Jon Bernthal talks about his role, working alongside Elijah Wood and Chris Klein and his thoughts on the delayed Pinkville project.
Jon Bernthal has certainly risen through the acting ranks in a relatively short amount of time. Since his screen debut in 2002 he's risen past the guest starring roles of television up to roles in World Trade Center, The Air I Breathe and a sizeable role in the TV sitcom The Class. His latest project has him alongside Elijah Wood and Chris Klein in Day Zero. I had the chance to speak with the actor over the phone.
What compelled you to take this role, and do you have any friends or family that are overseas?
Jon Bernthal: Yeah, man, I do. I've got a lot of friends who are overseas. I have three of my really close friends are with the Marine Corps. I have no family that are overseas, but a lot of guys I grew up with from back home. This is a role I went after, there was no taking here. I read the script and I really went after this one. I loved the script based on the character stuff and the way that it was written. To me it was more of the human connection between the guys, and this is a character that I felt I had to play.
How did it feel working alongside Elijah Wood and Chris Klein?
Jon Bernthal: I loved it man. Elijah was a consummate professional, incredibly down to earth, always has time for everyone, always has a smile on his face, works hard. Chris, was like my best friend on the job, man. He was hilarious. We laughed our asses off, we worked hard, he always came to work prepared. I can only say good things about everyone involved in this project. I'm not just saying that. They're all just really good people.
I interviewed Elijah recently and I found out about his character's top 10 list.
Jon Bernthal: Oh yeah.
Does your character, James Dixon, have a top 10 list, and if so what would it be?
Jon Bernthal: No, I mean not in the script, Elijah's is in the movie. James wouldn't have a top 10 list. I think once he meets Elizabeth Moss' character, I think everything's shot out the window. All he wants to do is be with her, so I think she'd be 1 through 10, you know.
This is based off the premise that the draft actually was reinstated. How do you think the nation would react if they actually did reinstate the draft?
Jon Bernthal: Man, I think everything would be different. I think right now, military responsibility only touches on the few in this country, it's not something that touches on everyone. I think this whole war in Iraq would be in a much different situation if there was a draft. Whether we would be in it or not, I don't know, but I think there would've been a lot more checks and balances before we went. I think we wouldn't have gone under false pretenses in the way that we did go. We all get a lot from this country, and this country affords us to live in a way that people could only dream of in other countries. I think that we, as Americans, sort of feel that we don't have to give anything back. I think if there was a draft, it would sort of even the playing field, so to speak.
Where do you think this stands among some of the more recent war movies?
Jon Bernthal: I don't know. A lot of people see this as a war movie. I don't. I see this as a political movie, and I think what's great about it is that it doesn't have any overriding political opinion. It sort of tells it from all sides, and all sides get a voice in it, which is refreshing to me. The filmmaker, Bryan (Gunnar Cole), I think what he really set out to do was to make a movie about relationships, and all these outside external forces come in and put all sorts of pressures on these relationships. The movie, at the end of the day, I think is about these specific human beings. I don't look at this as a war movie, that's just my opinion.
What do you ultimately want people to take away from this movie, after the credits have rolled?
Jon Bernthal: I want them to think about everyone in their life, and their responsibilities to their friends, their families and their country. I want them to think, I want them to go away and try and figure out what would happen. I want them to ask questions, what would they do. Hopefully, people will go away and will be inspired enough to ask those questions and take a look inward and try to identify with each of these three completely different voices. I mean there's so much to take away from it. I think everybody has friends like Elijah's character, that maybe they do or they do not spend enough time with or focus on enough. I think everyone has people who are constantly doing stuff for them and constantly fighting their battles for them, like Dixon does for Rifkin and for Fuller. I think anytime a movie can inspire you to think and reflect and look at your life, it's a success, and hopefully that's what this movie does.
If you yourself were in James Dixon's shoes, how would you react if the draft actually came through?
Jon Bernthal: I would hope to say that I would go. That's my first answer. At the end of the day, it's not a question. When you get a draft notice, it's not, 'Do you wanna go?' It's not an invitation. It's what you're asked to do. I think no one can really answer that question until their in that situation, but that's what I hope I would do. I hope that I would put whatever my political beliefs aside, and realize that my country's asked me to to something, and do it. I've gotten a lot out of this country.
It looks like you have quite a slate of projects coming up like Bar Starz and A Line in the Sand. Can you tell us anything about those?
Jon Bernthal: Yeah. The most recent one I've been working on is The Pacific, actually. It's a new HBO show from the creators of Band of Brothers, Spielberg and Hanks. It's the next installment of Band of Brothers. It's the war against Europe, the war in the Pacific against the Japanese. We've been shooting that since June and it's just been an incredible project. Bar Starz is coming out as well. It's sort of this off the wall, crazy comedy about the club scene in the San Bernadino Valley. I play this ridiculous club king. An extremely funny, and rewarding role to play. It was this first-time director, a great director named Mike Pietrzak, and he sort of just turned the camera on and let me improv do what I needed to do. I think people are really gonna dig that movie. It's sort of along the lines of a Napoleon Dynamite. A Line in the Sand, that's a great movie. It's about a guy who got an athletic scholarship and he blew out his knee and he turned to dealing drugs, and in a drug deal gone bad, his house gets burned down by these drug dealers and his whole family dies in the fire. He suffers post traumatic stress disorder and becomes a homeless man in New York City. He gets caught for taking a piss on the Mayor's limo and they throw him in jail and they sort of keep him there to make a point, like a political prisoner, so to speak, and he sort of loses his mind in jail, and I play that guy. It was an incredible character piece to work on.
Wow. I can imagine.
Jon Bernthal: Yeah!
Do you have a status update on Pinkville? We heard that it was totally going to be shelved now that Bruce Willis was moving on and after UA made the deal. Have there been any new developments with it?
Jon Bernthal: You know, I saw Oliver (Stone), what, three days ago? As of now, look, he's still working to make it happen. As far as Bruce Willis is concerned, I don't really have any comment, but as far as Oliver is concerned, he's still trying to make it happen. I think it's a real shame that, in this day in age, if Oliver Stone is having trouble making a movie, I think we as an audience should all be ashamed. He's one of the great American filmmakers. I love the man. I think that it's a shame that this movie isn't being made. I think it's politically pertinent and I think it's just so important that that movie gets made. I think that the whole thing with that has really been too bad. Everybody in the industry should be bending over backwards trying to make this happen rather than get in his way.
Finally, do you have any thoughts about Day Zero opening against Cloverfield?
Jon Bernthal: Well, you know, my good friend from my TV show The Class, Lizzy Kaplan, is in Cloverfield, so I wish Cloverfield all the luck in the world. I don't think that we have the same audience. I think that those two movies could not be more different. I wish Cloverfield nothing but luck and, hopefully people can find the time to see a movie like ours too and, God willing, it will reach people. We put a lot of work into the movie, and I think it's a movie that people really should watch. I think it will make them think different, it will make them feel, and I think it's movies like this that really inspire change. I just really hope people see it. But I wish Cloverfield nothing but luck, because my girl is in it.
Well that's about all I have for you, Jon. Thanks a lot for your time.
Jon Bernthal: Thank you man. I appreciate it.
Day Zero hits the theaters on January 18, in limited release.