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‘The Punisher’ Star Jon Bernthal on The Challenges of Launching a Trigger-Happy Show After Mass Shootings

The star told IndieWire that hopes that we can learn to discuss the recent shootings in Las Vegas and Texas "like Americans."

Marvel's The Punisher

Jessica Miglio/Netflix

“Marvel’s The Punisher” is launching in an extremely complicated political climate, and star Jon Bernthal fully acknowledges that. “Let’s just be honest here,” he told IndieWire. “We put the premiere of this show off because of the tragedy that happened in Las Vegas. We did that out of respect. I think it was the right decision.”

Bernthal was referring to the Oct. 1 attack at a Vegas country music concert, which left 58 people dead and 546 wounded. While there had been no official release date announced at that point, “The Punisher” had been scheduled to make an appearance at New York City Comic-Con on October 7. The NYCC panel was canceled, and two weeks later, Netflix announced that the show would launch on November 17, with a red carpet premiere scheduled for Monday, Nov. 6.

While that premiere date put several weeks between the premiere and the Vegas attack, that was no guarantee that America wouldn’t experience another gun violence incident before then. And indeed, this Sunday, 26 people were killed by gunshot while attending church in Sutherland Springs, TX.

Speaking to IndieWire a day later, Bernthal said he was deeply affected by what happened. “I turn on the TV yesterday and my heart just absolutely breaks for the tragedy that occurred in Texas, just a senseless, cowardly act. My heart is broken for the tragedy that just enveloped a small town, where everyone knew each other, everyone is going to be touched by this,” he said. “We put the show off because of one of these tragedies and in that short period of time, now there is another one.”

The ongoing gun violence in America affects everyone, but “The Punisher” features a character whose only real superpower is an immense capacity for violence. Frank Castle, a former Marine on a quest not just for vengeance following the death of his family, but for some semblance of inner peace, is ruthless when going after his targets. Guns play a major factor in that. In Bernthal’s words, “he hunts down bad guys. He’s a comic book character.”

Marvel's The Punisher

But in his eyes, Frank isn’t a hero for what he does. “I don’t believe in heroes, or villains, I just don’t. It’s not interesting to me, and it’s not real to me,” he said. “I never wanted to lionize Frank Castle. What I wanted to show with him, more than anything, was his pain and his anguish and cost of violence, and the toll that it has taken on him.”

That said, he thinks that “there is no question that I am concerned with the desensitization of violence. That is something that we should talk about, and we should address.”

Incidents like the shootings in Sutherland Springs theoretically should give us those opportunities, Bernthal believes. “If anything it just tells me, it re-intensifies the fact that we have an unbelievable problem here. I think that unfortunately people take a stand politically and are completely steadfast in their political position,” he said. “Somehow that’s being confused with strength, rather than a real desire and ability to open themselves to the other side of this, and see merit on the other side of this thing, and that we can sit down like Americans and people who all want this to stop and try to figure out a way to do so.”

Bernthal thinks that over the course of “The Punisher” Season 1, “all sides of this debate” are represented.

“I think that the absolute best quality that art can have is to hold a mirror to society, to make society question itself,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s art’s job to answer those questions, but if this show will spark debate, will highlight an unbelievable problem, make people think and talk about it, awesome. I think that’s great. We absolutely need to do that.”

“Marvel’s The Punisher” premieres Friday, November 17 on Netflix. 

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