If you want a sense of what you’re in for viewing Irish director Brendan Muldowney’s third feature—the Tribeca-premiering Pilgrimage—you may want to look to his 2009 feature Savage as a guidepost. A visceral experience rife with violence, it’s interesting to note that for the director, this preoccupation with violence is entirely subconscious.
“I would say that I’m more interested in existential sort of filmmaking questions about why we’re here, and I suppose that’s where religion maybe attracted me—and without ever being conscious of it, I suppose I have explored violence,” Muldowney says. “Now if you take three films, the two of them explore it, so that’s over 50 percent. That’s a subconscious thing, though—I must be just drawn to that.”
A powerful and versatile actor known to many for the role of the Punisher—which he will bear out in an anticipated upcoming Netflix series based on the Marvel character—and a critical role in The Walking Dead, Jon Bernthal brings similar intensity and commitment to Pilgrimage, in which he portrays a mute lay brother with a violent past, owning his shame and regret over past events by taking a vow of silence.
“I think seeing Brendan’s film that he directed before this, Savage, I just thought that the marriage between this material and the way in which he dealt with violence in that film, and character in that film, it was just something that I was real hungry to work on,” Bernthal explains of his attraction to the role.
The actor discussed bonding with his co-stars—including Richard Armitage and Tom Holland (the latest actor to take on the role of Peter Parker, with Spider-Man: Homecoming arriving this summer)—living in close quarters many miles from the nearest town, without internet and other conveniences of modern life, which facilitated an intimacy and a deeper connection to the process.
“We were all kind of together, just all the time—the Irish actors that didn’t know me, they had never heard me speak until I started to, and then they told me they preferred me a lot better when I just shut up,” the actor joked. “But it really helped to kind of get in touch with why a man would make a decision like that—when you stop talking, you kind of give up your wants and needs. If you want a glass of water but you can’t ask for it, you ask yourself, do I really need that glass of water? And then, do I deserve that glass of water? Maybe that’s what this vow of silence is about.”