The latest Marvel superhero to get his own Netflix series is The Punisher, the hyper-violent vigilante introduced in Daredevil and played by The Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal. The titular character is a vet named Frank Castle, who seeks revenge after the murder of his wife and children. Among the many people he encounters along the way is David Lieberman, a.k.a. Micro (Girls‘ Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a CIA analyst on the run who proves useful in helping track down the bad guys who killed Castle’s family.
Moss-Bachrach and showrunner Steve Lightfoot spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about why Micro is much more than a sidekick, how closely the show hews to the Punisher comics, and how the violence in The Punisher compares to that in Lightfoot’s last series, Hannibal.
Jean Bentley for Rotten Tomatoes: Your character on Girls, Desi, was a little bit controversial. Well, maybe not controversial, but he wasn’t the most liked character on that series.
Ebon Moss-Bachrach: On a show about unlikeable people, he was the least liked, sure.
On Punisher, David is a little more understandable and likable of a character.
Moss-Bachrach: I try to understand every character I’m playing. Desi was, in many ways, a big baby with the motorcycles and guitars and stuff. David Lieberman’s a family man who’s trying to do the right thing as an NSA analyst and has lost his family. Implicitly, it seems like one is a lot more sympathetic than the other.
From your perspective, who is David?
Moss-Bachrach: To me, he’s a guy that is in an office looking at videos from [abroad], from soldiers on the ground, and seeing thousands upon thousands upon thousands of these things every single day. Something like that really doesn’t sit well with him. His conscience won’t let him just sit on it and pass it along. He feels compelled to do something at great risk. Probably a greater risk to him and his family than he thought. He seems like a man of very strong wills, and very intelligent, with an amazing ability to focus on something. What carries us through this season is him focusing on getting back to his family, and proving his innocence.
We know what Frank’s motivations are — he’s trying to get revenge for the death of his family. But in the first few episodes we see how your character’s fatherhood influences his actions. How does that play into his arc for the season?
Moss-Bachrach: It’s sort of explicit. I think he says he can’t look at his kids if he’s just toeing the line and not doing anything about this extra-legal activity going on. I think he’s a patriot and wants to raise kids in a country that he feels like is doing the right thing.
The show also brings up the discussion of what it means to be a patriot in this day and age.
Moss-Bachrach: I think one of the themes of this show is what is responsibility to an institution? What does real loyalty mean? What does real patriotism mean? When do you have to take accountability and not follow orders? I’m not saying these things as [judgments] — these are questions that are posed. I don’t think this is a political show. This is a comical show to me. This is escapism.
I read that you worked on the character to give him a little more dimension than just being the tech guy. I don’t know if you saw the new Spider-Man movie, but there was a joke about how his friend wanted to be the computer guy at the desk.
Moss-Bachrach: I didn’t see that.
Your character here is the perfect example. He’s definitely way more than just the guy with the headset at the desk. He’s a very intricate part of this story.
Moss-Bachrach: Yes. They promised me. When I signed up for this they said, “You won’t have to do that.” I said, “OK, good, ’cause I don’t want to do that.” You see that so much of the time. I’m sick of seeing the guy at the desk sucking on the milkshake, making his wisecrack, and sort of being a coward. That’s a boring and false kind of cliché to me.
Frank and David are both very much motivated by their families, but your character seems more likable and approachable. Do you think that was the way the character was written, or is that something you brought to the role?
Moss-Bachrach: You have to contend with my innate charm and likability, he jokes, he says through the smile of self-loathing and insecurity. No, yeah, I think that’s how he’s written. Once you see somebody’s family, and you see them longing for their family, that’s quick brushstrokes to make the character sympathetic. Not to be cynical. His goal is to get back to his family. That’s concrete and pretty understandable. Frank’s goal is revenge, which is a little more abstract and slippery.
The fourth episode has a big car chase. What was filming those stunt scenes like?
Moss-Bachrach: That was super fun. I got to drive around the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the middle of the night in a big car. Who doesn’t want to do that? The hardest stuff for me physically was in episode three when we did all the stuff where I’m tied to the chair. Getting pushed over and punched, then cold water thrown on me. I’m so the wrong person to talk to about the stunts, because the week would start with me and Jon, two days in the basement, doing intense scene work. Then I would go home and hang out with my family, then for the rest of the week getting [he was] punched as hard as you possibly get punched, and getting thrown off of stuff and getting blown up. I would come back in on Monday rested, and he would just be covered in bruises. I really wasn’t doing all that much of that stuff. Hopefully if we do some more [episodes], I’ll get to do some more. I like that. It’s a completely different, head space. It’s a completely different skill set, which I’d like to develop.
What was it like filming scenes where you’re supposed to be trapped in a chair, naked?
Moss-Bachrach: It’s hard. The first day I showed up, and went to my dressing room, I was like, this is a tiny little flesh-colored tiny little thong with a baggy on the front that I used to wear for sex scenes during Girls. So it’s like, “Hey old buddy. Here we are again.” In a very different context this time. It was hard. The water was really cold. It was one of those things where, I don’t feel for me so much, I feel for the camera department, all the crew that’s there, seeing way more of me than they probably ever want to see. I just make a point at the end of the day, going around, shaking everybody[‘s hand], saying “OK, are we good? Are we sill friends? Hey Greg, we still friends?” Everyone was very professional and kind.
Also, an office chair is not the most comfortable place to be trapped nude.
Moss-Bachrach: Oh, it was horrible. Legs, back, kind of back behind. Zip ties. I tried to be really serious about it, so I wanted the zip ties tied tight. “This really sucks.” I hope it came out well!
Your character has a long, storied history in the comics. Did you do any research ahead of time? Is there anything that you guys didn’t get to do that you’d like to do in a season 2? Any fun story lines or winks to your character’s comic history?
Moss-Bachrach: Yeah, I would love to go back more to the comic books. We learn a lot about David in the course of the season. I love the mystery surrounding him in the comic book. It might just be my haphazard reading of The Punisher. Micro always seemed like such a mystery to me, and a real lone wolf kind of guy. I would like to explore some more of that.
This doesn’t have to do with The Punisher, but before we got on the phone I browsed your credits and noticed that you were on three different Law & Orders, which is amazing. That’s the New York actor trifecta.
Moss-Bachrach: Yeah. That’s the New York acting school right there. The MSA of the streets. I was on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the first episode. I didn’t make it past the teaser. I think I play a college kid who’s going home to his girlfriend’s apartment with her to get busy, unbeknownst to them there’s a burglar lying in the wait, slash killer. Played by the great actor Jake Weber. Then I was on Law & Order: SVU, where I played a owner of a political bookstore [involved] in an explosion in front of a state building. Turned out to be my girlfriend. We shot a lot of that stuff a block from where I was living at the time, in Brooklyn. I was humiliated and felt like I had to move, because I could never go back to my coffee shop again. I was also on the short-lived Law & Order: Trial By Jury with another great, Bebe Neuwirth. I don’t think I’ve ever done the mothership. The original.
The one that got away.
Moss-Bachrach: I’m good with it. I have a lot of regrets, that’s not one.
Marvel’s The Punisher is available to stream on Netflix.