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Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched through Episode 10 of The Punisher. titled "Virtue of the Vicious."
Though Frank Castle ends up killing a ton of people in the first season of Netflix's The Punisher, he does a pretty good job of keeping his victim base outside of the main characters. (Not a perfect job, but a pretty good one.) Still, there were some Punisher stars whose characters met their makers in big and bold ways, and CinemaBlend recently got to speak with actors Daniel Webber and Michael Nathanson about saying goodbye to their respective roles of Lewis Walcott and Sam Stein.
The role of Lewis was certainly not a simple one, and while young soldiers with PTSD have often been vaguely constructed for mainstream TV shows, Daniel Webber brought a lot of depth and fractured humanity to his performance. While he obviously ends up committing heinous crimes, post-war Lewis isn't all that different from post-war Frank or Billy, though he's far more unable to keep his demons at rest. And by the end of the time-twisted Episode 10, Lewis' plot to kill Senator Ori had turned into a botched hostage situation and a suicide bombing. When I asked Webber how he felt about being killed off like that, here's what he told me.
I mean, we're sort of playing out the stories that are written for us, I think. And you make it make sense and work for you. Of course, I would have loved to hang around and see where else his story could have gone. But I think it's a very beautiful ending, and in some ways, it's totally the only ending for Lewis, unless we would've taken it in a more hopeful direction. But I think there's a lesson for Frank in his death, and I think Frank needs to see the death to learn that lesson as he goes on. I think they set the stage for that so well.
Daniel Webber totally nailed it in saying this was the only ending for Lewis. After seeing his increasing paranoia and discomfort with everything and everyone around him, to the point where he's going all Zodiac Killer with newspaper correspondence about his crimes (in this case a bombing), Lewis was most certainly not destined for mental rehabilitation and jail-time. Had he been able to find a more solid and personal line of communication earlier on, or if Curtis could have taken him in full-time, Lewis might not have gone over the deep end in such a fashion, but by the time we meet up with him in The Punisher's early episodes, he's likely too far gone already.
As well, while Billy doesn't give two shits about what happened to Lewis after he booted him out of Anvil (for completely justifiable reasons), there's a lot for Frank to take in from his dealings with the troubled young man, who tries appealing to Frank's sensibilities by saying they should be teammates. Frank is obviously disgusted to hear something like that, saying they're nothing alike, but that's obviously not completely true; they're both former soldiers needing others to pay for injustices dealt to them. But Frank needs to keep Lewis in mind as a cautionary tale of what can happen when that particular need overrides every other human instinct and emotion.
On the practical side of bringing his Punisher character to life, the L.A. resident Daniel Webber spent a lot of the New York production doing Marine training and martial arts routines to inform his physical performance, with the mental side developed through talking with military consultants and reading lots of tragic interviews and books by soldiers. So by the time Lewis' end game became clear and tangible, all that preparation finally came into play. Here's what the actor told me about putting his last episode together and finally getting some acting time with Jon Bernthal.
It was quite nice, ironically. I'd been training for six months, basically, so it was so truly fantastic to actually get to have Lewis physically get involved. Because so much of the journey for him is just contained and compressed, and it's just this pressure-cooker of a situation, until he does literally explode. And I loved that. Give me more of that. I wish they'd continued with it. The process of it was just a delight, and working with Jon was just fantastic. And I've never been in big action sequences, so watching him do his thing, he is so powerfully good. It was very cool, it was very fun.
Having played the role of John Wilkes Booth in Hulu's Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63, Daniel Webber has certainly made a name for himself by excelling as super-intense and unpredictable villains. And though his time in the MCU may be over, we'll hopefully get to see him getting even bigger roles in the future.
Okay, Punisher fans. Find out what actor Michael Nathanson has to say about Sam Stein's buggy-eyed death on the next page.
While Sam Stein wasn't a comic character reimagined for TV, he certainly seemed like he'd be right at home trading quips with Peter Parker and getting Iron Man to think his fly is unzipped. (Okay, I guess he's not so juvenile.) Speaking with CinemaBlend, actor Michael Nathanson told me that, in the face of Frank and Madani's intensity, he wanted to make Sam the kind of fun and sarcastic comic relief that could realistically work in The Punisher's world. That more lighthearted tone got completely upended in Episode 7 when Madani's botched decoy operation culminated in Sam's intense and bubblingly bloody death in his partner's arms. Here's what Nathanson told me when I asked about acting out that fairly horrifying death scene.
The director of that episode, Antonio Campos, he's a wonderful director. . . . He was really, really sympathetic to what it meant and how intense it was going to be for me on multiple levels. We had a lot of conversations about it and how it was going to play out. I just went for it. The first time we filmed it, I just went for it. I wasn't going to pull any punches. I've never done a death scene quite like that, but I've done death scenes in theater. I played Hamlet once, and the great death scene in Hamlet is super-intense. It's a lot more talking. But it's sort of one of those things like, 'How am I gonna play this?' How do you die naturally, and how do you die memorably? Because I knew that it was me versus Billy Russo, and on the page, it was so intense; the storyboards for it are so intense. Actually, one of my wrap gifts was, [the creators] gave me the storyboards for my scene and autographed it and wrote a really nice note on it. It was pretty intense. . . . And I've got those eyes, man. My eyes are big and bold, and they don't shy away.
There is absolutely no denying the power of Michael Nathanson's eyes during Sam's death. While watching, part of my brain was trying to telepathically force him to tell Madani that Billy was the one who shanked him, and the other half was trying to get my brain to immediately forget those eyes.
During our talk, Michael Nathanson shared his inspirations for that big death scene, saying he kept thinking of Sean Connery's Jim Malone in The Untouchables in trying to deliver as intense and heartbreaking a death scene as possible. As well, he made comparisons to the Daredevil scene in which Wilson Fisk strangles Ben Urich inside the journalist's house, giving kudos to Marvel for not just showing the unflinching violence, but for also showing the consequences that follow such acts.
As a life-long comic book fan and self-professed nerd, Michael Nathanson certainly would have loved to have remained a central figure within the MCU, but he's not complaining about how it all went down.
It was sad, obviously, and tough, but come on. Who gets a huge, iconic death at the hands of a great villain in a huge Marvel show? What? I couldn't say no to that. I couldn't be too depressed.
When I asked Nathanson if he'd ever want to see Sam Stein get immortalized in a comic book story, he said he would absolutely love that. The actor did get a huge thrill by getting an awesome cast drawing as a wrap present from Marvel legend Joe Quesada. And once you're illustrated by Joe Quesada, you might as well just start putting "Comic Book Hero" on your driver's license.