Jon Bernthal On ‘Ford V Ferrari,’ Playing Johnny Boy Soprano In ‘The Many Saints of Newark,’ And The Endearing Legacy Of ‘The Accountant’

It’s kind of funny when Jon Bernthal first shows up in Ford v Ferrari because it’s one of those movie moments where we see Bernthal and our first reaction is, “Oh hey, Bernthal, cool.” Then when he’s introduced to the other characters, “This is Lee Iacocca,” it’s another funny moment because then your reaction is, “Oh, Lee Iacocca!” You know, one of those movie moments where we know Iacocca later becomes famous, but all these characters don’t realize that and just think he’s another corporate stooge. But we know they are dealing with someone special, who helps engineer Ford Motor Company’s attempt to boost sales by beating Ferrari at 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The first thing I learned about Bernthal in this interview is that he’s the type who will just call you directly, which is unusual in that it didn’t involve some sort of publicist to connect the two of us. And the second part is Bernthal introduces himself in a way that makes no assumptions that anyone knows who he is — going as far to explain who he is and the movie he’s calling to talk about. Bernthal also looks back at his time as The Punisher, and isn’t particularly coy about his desire to keep playing him. He gives us a preview of playing Tony Soprano’s father in the upcoming The Many Saints of Newark.

Also, we’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up the lasting endearment of The Accountant, a movie Bernthal says people still come up to him and ask about a sequel.

Jon Bernthal: Mike, how you doing, man? It’s Jon Bernthal, calling from the Ford v Ferrari movie.

Oh, hey … it’s always weird when there’s no publicist in between.

I know, man. I know, I like to cut right to the source, brother. No, I’m actually just getting out of the junket, but I’m trying to race up to my little boy’s basketball games. So they said I could do this in the car.

So, when I was a little kid, Lee Iacocca might have been the most famous person I remember who I had no idea what he did. That guy was everywhere.

Totally. And his face and the name was everywhere, sort of like, we were inundated. You’re right, as a kid, you have no idea who he is. I have some sort of recollection of him being extremely friendly and wise and calm, but very powerful, and relatable. And you know, the movie focuses on a time in his life when he’s young and ambitious and hopeful, and very much a fish out of water at that company — the son of immigrants in a very blue blood company.

I love when Lee is introduced to us, the audience. It’s one of those, oh, here’s this incredibly famous public figure but the other characters don’t know him yet moments.

And I think what’s so interesting is, you meet Lee Iacocca, and he is offered literally no respect by his peers. The chips were stacked against him and he was an unstoppable force, and he did it with grace and he did it with dignity. He was not your typical, again, sort of blue blood, country club guy that was the sort of standard in Ford upper management.

So you read his book?

I did.

That’s a whole other thing. When I was a little kid, every adult was reading that book.

It was two books of that era, right? It was Iacocca and it was the Art of the Deal.

And Yeager. I remember Chuck Yeager had a big book at the time, too.

Totally! Yeah, my dad had that one too.

I love that this movie is as much about dealing with corporate bureaucracy as it is winning a car race.

And I think the stakes are just as high, as you said, in the board room, as in the living room of the Ken Miles home, and in what’s going in Carroll Shelby’s garage as they are on the race track. There’s so much at stake for the human beings. And I think, look, you could have just made this a car racing movie. But I think that investment really lies with the fact that you’re just so invested in the characters and you know how much they have at stake in every moment of this movie.

Is it surprising to you people still talk about The Accountant? I think about it a lot.

Yeah, look, I think Gavin O’Connor is a really, really, really special filmmaker.

But it’s a weird movie. I think that’s why it’s sticking around.

Yeah, I mean, when you think about it — when you just think about the logline of that movie — it’s nuts, you know?

It is, yes.

But you know what the thing about it is: the people who made it really, really cared. It was a really, really cool script with a great filmmaker. Ben (Affleck) is incredible in the film. But I think, also, it’s dealing with like issues of brotherhood, fathers and sons, autism, sort of special needs learning and this sort of like the uncharted territory of autism. How new and fresh that is, and the capabilities of some of these folks that are so intriguing. So it really does hit upon them, and it’s an awesome action move too. So I guess that’s a long-ass answer to a short-ass question.

That movie deserves a long answer.

A lot of people do still talk to me about The Accountant, and it is a movie that really has a huge impact and people ask me all the time if we’re going to make another one.

It’s fascinating that people still love that movie and want more Accountant. That’s great.

Yeah, me too. Me, too.

I know you have to talk about The Punisher in every interview. But I do enjoy how when you’re asked if you want to keep playing him it’s not a coy answer.

Yeah, man, look, you know how it is. We know nothing about that process, and I welcome that. I love playing Frank. I love the Frank fan base. I love how much he means to people in the military community and the law enforcement community, the comic book fans are the best fans in the world. I care about the guy in my heart. So I was super grateful for the opportunity. And I think, like I said, to me, it’s really not about whether you do it or not, it’s just really getting it right and doing the version of him that does it justice. And, of course, I’ll always care about Frank with everything I got.

People really liked you in that role.

Look, right now, we have sort of this generation of literally the best among us, the special forces community of guys that are being used at an incredibly high rate. You know, those numbers of deployments and operations are staggering. Again, I can’t begin to tell you how much respect and love I have for that community and the folks in that community that have sort of welcomed me in. So I think that the Frank Castle story really hits home right now, and I think that’s a giant part of it as well.

So you’re playing Johnny Boy Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark. I’m very excited this is happening, but I have no idea what to expect. Does that make sense?

Yeah, man. Look, obviously, I’m not going to say anything.

Tell me the ending.

[Laughs] Yeah, man, I’m not going to do that. Yeah, look, it’s David Chase. I was coming up as an acting student when The Sopranos was on the air as my favorite show of all time. Revisiting the show and going back and watching it again was really one of the joys of my life in the last year. I suggest everybody do it. It holds up where I think it to be the best show ever made.

Yeah, I rewatched it again recently. And I agree.

I think that it’s a huge honor. It’s a huge honor to work with David Chase. It’s a huge honor to be a part of it. And yeah, I’m really excited about it.

Did you ever meet James Gandolfini?

I did not. But I am tremendously close with Michael (Gandolfini) and I have the utmost respect for him, and to be sort of a part of the journey that he’s on — playing the same role that his father played, really beautifully, and I’m honored to be a part of it and I love that kid with all my heart.

I met him randomly once at a bar here in New York in 2006. He was the nicest guy.

I’ve heard that. Man, I’ve heard that from a lot of people.

‘Ford v Ferrari’ opens in theaters nationwide this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.