Raised in Washington, D.C., country music-loving actor Jon Bernthal went to Russia to study acting and ended up playing professional baseball. He's no longer playing ball, but his acting career is on the upswing. In the independent film Day Zero (read the review), Bernthal plays a street-wise cab driver named James Dixon who, along with two friends (played by Elijah Wood and Chris Klein), receives a draft notice and has 30 days to report for duty. The story follows the trio as they struggle with political and personal convictions, fear, and leaving behind loved ones.
I asked Bernthal about his character, his patriotism, and his upcoming projects.
What was your first reaction after reading the script?
My first reaction was I had to do this movie. I just read a character description on Dixon, and I called my agents and asked for a script. As soon as I put it down…I was a man on a mission. I wrote to the producers, I wrote to the writer, and I said…you've got to let me audition for this, you've got to see me. I know I'm meant to play this role. You know that the business of Hollywood is difficult. These guys, they really took a risk on me. They need big stars to get these movies made, and there's a lot of interest in this. I wasn't able to get in the room because nobody knew who I was and it was a challenge. I knew I had to play this role, and I wasn't going to take no for an answer.
Your character, ready-to-fight tough guy James Dixon, seems to have nothing to lose. Then he falls in love. How did that affect the character's strong convictions?
He's a guy who lives by a code and being there for his friends, the few people he's been able to make connections with in his life. I think this code he lives by and these convictions he's lived his life by wound up getting him in a lot of trouble. That being said, he would never change who he is. It makes him the guy that he is. Finally, somebody shows him what he's shown to other people. I think that it's totally revolutionary for him, and I think that he has to stay, he has to be with her. It made everything kind of haywire, and he's got to prioritize for the first time.