Jon Bernthal goes against the typical 'hard' man role he's known for to play tennis coach Rick Macci in King Richard - and for that reason, the actor has revealed he had to fight for the part and transform himself physically to get himself cast.


The Walking Dead star said the film's director Reinaldo Marcus Green initially "didn't really see me for the role", in part because Bernthal had just finished filming Netflix's Marvel action thriller series The Punisher, and was looking "pretty big" and "muscular".

Rick Macci is probably as far off from brutal antihero Frank Castle as you could get. In the film, Bernthal plays him as a loveable, goofy, affable and passionate sports enthusiast with a Ned Flanders-style 'tash (it was the early '90s) who was permanently clad in colourful polo shirts and very short tennis shorts on and off the court. Macci trained a young Venus and Serena Williams at his International Tennis Academy in Florida.

"I really fought for this part and I'm really glad that I did," Bernthal told "I wanted it - I fought for it. But Rei didn't really see me for the part. I had just come off of The Punisher and I was pretty big and muscular and, you know, he didn't really see it. But the athlete in me said, 'Let me show, let me give this a shot' - and I did and I promised him I'd lose 30 pounds and I did. I promised him I'd learn the game of tennis and I did.

"I trained extensively and I coached a junior national tennis player. Rei and I really connected - we are both ex-college baseball players, we're both fathers, we're both raising athletes, we were raised by fathers who guided us through our athletic career, and the movie was important for the exact same reasons.

More like this
Screenshot 2021-11-19 at 11.11.12
YouTube/Warner Bros

"I kind of dove in all the way but it was a real joy. When you find a piece that resonates with you as deeply as this one did with me, it's something you have to go fight for."

While Rick may not be as physically imposing or outwardly as tough or domineering as the men Bernthal has played previously, it doesn't make him any less commanding, or any 'less of a man'. Bernthal describes Rick as an honest and genuine guy in an industry - much like the entertainment business - that can be "toxic", discriminatory, exclusive and elitist. He adds that he was "fierce", "fiery" and "always fun" - but wasn't in the game for just money.

"The movie itself explores family and fatherhood and sports and the full spectrum of what sports can be for a kid - from toxic to the sublimely beautiful," Bernthal continued. "Rick comes in and he has such a pure unadulterated love for the game. More importantly, he comes in and I think - like the entertainment business - [the Williams family] were shut out of this world. They had to get over all these obstacles to get in, and once they had this heat everyone wants a piece of it, everyone wants a part of it.

"It's certainly how the entertainment business feels sometimes. The same people who ignored you and shut the door on your face now all of a sudden want to have a piece of things, want to be a part of things. What I love about Rick is that he wasn't doing it to fatten his pocket book or to further his own career. It started as his own love and reverence for the game and what these two young women could be for the game. He falls in love with this family and these young women mean so much to him as if they were his own."

Will Smith in King Richard
Anne Marie FOX

And Macci fully approved of Bernthal's portrayal. "Rick sent the kindest and most beautiful message - he said I got it right, the walk, the talk, the spirit - he really loves the film and that's a huge honour for me and all of us," he added. "The fact that Serena and Venus love the film and support it and are behind us - it means the world to us."

The moving and uplifting family drama celebrates Richard Williams and his dogged determination and unwavering faith in his daughters Venus and Serena as he shaped two of the world's greatest sports legends.

Will Smith stars as Richard, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton play Venus and Serena respectively, and Aunjanue Ellis stars as their mother Oracene.

Meanwhile, Bernthal also disclosed that he and Green have just finished filming HBO's limited series We Own This City, set in Baltimore, from The Wire creators George Pelecanos and David Simon.

Based on the book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton, HBO says the drama "chronicles the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force — and the corruption and moral collapse that befell an American city in which the policies of drug prohibition and mass arrest were championed at the expense of actual police work".

"It's about Wayne Jenkins the character I play, who is in the Gun Trace Task Force, this sort of unbelievably corrupt police unit in Baltmore that were indicted in 2018," Bernthal explained.

"It's a very raw story... it digs into the wounds of race and policing in this country in a nuanced and journalistic way that only David [Simon] and George [Pelecanos] can do. I love that city and I'm enormously grateful to the people I met there who helped me with my research... I was really able to go all the way in on this one, and I think it's going to be an important piece."

King Richard is out in cinemas now. The film also airs on HBO Max in the US.


Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or visit our Movies hub for all the latest news.