Jon Bernthal Talks MOB CITY, Reuniting with Frank Darabont, Pushing the Envelope, and More; Calls FURY “One of the Darkest War Movies Ever Made”

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From Frank Darabont, the new TNT drama series Mob City depicts the epic battle between a determined police chief and a dangerous mobster, in 1940s Los Angeles.  Based on the critically acclaimed book L.A. Noir by John Buntin, the story follows Det. Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), who has been assigned to a new mob task force headed by Det. Hal Morrison (Jeffrey DeMunn), as part of the crusade by Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker (Neal McDonough) to free the city of criminals like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (Ed Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), and to stop the corruption in his own police force.

During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, to promote the three-week television event that premieres on December 4th, actor Jon Bernthal talked about how Frank Darabont asked him to hold his schedule open once he was done on The Walking Dead because he was writing something specifically for him, why he enjoys working with Darabont so much, how important it was to him that this show really push the envelope, and how he’d love for the show to return for more episodes.  He also talked about his experience shooting Fury with writer/director David Ayer, and described it as “one of the darkest war movies ever made.”  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

mob-city-jon-bernthal-3Collider:  How did you come to be a part of this show?  Did you just get a call from Frank Darabont and immediately say yes?

JON BERNTHAL:  Yeah.  When I was still doing The Walking Dead, after Frank had left, he and I had stayed in pretty steady communication.  He wanted to check in on the status of Shane, and see if he was still gonna die off, at the end of the second season.  He just asked me to stay available ‘cause he was writing something for me.  Honestly, from Frank Darabont, if he says that, you just keep your ass available.  I believe in him, and he’s a friend and a brother.  And it helps that I think he’s one of the country’s greatest storytellers.  It was a really easy call.  I just told my agents.  I did a movie right after The Walking Dead, and then I said, “As far as TV, just keep me wide open because I want to do whatever Frank’s got.”  But, I had no idea what it was.  For all I knew, it could have been about a purple dinosaur.  About half-way through filming that movie, down in Shreveport, he had sent me almost a full pilot script, and I was just totally flattered and honored that he wrote it for me.  I had already signed on.

What do you enjoy about the collaboration that you have together, and what’s it been like, getting to know him in this capacity?

BERNTHAL:  That’s a good question.  As far as Frank’s concerned, it’s multi-layered.  First and foremost, I think he’s one of the greatest we have.  He’s made some of this country’s best movies, ever.  I would throw The Shawshank Redemption up there with anything, and he did it again with The Walking Dead.  I don’t want to be political or stir anything up, but if you ask anybody who’s truly involved with that show, and who really knows the ins and outs of it, everyone will say that Frank made that show.  That was Frank.  He created the culture.  He created the cast.  He created the tone.  He’s just unbelievably talented.  He’s a wonderful storyteller.  That’s Frank, as an artist.  If you have an artist like that, in your life, that wants to work with you, you fucking work with them. 

mob-city-jon-bernthal-2As a man, Frank is extremely loyal and kind and caring.  You walk onto a Frank Darabont set and half the people that work on it went to high school with him.  He keeps the same people around.  He’s just an unbelievably loyal guy.  It’s funny because he has such a love for Hollywood and a love for movies, but he does not love the business side of Hollywood.  He’s got quite a reputation for it ‘cause he’s just a really honest guy.  He’s really an artist caught up in the Hollywood business world.  On another level, he gave me my first really big opportunity, and I’ll forever be indebted to him for that.  I’ve got a career now and a family, and I’m supporting my family doing what I love.  I just feel ridiculously blessed for that.  That’s coming from my heart.  I really owe it all to him.  But, all the other things that I mentioned just make it so much easier.

If you were going to do a show like this, was it also important to you that it really does push the envelope, as far as it can, and it’s not just a watered down version because it’s not paid cable?

BERNTHAL:  Yeah.  Look, it was a worry.  I’ll be honest with you, it was definitely a worry for me.  I’m in this really amazing position that I never thought I’d be in.  I’m getting to work on these really amazing projects that I’d definitely watch, and Mob City is right there with it.  But, I’m not into the watered down, PG version.  I don’t want the world light.  I want the gritty ins and outs and the nuances.  I think that, to compete with HBO and Showtime, which are allowed to literally show everything, you’ve gotta push the envelope.  That said, I also think that, in some instances, a few rules and regulations and limits can actually inspire real creativity.  I think there’s a way that you can actually show a darker, edgier and sometimes more sadistic world without just throwing out the curse word or ripping the woman’s clothes off.  Sometimes limits force you to get very creative.  

I know Frank is all about pushing the envelope.  He is not about playing it safe.  If you watch any one of his projects, the proof is in the pudding.  I trust him on that.  It’s great to step into something like this, where you trust somebody so much.  In my experience with The Walking Dead, which was non-paid cable, I really felt that the things we weren’t allowed to show on the program, for me as an actor, it really left me with a challenge where it actually made the things that I did a lot darker.  I’ll be honest with you, some of them didn’t make it into the show because they were too dark.  When a network sets down a set of rules, you would be amazed at how you can get around those rules in a pretty nasty way, just by using your imagination and not violating any of those rules.  I think that’s the kind of actors and that’s the kind of storytelling that Frank attracts.  Hopefully, we were able to do that.

mob-city-jon-bernthal-milo-ventimigliaWhat was it like to go from Mob City to a film like Fury with David Ayer?

BERNTHAL:  The script just blew my mind.  End of Watch was just absolutely awesome, in my opinion.  Training Day is great.  I loved Harsh Times.  People are dying to work with this guy because he’s just so talented.  Before I met him, I saw the performances he was getting out of people and I wanted to work with him so much.  I was with Frank, Milo [Ventimiglia] and Alexa [Davalos] at the TNT Up-fronts when I got the news that I got the job.  It’s a World War II movie, but it’s got the tone of a very, very dark Vietnam movie, set in World War II.  It literally does not pull a single punch.  In my opinion, I think we’re setting out to make one of the darkest war movies ever made.  David is a veteran.  He was in a Naval submarine.  He’s really, really into showing the beauty that can come out of the absolute worst situations that human beings can be in.  It’s just been an unbelievable experience.  It’s a wonderful cast, and it’s definitely an experience of a lifetime.

Are you hoping to do more episodes of Mob City, or is the story wrapped up with these six episodes?

BERNTHAL:  I absolutely think there’s more.  I don’t know how it will play out.  Those are all decisions that are made in rooms I’m not invited to.  What’s great about this show is how big the world gets and how this one little problem spirals out and ripples out and affects the entire city of Los Angeles, at the time.  I really hope that the show continues because there’s such wonderful characters that are introduced.  There is no end to Frank’s genius, and there’s no end to this world.  I think we can just keep growing and growing and growing and growing.  We’ve gotta see what the audience says.

Mob City premieres on TNT on December 4th.

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