Jon Bernthal has been working as an actor since 2002. However, he auditioned for and landed a role in NCIS: Los Angeles around 2010. It is unclear what role he landed, but it was definitely a series regular. He would most likely still be part of the long-running military police procedural today. That just wasn’t in the cards for Bernthal, though.
After landing the role on NCIS: Los Angeles, Jon Bernthal got another script. He hadn’t even gone to an audition for the potential part yet. However, he knew he wanted it. In fact, he couldn’t walk away from one of the characters in that script. As a result, he called up NCIS showrunners and said that he couldn’t take the role he had auditioned for until he found out what was going to happen with the script he had just read.
That script was the pilot episode of The Walking Dead and the role was Shane Walsh. He played that character for two seasons before he was killed off. However, Jon Bernthal has no regrets about taking the risk. He talked about that with Howard Stern in a 2017 interview.
Jon Bernthal on Turning Down NCIS: Los Angeles
About The Walking Dead, Jon Bernthal told Stern, “When that show started, it was humble. I mean, it was a zombie show. It was on the network of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. A six-episode pickup isn’t really a vote of confidence, ya know?”
So, Bernthal knew he was taking a gamble. In fact, he told Howard Stern that his father thought it was the stupidest career move he had ever made. Being on a long-running franchise like NCIS would have ensured that he never had to worry about working again. Sometimes, though, art takes precedence over financial gain and stability. That was the case when Bernthal read the Walking Dead script.
“When I read that script,” Bernthal said, “I, in my heart, knew that it was something enormously special and I really wanted to do it. I wanted to be Shane.”
Jon Bernthal landed the role of Shane. That role introduced him to millions of viewers around the world. Today, many say that The Walking Dead was his breakout role. However, the character only lasted two seasons. They killed him off, but Jon isn’t upset about it in hindsight.
“I loved that job, I loved playing that part,” Bernthal said of his time on The Walking Dead. “To have a real beginning, middle, and end as a character is an unbelievable gift. It opened up so many doors.”
Since his time on The Walking Dead, Jon Bernthal has starred in several high-profile movies and TV shows. His credits include The Punisher, The Wolf of Wall Street, Those Who Wish Me Dead, and many more. He took a real gamble when he turned down NCIS: Los Angeles, but it paid off in the end.