Jon Bernthal interview: ‘We Own This City’
Jon Bernthal doesn’t want to wash away of his experience starring in the HBO limited series “We Own This City.” The actor stars as Wayne Jenkins, the real-life police officer who was convicted on corruption charges while leading the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. The series is a fact-based account of the GTTF’s culture of duplicity, an approach by TV veterans David Simon and George Pelecanos that drew him to the project. “Oftentimes, you’re on a project and you’re trying to make a scene as entertaining as possible or to raise the stakes as much as possible, make it funny as possible or romantic as possible,” says Bernthal in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby. “I think the idea here was to tell the truth and to try to get it right.” Watch the full video chat above.
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To dive into the psychology of Jenkins, Bernthal spoke with numerous individuals who knew him in real life, including family members and former co-workers. The actor soon started to notice a pattern upon hearing secondhand accounts of his character: “When he walked in a room, everybody took notice. He had this unbelievable amount of charisma and bravado, some people would call it arrogance.” He also got to watch hours of body cam footage of Jenkins, and even got the chance to talk to the man himself, which was illuminating for the actor, noting, “In a 15-minute phone call, Wayne will absolutely claim his innocence, then he will talk about his guilt and then he will try to get you to do something for him, all at the same time.”
Bernthal did his best to not judge the man he was playing, regardless of his litany of misdeeds that included stealing cash and drugs. Simon and company did not want to characterize Jenkins as a two-dimensional monster, which made the actor find ways of empathizing with his character. “The fact that he was this committed dad, the fact that he did love his kids more than anything in the world, that’s something that I can identify with,” he observes. “I think it’s about connectivity and empathy and you gotta, as best you can, try not to judge.”
Despite the intensity of playing Jenkins, Bernthal doesn’t necessarily want to move on so fast, admitting he didn’t want his experience to be easy. “I’m so grateful to get to do this,” he reflects. “This work is so important to me and to be a part of this project specifically, such an honor. I have so much gratitude.”