Jon Bernthal is a friendly guy. In an interview on the set of his new film Baby Driver, the actor is polite and friendly. But onscreen Bernthal has been an imposing presence in standout roles in The Walking Dead antagonist Shane and antihero The Punisher in Netflix’s Marvel Comics shows. In Baby Driver, Bernthal will be certain to cast a shadow over co-star and protagonist Ansel Elgort (The Fault In Our Stars, The Divergent Series).
Written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World), Baby Driver follows Elgort’s Baby, a youthful getaway driver for a criminal gang run by Doc, played by Kevin Spacey. Bernthal plays Griff, a member of Doc’s gang alongside characters played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea.
“I guess his role would be somewhat of a heavy, you know?” Bernthal explains of Griff’s role in the gang. “He’s there for security, and I think he’s an experienced criminal; he knows everybody and has got some familiarity with everybody in the gang except for Baby, and I think he’s quite suspicious of this young, cute, pretty kid who drives a car the way he does.”
In order to prepare for the role, Bernthal talked to career criminals to better understand his character and the inner workings within the criminal underground. As to how he made his connections, the actor coyly responded, “No comment”. While the connections are shrouded in secrecy, the experience proved to be revealing.
“I think there’s often a huge misconception, and especially in the ways criminals are portrayed in film and television. There’s a misconception that to be criminal is to be uneducated or untalented. In the criminal world, people run the full gamut. There’s your idiots who hold up a place and get caught because they leave their wallet there, but there’s mastermind criminals and they all come in different shapes and sizes and different levels of intellect. I think there are people with real talent and people who take it enormously seriously, and those are the kinds of people I talked to.”
Costumes were designed by Courtney Hoffman, an Academy Award-nominee for her work on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Hoffman gave all of the characters the unclean looks audiences expect of criminals, but also dressed each of them in a colour palette reflecting their character. Jon Hamm’s Buddy is dressed in blue to reflect his self-perceived coolness, while Jamie Foxx’s Bats’ fiery temper is symbolised with his red wardrobe. For Bernthal, Hoffman had other ideas.
“I think my colour, to be honest with you, would be douchebag,” he jokes. “She wanted me to be very douchey. There’s an interesting scene where you see us all wearing our outfits for the heist, and we go and change and get glimpse of who all these people are, and she said she wanted to make me look as douchey as possible. Like, a designer leather biker jacket and with very faded jeans with designs on them. She just said, ‘The douchier, the better.’”
A big part of the film is the use of music, with Elgort’s Baby listening to music constantly to drown out his tinnitus. Edgar Wright’s vision for Baby Driver involved syncing the film to music, with action sequences and edits matching the beats and energy within each song. Music also played a part in Bernthal’s process, helping him get into character, but also ‘sometimes to zone out’.
“On certain projects, I make a playlist for my character,” Bernthal reveals. “There’s certain emotional scenes where I’ll make a list of songs for that, and sometimes for big fight scenes I listen to different kinds of music to amp myself up. Sometimes it’s just good when you need to be alone – you put your headphones on, usually everybody leaves you alone. I’ve never been comfortable on set asking for privacy; I love everyone too much.”
Baby Driver is in cinemas July 13, 2017