Getting to Know The Punisher’s Michael Nathanson

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Your character is Sam Stein, so what made you want to get into playing this character in the first place, how did you get the role?

Well, I love working! That’s initially what made me want to do it, I got the audition and wanted to do it. I got a call for an audition about a series, it was not called the Punisher, and then someone said, its not called the Punisher because they want to keep it secret, but this is actually the new Punisher Marvel show, and I was like wow this is an incredible opportunity, being a comic book guy and a Comic-Con-going guy, and a card carrying fanboy. Of all things in this world I was like, holy cow. So I could actually be a part of the MCU, I never thought that that would be possible. And I went in, the cast director was a woman named Julie Schubert, who casts all the Marvel shows as well as other stuff, she’s been a fan of mine for a long time, and is always looking out for me and looking for roles for me, she saw this one and called my agent and said hey this is a great one for Michael and I worked on it, and went in and the rest is history!

 

That is awesome. And you know, if you didn’t take a role in The Punisher, your kids would probably try and kill you!

Well, my kids are 4 years old. I’m gonna wait ‘til 5 to introduce ‘em to The Punisher. They’re still young, I have twin 4 yr old girls.

Congratulations, I think!

I’m super blessed and they’re amazing.

They’re a pair of handfuls, I bet.

For sure, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s been a pretty amazing ride so far. They kind of know I’m an actor, they kind of get what that is. I tell them, “Yeah, Daddy’s on TV sometimes, when they’ll let him be”. (laughs) I haven’t made any appearances on Doc McStuffins yet so they don’t care that much.

 

You said you’re a big fanboy and its amazing to be part of the MCU, which I think is fantastic. If you could be any hero of the entire MCU, comics books included, hell, it doesn’t even have to be Marvel necessarily (but don’t tell them I said that), who would it be and why?

Does it have to be a Hero? Can I say a villain?

Absolutely! I’m a villain girl myself, so if you’d prefer that, go ahead.

Yeah I gotta be honest, I love bad guys. I’d love to play more bad guys. I think I could do a pretty darned good job of it. I grew up reading both Marvel and DC comics, Batman was a favorite of mine, but the Joker for me was kind of the coolest most iconic villain of all time. So I would have to say, if I could take on any sort of comic book role, I don’t know if at this point I could do it justice, just because both Heath and Nicholson did like the two best versions I could possibly think to do of that character. But I would definitely love to my own spin on that character, that would be super fun, like maybe do ‘A Death in the Family’ Joker, like a specific story in that world. That was my favorite story, that was when I sort of realized that comic books could be sort of real, like the consequences of superheroes actions and being kind of Punisher-esque, him being the sort of super-hero anti-hero. His motivations are clear, but y’know there are consequences to living your life that way and having that kind of code, and I think our show is very down to earth and very real about what those consequences are and how they manifest themselves. That’s a great question and I loved it. You did ask if I was gonna be a hero of the MCU, Tony Stark’s pretty cool, I like Iron Man a lot. I like the humor of that, I bring a lot of humor to my part on the show, I think its definitely part of who I am. Although I do seem to get cast as quite a few serious people. But I think the best serious actors are really comedians at heart. So they say.

 

Your char Sam Stein is a Homeland Security agent, what kind of research did you do for the role once you got it?

I went to the airport and I just worked behind the – no, I didn’t. (laughs) No, I just screened people at LaGuardia (airport). It’s sort of funny, I’ve played a number of law enforcement type characters, lawyers and people in that world and so, I kind of already had an idea of what that was about. We did go to Homeland Security at one point and we talked to the people, there were folks on set who had experience in that world. But for me, it was maybe less about making that certain vocation sort of as authentic as possible. It’s not a procedural show like CSI, that’s not the point of it. So at first I was like, I should know all about Homeland Security, but it turns out it’s more about needing to like dive into my own psyche and my family and my thoughts and feelings about the world and about how I live my life and my morality. It’s a much more of philosophical show than people are expecting. Sure, there’s action and violence, it’s all in there, but it’s also a real meditation on humanity and regret, and the things we carry, both from war and from our personal lives and how we affect other people, and how all of our actions have consequences.

 

That’s gonna be a great quote from you, thank you so much for that. Most of the characters in this new show seem to have experience in some form or function with PTSD, right? And your char at the start of the show is pretty much over his job and generally burnt out on just about everything, and it shows in his appearance and demeanor early on. Can you cite any kind of personal experiences, that you may actually want to share, that you dug up to bring to the char?

I think we’ve all felt disappointment and regret, I have some experience working on law enforcement and sort of see things, violence and death, on a sort of daily basis, that’s never been my experience, but the idea of what it means to lose somebody or what it means to love somebody or lose somebody or something important that didn’t work out, a relationship or a job or something, whether its on a small scale or a grander scale, without putting any judgment in it, a human scale; we all feel the same things.

It’s something that all humanity shares, in one form or another.

Yeah! And I think that’s what the show does, it takes that sort of idea and sort of breathes it into peoples’ jobs, peoples’ personal lives, what it means to be a soldier, what it means to be a politician or whatever. I think for me I really drew on my own experiences, my life touching on all of those emotions and experiences and trying to understand what that might be like through the lens of this character, his experiences and what he’s going through. But also kind of related to my own experiences, I tried to breathe that authenticity into it.

 

So have you watched all of the other Marvel Netflix shows?

I have watched quite a few of them. Not every single one, but definitely a fan.

And do you have a favorite?

Daredevil season 2, obviously. (Where Frank Castle was first introduced.)  I loved Daredevil season 2, I thought it was really quite spectacular. I liked Luke Cage a lot, loved Jessica Jones too. I think they’ve done an incredible job with that universe. So I’m psyched to be a part of it.

 

So what can fans expect from you in the future? Do you believe, without spoilers of course, that there will be a Punisher season 2, I sure hope so, and your character will be in it?

I don’t want to speculate because you never know what’s going to happen in the (Marvel) world, I’m just super grateful to have my own Marvel Wiki page, ok? (laughs) It’s like I’ve already won, I’ve won in spades, I’m already the happiest fanboy on the planet. I get to play in this world that you associate with these incredible artists, and also actors and producers and writers and stuff, the ones who create the comic books too, getting to meet them and going out to Comic-Con next year and making appearances; it’s so super cool. I’m super excited about that, I can’t wait to go out and meet the fans and hang out and geek down and talk Last Jedi with everybody, cuz I’m a huge Star Wars fanatic –

Oh my.

I have a frozen carbonite floor rug in my house, okay? I have whatever Star Wars merch my wife allows me to have.

That is awesome-sauce. I just have to ask in an aside for the moment, who is your favorite Star Wars character, out of all of ‘em? Hero, villain, doesn’t matter. Hell, it could be a droid!

It’s so funny you ask, I tend to vacillate between Han and Luke. When I was a kid, I wanted to be cool like Han Solo, but as I’ve gotten older and I understand more of the Hero’s Journey, the mythology behind it, and I love what Mark Hamil has become in this world, he sort of embraced Luke Skywalker and what he’s bringing to the character in Last Jedi; Im super excited for it. That being said, I think at my ripe old age, I’m an Obi Wan guy. I tell people for Punisher, my character on the show is kind of the Obi Wan of that world. He was definitely a big influence on how I played him on the show. I had him in mind for Sam, he’s this kind of spiritual adviser role, and trying to remind everyone of the whys and wherefores and potential consequences of existence.

That’s super cool.

Did you see that 30 second trailer for Last Jedi when Luke went into the cockpit and turned the lights on?

Oh my god, yes and I went, ‘Ding!’

I ‘ding’ed’ too, it was like I died and went to heaven on that one.

 

Any teasers you’re actually able to give about the show itself, and any “no sh*t there I was” stories from the set you can share?

Like, “oh shit I can’t believe I’m here and this is actually happening” moments? For the teaser, the long and the short answer is ‘no’. (laughs) Wish I could. But touching on what I said before, I think people will be surprised at the conversation the show has with itself, about violence and the notion of consequences of violence and humanity, and not just sort of taking one side or the other, it’s a morally complex show and I think it brings up a lot of issues. It’s going to be important beyond just being another Netflix Marvel superhero show. Everyone’s often like, ‘oh another Marvel superhero show’, but I think this particular show speaks to a lot of hot button issues going on right now. Not on purpose necessarily, but I think it’s an important show in this day and age. As for NSTIW moments, I think it was when I had my first cast dinner, it was this small intimate restaurant, and I’m sitting with like Jeph Loeb (show writer) and Jon Bernthal (Frank Castle/Punisher), and I was like, woah – this is super amazing and I can’t believe I’m actually here. And I think when I went to Marvel HQ, and got to hang out with a bunch of the artists, people that I’ve respected for so many years, that was really cool. It was insane, if you go on my Instagram, you’ll see me at Marvel HQ taking pictures with all these characters; I’m a total dork. I think the coolest thing that happened to me, was when our wrap gifts were delivered to us, and it was a Joe Quesada original drawing, one of those classic kind of Drew Struzen Indiana Jones posters, of all the cast in various forms of emotion, and me too.

From Joe Quesada himself, oh my god. So jelly now!

Yeahhh. It’s online, someone leaked it, so you can see it online all over the place now. But it’s still pretty cool and it was drawn by him and yes I framed that bastard, it’s mine.

Like the ultimate in official fan gear, that’s officially yours.

Like I said, I’ve won like 8 times over at this point. The show hasn’t even come out yet and already I’m like, this is a dream come true. I can’t wait for the show to come out and come out to y’know, meet the fans!