Jon Bernthal on Real Ones, the Impact Show, and What Makes a Meaningful Conversation

Jon Bernthal on Real Ones, the Impact Show, and What Makes a Meaningful Conversation ...

Jon Bernthal is well-known for his many roles in film and television, but there's another project that's been occupying his time recently, Real Ones, a podcast that he started back in February, always bursting out of the quarantine, always taking its listeners by surprise. Having recently returned for a second season, the program delivers some of the finest authentic conversations out there.

The program, which has recently expanded to Patreon, seeks to engage fans with each other and the production, draws together individuals from all walks of life and exposes listeners to ideas and perspectives they may not have considered prior to the episode. Collider was lucky enough to sit down and discuss the program and its impact on its audience.

Bernthal talked about his show's inspiration and what he hopes to accomplish with it in the future, and shared some amazing experiences from his time working on it. Be sure to join the Patreon channel to receive exclusive content, early episodes, and other offers during the interview.

COLLIDER: I want to start off by asking where did this program originate, not necessarily the episode that inspired it, but what motivated you? Was there anything greater than what you said about putting the playing field in terms of open discussion?

JON BERNTHAL: In one sense, yes, really. I mean, throughout the epidemic, I just felt that division was just affecting discourse in a really toxic and destructive way. So much of the time, I just felt that people just were just adding to the chaos and toxic effects of division.

I was very irritated by that because I just realized, and know really deeply in my heart, that experience brings empathy, and that people are far more alike, I think, than different. We all want the finest, and these conflicts that we're all plagued with, of politics and sexual orientation and race and where you're from in the country, to me, it's all a bunch of nonsense. Especially coming up as a kid in the 1990s and just recognizing the dangers of all these kinds

I saw people on television throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, and that enraged me as well. Every time I went out there and marched and participated in that movement, I made sure I went by Newton Division and showed my love and respect for the good people that keep us safe and protect our streets. Not for me to say it, because who cares if I do. So let's get to the people themselves.

You've had a wide spectrum of people on this show. You've had your brother on, you've had Sarah Wayne Callies [from The Walking Dead] on recently, but you've also had cops on, and you've had the Bottom Boys on. What makes you look at them and realize, "This is the person I want to expose the world to."

BERNTHAL: I always say that somebody who walks the walk and does not just talk about it is going to be honored. They're people who have the kind of absolute, complete, and total respect of their peers. I believe it's truly patriotism to be, not only willing, but hungry to sit down with people who disagree with them and with a genuine expectation that, within the conversation, you'll discover something. Folks who aren't very comfortable talking and experiencing.

I'm grateful to each and every one of the people who comes on my program for being used to being on camera a lot of the time. They're not used to doing interviews. They're used to doing the very things that I think they're trained to do in this world, and they're the folks that teach us. They're the folks that walk the path that so few people have the courage to walk.

What does it feel like to move into an audio production space as a podcast or maybe not as a TV show because you're more focused on the conversation? Is it different from working on film or television, or [does it] feel natural in terms of the conversation's progress, so to speak?

BERNTHAL: No. It is. Production wise, it's different. I mean, we've got a great team, and I think that the most important thing to everyone on this team, this really matters to them. Everyone, one hundred percent, has bought into what we're trying to accomplish, and is doing it because they want to. We're all very much in this together, and I think that this team is extraordinarily fast.

One of the biggest pleasures for me is that the people I've worked with, so much of the time, are people who are really important to me. Now, they're really important to this whole community, not just the audience, but the production team. Those relationships have continued and developed in new shows and new conversations, and new projects have emerged out of this. The team is already developing new stuff, and that's quite exciting to me.

Is there anything about it that you didn't anticipate when you first started out, be it a reception or a demographic, or even how the production has progressed?

BERNTHAL: All of this has sparked a strange sort of interconnection. So many of the folks that have come on my show... forgive me, but these people down in the Pueblos down in South Central were having these, kind of, historic major disagreements with the Newton division of the LAPD. I got people from either side that are deeply important to me to sit down with each other, and that was not easy.

The two were at peace as long as they were still together. I did anticipate that a real connection would occur. This was the theatre company that we acquired from the Pueblo Bishop Bloods, which put on a show that I wrote. We had officers lighting up and dismantling chairs for these members and ex-members of the Pueblo Bishop Bloods so they could perform. Goat is one of my best friends from the Bottoms, and this incredible interconnection has just been fantastic.

There is a certain quality to this, and these Real Ones are all completely connected. Not only did he meet Carl Townley from the Caddo Parish Police Department down in Louisiana, but he also met Goat and Bam, who just retired from prison. It's one of the great things about this production team. They're not just nimble, they're also passionate about the individuals that we're bringing on, because again, I think they're extraordinarily talented individuals.

I think it's, perhaps not so much that art brings people together, but that there's bound to be that connection just in terms of collaboration and, hopefully, opening you up to new perspectives you hadn't considered previously. Because I know, in terms of the audience, the show has been fantastic for allowing that to happen, and personally, I think that's one of my favorite parts of seeing it grow and continue.

BERNTHAL: Thank you. For me, too. The level of participation and the conversation that it's engulfed has been profound, profoundly profound, and fascinating. I think, again, really sticking to this, we're really tired of just getting so much of these, sort of, hot button issues delivered to us from the polls with a bunch of flag waving, with a bunch of echo chambers and preaching. It's so simple to go out there and get the type of content that you

Again, the main criteria for being on the program is whether or not you really walk the walk? I've noticed that many of the people we've brought on have absolutely gone all out with it, and I believe, have something profound to share with us in such a larger way. I love to learn from individuals, not just in the issues they've spent so much time working on, but also in larger issues.

What makes a good, meaningful conversation? Is it the questions you're asking, is it the people you're bringing to the table, or is it a mixture of both?

BERNTHAL: I'm new to this, and I'm not sure that I'm particularly... I'm learning, and I'm sort of learning as I go. What I can absolutely attest to is that the people I've talked about are fascinating, and they're exactly who they say they are. They're people that we should all be listening to, and we should all be challenging them back.

I don't want anything from our guests, except for their perspective. I'm not trying to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I do dig, and I believe that, if we're going to do this, let's do it. However, the idea here is that, if you're actually in the situation, you're substantially closer together.

We just left the Calipatria State Prison, and it was wonderful to be able to meet inmates, guys who are on life without parole, and for them to talk about the people that they've met in the prison guard community and COs, and that they deeply respect everything that they've seen, and the incredible perseverance and kindness.

We have this presumption that prisons are just a hotbed of violence and decay and dismay, but to hear stories of hope and vitality and the way the prison community is working at times in an enormously positive way, it was incredible to me.

I'll say, as someone who tries to interview people for a living and who's been listening to the program, you're doing a fantastic job. Again, these are conversations that, even in other podcasts, in other similar areas, aren't the ones that you hear. It's amazing to hear those viewpoints.

BERNTHAL: Thank you for mentioning this.

Of course! I'm going to shift my focus a little bit on the Patreon, obviously, because that's why we're here. Can you give me a rundown as to why you decided to supplement the show with something like Patreon? What do you guys believe in it, and what do your followers expect from it?

BERNTHAL: I think the thing that I'm most excited about is just the sense of community. It really gives us this ability of really engaging with the audience, getting feedback from the audience, seeing what's working and what doesn't? That level of involvement is incredible. We, in a way, provide this infrastructure to anybody who wants to go [and] develop their own show.

We're just beginning, but on Patreon, we can deliver all this, unfinished material, behind the scenes, from down in Shreveport and Calipatria State Prison, and really going into their lives, if I'm honest. Folks who walk into danger, our team goes in with them, so there's all this stuff. Then I've got to support the show, and I'm afraid there's some real pressure on me to just make this a Hollywood podcast.

I'll have people on board who, for lack of a better term, are well-known. I think it's all about intentionality. I'm not just asking them to talk about their careers or their craft. I'm also wanting them to talk about their own struggles and tragedies in a profound and powerful light.

Kurt Angle was instrumental in bringing that perspective to my attention, and it wasn't just a "Go Steelers" sort of way.

BERNTHAL: Absolutely.

So, I think the program is definitely hitting home in a way that a lot of people can appreciate and in, sort of, more specific ways than just talking about a craft.

BERNTHAL: I think so. LookKurt, he talked about addiction and losing people and, sort of, the woes that are happening in this area of the country right now. I'm really aware that, again, the family of Kurt. I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude that my guests show up.

I think that's what makes us unique. Everybody who comes on pretty much is someone who I admire and who's really, really a part of my life. I'm just blessed that they also happen to be incredible interesting people from all walks of life.

You've covered so many topics in the vein of guests. Is there anyone or any one thing you'd like to bring on or discuss that you haven't been able to yet?

BERNTHAL: It's just endless. I mean, what's on my mind, most of all, is getting my wife to come on. She's got a group of nurses that have been in the field for decades already, and there's no one in this world who's played a greater role in sort of focusing me and keeping me off my own bullshit than my wife.

There's nothing like the beginning, the decade when every door in Hollywood was slammed in my face, and it just seemed like I didn't have a chance. Then having my wife come in from the hospital where she was dealing with loss and suffering and hope and people at their most raw, most vulnerable, people at their strongest, and their weakest, I'm fascinated by that. I'm begging. She is not into being on camera. I'm trying to get that one.

I'm really interested in hearing their perspectives on the environmental issue. My one friend, Chris Ford, is up there with the twenty-year-olds, clearing brush and fighting fires for the rest of his life. There are so many more. It's unending.

Is there a sort of an end date on this project, or do you think you'll continue doing it as long as you can?

BERNTHAL: I think this will continue. One of the things that I'm most interested in and what's been the most satisfying is people like Kevin Vance, who I've just admired and admire. He's going out and maybe start his own show, and he's interviewing people. I'm one hundred percent interested in Kevin, regardless of what he does.

There's a young man who was sentenced to murder when he was fourteen years old, and because of a Real Ones episode that hasn't been filmed yet, we've become extraordinarily involved in his case and trying to get him out. He's been in prison longer than he's been out for something he's been out for when he was fourteen, but to investigate it with the victims and explore what it really means, and I feel like, if we're going to talk

These episodes, and these scripts, will be shared by the Pueblos and the police department, and it's not easy. We all suffer, too. We lost one of the young men in the reading that we did, and this entire thing has been profoundly real, for the lack of a better word. There are times when it's been so uplifting and so enthralling, but also when it's been tough.

My friends and family are struggling down there right now. That city is being ripped apart by gun violence, and it's really affecting these guys really, really hard. That's an extraordinary accomplishment for this country, for being the most powerful and rich country in the world. Again, that's why I want to continue doing this program.

Real Ones is available for streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.