Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal on Heeding the Call of Duty and the Right Way to Kill a Zombie

The actor formerly known as Shane Walsh faces off against the deceased again in Activision’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. What can he say? He's a specialist.
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The actor formerly known as Shane Walsh faces off against the deceased again in Activision’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. What can he say? He's a specialist.
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Actor Jon Bernthal is best known as Shane Walsh. Or he was. But Shane Walsh is dead (within the Walking Dead universe anyway, Facebook says he's a sous chef in New York), which means that Bernthal, who has range a memorable face, can pursue other work. He's already showed up in The Wolf of Wall StreetGrudge Match and Fury, but Bernthal isn't quite ready to see his zombie killing jersey hanging from the rafters. That's why he’s returning to the genre that catapulted him to stardom and facing off against the undead in Activision’s game, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. In the new "Exo Zombies" storyline, Bernthal plays Decker, a man with a gun and a plan.

The actor talked to MAXIM about why zombies remain so popular today and explains why he loves it when people root for him to get eaten.

What it was like stepping into the video game world of Call of Duty?

It was cool, man. I was glad that they reached out, man. I know it’s wildly popular and there’s just so much that goes into it. I have to be completely honest, I don’t know much about the whole video game world, but these guys are real artists and they’re top of the game, so it was a privilege and an honor to be part of it. When I got wind of who else was participating in this one like John Malkovich and Bill Paxton, I was just blown away, dude.

How did the zombies in this game compare to the Walkers from The Walking Dead?

I don’t know how they compare, man. I try to stay away from zombies as much as I can, you know, but zombies are zombies. They’re always there and they never give up. I know it’s fun killing them.

Why do you think zombies remain so popular today whether it’s in video games, TV or movies?

When you look at the history of the zombie genre, zombies have always served as a metaphor for whatever plight is ailing society at the times. Whether it’s the racial injustice or the nuclear holocaust or the impending environmental disaster, zombies have just served as this awesome metaphor because they’re ever-present, they’re slow-moving, and they’re all over the place. When they completely outnumber you and surround you, there’s absolutely nothing you can do. That’s what the big global threats have always been.

The original Call of Duty games were set in World War II, a time period you’ve explored in HBO’s The Pacific and, most recently, in Fury. What have you learned about The Great War from those projects?

That generation of Americans were the greatest generation. They were called that. That’s no mistake. You had this massive undertaking not only by the unbelievable heroisms of the American military, but also the industrial workforce. Our country really gathered itself together and had a collective gut check and joined together to fight against evil. Through the research that I did and the process of making Fury, that was not a clean war. It was as violent and bloody and dirty and dark a war as this country’s ever been involved in. The guys that went through it were real heroes. I’m so honored that I got a chance to memorialize some of these guys and portray a little bit what it was like to be in the 1st Marines Division and the 2nd Armored Division in the Army.

How do you feel your background in baseball helped you transition into acting?

I grew up as an athlete. I played sports in college and in high school. I’ve been a boxer for a long time. I’m extremely grateful for it. I look at acting as an athletic endeavor. It’s an incredibly physical job. And mentally to understand both the competition of it and also the meditative process of just being in the zone and how important that is, it’s just like in sports when you’re on the field. And the greatest thing about it is you never master it. You can always learn more and the goal really is to get better. I’m constantly looking at what I do and unfortunately I’m usually pretty upset with it. I’m very rarely happy with my performance. I’m always looking for ways that I could have done better and I think that’s also integral to being an athlete. When I played baseball if I was three for four I didn’t consider that a good day. I wanted to be four for four. I always thought I could hit the ball harder and you have to continually look at your craft and figure out ways to improve. And that’s exactly what acting is, you know.

You’ve done a lot of true stories from The Wolf of Wall Street to Show Me A Hero to the upcoming The Godmother. How do you pick your projects?

People always commend me on the movies that I’ve been a part of and that’s funny to me, because it’s only been very recently that I’ve had any choice in the matter. When I was coming up, I tried out for every kind of crappy WB soap opera show there was and they didn’t want my ugly mug in it. It was the more serious historical dramas that I found myself in, but now that I am getting a little bit of say in the matter I’m just attracted to the best filmmakers. I know I have so much room for improvement and I want to challenge myself by surrounding myself with the best.

What’s the most interesting interaction you’ve had with a Walking Dead fan?

Walking Dead fans are the most loyal and also the smartest fans, but I do see a lot of tattoos of my face. I just love how people sort of come up to me and tell me how much they hated me on the show, how much they hated my character. I find that interesting. That’s such a funny thing to say to somebody.