King Richard star, Jon Bernthal, revealed he lost 30 pounds learning to play tennis in preparation for his role as tennis coach, Rick Macci. Bernthal is an American actor best known for his roles in The Walking Dead, Daredevil, and The Punisher. He first gained prominence in the 2000s with his role as Shane Walsh on The Walking Dead. His breakthrough role came in 2016 when he portrayed The Punisher in Marvel’s Daredevil, a role he would reprise for his solo series, The Punisher, in 2017. Viewers still hold out hope that Bernthal might yet reprise his role as The Punisher once more in the MCU.
For now, though, Bernthal has taken on an entirely different role in the film King Richard. The biographical drama film, released on November 19, 2021, follows Richard Williams’ unrelenting dream and efforts to make his two daughters, Venus and Serena, the world’s best tennis players. Bernthal stars as a Macci, the legendary American tennis coach and player, who trained five number one ranked tennis players, including Serena and Venus. Bernthal’s role in King Richard required quite a bit of training to do justice to Macci’s tennis skills.
In an interview with THR, Bernthal revealed that he lost 30 pounds playing tennis while training for his King Richard role. Bernthal admitted that he knew very little of tennis when he first landed the role. However, he held immense respect for Macci and believed that it was very important to make a sports film accurate. To prepare for his role, he trained at an academy in Ojai for 3 hours a day, losing 30 pounds in the process. He also got the opportunity to train a real-life Junior National Player, Kamea Medora, while in character. When the pandemic shut down production, Bernthal took it as an opportunity to put six additional months into his training. Check out his statement below:
It was such a joy for me to channel you, man. I believe in the way that you conduct your life. It was a joy for me to play such a joyous person. I played sports my whole life. I did not know much about tennis when this thing started. But I am a firm believer that if you’re going to do a sports movie, you’ve got to get the sport right. I find it enormously disrespectful when films don’t do that. I was enormously grateful to the producers to give me the infrastructure to really learn the game of tennis. I trained at an academy out here in Ojai for three hours a day. I lost 30 pounds. I would learn the game of tennis, but then I also got to learn how to coach. I worked with a top 50 junior nationals player named Kamea Medora, who was awesome, and I trained her in character. To be able to do those drills and be able to coach in character, I felt that then stepping in, I was in a great place. The other thing is, Rick — I mean, besides the unbelievable sexiness and beauty of that mustache, and your overall thing you’ve got going on — you have one of the most unique voices and dialects and speech patterns of anyone I’ve ever heard. That was one thing I really wanted to get right … but the thing that I felt like I was most interested in was your heart. Your heart, loving these two young women, loving this family, wanting to be a part of this mission. And [having production] shut down for six months [during the pandemic] gave me six more months to keep on preparing, keep on playing, keep on training.
Bernthal wasn’t the only one who had to undergo some intense training for his role in King Richard. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton who portray Venus and Serena, respectively, had never played tennis before their roles. Their roles as Serena and Venus required hours of intense training to be able to accurately portray the sport. As Bernthal expresses, though, when a biographic sports film is made, it needs to be as close to the real deal as possible. Fortunately, all of the actors and actresses seem to have shown incredible work ethic in truly learning and loving the sport as their characters did. Bernthal especially attempted to embrace the heart and joy that Macci exhibited, which made him such a beloved coach.
King Richard has received overwhelmingly positive reception from critics since its release. The film received praise for its overall premise of warmth and emphasis on the power of determination and belief. Critics especially praised the performances of the actresses and actors across the board. Will Smith particularly shined as Venus and Serena’s father and has prompted conversation about a potential Oscar nomination. However, while Smith, Sidney, and Singleton certainly gave astounding performances, Bernthal’s story shows that it was a combined effort from all of the cast and crew that brought the film to life. These actors and actresses seemed especially intent to accurately capture the heart and joy of the sport, using hours of their time each day to learn the ins and outs of tennis. Much of King Richard’s success stems from the cast who put their entire hearts into their characters to do justice to the real-life figures.
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