Why you need more Jon Bernthal in your life



Jon Bernthal didn't exactly aspire to be an actor as a kid; it was something the son of Jewish parents in Washington, D.C. fell into while attending college in Moscow. Spotted by the theater director at Harvard University's Institute for Advanced Theater, Bernthal instinctively dove headfirst into the trade, carving out his craft in 30+ plays by 2002, even opening his own theater company, Fovea Floods.

Like fellow actor Liev Schreiber and others, Bernthal fell in love with the thespian atmosphere of a play long before he walked onto the bigger sets of AMC's "Walking Dead" or brandished the vengeance colors of Frank Castle, aka "The Punisher," on the former Netflix Marvel television show. Those are the two roles/shows entertainment fans know him by, but that should only be the beginning of your Bernthal performer education. The boxing enthusiast and lover of big dogs (check his Instagram for pictures of his animal family) has a lot more goods in store for people who don't mind looking. . . and waiting.

What makes Bernthal such a signature presence is that he is just as good in an ensemble as he is leading the entire show. Whether it's mixing into the background of a Martin Scorsese flick -- where he stole scenes from Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in "The Wolf of Wall Street" –- or trying to convince Matt Damon's Carroll Shelby to build a Ford racing car in "Ford v Ferrari," Bernthal always leaves a mark in every role he takes.

It's roles like the quiet yet potent indie film, "Sweet Virginia," which cast Bernthal as a former rodeo champion-turned-hotel manager, where he pulls you into his vulnerable yet noble grace. Or take the antagonistic role in Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant," where he was the guy tasked with taking down Ben Affleck's autistic hitman. Don't forget about his terrifying yet charismatic Griff in Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver," a film where he only carried a few scenes yet made a dent. You can't miss the supporting turn in David Ayer's World War II tank film, "Fury."

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In every single role, he's a little different. Either in the way he walks or talks, or the manner in which he carries himself, the performance is distinct in every picture. How many actors can have such a small role in a film such as "Wind River," "The Peanut Butter Falcon" and "Widows" among them, and loom so large in those pictures? Bernthal is one of them. Fewer actors can portray seething rage with a humanistic edge better than him.

There's a handful of scenes in "The Punisher" where Bernthal gets involved in knockdown drag out brawls. One look at the actor and you'll know he can handle himself. With a face that looks like it could eat a few jabs before delivering several of his own, he has the ability to convince in the most brutal action sequences--and then be able to slow it down for a dramatic interplay shortly afterwards. No matter what role he's playing, the audience pulls for him or can't take their eyes off him.

This year should help Bernthal further graduate from "that one cool guy" status to a worldwide name. Playing Tony Soprano's dad sure helps. In David Chase's highly anticipated "Sopranos" prequel/origin story, "The Many Saints of Newark," the 45-year-old actor will portray the much-talked-about yet rarely seen Johnny Boy, the patriarch of the mafia family. In the recently released trailer, Bernthal pops up on the screen midway, playing a guy who had serious yet mysterious implications on his son's future.

That's not even half of it. Going back to his theater roots, Bernthal will co-star in a film adaptation of John Pollono's play, "Small Engine Repair," centering around three brothers who, in an attempt to protect one of their daughters from bad times, engage in a wild evening that spirals out of control. The film, written and directed by Pollono, is rumored to carry award season prospects.

He will play Rick Macci in "King Richard," which revolves around the respected and revered father/coach (played by Will Smith) of Serena and Venus Williams. He also has a part in Lena Dunham's upcoming comedy, "Sharp Stick."

Bernthal is also set to headline two major television shows in the next year, one a remake of "American Gigolo" for Showtime, and another potential Emmy award fodder series called "We Own This City," which is based on the riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.

Look, do you trust me? If so, get more Bernthal in your life. He's the face you've seen so many times yet can't grasp the name, a guy who fits into any cinema playground like a Swiss watch without a care for an ego. What more do you need than a guy who can stand out in an ensemble stuffed with movie stars, or lead the pack in one of Richard Gere's most famous roles? Get on the train now before it starts going too fast later this year.

Bernthal is one of those hard-working actors who pays his dues and acts in the sixth or seventh lead for years before striking it big. Now is that BIG moment. But even in those smaller parts, like the part on "The Walking Dead," audiences can't seem to forget him. These days, they're barking at Marvel's door to put his Punisher into a new series or give him one of his own.

Personally, I'd rather see him make a couple more films like "Sweet Virginia," which convinced me of his leading man abilities. Start there (it's free on Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Hulu) and tell me I'm wrong.

Not bad work for a guy who stumbled into theater while studying abroad and playing in a European Baseball League. While I don't mind the thought of Bernthal playing outfield for the Nationals, I can rest easy knowing he chose the right place for his talents: the movies!