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Lena Dunham Explains How Jon Bernthal Contributed To Sharp Stick As An Actor And Producer

Jon Bernthal in Sharp Stick
(Image credit: Utopia Films)

Jon Bernthal has had a long and successful career, and he’s perhaps most notable for playing on screen badasses in projects like The Punisher and The Walking Dead. One of his most recent credits is a departure: Lena Dunham’s new dramedy Sharp Stick. And the Girls filmmaker explained to CinemaBlend how Bernthal contributed as both an actor and producer.

Sharp Stick follows the story of a 26 year-old babysitter Sarah Jo (Kristine Froseth), who begins an affair with her married employer Josh, played by Jon Bernthal. The King Richard contributed to Lena Dunham’s vision for the project as both a producer and a scene partner, as she played his onscreen wife Heather. I had the privilege of speaking with Dunham ahead of the movie’s release, where she spoke to her collaboration with Bernthal. As she shared,

I wrote the part for him. We met and instantly became friends. I knew I wanted desperately to make something with him, and wrote this part with him in mind. I sent it to him knowing he’s incredibly busy and has a million offers. And it may not be his bag to show up for a week and play this guy. And he literally from Day 1 said ‘I’m in for this. Whatever it looks like. I’m here to support you.’ He offered his guidance, he offered his notes. But what was so beautiful about it was with the caveat that he was always there to give to the vision and not take from it.

Sounds like a dream team. Because while Lena Dunham was still very much at the head of the ship as Sharp Stick’s director/writer and cast member, she had Jon Bernthal to offer notes and to be a sounding board. And she clearly never felt that he was standing her way; it sounds like this might be the start of an epic professional relationship. He wouldn’t be Dunham’s first famous collaborator: Taylor Swift also got to offer her perspective on Sharp Stick.

Jon Bernthal’s Sharp Stick character Josh is unlike so many of the 45 year-old actor’s most iconic characters. His wife Heather seems to hold all of the power in their relationship, and he’s overall a goofy and lighthearted figure in the film. Later in our same conversation, Lena Dunham addressed this more buoyed side of Bernthal that appeared in her latest release, telling me:

He plays so many interesting characters and they’re often tough, and intense, and powerful, and scary. And it’s really cool to see him play this guy that’s almost emasculated and that’s playing a minor role in his life. One of the reasons he gets so interested in Sarah Jo was because in her life he can play a major role.

The dynamics of power and status are definitely what makes this affair plot line such an interesting one throughout Sharp Stick’s 85-minute runtime. Eventually it all boils over (as so many affairs are wont to do) when Lena Dunham’s character Heather goes into labor. The truth all comes out in the explosive scene, where Jon Bernthal breaks down into hysterics when asking forgiveness. But Dunham revealed that emotional reaction wasn’t actually in screenplay, saying:

It was not in the script that he was going to start to weep hysterically. It was a more defensive tone. And he said to me ‘I think this is the guy who, without even knowing he’s manipulating people, starts to cry when he’s caught making a mess.’ And he showed these amazing layers which is a character that’s scared and hurt but is also using that to show dominance. And he’s acting oppressed so he doesn’t feel like the oppressor.

This sequence is cringe-worthy, hilarious, and emotional in a way that is signature Lena Dunham. And it sounds like it was truly elevated by Jon Bernthal’s expected interpretation of the material. From his performance to working as a producer, it seems like he was an excellent collaborator for Dunham to work with on her directorial return to feature films.

Sharp Stick is in theaters now, and Lena Dunham’s next movie Catherine Called Birdy is expected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. As for Jon Bernthal he’s going to play the lead of the American Gigolo reboot. In the meantime, check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience. 

Corey Chichizola
Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.