Archive from 'Pilgrimage'
IGN – If there’s any actor that might be considered an “actor’s actor” who has gone to great lengths for his craft, then Jon Bernthal has worked his butt off to get where he is now.
It’s been five years since Bernthal was a regular on AMC’s The Walking Dead, but he then got an even more high-profile gig as The Punisher in the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil. Bernthal’s version of Marvel’s Frank Castle proved popular enough to get him his own series, which he shot earlier this year and is expected to debut later in 2017.
Between doing those shows, Bernthal still found plenty of time to make movies, and he even found time to chat with IGN about a variety of topics.
Brendan Muldowney’s Pilgrimage couldn’t be any more different from Bernthal’s normal role, if there is such a thing, because it takes place during 13th century Ireland as it follows a group of monks on a dangerous journey through the rugged Irish landscape to bring a sacred relic back to Rome. The diverse group of monks is played by Stanley Weber, John Lynch, Hugh O’Conor and none other than Tom Holland, and Bernthal is playing a character simply known as The Mute, a man unable to speak who comes from a violent past.
Other than Pilgrimage, Bernthal still has a busy month ahead of him, appearing in Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut Wind River (now in theaters), as well as Ric Roman Waugh’s upcoming Shot Caller, playing gritty criminal characters in both. (Jamie Dagg’s Sweet Virginia, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring as did Pilgrimage, hasn’t figured out its distribution yet.)
IGN: When you read the Pilgrimage script, how were you able to envision what the character would be without having any dialogue?
Jon Bernthal: But that’s the fun and challenge of it. There are seven languages spoken in this film, and there’s also the language of the mute, and that’s something you gotta come up with, and you have to do extensive work on the guy’s backstory. You have to come up with a reason why he’s come up with this vow of silence. One of the things I really wanted to dive into in order to do this was to see what that was like. And to go to Ireland and be silent, and not speak on set and not speak at home. That makes things difficult. We were all living under the same roof and had every meal together. We were together the whole time. To do that in silence, at first, was very isolating and frustrating, but I learned a ton about who this character is. I think on a film set [it’s important] to divorce yourself from your wants and your needs. We use our voice to ask for things, to say, “Hey, I gotta go to the bathroom” and “Hey, can I get a glass of water,” and if they’re passing out apples, “Hey, can I have an apple?” The mindset of someone who has taken a vow of silence [is,] “Oh, I want that apple, how do I get someone’s attention? Okay, I’m just going to let that go. Do I deserve that apple?” I think somebody who has done that, it comes from the shame of, “Do I deserve that? I’m going to divorce myself from these wants and only take what I need.” I think that’s the kernel of the character.
It was an interesting process to go through, being silent on set and off, and then it was interesting to get out of that process and realizing that the film would benefit a lot more. I need to start communicating, because we need to develop this language of the mute. You cover the guys that are talking, and I need to say, “Hey, at this moment here, I’m giving this look – that’s my line.” Brendan and I, we worked well on how to communicate. On a certain days I had to be silent. On certain days I didn’t.
IGN: You had mentioned earlier doing a lot of activities with the other guys in the cast. Were you remaining silent that whole time?
JB: So, yeah, for the first few weeks, silent 24/7, and then I started talking. All the guys decided as a group that they like me better where I’m silent, because once I started talking, I wouldn’t shut the hell up. But yeah, in the beginning, I think the day I really found it was the day when we got out to Western Ireland — me and Tom Holland and Stanley Webber, we went to climb a mountain together, and we had met in Dublin, and we were talking and we were out before the process started, and then on the train out there, I just wrote them a note that said basically I’m done talking. We climbed this mountain together, and we really started to learn a lot.
IGN: Is that a very common thing you do on movies, trying to stay in character, especially when you’re playing someone very different from yourself?
JB: You know, yes and no. What I was saying before is … staying in character. I feel like you have all these artists working together in all these different departments on a film, both in pre-production, camerawork and post-production. All we’re trying to do is work on the 15 seconds you have between “action” and “cut.” I think that if the work you do when the camera is not rolling is what makes the work work between “action” and “cut”… To just sort of turn on, I think some actors are better than others. I don’t think I’m good enough to do that. I think I have to, with some degree, sort of stay with characters, have it be alive inside of me, and sometimes, fully. When you go home at night, often times, it’s not best to just turn off. You gotta come up with techniques and ways to stay on. As far as “staying in character,” I’m not sure what that means. I think everybody has a different idea about it. For me and this, it was an exercise to do that. I learned a lot, I got what I needed out of it, and then I stopped.
IGN: How was it being silent on set but also being able to communicate with Brendan or the crew about what you need? As an actor, I’m sure you need things from make-up and hair.
JB: In the beginning, I was talking. I only did it for the first couple weeks, but through that, from the actors to the hair and make-up team to the crew, Brendan, everyone was extraordinarily understanding. Look, at the end of the day that was something I did for me and my process and made their jobs harder. That being said, I’m a firm believer that when you do a film, your hair belongs to the hair department, your face belongs to make-up. Your body belongs to wardrobe when they’re dressing you, and you’ve got to be cool with that.
IGN: Do you consider yourself religious? And was that something you were able to tap into for a movie like this?
JB: I think with him, I definitely consider myself spiritual. I think with this character, he’s a man who has done so much in the name of religion. There’s so much violence and so much dedication to religion by the characters in this film, and he’s a man who’s seen probably the worst violence that has ever been caused by religion by being in the Crusades. I think part of his penance and his vow of silence is to never commit violence again in the name of the church. I think he’s seeing just how ugly that can be. What’s so powerful for me about the story is the bond he forms with this young man in this group of monks causes him to engage in this violence that he swore he would never [do again]. It’s not because of a love or commitment to a higher power, it’s a lot for his fellow man on his earth right next to him. It’s a beautiful statement.
IGN: How do you decide to parcel your time off from your TV commitments, so you can commit to something like this?
JB: Look, it’s just when something comes up, you read it, you look into the filmmaker and sometimes it’s a filmmaker you’re dying to work with, sometimes it’s a discovery, and you just try to choose the best material possible. But you’re right. There’s a real opportunity cost, and I got three young kids and any job means I’m not with them, and I’m gone a lot for the TV show. You gotta really weigh a bunch of things. At the end of the day, I have a very curious heart, and I love the journey of this job. I’m in no way trying to arrive anywhere. I just want to keep growing and struggling, and I look for jobs that scare me. I look for jobs that are not easy. I look for jobs where my first instinct is that I’m probably not the right guy for this, and then see if I can make myself fit, and what’s my version of this? And is that something that resonates in my heart?
IGN: What was interesting about doing Shot Caller after working with Ric Roman Waugh on Snitch? He’s told me it’s a companion piece to his movie Felon.
JB: I love Ric, Ric’s my brother, and I’ll work with Ric on anything. That really was what that was. I was in Ireland finishing up Pilgrimage, and I talked to Ric via satellite phone in the States and I hadn’t done much talking on the phone, and he was like, “Hey, man, I need you brother,” and I was like, “I’ll be there.” He’s my guy that I’ll always work with.
IGN: I want to ask about going into the Punisher, because it’s different times now where it used to be where you’re either a movie actor or a TV actor, and now TV shows are so good, you can do both. But what’s the commitment like to take on a character where you have your own show and possibly will do more in the future?
JB: It’s long and it’s arduous, and it’s hard, and you’ve gotta put everything into it. Look, I think the one thing to keep in mind is the way Netflix delivers content. So many of these places are delivering content, so you’re not making episodic TV. You’re making 13-hour movies that you don’t have to spend 10 minutes at the top and back of every episode telling people what you told them last week and bringing the audience back in. People are watching this in a much different way, and they’ve proven this model of 13-hour binge-watching is totally possible. Some people can, some people can’t, but at the end of the day, most people when they watch it do not say, “Okay, there’s 13 episodes. I’m going to watch one per week.”
IGN: That’s interesting, because I like spacing things out when I watch shows.
JB: And that’s great. You can watch it that way. I just know that the way that the filmmakers attack it, they don’t need to remind you what you saw last week or put a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. I think the delivery system is different, but the challenges from TV, you’ve got to fit a lot into an eight-day episodic TV schedule, and it’s very challenging, especially with the ambition of the fights and the scope of those shows.
IGN: I’m not sure when you shot Pilgrimage but had you already booked appearing on Daredevil at that time?
JB: I sent my audition tape for Punisher while I was in Belgium.
IGN: And that was before Tom Holland signed on to play Spider-Man, too?
JB: So we were making audition tapes for Spider-Man and he helped me. He’s in my Punisher tape, so I saw him through that whole process, and again, it was watching him go through it and the way he attacked it and went after it. It was completely inspiring. I think Tom Holland is just an absolute beast and a wonderful person.
IGN: I’m sure a lot of people would someday like to see your Punisher with his Spider-Man, because as you probably know, Punisher’s first appearance was in The Amazing Spider-Man…
JB: Oh, s#!t. I’ll probably be the last to find out.
IGN: Do you even know if you’ll be back for the next season of Daredevil?
Bernthal: They haven’t mentioned it. I know nothing.
IGN: Your other Tribeca movie, Sweet Virginia, is interesting because you play a former rodeo cowboy managing a motel, and it’s always following two different characters, not just yours. What appealed to you about doing something like that?
JB: Again, the challenge of it. I loved the script. I loved Jamie Dagg’s movie River … and I thought the theatricality and the style of the script would just be so interesting to be attacked by a guy like Jamie who made such a cutting and antiseptic, raw, real, gritty movie like River. So I thought that was great, but for me, that role was originally written in the script as a guy who was 65 years old. For me, I went into it like, “Why would you ever want me in this part? I’m not the right guy.” What Jamie and I really worked on was how do we achieve what you gain from having the character be 65 years old by having him played by someone in their late 30s? That’s why we added the tremors and the early onset Parkinson’s. In the fight with the loud neighbor, I was originally supposed to beat him up, but I said, “Well, what if he beats me up?” To try to gain the things you get from a guy who is a little worn in and older, but you play that in a younger man who’s got so much potential life ahead of him, but he’s there kind of giving up until this violent act comes and shakes things up in that town. It was really the challenge of it, and I thought it was a beautiful script, and then Chris [Abbott]. I saw James White, and I really wanted to work with him and I was really blown away by his performance.
CRAVE ONLINE – Jon Bernthal has made a career out of looking tough, but being vulnerable. The actor’s most memorable roles have often by intimidating men of action who, when you look past the macho façade, are clearly in genuine pain. Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead, Grady in the World War II drama Fury, even Frank Castle, the Punisher, in Netflix’s Daredevil and the upcoming Punisher series. He’s one of the most empathetic actors we have.
So it’s interesting to see Jon Bernthal in Pilgrimage, a new historical thriller about a group of monks charged with escorting a religious relic across the Irish countryside. Bernthal plays “The Mute,” a character who – true to his name – doesn’t speak a word throughout the movie, but does reveal many secrets about his past through kindly, and eventually violent actions. When the monks are beset by bandits, it falls to The Mute, The Cistercian (Stanley Weber) and The Novice (Tom Holland, Spider-Man himself) to protect the relic at all costs.
I spoke to Jon Bernthal on the phone this morning about the physical and performance challenges of his new role, and how the fast pace of the Netflix superhero shows helped prepare him for the rigors of low-budget action cinema. He also admitted to being “very nervous” about his upcoming solo series, The Punisher, and explained why it’s so very important to him that they do justice to the character of Frank Castle.
Crave: Pilgrimage looks like quite production. It seems like the perfect film to do if you want to be an actor and also get some hiking done.
Jon Bernthal: [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean look, I think there’s some truth to that. The team that made this movie was very smart. They did not have tens of millions of dollars to make this movie, so instead of creating the majestic beauty of western Ireland and these unbelievably remote locations, we sort of just hiked to them, and went into them, and found places that had 360-degree views of area and land that hadn’t been touched in tens of thousands of years.
I thought that was really smart. I think it added to the richness of the movie. It definitely added to the richness of the experience. And I think that we all went to this very remote part of western Ireland, we’re thirty miles from any town, there’s no internet, there’s no phone, there’s no night life or anything around there… we were just there making that movie. When we had time off we hiked up a mountain. When we were shooting, we hiked up a mountain. I think that it added to the camaraderie and the closeness of the group, and I’m really grateful for the experience.
What were you carrying that whole time? They’ve got you carrying one of those big wooden things. Was that extra hard for you or was it full of something soft to make it easy?
No, I asked for it to be weighted down. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but it was an interesting way to carry something. I was happy for it. I think it added to the nature of the character. I wanted there to be something sort of animalistic and simple to him, especially at the beginning part of the movie. You know, unassuming. And I wanted him to be looked at, especially among the other travelers, as an animal that was there to help them.
Your character doesn’t speak throughout the movie. Was that part of the appeal to you? Did that force you to work outside your comfort zone?
Yeah, it was. I mean look, when I first read the script, Jamie Hannigan’s script really blew me away. There was many different languages used in the script. I was the only American in the movie. When I read it there’s French and there’s Gallic and there’s English, and there’s all this different use of language in the film. There’s Latin. And I thought that would be interesting, to create another language, this language of a mute, this guy doesn’t talk but clearly had a voice and clearly has wants and feelings and reactions. I thought the opportunity to create that was a unique one, and it scared me, and precisely why I went after it.
Why did it scare you? Were you concerned about losing so much of your instrument?
No, it scared me just because it was different. It’s difficult. It’s something that I hadn’t done before. I think that I’m a physical actor. I like doing things full force and going big, and I think this, you know, taking away your voice requires a different skill set than I’m used to. I normally play… I’ve come off of a string, you know? Shane Walsh [from The Walking Dead] and Brax from The Accountant, there are very verbal characters, you know? Guys who really talk a lot. And taking that away is a unique challenge. Trying to be as cogent as possible with your expressions and what the character’s going through, but not being able to reveal anything through dialogue, I think offers a unique challenge.
That’s interesting to me because from my perspective, as an audience member, you tell so many stories just with your eyes. You’ve played so many “tough guy” characters in things like Daredevil and Fury, and every time I look at that guy I say “That guy has been through a lot. That poor bastard.”
What do you do? Do you practice in front of a mirror? How do you convey that much with so little?
Each job’s different. For me it’s not so much in front of a mirror, it’s just I’m trying to create as rich and as deep a backstory, and play with my imagination, as much as possible. And take things from my own life and I think that, for me, the more clear your character’s history is, the easier it is to access it when the cameras are rolling, and the easier it is to actually be in it.
I think with a character like this we really got to time travel. Jamie gave me some great pieces of historical fiction. Being isolated the way that we were really made it so there weren’t a lot of outside distractions. And I was able to really create this pretty clear, pretty specific history for my character. And having that secret, and having those memories, and having that frame of reference, and not necessarily having… there’s no need or desire to share that with the audience, I can keep it completely mine, I think is interesting.
I think having a lot going on and only revealing a little bit is always better than pouring it all out, and I dig that. I dig roles like that, as a character. I dig the art of suppression. I think that it’s very human.
It gets complicated, though, when you’re doing television, because you never know what the next big revelation is going to be, right?
Yeah, I think so, but you can only deal with what you have at hand. I think that there’s all sorts of complications in doing television and not knowing your beginning, middle and end. But I feel that, like in this movie, I think the time restraints and the pace of television, and how fast you need to move, also really mirrors life in a much more realistic way than film does. You don’t have time to think most of the time in life, and you don’t have time to plan, and you’ve got to be willing to change in the moment and be adaptable and fly by the seat of your pants.
You know, in a film like this we had these fight scenes. If this was a big studio movie that we had tens of million of dollars for, we would have taken weeks to shoot those fight scenes. We had to shoot, each one of the fight scenes in this movie, we shot in a half-day. And what that requires is an unbelievable amount of preparation. No stunt doubles. We had to learn that fight inside and out. But then on the day you still fight. You don’t have time to make sure you’ve got it. You don’t have time to be safe. You don’t have time to go back and do it again. And if something goes wrong you’ve just got to cut it and move on.
[Like] fighting in real life, or like any sort of big action sequence, I think having the stakes being that high really creates another layer to the scene and makes it more rich and more dangerous and more vital. I like that. I think a lot of people get frustrated by those types of things, but I’ve got a lot of practice with tv. I like having my back against the wall in an action scene.
Is that what it’s like on the Netflix shows? They look really expensive but I imagine the pace must be intense.
Intense, man. Yeah. The prison fight in season two of Daredevil, we did that in one half-day. We did that after lunch. We tried to get in one or two takes, and what that requires is getting in that prison and practicing the hell out of it in the little bit of time off that you have, and again, it’s not for everybody. Some people really don’t like working that way. In the moment sometimes I get frustrated by it, but looking at it in retrospect I enjoyed that. I enjoyed having to get it. I enjoyed trying to get it once in sort of a dangerous and dirty way. Sometimes you get hit, sometimes you get bumped, but I’d rather do it like that than do it a hundred times and lose that sense of danger, and lose that sense of anything can happen here. I think that that sort of color really affects the scene on the screen.
How excited are you to show the world your own superhero tv series, coming up? We all love The Punisher and want to see more of him.
How do I feel about it?
Yeah, it’s got to be exciting, right…?
Yeah, I mean look, man, I’m nervous. You know? I’m very nervous. I care a lot about Frank. I care a lot about this character. I think that this character resonates with the law enforcement community, resonates deeply with the military community. That’s something I care a ton about. The comic book audience is an audience that I respect and revere, and I want to do want to do right for them and by them with this character. It’s a big responsibility and I just want it to be good. I just want it to work. And I fight like hell when we’re making that show to try to make it a certain way, and I hope that the fighting pays off.
If you want a sense of what you’re in for viewing Irish director Brendan Muldowney’s third feature—the Tribeca-premiering Pilgrimage—you may want to look to his 2009 feature Savage as a guidepost. A visceral experience rife with violence, it’s interesting to note that for the director, this preoccupation with violence is entirely subconscious.
“I would say that I’m more interested in existential sort of filmmaking questions about why we’re here, and I suppose that’s where religion maybe attracted me—and without ever being conscious of it, I suppose I have explored violence,” Muldowney says. “Now if you take three films, the two of them explore it, so that’s over 50 percent. That’s a subconscious thing, though—I must be just drawn to that.”
A powerful and versatile actor known to many for the role of the Punisher—which he will bear out in an anticipated upcoming Netflix series based on the Marvel character—and a critical role in The Walking Dead, Jon Bernthal brings similar intensity and commitment to Pilgrimage, in which he portrays a mute lay brother with a violent past, owning his shame and regret over past events by taking a vow of silence.
“I think seeing Brendan’s film that he directed before this, Savage, I just thought that the marriage between this material and the way in which he dealt with violence in that film, and character in that film, it was just something that I was real hungry to work on,” Bernthal explains of his attraction to the role.
The actor discussed bonding with his co-stars—including Richard Armitage and Tom Holland (the latest actor to take on the role of Peter Parker, with Spider-Man: Homecoming arriving this summer)—living in close quarters many miles from the nearest town, without internet and other conveniences of modern life, which facilitated an intimacy and a deeper connection to the process.
“We were all kind of together, just all the time—the Irish actors that didn’t know me, they had never heard me speak until I started to, and then they told me they preferred me a lot better when I just shut up,” the actor joked. “But it really helped to kind of get in touch with why a man would make a decision like that—when you stop talking, you kind of give up your wants and needs. If you want a glass of water but you can’t ask for it, you ask yourself, do I really need that glass of water? And then, do I deserve that glass of water? Maybe that’s what this vow of silence is about.”