Even if his name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you’ll almost certainly recognize Jon Bernthal‘s face. After a string of appearances in various TV series and smaller films, Bernthal found mainstream success with a pivotal role in the first two seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, which led to parts in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, David Ayer’s Fury, and Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. Most recently, Bernthal appeared in Edgar Wright’s acclaimed Baby Driver and Taylor Sheridan’s thriller Wind River, and his turn as Marvel vigilante the Punisher in season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil has led to a previously unplanned solo series for the character, set to drop later this year.
This week, Bernthal stars opposite Richard Armitage and Tom Holland in the period drama Pilgrimage, about a group of 13th century Irish monks on a journey to escort a holy relic to Rome. He took some time to speak to RT about his Five Favorite Films, and explained why he couldn’t tell us when Punisher would arrive.
Alright, I’d say the first would have to be Goodfellas. I know that’s probably one you get a lot, but I remember it came out, and I was probably in about the 8th grade. Me and my buddy Dougie Thornel probably saw that at the theaters 30 times. I mean we would just go, and we would watch it, and then sit in the theater and watch it again. I can’t say enough good about it. It’s horrifying, it’s hilarious, it’s so unbelievably honest.
Look, I mean, Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker. You know, the fact that I got the chance to work with him [on The Wolf of Wall Street] was sort of the mountaintop, the kind of crowning achievement of my career, and I don’t mean that in sort of how I’m perceived by the world. I just mean in terms of experience. My brief time on that movie really changed the way that I work as an actor. He’s one of these guys that makes you feel that anything is possible.
I’ve studied in the Russian theater, and one of the main ways that we study was you get a scene and then you do a big improvisation about the scene and what the scene could be. That’s precisely how he worked. Each one of these scenes, you create this unbelievably vivid reality, you really take yourself to the place, and everybody feels like they are one hundred feet tall. It doesn’t matter whether you are background or whether you are craft services or anything, but everybody is so full of ideas. You make it on the day, and then he just sort of takes what he wants from that. I feel like that method of filmmaking that’s so Scorsese, so uniquely his, shines brightest in that movie. That sense of anything can happen at anytime, it’s happening right there in the moment. I think it really, really just shines brightest in that film, and that’s why it’s my favorite film.
Second I would say came out roughly around the same time but probably, The Silence of the Lambs. I just loved that movie. That too, me and my buddy Dougie Thornel… We actually were too young to get into that movie, but I remember one time we weren’t allowed in and then we snuck in anyway, and again, it was one where we went back and back and back.
I think Ted Levine’s performance as Buffalo Bill is one of the most haunting performances that has ever happened on film. He’s an actor that I admire so deeply and I really love… Especially in the last few years, I’ve gotten to take these parts that are only in a few scenes and really create as rich a back story and history for the character as possible, and I thought he did that so cogently and so beautifully in that movie.
Its not just that there are so many quotable lines, but you really see the depths of the torture that’s going through him. It’s such a meditation on serial killing and psychotic murderers, and I love the fact that Hannibal Lecter — obviously one of the great characters of all time — but I just love the fact that you don’t know whether to root for him or against him. I think it’s the ultimate anti-hero character, and the fact that they were able to achieve him being able to… you know, at the end of the movie, you’re actually rooting for him, that he got out and that he’s going to go eat people. I think that’s just so f—ing awesome. And obviously the scene with Levine and Jodie Foster with the night vision. It’s a book that I loved and I think its one of those rare times where I think the movie totally even outshines the book. Wow, what a film. It will always be one of my favorites.
Then, next I would say, would have to be True Romance. Again, I just cannot say enough good about that movie. It’s a movie I can just watch over and over and over and over again. It really, to me, defined what love is and it defined what… It was just the coolest movie ever made, but so heartfelt and so honest, and every performance is so rich. God, I just love that f—ing film, man. I just absolutely love it, and I believe every second of it too, and I cannot say enough good about that one.
Then A Prophet. I love that movie. I think one of the greatest things about films is when they can take you to a very certain time and a very certain place. It’s time travel, its magic. I know nothing about what French prison would be like, I know nothing about it, but I believe every single second of that film. I feel like, after you watch that film, you know a little bit about what that’s like. I know how difficult that is to do. I just think it’s a beautiful honest moment, and I think that he deals with the immediacy of panic and how being panicked can change you and what people will do to survive. Its a brilliant film.
Lastly, I gotta throw it in there, I gotta say D.C. Cab. [laughs] I know that probably no one else says that, but I’m born and raised DC. I’m DC through and through. It will always be in my heart. Again, me and little Dougie Thornel grew up watching that movie on VHS over and over and over again. It shows a little bit of the real DC that I think never gets shown in films and television. I just love the movie. I think it’s the only honest DC movie ever made, and its funny as hell.
RT: We’re talking about the Joel Schumacher movie with Mr. T, right?
That’s right. Yeah, Mr. T and the Barbarian Brothers. [laughs] It was a great movie, man. He also made Saint Elmo’s Fire and all those movies, which are kind of like Georgetown and kind of made about the DC everybody thinks is DC, but that’s not the real DC. D.C. Cab is real DC. There’s this scene at the end, through the credits, where they do this parade — it’s just the most honest thing ever. I love the film.
RT: You mention your old friend Dougie Thornel quite a bit.
Jon Bernthal: I gotta say, with Dougie, to this day, every film I do, every moment I do, when I’m working on a moment in a film, I still ask myself, would this make little Dougie Thornel laugh? Would this make him want to watch? Would the two of us, sitting there on the milk crates in a s—ty ass room watching TV, would this be something that we would buy and we would think is funny or hilarious? Its called the Dougie Test, and I do it on everything I do.
RT: Any chance I can get the Punisher release date out of you?
Bernthal: [laughs] No, of course not man, no! First of all, I don’t know it, and even if I did there are like… You know, they take that s— so seriously. They know better. They don’t even tell me, so you couldn’t even trick me.
Pilgrimage opens in limited release today, August 11.