For those in the know, Daniel Bernhardt has long been a noteworthy name in action cinema. Getting his start in action with 1996’s BLOODSPORT II: THE NEXT KUMITE after the original film’s star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, declined to return for the sequel. Bernhardt’s charisma and physical prowess proved to be a more than enough to make him a worthy successor though as the series went on to spawn even more entries with Bernhardt front and center as the lead.
During this “Direct To Video” boom period of the late 90s. Bernhardt starred in even more projects that showed off his natural charm and martial arts skill. This led to other film and television work, the most noteworthy of which came in 2003 when Bernhardt appeared in THE MATRIX RELOADED, as the villainous Agent Johnson, in a show-stopping on screen martial arts battle with actor Lawrence Fishburne.
After this Bernhardt continued to act but shifted to a more behind the scenes focus, working as a stunt performer with the famed 87eleven action team. The group founded by stunt performers turned directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, allowed Bernhardt to sharpen his skills as a martial artist, stunt performer and screen fighter by learning from the very best in the industry. It also opened the door to a career resurgence that saw him appearing in projects like JOHN WICK CHAPTER 1, BIRDS OF PREY, ATOMIC BLONDE, and ALTERED CARBON.
Daniel Bernhardt’s latest role is as the hard-nosed space marine “Owens” in the third installment of director Liam O’Donnell’s sci-fi action film series, SKYLINES (aka SKYLIN3S). The incredibly ambitious film gives Bernhardt ample opportunity to show off not only his vast screen fighting abilities but also his ability to carry scenes with just his acting alone. His appearance here is an excellent reminder to casual movie fans what diehard action cinema junkies have known for decades; seeing Daniel Bernhardt’s name in the credits of a film is reason to celebrate.
I sat down recently to speak with Daniel all about SKYLINES and a variety of other topics involving his career; including his early DTV work and what he has in store for use in the future!
What made you want to be part of SKYLINES?
You know what? I was very flattered. I got a call from my agent saying, “Hey Daniel, we got this franchise they’re looking for.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, I know what it is. Love to do it.” Read the script. It was amazing. Met with the director, Liam, who was an absolute gem, pitched me the idea of what he wanted to do. Look, you’re getting offered a really fun card, a great franchise with an awesome director with a wonderful script. I mean, hard to say no, right?
Liam wrote a terrific script. He really fleshed out this character for me that he wanted before, and I’m always very flattered when somebody comes to you and goes, “Hey, I had you in mind for this role,” because he’s seen a lot of my previous work. I was totally blown away. I was like, “Oh man, this is great.” He pitched me what he wanted to do. He spent so much time on this character, on this script. He had so many ideas that I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.”
Then of course, I brought in my ideas, which he was very open to and I was very excited. He thought about, “How do you feel about doing a fight? I was like, “Hey, of course, I’ll do a fight scene. How many do you want me to do?”
It would be a shame to cast you and then not have at least one fight scene.
You know what, I mean, I like to do films where I do fight scenes, I have to be honest. It’s just something that I really enjoy. I love acting. I love all the drama. I love dialogue. It’s all fun and if I can at least do one fight scene at the end, I mean, it’s just… people get so excited when you do fight scenes. Even on the set, the energy completely changes. People start screaming and going, “Yeah, that was awesome,” and clapping and it’s fun. It is just a lot of fun!
I personally think it might be the purest form of cinema. It’s beautiful human motion captured on the screen. So, tell me a little bit about shooting the big fight scene at the end for SKYLINES. What are your memories of that?
Liam had this idea of me fighting the character of “Zhi” which was actually my favorite fight in the movie, he was played by my buddy, Cha-Lee Yoon, who is an amazing martial artist and Liam was very, very clever. He brought in a stunt team out of Germany and my buddy, Can Aydin, was the second unit director. So, we’re all friends and we’ve worked together on many, many, many, many movies. We had carte blanche. Liam said, Surprise me. Come up with whatever you want.”
We thought about what we wanted to do, and then Cha pitched me the idea of kind of doing an homage to the old Hong Kong movies, to kind of a Kung Fu trapping fight and I was like, “I’m in.” We pitched the idea to Liam and he loved it. We had this conversation the other day, he said to me, on BEYOND SKYLINE, he really merged sci-fi with action. He wanted to do the same thing again on number three and I think number three, he stepped it up from number two. Three is, in my opinion, the best one in the franchise. It’s a fantastic movie.
I think it’s great. It is really amazing what Liam’s been able to do with the “Skyline” series. It has set a high watermark for low-budget science fiction films. What he’s been able to get on screen with these films is just remarkable considering how much they cost.
Yeah. It’s his genius. I mean, he’s going up against all the big sci-fi movies, but I think he’s right there. I mean, his visual effects work, I was really, really blown away. I was blown away.
So, I have to ask you about this because the trailer just dropped recently. Can you tell me a little bit about NOBODY?
NOBODY is very special to me. I met Bob Odenkirk in late 2017. I was asked by our producers, David Leitch and Kelly McCormick, if I’d be interested in training him and Bob and I totally hit it off. We started training and then two years later, the movie was made and I was a co-fight coordinator on it and it was an amazing stunt team led by Greg Rementer and David Leitch was a producer. I mean, you saw the trailer. It is insane. I’m very, very proud of it.
It looks phenomenal. You have every reason to be proud of it. I mean, the internet is just buzzing about the footage.
It’s exciting. But it’s also been really fun. So I got this beautiful movie, SKYLINES coming out. Fun, fun action sci-fi movie, something I’m really excited for the audience to see. Hopefully people will get a chance to see it in theaters. If they don’t, then watch it at home on VOD, watch it with your family, watch it with your friends. I think people will be very excited by it. Fun sci-fi, fun action, fun characters. I think we did something really, really special.
I’ve seen SKYLINES and I think it’s exceptional.
Thank you for saying that.
So, stepping back a bit I wanted to ask you about some of your other work. You were part of the HBO series, BARRY. The episode where you fought series star Bill Hader (Season 2, Episode 5) is beloved by fans. Can you tell me about your experiences being involved with that?
Oh my God, BARRY, it was probably one of my favorite parts I’ve played. When I got the call from a buddy of mine saying, “Hey, Daniel, I want you to audition for Bill Hader. He’s looked at a lot of people. He can’t find the right guy. You’re completely wrong for the part,” [laughs] because they were looking for something completely different and they just couldn’t find it.
I went in and met Bill. Bill was awesome. What a guy. He goes, “Daniel, I love your work.” I’m like, “You’re Bill Hader. I love your work!” He had me audition and we did it like three times and he goes, “Daniel, this is where everybody’s screwing up. Nobody gets what I’m trying to do. Do nothing.” I understood what he was saying because I’ve been studying acting for a long time. I understood. So, I read for him. I finished. He goes, “That was good, but I need you to do less. Do nothing.” I did it again. He goes, “That was good, but again, do nothing.” On the third time, I nailed it. [laughs]
Then he told me, “Can you wait outside for me?” I go, “Sure.” He came outside 15 minutes later. He goes, “Look, Daniel, you’re really not the right type for what we’re looking for.” Then he says, “Don’t shave.” That’s how he left it and he walked away. Then a week later I got the call that I had gotten the part.
That episode was fantastic, and what a director. Bill directed that, himself. He starred in it and directed and the episode was nominated for multiple awards. Amazing.
If someone wasn’t familiar with your work and you had to recommend one or two films that you’ve done to them to kind of get them familiar with your brand as an actor and as a stunt performer, what would you recommend?
That’s a very good answer considering what we’re doing here today.
Seriously though, I’m very proud of it because Liam gave me an opportunity to play a bigger part because now, I did the “John Wick” movies, I did ATOMIC BLONDE and I played great parts, great characters in those movies, but they were smaller parts. In SKYLINES, I actually have a large part and it’s a role I could really sink my teeth into it. There’s a lot of dialogue, great action scenes, great fight scenes. That, for fans, I would say go watch SKYLINES.
Other movies I’m very proud of are JOHN WICK CHAPTER 1, ATOMIC BLONDE, THE MATRIX RELOADED. If you really, really want to geek out, go find BLOODSPORT 2 somewhere. You may have to get it on eBay or you may be able to watch it on YouTube. That was my first movie. Then of course, BARRY. I’m very proud of BARRY.
I have to say, I have very fond memories of renting BLOODSPORT 2 on pay-per-view when I was a kid, watching it, and just being blown away by how good it was.
You know what, I’m still very proud of it because if you think about it, that movie goes back to 1995 and guess who was in that movie?
I actually know this. It was director Chad Stahelski.
That’s right! Chad Stahelski did my fight scene, which turned out to be my favorite fight in the movie. That’s why we hired him to be the fight coordinator and stunt coordinator for BLOODSPORT 3. Then we did about three other films after that. We did TRUE VENGEANCE and PERFECT TARGET. It was the nineties, those kind of low budget, straight to DVD and VHS films were viable and it was a wonderful time. I tell you that. Then of course, Chad took off with THE MATRIX and then we reunited on THE MATRIX RELOADED and then the rest is history. I mean, he’s been a very close friend for a long time.
I’m honestly a pretty big fan of TRUE VENGEANCE too.
You know what, Chad actually says that one was probably my best movie from back then. That was actually a very, very well done movie I thought. David Worth directed it and he wanted to make it an homage to the Hong Kong movies, like John Woo’s THE KILLER and those kind of films.
I tell you honestly, I was actually playing with the idea, there should be almost a remake of that movie because it was very low budget. But if you do that with a bigger budget and make it more like RIDLEY SCOTT’s BLACK RAIN, I think it could be something very unique.
Have you ever thought about trying to shepherd your own projects and be a director yourself?
Well, I actually have directed once. I directed a short film called FETCH, which I did 16 years ago. It starred David Leitch, who you know, right?
My second unit director on that was Chad. If any of your readers want to watch it, you can actually find it on a collection of short films called BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TERRORS. It’s on Prime, it’s on Google, it’s on YouTube. It’s a really fun, little short.
I wanted to direct back then, and then I just got pulled more into acting and then Chad and Dave became huge directors. They kept hiring me all the time and now I’m in my mid-fifties and I’m in a really good part now of my life. It was really a good place in my life where I get calls for SKYLINES. When Liam called me and just offered me this really cool part in this beautiful franchise, it was very flattering So it’s been a lot of fun. I work very hard. I have to say, but I’m very lucky that I’m still invited to play.
There’s been a real Renaissance of mid-budget action films now with the work of people like Scott Adkins and others who are bringing the “fight” film back in the VOD/streaming realm. I know a lot of action fans are hoping you will step back into that arena too.
I’m actually working on a couple of things that hopefully… People really love those lower budget action movies that were very, very popular in the mid-nineties. Then they kind of went away a little bit. Scott is doing a great job bringing them back in his world, but I think there’s a lot of people, they want those movies again because they’re kind of fun. They’re not like your big budget movies. They’re kind of like your guilty pleasures.
I think it’s because we just don’t have them anymore. You don’t realize what you are missing until it’s gone. I think we all sort of took it for granted when they were plentiful in the days of PM Entertainment and we could find them on any video store shelf. But now 20 years later, it’s a real joy when you find a good one.
Yeah, it’s funny you’re saying this. I’m actually right now talking to somebody about doing one of those again, a lower budget action film, but it has to be a budget that you actually can make a good movie and I’m actually working on it right now as we speak and if it happens, it is something that could be really, really fun.
I hope it all comes together! So, as we start to wrap up I have to ask you about the new “Matrix” film. Can you tell me anything about your involvement with it?
Well, I can only say what’s in the trades. I was invited by Lana Wachowski to come back and be part of “Matrix 4,” again I can just tell you what they wrote in the trades. I went to Berlin to film. I played the same character, Agent Johnson. I’m super flattered, … just super stoked that I’m back with the franchise. It’s “Matrix”! I mean, I was very lucky to be in number two, so now back in number four, I’m just so flattered.
Well, Daniel all these opportunities and your success, it’s well deserved.
Thank you so much. I’ve been very lucky, very blessed. I work very hard. People think, “Oh, it just comes easily.” It doesn’t. I work very hard. I study, I train every day. I read, I work on scripts. I do my training three, four hours a day, find new projects, go out there and hustle.
Is there anything else you want to say about SKYLINES as we finish up?
I think your readers will love it. Liam really killed it on this movie. I remember we had a lot of fun doing it, of course. We already saw what we did on set and that looks fantastic. We had an amazing crew, great producers, and a great cast. But then of course, you don’t know what’s going to happen with the visual effects. That was like the big question. But then I kind of knew it’s going to be good because I thought they did a really good job on BEYOND SKYLINE, but I think they stepped it up a whole other level on part three. I was like, “Damn.” When he sent me the link and I watched it, I was like, “Wow. It’s awesome.” It’s jaw dropping. I thought Lindsey Morgan did such a good job as the leading actress and really carrying the whole movie. It’s not easy. I mean, I’ve been the lead in movies and let me tell you, it’s not easy. She has a gift. She’s very unique. She’s beautiful. She’s a great actress. She kicks butt. I think the audience will fall in love with her.
I agree, Daniel. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. It’s greatly appreciated, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.
I really appreciate it and thank you so much.
Vertical Entertainment will release SKYLINES In Select Theaters, On Digital and VOD December 18, 2020.