HYPEBEAST caught up with actor Jon Bernthal before his appearances at New York Comic-Con 2019 to talk about his new role as antagonist Cole D. Walker in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, where he recalls how the experience acting in his first video game is more akin to performing theater than it is a big budget Hollywood film.
He also touches on sports and film in light of his upcoming movie Ford v Ferrari, where he plays Lee Iacocca, who was instrumental in producing the Ford Mustang and later reviving the Chrysler Corporation.
Finally, following The Peanut Butter Falcon with co-star Shia Labeouf (who was recently in an episode of Hot Ones), Bernthal talks about his love for hip-hop and how big a role it plays in his personal life. Check out our interview with Jon Bernthal below and play Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint today.
Is this your first time MoCap acting and how was its experience for Ghost Recon like?
Bernthal: It’s definitely the first time this extensive. It’s cool. I really didn’t know what to expect at first but I was pleasantly surprised. You’ve got to get over the shock of everybody being in those crazy tights and weird outfits with dots all over their face. And you’ve got to act as weird as the person that you’re looking at, but I kind of fell in love with the process after a while.
You’re in a room with like 800 cameras so it’s not your standard one camera on you, one camera one me, and we go. It’s much more like live theater. You’re in search of one perfect take because if there are any flaws, you got to start over. Sometimes it’s like a 15-minute take and you could be at minute eight and somebody could stumble their blocking or mess up their lines and then the take is thrown out with that many cameras on you, and I like that. It means that the stakes are pretty high, pressure’s high, and like live theater there’s nowhere to hide. So yeah, I really dig the process.
What are some of the key differences between an AAA game compared to a Hollywood blockbuster, where both have equally huge budgets?
The entire world is what you’re creating [in an AAA game] and there are no locations and everything is imaginary, taped out literally by tape — if right here would be a table, it’s instead a line of tape. But again, that’s what reminded me of theater rehearsals. I’m a theater actor first, that’s my real love, and being in search of that one perfect take, so it’s also super rehearsal-heavy. You spend the bulk of your time rehearsing, and then when it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna go get one,” everyone’s on alert. You don’t want to be the one that screws up the take. There’s a lot of pressure — it felt like sports.
“What makes me excited is working on great projects with great people — lets me fuel my passion.”
MoCap has essentially opened up a new avenue for actors, another example is Death Stranding , which features Norman Reedus alongside a litany of other talented actors. How do you feel about this evolution of gaming and its opportunities for actors?
I mean, the world’s changing rapidly and I don’t pretend or even attempt to have a handle on that. Norman’s my brother, one of my best friends in the world, and I talked to him about his experience and he really enjoyed it. We’re artists. We’re trying to do our thing and get it out there. What makes me excited is working on great projects with great people — lets me fuel my passion.
On my first day [at Ghost Recon Breakpoint], I saw how many people from all over the world it took to make this game — how much they cared about it and really wanted this game to be done right, to be done well — and that really spoke to me. I’m a huge junkie for passion, and I think you would be making a huge mistake as an artist to say: “I will do my art in this medium but won’t do it in another.” It’s all the same and it’s all constantly evolving, especially technically, so for me, I’m open to any medium.
Between film, MoCap and theater, which do you love most?
I’m an athlete at heart, I was a boxer in college. To me, I like acting when it’s really dangerous and when we don’t know what is going to happen, and I don’t like it when it’s safe. So there’s an element to theater where there’s no place to hide. You can’t just ask to go again. There’s also really beautiful elements to film where you can create a new reality that can be really dangerous, and you can put everything and everybody on edge — I really dig that too.
Playing to a camera, knowing how to manipulate it as an actor is really important. It is both a cool and an interesting skill that at first I was very averse to, and was like, “I’m a theater actor. I don’t care about that shit,” but I came to really love it and realized there’s so much to learn from it. If given the opportunity to do this again, I would attack it differently and from a wiser place.
“The stories, gameplay and level of artistry in today’s games are staggering, and the fact that they transport you into this completely new world is so beautiful.”
In your downtime, do you play video games?
A little bit — I was a Techmo Bowl, Galaga, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out kind of guy. I don’t know… nowadays, games are just crazy-
Yeah, and it’s beautiful. The stories, gameplay and level of artistry in today’s games are staggering, and the fact that they transport you into this completely new world is so beautiful.
You star in the upcoming movie Ford vs Ferrari, do you also have a passion for cars?
Not really. I mean, I drive a truck and I like my truck. It’s surprisingly funny because Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Tracy Letts, Jim Mangold and myself, none of us are really car people. That movie is really about friendship, loyalty and ethics, and about keeping your word. It’s not really a car racing movie. That said, the car racing in the movie is delivered in a very cogent manner — you’re able to completely understand it. You know how sometimes you watch a sports movie and you don’t really understand the sport? Jim did an unbelievable job of really articulating the nuances of racing, and you totally get the excitement of the race. In essence, I think it’s unlike any sports movie or racing movie that’s ever been made before. It’s pretty special.
Earlier this year, you did a movie with Shia Labeouf called The Peanut Butter Falcon, where you mentioned how you are very good at freestyle rap. Who are your favorite rappers?
Oh man, there are so many that I love. The ones that pop into mind are definitely Biggie, I’m a huge Kendrick Lamar fan now, and definitely Nas. I was also huge into NWA, EPMD, Lil’ Kim and Gang Starr. I love hip-hop and I’m trying to educate my kids on the difference between what I think is special and good hip-hop and the whack shit that’s out there.
You mentioned a lot of hardcore gangster rap from the ’90s, and I feel like that speaks to, maybe not your stance on hip-hop, but how lyricism has changed. What wisdom about music do you want to impart to your kids?
I remember having the same conversations with my dad when I was a kid. I remember telling my dad, “Man, Ice Ice Baby is one of the greatest songs ever,” and my dad would reply, “Man, you’re going to laugh that you liked that.” I thought there was no way that’s possible, right? He was always trying to tell me those kinds of things, and I’m trying to do the same with my kids, like when they bring in Old Town Road, “Okay, I know you like this song, but also listen to this.”
My little girl, she’s four, and she only wants to listen to Kendrick Lamar; my eight-year-old son is really into Tupac; and my six-year-old son kind of likes everything. I have a huge mural of Eazy E in my house and they want to listen to him but at the same time, it’s hard to find a track because I’ll need to explain his lyrics, and this one’s going to be a little bit difficult.