The INSIDER Summary:
- Jon Bernthal stars in a new movie out August 18 called “Shot Caller.”
- The film follows a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who gets sent to a maximum security prison and is forced to join a gang with Bernthal’s character to survive.
- Bernthal spent time with inmates in and out of jail to research his character.
- He tells INSIDER spending time with one inmate changed his perspective on the penal system.
- Bernthal says it’s easy for people to have a stigma against criminals, especially because of their depiction on TV or film as “untalented or not smart or simple” people.
“The Walking Dead” alum Jon Bernthal really dived into his latest role for “Shot Caller,” making friends with a former inmate and going inside prison to bring a harrowing depiction of the corruption and gang mentality that exists in the jail system to light.
“Shot Caller” follows businessman Jacob, played by “Game of Thrones” actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who winds up in a maximum security prison after his best friend is killed in a car accident by his hand. Over the course of his prison sentence, he slowly becomes indoctrinated into a gang, gains the moniker “Money,” and transforms from a man with no criminal history to one who becomes feared behind bars.
Bernthal plays a hardened criminal, Frank “Shotgun,” who Jacob meets while on the inside who eases him into a life of crime in order to survive. While it may seem a bit unlikely for someone on the straight and narrow to become a hardened criminial, Bernthal told INSIDER during a call Thursday it’s something that could definitely happen.
“When you go in there [California penal system], it’s completely divided by race,” Bernthal told INSIDER. “From the second you go in, you’re going to have to start doing work if you want to stay safe. Whoever you are in the outside world, you’ve got to become somebody else when you’re inside.”
“For instance, one of the guys that I met, he was originally incarcerated for joyriding, and then he went into prison where he committed murder. I think that’s a very real thing,” Bernthal continued. “I think [prison] can often times make you into a criminal — it’s literally a different world.”
Bernthal rejoined with director and writer Ric Roman Waugh with whom he did 2013’s “Snitch,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Roman Waugh previously directed another prison movie, 2008’s “Felon,” in which he went undercover as a volunteer parole agent before making the film. That level of research and dedication to authenticity excited Bernthal to work with Waugh again because he knew he’d have access to prisons to help him accurately portray his character.
To prep for the role, Bernthal said he went into prison and spent time with several people who have been in and out of the system.
“Not only were we able to go inside [the prison], but there was a specific guy I was able to have access to,” said Bernthal. “He had been out [of jail]. There was a green light on him — the Aryan Brotherhood, among other places, were looking for him.”
Bernthal said they met in secret locations to go over his dialogue in the film to make sure the lines felt authentic.
“A lot of the dialogue in the film is taken right from him,” said Bernthal. “He became a very close friend and unfortunately he’s incarcerated again. I think my experience with this one gentleman really changed a lot of my outlook on the California penal system and the gang influence in all the penal systems.”
Spending time with this individual and knowing others who have been in and out of jail made Bernthal really think about the associations we make with people behind bars. He said it really bothers him how criminals can be depicted in the media.
“I hate the depiction of criminals being either untalented or not smart,” said Bernthal. “When I met this one gentleman and we got to really know each other, you would never have found somebody who was more respectful, more disciplined. It would have been hard to find somebody who was as in the moment, moment-to-moment, polite and kind. Didn’t curse. Didn’t brag. Didn’t boast.”
“I also think that to try to say that these people are heartless and don’t have feelings or cares or wants or concerns or that they don’t love their family the way we love our family is really simple-minded and short-sighted and frankly wrong,” he told INSIDER.
Something “Shot Caller” does a great job at illuminating are the pressures inmates are under in order to survive while incarcerated. At one point, Coster-Waldau’s character is put in an impossible situation to choose between committing a crime which can land him more jail time or having his family threatened and possibly killed.
I asked Bernthal what message he wants people who go out and see the film to take away from “Shot Caller.” More than anything, he said he just hopes it makes people think.
“I don’t want to be part of a movie like this to try to get people to think in a certain way. I just want to make it to get people to think,” he told INSIDER. “I think it’s the job of art to hold a mirror to society and reflect it, and get people to ask questions.”
“Shot Caller” is currently available on DirecTV and will be in theaters August 18.
You can watch a trailer for the film below:
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