their heroin supply. It’s skid row-adjacent, and that gentrification is sort of a half-joke model of what the Punisher is trying to do: get rid of the riffraff and take some of that down. So what happens if he’s sitting skid row-adjacent with some gourmet donuts, and somebody comes in to hold up the place because they’re looking for their fix. It’s a great place, it’s an iconic place — they love the idea. I wore this, and when I did an appearance there a couple of days ago, all their staff were wearing these shirts that they made.
On his fascination with the military story genre: It feeds back into itself — “The Activity,” when we were working on that series, we’re getting connections to the Special Operations world, getting invited out to Ft. Bragg, we’re getting gear sent to us, training for wounds. I was invited to this Black Ops-only party, it opened this world where we started interacting with these people and it’s a vortex. The Special Operations guys that I’m friends with will joke and then once in a while, something will click where I suddenly remember that these guys are guys that are trained to regulate their heart rate so they can fire one-mile sniper shots between pulse beats and their thumb [so as] not to misdirect the bullet. It’s a superhuman thing. Admittedly, I have a fascination with that. I’m an outdoorsman and I’m kind of drawn to that. I write all day, I’ve got film stuff going and I feel pretty cool; but when I look at those guys, I’m like, “I haven’t done anything.”
On how an epic joke landed him a role on “Rizzoli & Isles”: I was at a TCA event at the Beverly Hilton last year. An actor had invited me out, it was the 25th Anniversary gala, and I didn’t have a suit. I was traveling, I was just in LA clothes. I had to go that morning and get a suit. I’m flying around town, I’m getting it tailored and it was not that expensive, and there I am at this — it’s top three billed cast only at this thing, and I’m standing around, people are coming up to me, talking about this suit and I really don’t feel like a million bucks. Suddenly, the ego is gone and people are talking to me, and then they start asking which of the shows I’m on, because they assume if I’m dressed up, I must be talent. “No, no! I’m nobody interesting. I’m just a writer.” Finally, I think the third time, I just jokingly said, “Have you never watched the show before? I play Chip on ‘Rizzoli & Isles.'” I happened to make this joke to the senior vice president of scripted programming and the director of all marketing for Turner Entertainment and they thought it was hysterical. So, I get invited out to some filming in Atlanta for other stuff they’re doing. They ask me to create a Twitter account, I get a box at my doorstep from the set with robe, slipper, Kindle Fires, M&Ms, all “Rizzoli & Isles” mugs. Then, this joke just kept going. Patrick Duffy gets in touch with my wife through his nurse who knew him in Oregon, asking me to come to dinner because he’d heard about this thing and knew I was signing in Oregon — it was just this whole thing. To me, it was a joke that ran away.
I was in town this week and they said, “We know you’re going to be in town, would you like to do a walk-on on the show?” And I said, “Yeah, it’d be fun.” I went out to Paramount and they said, “Unfortunately, we can’t do a walk-on. We’re close to hiatus –” and it was clear — “We have no idea what this is. We don’t know what’s going on with this joke and this Twitter thing.” Because word had come in from on high, “Help this guy out,” but I don’t want screen time, I just thought it was fun.
Yesterday, I got onto the set, and Michael Katleman is the director I knew, who is overseeing all the directors on the series. He saw me, and pulled me in, and he hadn’t heard the story. I told him, he brings me to the exec producer, she thinks it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened and she immediately gets Rizzoli and Isles to start Tweeting pictures of “Chip just dropped by the set!” They do a little video of me and Angie Harmon doing a scene, and then they say, “Well, look. If you come back in a month, we’re going to write in a scene, we’re going to write you into the show, you’re going to get credited as Chip.” They’re going to do this whole marketing campaign. It’s totally bizarre. But everybody’s so fun.