Less than a month after the debut of “Marvel’s Daredevil” season two on Netflix, Jon Bernthal — who debuted on the show in a big way as fan-favorite Marvel Comics character The Punisher — talked to fans at a spotlight panel Friday afternoon at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle. The conversation, which also included plenty of time devoted to his role of Shane on “The Walking Dead,” was moderated by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” alum Clare Kramer, a regular host at ReedPOP shows.
Starting out, unsurprisingly, with discussion of the Punisher, Bernthal commented on how “It’s a character that means a lot to a lot of people,” adding that he prepared by reading as many comic books starring the character that he could.
Kramer asked about finding the versions of the Punisher he was inspired by. “It’s talking to crazy-ass dudes who work at comic book stores,” Bernthal said, thanking comic book fans for embracing his take on the character. “I got set straight really quick with ‘Punisher MAX’ and Garth Ennis. But there are so many great iterations. Not to sound like a douchey actor, but my job is to take it all in and make it my own.”
Speaking of Frank Castle’s motivations, Bernthal said,”He’s a man whose come undone with what’s happened to him.”
Kramer asked if Bernthal was familiar with the “Walking Dead” comic book before being cast on the TV show. “No,” Bernthal answered. “I read the script, I fell in love with the script. I started reading the first comic, and I loved it, and by the end of it, I was dead!”
Bernthal said he genuinely believes that Shane started out as “a good, honest, dependable” friend to Rick. “And then you take him, within 19 episodes, he’s slept with [Rick’s] wife, he’s trying to kill him — it’s a crazy arc,” Bernthal said. “I was so grateful for that opportunity. Very rarely on TV do you get a full arc.”
“A zombie show on AMC could have been a real mess of a show,” Bernthal said of “The Walking Dead” and its massive success. “Everybody was there because of the script, because of the source material, because of Frank Darabont. It was real humble beginnings.”
Turning back to “Daredevil,” Bernthal talked executing the show’s acclaimed and complex fight sequences. “The problem is schedule,” Bernthal said. “You’re against the clock all the time in television. You got to get it right. That stunt team, they’re one of the best fight teams in the world. They’re super-ambitious, we go for it — it’s an honor to roll with those guys.”
Kramer asked about Bernthal’s friendship with new Spider-Man Tom Holland, who he starred with in the movie “Pilgrimage.” “I’ve got to work with some wonderful people in this business, but as a young man, he is so wise, so genuine,” Bernthal said. “He comes from a good family. He’s a good, kind, unbelievably hard-working blue collar actor I think he’s going to crush it on that part.”
Bernthal declined teasing anything about the on-screen future of the Punisher. “Literally, in the exact same conversation where they called and said, ‘Hey, welcome to Marvel,’ they said, ‘Keep your mouth shut,'” Bernthal explained. “I dig it that way. This character, Frank Castle, he’s in my bones, he’s in my blood. We’ll see what happens to him. I don’t know and I’m not asking.”
Asked about how he got into acting, Bernthal said it “really saved my life and really set me straight.” “I was kind of a kid who was always finding myself in big trouble,” Bernthal said. “Serious trouble. I’m sure I drove so many people crazy.” Bernthal took a theater class to fulfill an arts credit, and on the first day of class made up a story about playing baseball to honor his dead mother (as he explained, his mother was alive and well). The teacher reprimanded him after he revealed his lie, “but she was like, ‘You got something, kid.'”
The first fan question asked how much additional training Bernthal needs to do for highly physical roles like the Punisher. “It’s one of the best parts,” Bernthal answered. “We get to learn from guys who do it for real. Those opportunities, when they’re given to you, you’ve got to dive in 100 percent.”
Did Thomas Jane’s Punisher portrayal influence Bernthal at all? “I don’t know, man,” Bernthal said. “I tried to soak in everything. I really dug the short. Maybe something sunk in a little bit, but if there’s one iteration that i think I really drew from, like I said, it’s the ‘Punisher MAX’ series. It’s the comic.”
A fan asked what makes Punisher work as a comic book character that stands in contrast alongside the Marvel superheroes. “He doesn’t have a superpower,” Bernthal said. “The character that I played on ‘Daredevil’ season two — that’s not really the Punisher in the beginning, I think. That’s not a guy that’s at all concerned about morality, or cleaning the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. He’s after the people who killed his family, and to kill them as brutally as possible. He’s not trying to reach a sunny day someday — that’s gone, that life is over.”
Bernthal told a fan that his remaining “Walking Dead” cast members still fill him in at times on upcoming plot developments. “They tell me, and it pisses me off, because I don’t want to know,” he said.
What was the most difficult role Bernthal had to portray? “They’re all difficult in their own way,” Bernthal said. “I don’t ever want this to be easy. I’m always petrified that I suck, and I’m always petrified that I’m going to fall flat on my face, and I never want that to change.”
Is Bernthal on Team Captain America or Team Iron Man in regards to Marvel Studios’ upcoming “Captain America: Civil War”? “Team Spider-Man,” Bernthal answered.
Who’d win a fist fight — Shane Walsh or Frank Castle? “Frank Castle would whup his ass,” Bernthal replied, confidently.
At the end of the session, Bernthal took rapid-fire questions from the crowd, including what his favorite part of “Daredevil” season two was: “Whupping people’s ass in the prison.”
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