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Jon Bernthal Biography


Home > Actors > B > Bernthal, Jon > Biography


Birth Name: Jon Bernthal
Born: 09/20/1977
Birth Place: Washington D.C., USA


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- ). 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 swarthy 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 his best year in show business, with a small but high-profile bit in Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" (2010), as a World War II soldier in two episodes of the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries "The Pacific" (HBO, 2010), and as a series regular on the landmark AMC miniseries "The Walking Dead" (2010- ), based on the popular Image Comics graphic novel of the same name. Despite the fact that small-town Kentucky policeman Shane Walsh, who helps lead a band of human survivors in resistance against a rising zombie apocalypse, died fairly early on in the original monthly run of Robert Kirkman's graphic novel, producer Frank Darabont elected to preserve the character indefinitely, largely on the strength of Bernthal's gritty, fully-committed performance. After only two of the original six episodes had been broadcast, the miniseries became a weekly series when AMC ordered a second season.

By Richard Harland Smith