Jon Bernthal Talks About How Fun it Was “Being the Guy in the Suit” in Ford v Ferrari

We’re two weeks away from the premiere of Ford v Ferrari. The tale of Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they look to challenge the big wigs at Ferrari is gaining traction as a must-see. While Damon and Bale are the two big names at the forefront of this film, lest we not forget that Jon Bernthal is also in this movie. Playing Lee Iacocca, the part looks like Bernthal is going to be in the film for more than two minutes, which always makes me very happy. Iacocca went on to become of the automobile industry’s most prominent figures and in the film, he is the one who starts the whole race to the top.

In a recent EW interview, Bernthal talked about starring in the James Mangold film. Bernthal is best known for his role as Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead and Frank Castle in The Punisher. Mangold brought us the spectacular masterpiece Logan two years ago in 2017. But, Ford v Ferrari is not a superhero film and it’s that aspect that drew Bernthal into the part.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What jumped out to you about this opportunity? I feel like the easy answer is everything.

JON BERNTHAL: [Laughs] I think that is the answer. I’m an enormous fan of Jim Mangold and his films. He’s one of our national treasures and just one of the best filmmakers working — he’s just a master storyteller. And I’m a huge fan of both Matt and Christian’s; they’re two of my favorite actors, and who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with those guys? And then the role. The script was so beautiful, where it just took this slice of time and thing that happened and really dissected it down to these issues of friendship and loyalty and integrity. And for Lee Iacocca himself, it was written beautifully and he’s such an extraordinary figure. Over the years I’ve gotten to play these strong, muscular, sort of technically masculine characters, and with Lee I saw something in him that was equally as strong and equally as masculine, but his powers were different. They were his integrity and his honesty and his loyalty and his ingenuity. I really responded to the Lee Iacocca at this point of his life when he wasn’t this titan of industry, instead this guy full of worries and ambition and a fish out of water in the blue-blood Ford corporation with his forward thinking. He reminded me a lot of my father, and I talked to Jim a lot about that. I really wanted to play this role kind of for my dad. I was unbelievably grateful that I got the chance.

It seems like playing a real-life figure always adds a little bit of extra pressure, so what was your preparation like to really channel who this man was?

Bernthal: It was a lot of fun for me. I love the books, I loved all the articles I read. I watched tons of interviews and TV segments with him. Almost all of that was from 30 years after, when our film is set, so in the bulk of video of Lee, he’s just so confident and achieved. Everybody knows who he was, so, again, it was interesting to concentrate on him when he was much younger and not the Lee Iacocca that everybody was listening to with bated breath. So it required a bit of my own imagination, but as far as his gestures and the way he spoke, you could draw on those things.

In a movie about building fast cars, how jealous were you that you didn’t get into these beautiful vehicles for a race? Even Tracy got a memorable scene in one!

Bernthal: It was just a thrill to be there and see them. I’m usually the guy who is doing all that stuff, and it was really fun being the guy in the suit on this one, the guy with the ideas. That was refreshing for me. You mentioned Tracy, who is one of my favorite playwrights of all time, and what a joy to get to know him. He’s another hero of mine, and I was so blown away by what he did in the movie. Another guy, equal parts wonderful human being and artist. I can’t say enough good things about Tracy Letts.

What fascinates me most about your post-Walking Dead career is that you seem to be going wherever the interesting filmmakers are, no matter the size of the role, whether it be for Steve McQueen in Widows or Edgar Wright in Baby Driver. Is that where your mind goes when looking at projects?

Bernthal: I think so. For me, it’s always about people who inspire me. I’m always looking for the best possible projects with the best possible people. The size of the role or the genre of the role or what the role is going to do for my career has never been a consideration for me. The best thing about what I get to do, which I’m so grateful for, is that you always get to grow and change doing this. Jim Mangold taught me an enormous amount about film and working with the camera, and I love that I get to do a job that I have been doing for many, many years and I continue to grow and learn and change and evolve and approach things completely differently, and that I get to be around people who inspire the heck out of me.

For the whole interview, check out EW. And make sure you hit theaters on November 15th when Ford v Ferrari comes out.