In a partnership with FanboyComics.net, CC2K is proud to present this in-depth interview with Jon Bernthal, star of AMC’s hit new series The Walking Dead.
Over the past seven years, writer Robert Kirkman (Battle Pope, Invincible) has found quite a literary and theatrical phenomenon with his series, The Walking Dead. The story follows a band of unlikely heroes in their daily trials and tribulations, given their extraordinary circumstances in a world devastated by a zombie apocalypse. In 2010, AMC released The Walking Dead as a television series starring actors Jon Bernthal (“Shane”), Andrew Lincoln (“Rick”), and Sarah Wayne Callies (“Lori”), which garnered such a positive response that the network ordered an extended, 13-episode second season.
For fans of the original comic book, AMC’s show breathed new life into their beloved series and also offered the chance to invite new fans to the WD fold. The television show has launched the zombified story into cult status, helped by the AMC brand and its recent history of successful shows (Mad Men, Breaking Bad).
The following is an interview with actor Jon Bernthal, who shared his thoughts with Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon on the future of his character, his own zombie apocalypse contingency plan, and more about Season 2. (For the complete audio interview, visit FanboyComics.net. Special thanks to David Bliss for his assistance in securing this interview with Mr. Bernthal!)
This interview was conducted on Thursday, January 13, 2011.s
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics: Hi, this is Barbra Dillon with Fanboy Comics. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with actor Jon Bernthal whom fans will know as “Shane” from AMC’s hit television series, The Walking Dead. Jon, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today.
Jon Bernthal: Hey, Barbra. Thank you. Thanks for talking to me.
BD: Absolutely. I just have a few questions for you. As comic book fans of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead series are aware, the character of “Shane” varies drastically from your character in the TV series. Have you had input with either Mr. Kirkman or the writers in the direction of “Shane’s” story line?
JB: Um. You know. Look, it’s a really interesting kind of relationship, I think, actor to writer on a television program. Have I said anything to them about where I think the character should go and have they listened? Absolutely not. They’re my bosses. You know, I work for them. But I think that it’s a really cool relationship, and there is a lot of back and forth. I mean I think they see certain things that I’m doing and they sort of take the character in a direction where maybe they wouldn’t have, had I done something else, if that makes sense. And I think that it’s one of the real pleasures of working in TV and also working for such amazing writers, because they are, you know… like all good artists, it’s absolutely essential to be kind of open and to have your eyes open and be ready for new things. And, I think it comes out of the relationship. It comes out of what they’re doing, and then how I take it, and then they take it and pursue some new directions, but by no means do I call any shots. You know?
BD: No worries! And I think that the great working relationship really shows through the acting and through the show itself.
JB: I appreciate you saying that, and, you know, I’m not just kissing their ass because they’re my bosses. They really are the best, and that’s what attracted me to the project in the first place. I think that I can speak for all of the other actors in the show. I don’t think… I mean there were no… besides Steven (Yeun), there were no huge zombie genre fans going in. And, you know, there weren’t that many huge fans of the comic going in. But, I think based on the writing, we’ve all become huge fans of the comic, but we were just all blown away by the quality of writing on the show.
BD: Absolutely. Absolutely. The next question is… given the subject matter of The Walking Dead, many characters have obviously lost their lives throughout the first season. Did the actors know in advance who would survive throughout the season, or were you surprised episode to episode?
JB: Um. Yeah, it’s pretty much episode to episode. I had a lot of friends who worked on The Sopranos back when I was living in New York, and they sort of talked about this atmosphere on set where you never knew when you were going to get whacked. You know? Any time you opened up a new script it could be your last one.
JB: And, I think it was kind of similar here with a zombie apocalypse, you know, people have to die. You know, basically, you find out in the… by the end of production on an episode, you get the script for your next… for the next week’s episode.
JB: And when you open that script you find out.
JB: Now, I don’t know whether there was sort of private conversations with people before that… you know, before that happened. But as far as I know, people just kind of opened the script and there it was. But, you know, I really, I really don’t know because it hasn’t happened to me yet.
BD: (Laughs.) Well, that’s a good thing! We certainly hope to see “Shane” in much more of Season 2.
JB: Well, I appreciate it. I really hope to see “Shane” in more of Season 2. I hope that they keep me around. But, you know that is sort of the nature of the thing. I’ll tell you, not to be, you know, too weirdo actor-y, but I gotta say I think that this whole notion of that you might die off the show at any time in any episode. I think that it adds to sort of the atmosphere that we’re trying to create. And, I think it helps. I think it’s actually a good thing that you never know when you’re going to go because you’re sort of playing that every day, and that’s the environment that you’re living in. So, you know, that’s how I feel.
BD: Absolutely. It definitely keeps you on your toes. (Laughs.)
JB: Oh, yeah. (Laughs.) I guess so. It makes you very nervous.
BD: Yes. Now, in previous interviews, you’ve stated that “Shane” is obviously very loyal to his friend, “Rick.” In fact, um… these feelings have been tested, or the loyalty has been tested by his strong feelings for “Rick’s” wife “Lori.” These feelings even lead to near sexual assault at the end of Season 1. Would you personally prefer to see “Shane’s” character continue down this dark path, or would you prefer that he takes a more heroic turn?
JB: Man, that’s a really good question. I… do you know, look, I’ve just kind of said from the beginning, you know, I just, whatever they do with “Shane,” I know that eventually… look, it’s a pressure cooker situation, and whatever they do with “Shane,” I know that eventually I think he is going to completely erupt. And, I think we’ve seen these outbursts and these pockets of eruption, you know, through the first season, and all that I care about is that we earn it and we show him as a three-dimensional character, and we show the other side of him, as well. The side that makes it believable that at one point, not only “Rick” and “Shane” were best friends, but “Shane” was really a part of the “Grimes” family. He was the kind of guy who could just roll over there, unannounced, pull up a plate, and start serving himself, and no one said anything. I think that… I think “Shane” is a really good guy, and I think what we’re trying… I think what’s interesting about the relationship with the “Grimes” and “Shane” is that it shows what a zombie apocalypse can do. It shows have everything can really break down, and… um… it’s insanity. I mean it’s absolute insanity that’s going on, and I think it’s gonna start to take place. So, do I want “Shane” to take a heroic turn? Look, I would love… what I think is so great about the way that “Shane’s” been portrayed in the show by Frank and by Robert is that he’s not just… it’s not just one dimensional. He has had, sort of, opportunities to redeem himself, we saw through a flashback, what he did in the hospital. We’ve sort of seen that it’s not just this passionate, lusty desire that he feels for “Lori,” it’s also very much about “Karl.” He loves “Karl.” He loves being a father figure to “Karl.” He really tried to do the right thing, and I think he just sort of got a taste of something that he probably never should have had a taste of. And that’s power, that’s love, that’s this relationship with “Karl,” and I think that when “Rick” comes back, it just… that’s completely shattered. And, of course, he’s happy to see his friend, and of course you know he’s happy that his friend gets to be reunited with his family, it’s just now he’s had this taste of these things, and I think that really just sets him off. So, I don’t know if that answers your question, you know. I do hope that he gets to have these opportunities to redeem himself, but, eventually, I think that, I think that for the sake of story, he’s got to completely break down, and I think he’s gotta be a complete danger to the group. And, you know, whether they’re going in that direction or not, that’s sort of where the comic goes, and I just think all we’re doing is we’re exploring it just a little bit more thoroughly.
BD: Absolutely. And, I think that’s a great answer to the question.
JB: Right on! (Laughs.)
BD: (Laughs.) Now, there has been some speculation as to the release date of Season 2. And, I know that you’re not quite filming yet, but do you happen to know when you might start filming, or have you received any word about when you might receive scripts for the next season?
JB: You know, I know absolutely nothing besides I know that it’s not gonna be anytime in the next couple of months that we’re going to be starting. I know it’s gonna be probably early spring, but for me to speculate… I really don’t know, and I know that I just finished a movie, and I cut off all of my hair.
BD: Oh really? Oh my goodness.
JB: And, I know they said it was OK. (Laughs.) So, that gives me a month or so to grow it back. And, besides that, that’s all I know. That’s probably more information than I should even know, but I don’t know when we’re going to start again. I do know that we’re definitely doing 13 instead of 6.
JB: But, I don’t know when we’re going to start.
BD: Not to worry. Not to worry. Now, speaking of other projects that you’re working on, you’ve had a very exciting career in both in TV and film, but you actually began as a theatre actor and own your own theatre company.
JB: Yeah. I didn’t own my own theatre company. I was a part, you know, not to get all Kumbaya on you, but it was definitely like a group. You know. I was a part of it; there was no real… anybody who owned it. But, uh…
BD: More of a collective.
JB: Yeah. You know, that’s how I started. I grew up playing sports. And I was kind of just a knuckle-head kid, and really with not much direction at all. And I was kind of finding myself in trouble. And theatre… I really think saved my life. I found something that I really loved to do, and that I was good at, and it showed me that I had something to express. And, it ended up taking me to Moscow, Russia, where I studied theatre in this really great theatre school called the Moscow Art Theatre, and I just really fell in love with it. And, um, learning, and class, and being a good student was never anything that you could ever sort of… that had anything to do with Jon Bernthal.
JB: I was a huge troublemaker. And, so, I really responded to it, and, again, I think it really saved my life. I learned discipline, and I learned focus. And, I love it. Theatre is my love. I think it’s… unlike TV and film, I look at theatre as a very athletic endeavor. Each night you gotta go out there; you don’t just do one scene at a time, one take at a time. You do the entire production, and there’s no feeling in the world like it. And, I originally came out to LA only because I wanted to do better roles in New York. I was only doing theatre, and I just sort of saw that once I got to be a professional actor, the roles that I really wanted were going to sort of TV and movie stars.
JB: And, that kind of threw me for a loop. And, so, I decided that I really wanted to come to LA to try to go that route so that I could eventually do the kind of theatre that I really wanted to do. And, unfortunately, I haven’t been really… well, fortunately, I should say I have been really busy with TV and film and I’ve been… it’s just weird to me. I never thought it would work this way. But, you know, in the last five years, I’ve only done one play, which is just kind of nuts. But, I really really hope that it’s something that I can go back to, and I really hope it’s something that I can make a much bigger part of my life, because it is definitely my favorite way of expression.
BD: Excellent. What I would actually like to do, Jon, is just to switch gears a bit. We do have a few fan questions for you. I know that Walking Dead has had a rabid fan base both for the comic series and especially the TV show. One question I have is that many fans out there have their own plans in case of a zombie attack. Do you happen to have your own contingency plan in case of a zombie apocalypse?
JB: You know, it’s weird… I don’t know that I necessarily have a plan. I do think about it a lot. I think being on the show and being in that situation a lot – you do think about it. I mean, you know, I have my dogs; I have a bunch of pit bulls. And, they’re really great dogs. They’re the most misunderstood dogs in the world, but, you know, I feel like they would be great in a zombie apocalypse, because they would let me know that people are coming. I think just… you know I think that, in the case of a zombie attack, I think it would just… I think you would just need a lot of blunt objects. Everybody seems to think that you would need a gun, but I feel like a gun… and it’s weird, because “Shane” just always has that shotgun with him, but I feel like it’s really the stupidest thing you could possibly do, because a shotgun is the loudest thing in the world. But, uh, I don’t know, I think it’s just one of those things where you never know what you’re going to do until you’re in the situation. So, you can speculate all you want, but until the zombies are literally coming out of the woodwork, you know, there’s no telling. The proof will be in the pudding.
BD: Exactly. Lastly, Jon, I was just wondering… are there any other comics, besides The Walking Dead, that either you are currently reading or that you have enjoyed in the past?
JB: You know, I’m such a nerd. I wish there was. I really don’t read comics… I mean I hadn’t read any comics up until I did the show, and now I’m just sort of rabidly reading The Walking Dead. I’m up to Book Four, and I love it. You know, I love it. And it was weird for me, because as soon as I started reading it, I saw how quick “Shane” gets offed, and I was like, “What?!” But, um, look I wish I had a better answer for that. I wish that I did read more, and I definitely plan to, and going to the different conventions and getting to know Robert, these guys blow me away with what they’re able to do. And, I think what’s so cool about comics is like… there’s these captions and these pictures, and I think basically what they do is they totally… again, not to sound like a douche-y artist person, but I think they really sort of inflame the imagination. And, they excite you, and they make you fill in so many blanks about some of the… they sort of help you tell a story in your mind, and they guide you, and there’s so much that you have to sort of fill in with your imagination. Whereas, I think it’s different with TV, where they’re trying to fill in a lot of those blanks, and they really kind of spoon-feed you a story. And, I just think it’s a really cool way of storytelling, and I really dig The Walking Dead. And, um, I’m probably gonna stick with Kirkman stuff and the Image stuff.
JB: You know, once I catch up on The Walking Dead. And, um, it’s pretty cool having him as a friend, because he is like a comic god, and he really does sort of say, “You should read this, you should read this…” and it’s pretty cool being able to bounce it off of him.
BD: Absolutely. That is excellent. Well, Jon Bernthal, thank you again so much for taking time to speak with me today. We wish you the best of luck on all of your continued success. And, again, this is Barbra Dillon for Fanboy Comics, and I encourage our fans to tune in for more of Jon Bernthal in The Walking Dead on AMC for Season 2. Thanks so much, Jon.
JB: Thank you so much. It was really cool talking with you.
Barbra Dillon is the Managing Editor of Fanboy Comics, an independent comic book publishing company based in Los Angeles, Calif. She has produced numerous short films including Something Animal and Batman of Suburbia, and served as Legal Advisor for the film Walken on Sunshine. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Barbra and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at FanboyComics.net or sign up for the e-newsletter, The Fanboy Scoop, by emailing email@example.com.