Jon Bernthal Says He’s ‘Wrong Guy’ for ‘American Gigolo’ Reboot, Lacks ‘Natural Sex Appeal’

Bernthal is taking on the role that first made Richard Gere a sex icon in 1980.
Jon Bernthal arrives at the premiere of "King Richard" during the American Film Fest at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Jon Bernthal
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Jon Bernthal has played a cop, a superhero, a hitman, and a zombie killer. But what “The Wolf of Wall Street” alum hasn’t fully embodied, according to him, is being a sex object.

“The Punisher” star told GQ that he is still surprised to be cast in Showtime’s “American Gigolo” series, based on Paul Schrader’s 1980 film about a male escort who is framed for murder. Richard Gere originally played the role, which instantly made Gere an icon (and was notorious for showing full-frontal, albeit brief, male nudity in a mainstream movie).

“I do not believe that I possess any kind of natural sex appeal,” Bernthal said. “I’ve always looked at myself as this weird-looking guy.”

Filming the series requires Bernthal to don “a fancy suit and some shoes that hurt my feet,” plus a “goofy” shirt and a handful of gold chains to play sex worker Julian Kaye.

“It’s crazy to me,” Bernthal added, “but it scares me — and that’s why I’m gonna see it through.”

Bernthal also took the romantic lead in Lena Dunham’s 2022 Sundance film “Sharp Stick,” but the actor noted that he took on both “Stick” and “Gigolo” with “a real palpable sense of, ‘I’m the wrong guy for this. I can’t do it.'”

The “We Own This City” star said, “And honestly, man? Maybe I can’t. Maybe these things will come out and people will say, ‘Well, he tried this, and he couldn’t do it.'”

To Bernthal, that hesitation is all part of the job. “I just really fundamentally believe you’ve got to pursue the things you’re scared of,” Bernthal continued. “If you’re scared of swimming in the ocean, you’ve got to get in there. If you’re scared of being assaulted in the street, you’ve got to learn how to fight. You’ve got to run headfirst toward the fear.”

The “American Gigolo” TV adaptation hails from David Hollander (“Ray Donovan”), Paramount TV Studios, and Jerry Bruckheimer Television. Written and directed by Hollander, the series is a present-day reimagining of the original film, with Bernthal playing Kaye 15 years after he’s been arrested for murder and is struggling to find his footing in the modern-day Los Angeles sex industry. Kaye investigates what really led to the set-up that sent him to prison while he tries to reconnect with his former love interest Michelle (Gretchen Mol).

Rosie O’Donnell, Lizzie Brocheré, Wayne Brady, and Leland Orser also star.

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