An intensely physical performer whose masculine looks brought to mind such classic Hollywood leading men as Paul Muni, John Garfield and Anthony Quinn, Jon Bernthal traded in an early opportunity to play professional baseball for the life of a working actor. The Washington, D.C.-born Bernthal honed his craft in regional and off-Broadway theatre on both coasts and paid his dues with lead roles in low-budget, independent films and character bits on such weekly TV series as "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002-2012) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ). The dark-haired actor hit his stride with a string of high-profile supporting performances in Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" (2006), Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" (2010) and the HBO miniseries "The Pacific" (2010). Disappointed by the failure of two network series in which he played principal roles, Bernthal hit the jackpot when he joined the cast of the cable series "The Walking Dead" (AMC 2010- ). After leaving the series, Bernthal went on to higher-profile films including Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013), World War II drama "Fury" (2014), indie comedy-drama "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015), thriller "The Accountant" (2016) and Edgar Wright's car-chase action comedy "Baby Driver" (2017).
Jonathan E. Bernthal was born on Sept. 22, 1977 in Washington, D.C., the son of entertainment lawyer Eric Bernthal and the grandson of New York theatrical producer and musical impresario Murray Bernthal. After his 1995 graduation from the Quaker-run Sidwell Friends School in Washington, where he excelled at both baseball and football, Bernthal undertook undergraduate studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. While continuing his study of acting abroad at the School of Moscow Art Theatre in the former Soviet Union, Bernthal played baseball with the European Professional Baseball Federation and briefly considered the sport as a career. Spotted in performance at the American Repertory Theatre in Moscow, Bernthal was encouraged by the director of Harvard University's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training to earn his master's degree in theatre upon his return to the States. While working toward that goal, Bernthal helped found the award-winning acting troupe Fovea Floods Theatre, along with teachers and alumni from Skidmore College.
Beginning in 2000, Bernthal racked up an impressive résumé of roles in legitimate theatre across the United States: a weed-addled songwriter in Lanford Wilson's "Fifth of July" at New York's Signature Theatre, a volatile slacker in Kenneth Lonergan's "This is Our Youth" at the Studio Theatre in his native Washington, D.C. and an ambitious academic in David Auburn's "Proof" at the Portland Stage Company. A string of film and television appearances followed, beginning with a bit as an unlicensed wrestling promoter dealing stolen growth hormones on a second season episode of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001-2011) and as a petty criminal implicated in murder in the second season finale of "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002-09). Bernthal made his film debut in Joseph H. Biancaniello's psychological comedy "Mary, Mary" (2002), as college student whose hypochondria borders on the schizophrenic and affects his friends in the manner of a sexually transmitted disease. The micro-budgeted independent film was the recipient of several film festival awards, including one for Best Feature Film at the 2002 Telluride Film Festival, but was never granted theatrical distribution. Bernthal was added to the ensemble cast of Roger Paradiso's film adaptation of the off-Broadway smash "Tony and Tina's Wedding" (2004), but the feature sat on the shelf for three years before receiving a limited, platform release in the fall of 2007.
Through the next few years, Bernthal was seen most often on the small screen, in character parts on such highly-rated weekly series as "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002-2012), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 2005-2014). In 2006, he was cast as a series regular on the CBS sitcom "The Class" (2006-07), about a group of third-grade friends who reunite as adults. Bernthal's good looks made him believable as a private contractor who still lives with his mother and pines for his childhood sweetheart. The winner of a People's Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy, "The Class" was the first TV series ever to webcast both a live table read and dress rehearsal. Despite these accolades and innovations, the series was canceled after only 19 episodes. Bernthal rebounded to play a cynical police detective on the Milwaukee-set "Courtroom K" (2008), a pilot for a proposed Fox series about the U.S. criminal justice system that went unsold despite having been created by Paul Attanasio, executive producer of the long-running medical series "House M.D." (Fox, 2005-2012).
For Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" (2006), Bernthal traded his trademark mop of hair for a military brush cut to play New York Port Authority officer Christopher Amaroso, who died heroically on Sept. 11, 2001, in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Third-billed in "Day Zero" (2007), Bryan Gunnar Cole's speculative post-9/11 drama about three friends who find themselves drafted into the War Against Terror, Bernthal's New York cabbie was presented in patriotic contrast to Elijah Wood's stubbled intellectual and Chris Klein's Yuppie professional as the only inductee eager to go to war for his country. The film received a push from its inclusion in the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, but enjoyed only a limited theatrical run in 2008 before it was swiftly remaindered onto DVD. In Jieho Lee's ensemble piece "The Air I Breathe" (2007), Bernthal had the small role in the interwoven anthology's "Sorrow" vignette, as a talk show host who takes an almost sadistic pleasure in grilling shallow pop star Sarah Michelle Geller.
"A Line in the Sand" (2008) was director Jeffrey Chernov's film adaptation of Mark Nasser's off-off Broadway play "The Mayor's Limo." A multiple film festival award-winner, the independent feature offered Bernthal a rare leading role as a homeless man known only as Banzai, whose tragic past unfolds after he is arrested and brought into police custody for urinating on the mayor's limousine. The vagaries of fame were no doubt well defined for Bernthal by this experience; although his work earned him a Best Actor award at the Naperville Independent Film Festival, one-sheet posters for "A Line in the Sane" spelled his name wrong. In the National Lampoon comedy "Bar Starz" (2008), from first-time director Michael Pietrzak, Bernthal dialed down his trademark intensity to play a vainglorious San Bernardino club king; the role gave Bernthal the chance to play broad comedy and to improvise, but the feature was withdrawn after its limited 2008 release. Bernthal offered a slimmed-down take on Chicago gangster Al Capone for Shawn Levy's screwball fantasy "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009) and stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the film's poster with stars Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. The actor had another shot at the security of a weekly series when he was cast as a loutish New England suburbanite married to a sorceress on "Eastwick" (ABC, 2009-2010), a spin-off of George Miller's 1987 film "The Witches of Eastwick." The series debuted well, but critics were unenthusiastic and the network axe fell after only 12 weeks.
In 2010, Bernthal had a banner year, with a small but high-profile bit in Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer," a role as a World War II soldier in two episodes of the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries "The Pacific" (HBO, 2010) and a key part as a series regular on the landmark AMC series "The Walking Dead" (2010- ), based on the popular comic series of the same name. Despite the fact that small-town policeman Shane Walsh, who helps lead a band of human survivors in resistance against a rising zombie apocalypse, died early on in the original monthly run of Robert Kirkman's tale, initial show-runner Frank Darabont elected to preserve the character for a longer stint, largely on the strength of Bernthal's gritty, fully committed performance. By its second season, the series became a runaway hit, with the actor playing a crucial role in that year's story arc. Following his tenure as the tightly wound Walsh, Bernthal moved on to a number of high-profile projects, including supporting parts in the feature thriller "Snitch" (2013) and two major holiday-season releases, the boxing movie "Grudge Match" (2013), starring no less than Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, and Martin Scorsese's financial drama, "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013). Bernthal also landed the lead in Darabont's next big project, the period crime series "Mob City" (TNT, 2013), although that series only lasted one season. Bernthal's big screen success continued with character roles in films ranging from World War II drama "Fury" (2014) to indie hit "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015). He also appeared in critically acclaimed drug-war thriller "Sicario" (2015), Zac Efron's bos-office disappointment "We Are Your Friends" (2015), and the Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick thriller "The Accountant" (2016). Bernthal next appeared in Edgar Wright's action thriller/comedy "Baby Driver" (2016) as a member of a quirky set of bank robbers.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made acting debut in "Mary/Mary"
Landed first TV-acting role with an appearance on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC)
Cast in supporting role in comedy "Tony N' Tina's Wedding"
Co-starred on short-lived ensemble comedy series "The Class" (CBS)
Acted opposite Nicolas Cage in biographical drama "World Trade Center"
Landed supporting role in "The Air I Breathe," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar
Portrayed Al Capone in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"; also starred Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, and Owen Wilson
Made cameo in "Date Night," starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell
Acted in HBO's epic miniseries "The Pacific"
Cast opposite Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies on AMC's "The Walking Dead"
Cast in crime drama "Rampart" opposite Woody Harrelson
Acted opposite Dwayne Johnson in action drama "Snitch"
Featured in "Grudge Match" with Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone
Cast in the crime drama "Mob City"
Appeared in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Was a supporting character on the HBO mini-series "Show Me a Hero"
Land a supporting role in the Oscar-nominated crime drama "Sicario"
Played The Punisher on the Netflix superhero series "Daredevil"
Appeared alongside Oscar winners Ben Affleck and J.K. Simmons in the crime drama "The Accountant"
Appeared in Edgar Wright's ensemble comedy/heist film "Baby Driver"
Reprised role of Punisher on "The Punisher"