On Monday night, Netflix held a red carpet for THE PUNISHER. PUNISHER is the latest Marvel series for the digital streaming service. The Knockturnal spoke with the stars, showrunner, and executive producer.
THE KNOCKTURNAL: What was the most exciting thing for you to explore as an actor, returning to this character, and this deep dive into his own series? Particularly with the veteran aspect of his character, and gun violence as a whole?
JON BERNTHAL (Frank Castle, aka The Punisher): Look, man, this is a character that means a lot to a lot of people. He has real resonance in the military community and the law enforcement community, and that means a lot to me. There are people who have put that skull on their body armor, and gone and fought for this country, and died for this country wearing it, and that’s huge. I’m humbled by it, and I have a deep respect for this character. That being said, I think we’ve never set out to lionize this guy. We’ve never set out to make him a hero, or a villain. We’re trying to make him human. If anything, what this is, it’s a piece on lost, it’s a piece on grief, and it’s a piece on coping. I never want to pull any punches with this character. I always want to be bold enough to abandon the audience and turn my back on them. I’m not asking for anybody to like this guy, I’m asking people to feel for him the way that I do.
This is Karen Page’s third Netflix series appearance. When are we getting the Karen Page & Claire Temple Power Hour?
DEBORAH ANN WOLL (Karen Page): I love that! Oh my God, that would be incredible. Rosario [Dawson]’s amazing – I think she’s the only person that’s got me beat for number of series for Marvel. We just need to get our own series.
You first met Punisher in DAREDEVIL Season 2. What was it like to explore that relationship further?
WOLL: Well, he’s in a particularly different spot. It was really clear in DAREDEVIL that he was avenging his family, he had this goal that he was going after. Now it’s a little like “hey, I achieved that, but I still don’t feel right.” I think Karen can really be an interesting compass for him in that world.
What was the biggest difference between working with Punisher and Daredevil?
WOLL: Well, Daredevil has all these moral ideas that he places on top of things, because of his Christianity and because of his parents, I think… whereas Punisher obviously doesn’t. Karen, beings someone who DID murder in self-defense – maybe more than once, we’re not sure – in a way, she can be more herself with Frank. She’s not as afraid of rejection from him, as I would be from Daredevil. Telling him that I killed [James] Wesley, I’m sure Daredevil would not approve of that, whereas Frank might think that’s awesome.
We’ve seen Karen fill a lot of shoes, from secretary to reporter. Where do we see her individually in PUNISHER?
WOLL: Really coming into her own as an investigative journalist – that is her world, it’s not the boys’ world, and Frank comes to her because he needs something. He cannot get what he needs to do done without her. So I like that direction that we’re heading, and I hope we continue down that path.
What’s something you were excited to do differently with PUNISHER then you’ve done with the other Marvel shows?
JEPH LOEB (Executive Producer): Well, as we like to say, all of our shows are different. They have a different flavor to them, they have a different showrunner, and we’ve told different stories with them. In the case of THE PUNISHER, we really wanted to tell a story that was unexpected. Jon Bernthal is such an extraordinarily gifted actor. He can bring in that intensity. He can give you that feeling that you didn’t even know was going to happen. But at the same time, there’s a vulnerability to what he’s playing. There’s a real grounded reality to it. This is not a hero that bullets bounce off of, this is a hero that bleeds. So we didn’t want to do a story that was just a vigilante story, where it was just some version of a man going after vengeance. That’s not to say that he doesn’t eke out justice in his own particular way, but we have an opportunity now – with Jon, and with the incredible writing of Steve Lightfoot – to be able to comment a little bit about what happens to our men and women in the armed forces who then come home, and while we say “thank you for your service,” how is it that we actually do that. And what happens to those people, how does the government treat them, what is the government up to – all of those kinds of mystery JASON BOURNE questions. That’s more of the world we’re living in for this series.
You play Micro, who’s based off the comic book character Microchip. Can you tell us a little about your character, and specifically his dynamic with Frank?
EBON MOSS-BACHRACH (David Lieberman, aka Micro): Specifically with Frank, they become allies based on mutual enemies. Obviously, Frank Castle is the definition of a lone wolf. He doesn’t play well with others. But they both kind of need each other to further what they want. For Frank, it’s for revenge, and for Micro, it’s about getting back to his family. They recognize in each other how the other person can help them further their goal. So they need each other, but they’re not so happy about it. Though sometimes, I think they’re surprised by their fraternal companionship.
Your character has the family as well. Not to ask that dreaded question, but for your character, what’s it like to balance work and family?
MOSS-BACHRACH: He hit a point in work where he felt like he had to do something so he could look his family in the eyes. By doing that, he kind of lost his family. I don’t know, that’s a hard thing to reconcile for everyone, that’s a day-to-day thing.
We’ve seen people who step up in the same fashion in real life. Was that something you were looking at or thinking about throughout the show?
MOSS-BACHRACH: Well, yeah. I mean, this is still very much a comic book show, but I definitely thought that this role was a good excuse to research these incredibly brave patriots, in my opinion, like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. But… it’s a comic book show.
What was the thing that was most exciting for you, as the showrunner, to explore in this standalone series for THE PUNISHER
STEVEN LIGHTFOOT (Creator & Executive Producer): Having seen what John had done in DAREDEVIL season two, and what those guys are doing, I was a huge fan of that show. It was just really exciting to take him and give him a show of his own. I think in some ways, you only saw a quarter of Frank Castle in that show, and it was great to give people the other three quarters of the character and expand on his journey.
One large aspect that the show seems to explore is veterans, and how they re-enter society. How did you approach that, and why was that something that you felt was important to tell in Frank’s story?
LIGHTFOOT: Well obviously, Frank is a veteran. Frank Castle’s story, in many ways, is about a guy who comes back from war, and finds it incredibly hard to get back into normal society. I thought it was sort of hard to tell that story and not touch on the fact that we’ve been sending guys to war for sixteen years now, and that a lot of them come back profoundly changed. I thought that would need to be something that the show at least touched on.
How did you try to make Punisher his own unique character from the other Netflix heroes, aside from the difference between using guns and not wearing tights?
LIGHTFOOT: Well I think you touched on it there. I think with lot of the others shows, the action is dictated by the powers of the characters. Frank doesn’t, but he’s a very well-trained military guy, so certainly that ability led the way we told the stories and the action. But there’s a great variety in there. I think obviously, when you’re doing thirteen episodes, if it was the same every week, it would get dull. So what we mostly tried to do is mix it up for the audience, so they get a whole bunch of different things.
What was it like to return to this world of Punisher, in his own series?
AIDAN PIERCE BRENNAN (Frank Castle Jr.): Well, everyone loved DAREDEVIL, and this show’s gonna be great. I had a great time filming it. Jon gives an amazing performance, he was a pleasure to work with, on and off the camera, he was awesome. So just being here is crazy.
Jon Bernthal is definitely very different in his interactions with you and your mom than with everyone else. Was it interesting to see this difference between his personalities?
BRENNAN: Yeah. When I worked with him, he was a dad. Now that I’m seeing this… he has guns! But, I mean, coming back from the war, my character longs to have a normal relationship with his dad. But it’s not one, because my dad’s The Punisher, and you can’t really have a normal father-son relationship when your dad’s… The Punisher.
You play Billy Russo, who’s listed as this old friend of Frank from way back when. Can you talk a bit about your relationship with him, and how that bleeds into the present day?
BEN BARNES (Billy Russo): Billy and Frank are the closest of friends. They’re brothers from the special forces. I think it wouldn’t be giving too much of the game away to say that we see some of that relationship play out from the past. You really see their dynamic, and how close they were, and what it is about each other that they like. I think they respect each other as men, and as soldiers. I think Frank respects Billy’s fun side, and his naughty sense of humor. He appreciates being around someone that can make him smile, because there’s not many people that can make Frank Castle smile. As we begin the show, if you’ve watched the end of DAREDEVIL, the world believes that Frank Castle is not alive, so as far as Billy Russo’s aware, that is the case. So there’s a relationship that transpires through the show, which I don’t want to give away too much about.
Comic book fans know that Billy Russo has a bit of a history.
BARNES: Yes, if you Google him, you’ll find things out. That’s up to you, I’m not allowed to say it. But I would also say that in our show, there’s some bobbing and weaving going on. He’s an interesting, ambitious, charming guy, as far as I saw him, and it might not go exactly the way you think it’s gonna go. It was a really interesting challenge, because obviously, Jon Bernthal is such a beast of a man, and he brings so much depth to that character… so much empathy, even though he’s very dark and strong. So I had to find those masculine qualities which would complement Jon as another male presence in the show to balance him out.
How much do you explore the veteran aspect of the series with your character?
BARNES: Well I think all the characters in the show, whether they’ve been to war or not, are dealing with trauma and suffering and loss. We see Curtis, Jason [R. Moore]’s character, setting up this veterans’ group for the men to be able to talk about their experiences. We know that Frank Castle turns to violence, and he turns to retribution, in order to cleanse some of his demons. I think Billy Russo’s not really that different, in that he’s set up a very successful private military corporation, and he puts on the bravest face that he can, and he puts on the slickest suit he can find. He puts a face on it in a way that the others don’t, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t suffered. In fact, I think you’ll find that in some ways, he’s suffered in ways that the other characters haven’t.
You two play the children of Micro, in a rather violent world. What was the most fun as actors, being able to explore this dark and scary world?
RIPLEY SOBO (Leo Lieberman): It’s definitely a lot different, because now we’re just ordinary kids, but we get to go into this world where our dad’s a superhero sidekick, so it’s pretty awesome.
KOBI FRUMER (Zach Lieberman): It’s actually sort of scary but fueling at the same time, because the characters are going through so much. It’s really intense.
Can you tell us a little about your character in the film?
LUCY FRY (Tikka, ‘BRIGHT’): I play Tikka, and she is a cheeky, mysterious elf. [Joel Edgerton]’s an orc, and [Will Smith]’s a human, and they’re rolling around in their car in downtown L.A. They get a call to go to a house, and when they go in there, there’s been a shooting and magic, and there’s been a “bright,” which is like a witch, in the house, destroying everything. They capture my character, and she’s in possession of an ancient relic, this magic wand, which is like a nuclear weapon. It’s very dangerous, it can destroy the whole world. She kind of draws them into this chase through the rest of the night, where all the bad guys AND the good guys want to get the wand, and keep it safe, or use it for their dark magic or selfish needs. So yeah, she’s like the cheeky, naughty, mysterious catalyst for all the drama.
It’s interesting, because BRIGHT is a world filled with elves and orcs, which I think most people associate with LORD OF THE RINGS-style medieval forests.
FRY: Yeah, [BRIGHT] is kind of like if LORD OF THE RINGS is the history of the world, and now we’re in present day, and orcs and elves and humans are all just living together. We have all our issues, but it’s just like modern day society.
To that point, what’s been the most interesting thing to explore, as an actress playing one of these non-human characters?
FRY: I loved it, because I’ve always wanted to play an elf. I love their magic, and their mystery, and the way they’re so ethereal. But this was a very dark look at elves – in one of the scenes, there’s a human baby, and the elf… I don’t if I’m allowed to give away what it does to the baby.
Something not great.
FRY: (laughs) Not great. But it’s kind of about a crisis of identity as a race. There’s this dark elf cult that my character has come out of, and is trying to find a way to be good in this world as an elf. So in the end, it became very human. I loved the energy of being an elf, and the physicality of running around all the time, bouncing off the walls, flipping and fighting and all of that. But the emotional life is very grounded and very human.
I understand you get to bounce off Will Smith a lot, which is crazy cool. What was that like?
FRY: It was extraordinary. I was in shock the whole time. I was like “oh my God, Will Smith!” And Joel Edgerton is extraordinary as well. I was so lucky that all of my scenes were with Will and Joel. I was really nervous my first few days on set, and I would just be watching them, and absorbing everything they were doing. It was perfect, because my character is watching them, trying to decide if she can trust them or not. So I was basically doing the same thing, except being like “how can I become… you?” (laughs)
CORRECTION: The initial article referred to the person Karen Page killed as “Leslie,” when the character’s name was James Wesley.
The first season of THE PUNISHER comes to Netflix this Friday, November 17th. BRIGHT, directed by David Ayer, will be on Netflix December 22nd.