Jon Bernthal Takes on the Mob in TNT’s ‘Mob City’

by | December 9, 2013 at 10:20 AM | Interview, TV News

Jon Bernthal in "Mob City" (Photo: TNT)

Jon Bernthal played one of the walking wounded as Shane on “The Walking Dead.” And, he is still playing a guy who knows how to take his lumps as Detective Joe Teague on TNT’s new noir series “Mob City.”

“I think potentially there might be some similarities on what the two characters have gone through,” Bernthal exclusively told xfinityTV. “With Joe being a veteran of World War II, a Marine who fought in Guadalcanal, which was an incredibly bloody few days for the Marine Corps, and Shane going through the zombie apocalypse.”

Mob City,” created by Frank Darabont and inspired by John Buntin’s book, L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City, is a fictionalization of the true story of the battle between the L.A.P.D. and the mob, as the gangsters tried to infiltrate Los Angeles in the late ’40s. Bernthal plays Joe Teague, who after returning from World War II joins the police force and works to clean up the city.

Of course, in true noir fashion, there are several unexpected twists and turns to the story. For example, in last week’s episodes, it was a complete surprise when we discovered that Joe used to be married to the sultry Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos), which explains why he committed a murder while on a case — choosing to protect his former love over advancing his career.

While Bernthal wisely wouldn’t reveal any of the upcoming secrets, he does talk about leaving “The Walking Dead” and reuniting with Darabont, who had been the first showrunner on “TWD,” what having real-life gangster characters adds to the mix, and the ride-alongs he took with cops to research the role.

Was leaving “The Walking Dead” easier because you knew you had the starring role in this new series?

I guess. I went right from “The Walking Dead” into something else [the new Scorsese movie, "Wolf of Wall Street"]. I had been talking to Frank, and he did tell me he was writing something for me and to stay available. That’s really all I needed to hear. I was thrilled that I was going to get a chance to work with Frank again, and then when I found out that Jeff DeMunn would be involved as well, it just made it all the more cool.

Look, the thing about leaving “The Walking Dead” is I always knew that Shane was living on borrowed time. I think it was really a cool character, a great character arc and, I think, it was really time for him to go. And I was really, really excited to be able to work on this show and get back in it with Frank.

Click on the Image Below to Watch the Premiere of “Mob City” Below:

"Mob City" (Photo: TNT)

I read that you agreed to do this without even seeing the script. Did you just have an idea of what it was going to be?

I had nothing. We were in pretty close contact once Frank left “The Walking Dead.” We talked really regularly. It was literally, “Hey pal, I’m writing something for you, stay available.” That was really all I needed to hear. I don’t know how my agents felt about that, but I was like, “That’s it. That’s what we’re doing.” It’s a real friendship. We have a great relationship. I trust him. I love him, and I believe in him. There was really not a second thought. I knew it would be special.

Can you describe how you see Joe Teague? Is he anything like Shane since they’re both cops?

Frank was very clear with me when the script was written and when we had our initial conversation about it. He said very clearly that Shane was very much the caged animal. He was a guy whose heart just made him act out and made him lie, scream, and demand to make big moves. He was very clear that he wanted Joe Teague to be the cage. Shane’s a caged animal; Joe Teague’s the cage. Joe is a guy who really keeps things close to the vest. He’s a guy who really lurks in the shadows. He’s a guy who loves from afar and he’s not interested in personal satisfaction. He’s not interested in personal glory. He’s not interested in the closeness of relationships. I think like Shane, he’s very interested in keeping the people that he loves safe.

That said, whereas Shane, I think, was trying to make himself a selfless person and to not care about his own heart, or his own sense of morality, I think Joe Teague is very much a guy whose self has been taken from him. I think he’s very scared of himself and what’s inside of him.

Check Out Behind-the-Scenes Clips and More Exclusives for “Mob City” Here on xfinityTV

One of the things that I’m getting from “Mob City” is that the cops are almost as corrupt as the mobsters. Will Joe cross the line? Does he cross a line that makes him not an outstanding cop as we would think about it today, what with Miranda warnings and videos in police cars?

Again, I think to follow the general rules of noir, I think that he’s going to be a lead character who operates from his own sense of right and wrong. I think that you’re right. I think there was a time where there weren’t cameras on every corner, and I think the question about Joe Teague for the audience is going to be why is he doing what he’s doing? Do we agree with it, and are we willing to stand behind him when we have no idea why he’s doing the things that he’s doing?

I think film noir is very much about mystery and the characters are very much ahead of the audience. As the show goes on and starts to reveal itself, the mysteries will start to be answered, and we’ll start to figure out why Joe is doing the things that he’s doing. There will be quite some time where it will be a question, Joe’s job.

It’s the same as my job: to keep the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing to myself. I think that also mirrors the time period of the piece. This was not a time of people explaining why they do what they do, or how they feel about things. This was the generation of the depression and World War II, and these were guys that didn’t talk about their feelings much. It was a much harder time and, hopefully, that’s revealed in the show.

What does having real historic figures like Mickey Cohen [Jeremy Luke] and Bugsy Siegel [Ed Burns] add?

I think a lot. I think one of my favorite things about the show is it is loosely based on the book L.A. Noir by John Buntin, which is a non-fiction history of L.A. — the untold mysteries and the seedy underbelly of the history of L.A. I think what Frank’s done here is he’s got these fictional characters and this fictional, somewhat mundane, every day problem that this cop finds himself in, but this problem will grow and spiral out of control and get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and eventually effect the entire city of L.A. It will start to bleed into the real history of L.A. Real-life mysteries in the history of L.A. will start to be answered through these fictional characters and through fictional circumstances, if that makes sense.

I think it’s similar to how Forrest Gump found himself in historical situations. Joe Teague and the central characters that are around him, they’re going to be causing these historical situations. They will be the answer to these historical mysteries. Again, this is really about a world unfolding on itself and getting bigger and bigger, and bigger, as this problem becomes more and more dangerous and involves more and more people, including the people you mentioned: Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen. I’m fascinated with the gangster side of this thing. As you get later into the season, the gangsters take a more and more prominent role.

How did you research your role?

I watched a lot of movies and read a lot of Raymond Chandler. One of the most helpful books to me was The White Jazz by James Elroy, which takes place about ten or 15 years later. But it’s written in the first person and you really get into his head and the way he looks at the world that’s earthy, salty, angry and bitter.

But I was also really lucky because I was in “The Pacific” TV Series. We did an unbelievable amount of research and training to know what the Marines went through, and that was the exact same battle that Joe Teague went through. I found a lot of similarities.

Did you do any ride-alongs?

One of the really cool things is two of my dear, dear friends [Jerry Ballesteros and Bob Diemer] are police officers, career police officers down at the Newton Division, and I’ve done many ride-alongs with them, so I’ve gotten to know them and their procedures very, very well. When you go down there, and you hang out with cops, they all have stories about what it was like back in the day, and the different set of rules and the line between good and bad — the line between bad guys and cops and the procedures

I think Joe Teague is pressed to be the guy. He does not break by the cop rules; he does not break by the bad guys rules. He operates by his own set of rules, where he just has a very, very specific mission in mind.

“Mob City,” which also stars also stars Milo Ventimiglia, Neal McDonough, Gregory Itzin, and Robert Knepper, will air in two-hour installments over three Wednesdays, on TNT. The second night is this Wednesday, Dec. 11 at at 9/8c.