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Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) steps into the spotlight for his own spin-off series, but don’t expect to see him embrace it. The vet-turned-vigilante begins his post-Daredevil journey in hiding, until — surprise, surprise — a conspiracy involving his traumatic past draws him back out into the open. Bernthal, 40, sheds some light on what to expect from the antihero’s star turn.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does this Frank compare with the Frank we met in Daredevil season 2?
JON BERNTHAL: The Frank Castle you see in Daredevil is reeling from the trauma of having his family killed, so the only thing he knows is his mission to kill every single person who’s responsible for his family’s death, and killing them in the most brutal way possible, because that’s the only way to quiet the storm that’s in his head. He can only quiet it momentarily by taking these people out.
He’s a man on a mission again [in The Punisher], and what [Punisher showrunner and Hannibal alum Steve] Lightfoot is trying to do is ask the question “What do you do when that’s over? What do you find out about yourself when you realize there’s nothing left? What is his purpose?” There’s an introspective bent in trying to figure that out. He finds something to fight for, something new to believe in.
As an actor, how did your approach to this compare to your approach to joining Daredevil?
I did this both this year and last year, but I’m on my own for, like, the first four months of shooting, so what that basically means is I’m away from my wife and my three young kids. I don’t socialize, I’m not out at restaurants or bars or going to movies or anything like that… There are some actors that can be in the middle of talking about sports or having a hot dog and then jump in front of a camera and do the scene, and I’m just not that guy. I wish I was. [Laughs]
That’s part of it, but I also think there’s something disingenuous about, you know, portraying this character after being at the nightclub all night. I want to honor him and the fans to whom he means so much. I really want to get this right for them, and the pressure’s on.
You’ve also shot smaller parts in several films in between these Marvel-Netflix series: Wind River, Baby Driver, Sweet Virginia, Shot Caller, to name a few. How did you go about choosing your projects between diving back into Frank’s mind? Why not go for something a little lighter?
[Laughs] Listen, I love the work, and I really want to work on the best piece of material that’s made available to me… With most of these parts, it’s just that they really scare me, and I want to try to find the thing that scares me the most, where I feel like, “I couldn’t do that, and maybe somebody else could maybe do it better than me.” I really do think it’s important when you play a character like Frank to exercise your muscles and get out of that, and to work with different people. But yeah, it’s been crazy.
Let’s dive into the season. What is his relationship like with Micro (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), the man who left him that disc he found at the end of Daredevil season 2?
Good drama is when you take these hard life characters and force them to interact, and that’s precisely what [Steve] did with Micro and Frank. He forces these guys who are so unbelievably different, who operate on such different planes, and have such opposite skill sets [together]. Interestingly, they have very similar paths as far as their families, and as far as the predicament they’re in, and they’re sort of forced to work together.
Anything you can tease about what Frank is up against? Would you say the overarching villain of the series is himself, his past, or some bigger conspiracy? Any of the above?
All of the above. He’s up against all of it. During this show, nobody is who they appear to be… This season is much darker as it goes, it gets darker and darker and more visceral. The show takes you on this journey of Frank becoming more and more human again and then shutting off and shutting off and going back to what works for him, and the place where he kind of belongs, and I think that’s a place of solitude and of darkness and destruction. It’s going to get into as dark and as brutal a place as you’ve ever seen in the Marvel world, I can promise you that.
Frank is a killer, but he has a passionate fan following. Why do you think that is?
I think there’s a bit of Frank in all of us. We all go through bouts of darkness and regret and shame, and we mess up and we make mistakes, so I think to really zero in on that and to dig into that wound is what makes him interesting… But if there’s one thing I want to get right for this show, it’s that I want to be completely respectful of the military community and the people that this character means so much to. I just really want to get that right. More than anything, Frank is a soldier.
On that note, how much pressure do you feel now that you’re the star?
It’s a hundred times worse, I’ll be honest. [Laughs] It might be the Frank Castle inside me, but I’m always thinking things could be headed for the worst. I’m horrified all the time. Look, there was an unbelievable response to the Frank we put out there in Daredevil, and it means the world to me, and I’m so grateful, and I do not want to let people down.
Marvel’s The Punisher hits Netflix this fall.