In town to promote Oliver Stone's World Trade Center and the new CBS sitcom The Class, Jon Bernthal gave TVGuide.com an inside look at doing a movie about the city's darkest day, living at home with "mom" and planning his ultimate dream.
TVGuide.com: What was it like to be part of World Trade Center?
Bernthal: It was really an honor, and different from any other acting job. Normally when you get a script and you meet with the director, you work together to create somebody, but this was really going the other way. It was a duty and a responsibility to honor a guy who really lived, by learning about him and portraying him as accurately as I could. It was an honor to work with Oliver [Stone], Michael Pena and Nicolas Cage.
TVGuide.com: Were you at all apprehensive about doing the film?
Bernthal: A lot of people ask that. I wasn't, because I read the script before I auditioned, and it was completely apolitical. The event has been made political by everyone, but this movie is just about courage and family and about the resolve of New York City and of this country. It really captures the positive of that day and how people got together and tried to help one another. It's about the courage required to go into those buildings at any cost those [first responders] knew that a lot of them wouldn't be coming out, yet they went in anyway, and that's one of the most courageous things I can think of. I also have immense trust in Oliver he's one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.
TVGuide.com: Tell us about your role.
Bernthal: I play fallen Port Authority police officer Chris Amoroso, who was transferred to the Trade Center that [Sept. 11]. He went in and saved a woman, injuring his eye pretty badly in the process. He then saw his friends on the way into the tower and decided to go back in with them. He's a real hero, a tough guy who faced problems head-on. All the [Port Authority] guys wanted to know who was playing Chris.
TVGuide.com: Did you talk to any of the other survivors that were with him that day?
Bernthal: I talked to one of the last sergeants who spoke with him, about Chris' life and how he was feeling about being in the Trade Center before this happened. He wasn't happy about being transferred down there because it's one of the most boring shifts you can have as a Port Authority officer.
TVGuide.com: Have you gotten any feedback from people previewing the film?
Bernthal: As far as the reviewers go, I'm not really too concerned with that. I've talked to many of the guys from the Port Authority Police Department, and I've gotten great responses from them that's meant the world to me. I've heard that Jamie, Chris' wife, was able to see it and she had positive things to say. And mostly Will Jimeno (Pena's character), who the movie's about and who has become a great friend of mine, is really happy with it. He's happy with my work and frankly, at this point, that's who I made the movie for. If they're happy, I'm happy.
TVGuide.com: You're also on CBS' The Class, which is premiering this fall [Monday, Sept. 18, at 8 pm/ET]. You play Duncan Carmello, a twentysomething guy who still lives with his mom. Was this familiar to you at all?
Bernthal: In some ways. This guy has made a few mistakes in his life, but he maintains a real happy-go-lucky likability that really attracted me to the character. There are some things about him that are like me, but some things are definitely different.
TVGuide.com: Did it take you back to when you lived at home?
Bernthal: Yeah, a little bit. He and his mom have really perfected the art of arguing; they argue like only real family members who know each other very well can. There's something special in that.
TVGuide.com: What makes Duncan stand out from the other characters on the show?
Bernthal: His optimism. The show's about a group of people who are inching towards 30 and it's the first time in their lives where they've had to deal with some real baggage, to deal with decisions and the mistakes they've made along the road. Duncan is the one character who is very aware of the giant mistake he's made, yet he remains optimistic and honest with himself. That's refreshing.
TVGuide.com: His mistake being breaking up with classmate Nicole (Joey's Andrea Anders).
Bernthal: Duncan has many, many meaningless love affairs, but there's nobody who's been able to fill the hole in his heart that is Nicole.
TVGuide.com: What do you hope happens as Nicole re-enters Duncan's life?
Bernthal: I hope that he grows up a little bit, and I hope that he learns how to be happy with or without her.
TVGuide.com: Each classmate is dealing with different "baggage," as you say marriage, career, even suicidal thoughts. Will they find solutions by reconnecting?
Bernthal: I think so. These people knew each other from [third grade], a time when their lives were all in front of them and they were young kids, and I think the connection among them is the excitement of finding new friends and the wisdom and knowledge of people you knew when there were no walls put up or masks to be worn. Coming together offers each of them a chance to make lasting, life-altering relationships. A lot of these people don't know each other at all anymore and they're going to come together in pretty crazy and ridiculous ways. That's what makes the show really cool.
TVGuide.com: Have you ever reunited with any of your own past classmates?
Bernthal: My best friends are all people I knew when I was that age, so it's definitely something I'm familiar with.
TVGuide.com: How is this show different from How I Met Your Mother, which you guested on last year?
Bernthal: It's a lot different. How I Met Your Mother was really cool I didn't spend that much time there but what this show is doing is taking the edge of the darker single-camera comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development and setting it in a multicamera sitcom world. The Class and How I Met Your Mother are similar in that they're both heartfelt comedies. Ours involves more risk-taking, but I think the shows complement each other wonderfully.
TVGuide.com: Several other cast members are coming to the set with previous sitcom experience. Does the level of familiarity help everyone settle in?
Bernthal: There are some "veterans," I guess you could say, among the cast, but you would never know it. Everyone is so excited by each other, and there definitely aren't any egos. I remember during the pilot, we were just constantly watching each other and cracking each other up. There's a really good energy in the room.
TVGuide.com: You have a bunch of other films in the pipeline. What should we look out for?
Bernthal: I did a movie called The Air I Breathe with Kevin Bacon, Forest Whitaker and Sarah Michelle Gellar that's an ensemble piece that will come out later this year. I have Bar Starz, which is an off-the-wall comedy with Charlie Murphy, Nikki Griffin and Derek Waters. I also just finished a movie called Day Zero, which I'm probably most proud of. It takes place here in New York and is set a year in the future, when we're at war with Iran and they've reinstituted the draft. It stars myself, Elijah Wood and Chris Klein as three best friends who grew up here in New York and all get drafted. It's a wonderful drama.
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