Interview: Daniel Bernhardt (‘Skylines’)

I have been watching Daniel Bernhardt tear up the screen for almost 20 years, be it in DTV action vehicles or genre TV shows or huge theatrical blockbusters. To say that getting to speak with him was a pleasure would be an understatement. I was excited to talk to the man and, to my absolute delight, he was just as excited to talk to me about Skylines, action flicks, his early career, movie fights, acting, and so much more…

Before we get started, I’d like to say that I’m a big fan. I’ve been watching your work for going on 25 years. From the Bloodsport films and Perfect Target to your TV work with Mortal Kombat: Konquest and Barry, plus all of you big Hollywood stuff.

Oh my god! Thank you so much! That is so cool!

I’m super excited to talk to you today! With such a long and diverse career, what keeps you excited about the business as a performer and what drew you to Skylines?

I love what I do. I am somebody who found what I’m meant to do and I’m just very, very lucky after 25 years that I’m still working. I work really hard, I train every day, I study every day, I do my exercises every day, and I hustle. I try to get new jobs, so when I got the call for Skylines, I was so stoked. [My agent] said “Hey, they want to offer you this part.” I met with Liam, he pitched me what he wanted to do, and he was a big fan of my work. I was a big fan of his work too. We met up in Berlin and I was just super excited to part of such a huge franchise and also playing like a real character. Having a dialogue. I was the third lead in the movie, so it was really, really cool for me.

I was really excited when I realized how big your part was. I’ve often referred to you as an “action character actor”. No matter what the project is or how much I am enjoying it, whenever I see you or your name pop up on screen, I know I’m in good hands for your scenes. I have to imagine it’s not easy for any actor to make their mark in character parts, whether they are bigger or smaller roles. I’m sure that goes double for action-oriented fare where you also have to differentiate yourself as a fighter on top of that. How do you approach each role, whether it’s a hero or a villain, both as an actor and a martial artist?

Like I said earlier, I just feel very blessed and lucky that I’m in this business. That I can work. I like it all. You know people ask me “Hey, what are you? Are you an actor? Are you a stuntman?” and I say “Well, I’m kinda both.” Chad Stahelski always calls me an “action actor”. I’m an action actor/stunt actor. So, I’m either an actor who does his own stunts or I’m a stuntman who does his own acting. Whatever people need me to do.

You know I’ve done all kinds of films. I did a film like Logan where I just play a background character. I didn’t say anything, but I’m just around and that was a lot of fun. Then I’m in a show like Barry where I play this fun character who has nunchuks. Then I play in a movie like Skylines where I actually have this massive part. I have a character I can create, I have a lot of dialogue, and I have fight scenes. I like it all! Of course, this one is very special. Skylines is very special to me because I actually had a chance to really create this character. To speak through my acting and my fighting. It was the perfect role for me.

Which is more fun for you in general: playing heroes or villains? You’ve done a lot of both throughout your career, so I’m just curious as to which you prefer. I’m sure you enjoy both, but which do you lean towards more?

I tell you, that’s really a tough question, because I love both! I mean, look, the opportunity I had in Atomic Blonde to play this villain was just absolutely fantastic. But then look at the parts in True Vengeance or Perfect Target or the Bloodsports, when I play the hero. That’s a lot of fun too. Or playing this character in Skylines, which is kind of both. First, I’m kind of a good guy and then I’m not. It’s…look I’m a performer. I’m an actor. I’m a stuntman. I’m an action actor. I really like it all. You offer me a job that I can do and I’ll try to do the best that I can.

I think that really comes across in a lot of your roles, no matter how big or small they are. For instance, I think of something Parker, where you have that massive fight sequences with Jason Statham. That’s honestly my favorite part of that movie

Oh wow, that’s so nice! Thank you!

…then sometimes you’ll just surprise me. I’ll be watching an episode of Arrow on TV and then all of a sudden there you are in an alleyway! It’s just fun to see you pop up.

(laughs)

You know, that stuff happens because I am very connected to the action stunt world. I work with the team at 87 Eleven and there’s a lot of our guys that are all over the world doing movies and TV shows. Once in awhile, they need a guy like me. They call me up and say “Hey, are you available?” Of course! I’m just…I love to work. I love to be busy. I love to work with my friends and I’m very very fortunate to be in that world. Then you get calls like [the one from] from Liam saying “Hey I want you in Skylines,” and that’s amazing! You work three months on set in a foreign country and you make this crazy, incredible sci-fi action film. I really think Liam did such a great job with how he’s kind of merging the genres. The sci-fi and the action. He told me that was very important to him. He started with #2 doing that and then in 3 even more. So, when we pitched him the idea to do the fights scenes kind of like hardcore Hong Kong kung fu trapping fight scenes, he loved it. He was like “Oh my god, go for it!”

I bet he did! I talked to him earlier and we spoke about the fact that the first Skyline was a found footage disaster movie, the second one was just this bonkers “on-the-run” adventure flick, and then the one that you’re in now is sort of a “soldiers on a mission” movie. It’s all in the same franchise, but no matter which one you watch, you’re getting a completely different kind of experience.

You know, I agree. I think that the first one was very unique. It was so different. The second one was big and I think the third one really killed it. The third one is kind of everything. It’s unique, it’s special, it’s huge. It looks like a big, big, big movie. It’s not a little movie. It looks like a massive movie, even though we have to do it on a smaller budget. A lot of kudos to Liam and the producers. What they did, it’s incredible. I mean there’s a lot of sweat, a lot of blood, and a lot of tears in that movie. A lot of people worked really, really hard.

You can tell. It comes across. Both this one and in the previous film, it looks like every penny is up on screen and everyone’s just giving it their all. Which…as an action fan, as a sci-fi fan…that’s what I want to see out of a film like this. It doesn’t matter to me that it doesn’t have a blockbuster Hollywood budget. It just matters that everyone is just performing at their best. That kind of sincerity always comes across and it always makes the film better.

[Liam] was really our fearless leader. He was on top. He was the one. I mean he really is responsible for everything. Everything goes back to him. Every decision, every look, every actor, everything we did…it’s him. He gets the big credit.

As far as your 87 Eleven connection goes, whenever you all sign onto a film, do you kind of look the script over and say “Hey, you know, there’s some big stunts with this part, why don’t you give that one to me?”

(laughs)

You know what, it doesn’t work like that. Not with Chad and Dave [Leitch]! No way! They call you when they need you. You don’t say anything until they call you. But I’ve been very fortunate that whenever there’s a part and they feel like I’m right for it, they give me a call. Which I’m very, very flattered by. Like I said, I hustle, but you can’t push that hard. You just show up, you train hard, you show what you can do, and if the part’s right, they will let you know.

Before I let you go, I’d just like to ask you two more questions. The first is the most obvious: what do you have coming up next?

I think I can say this. You’ve probably already seen in the trades that I worked on a little movie called Matrix 4. I was very, very flattered that Lana [Wachowski] invited me to come back to play the same character, but that’s all I can say. I did a little World War II drama that I shot earlier this year that I’m very proud of. It’s more just acting. And then I have a fantastic film coming out called Nobody next year with Bob Odenkirk, where I’m actually a co-fight coordinator on it and I played a little part. That was fun. But most important now for me is Skylines, because I really want to put all of my energy into that. It’s huge, it’s fantastic, and it’s coming out on the 18th. I’m super stoked that you guys are helping us to support the movie.

Out of all the projects you’ve done previously, which one do you feel deserves some more love and attention?

Wow, that’s a tough one. Damn, that’s a tough one. I’m trying to think back…

You can name more than one if you want!

I really enjoyed the films I did in the ‘90s. You know like the Bloodsport movies, Perfect Target, and True Vengeance. I loved that time, because we had no money! We had nothing, it was low budget, and it was just our passion. We worked for nothing. We would have done it for free, as long as we could do our fight scenes, our acting, our creativity making those movies. This is something I’m actually trying to bring back. I’m in talks with somebody to possibly do that again today.

I would love that!

I’m actually very, very happy to hear that from you, because I was approached by a producer saying “Hey listen, I really love the movies you did in the ‘90s.” And he wants me to do that again. So, we’re actually working on a project and hopefully we can do it again.

I hope they can too.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Bernhardt in The Matrix 4 next year, as well as any production that involves Chad Stahelski or David Leitch. Even if he isn’t playing a featured role, odds are pretty good that he’s one of the stuntmen you see onscreen getting thrashed about by Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Margot Robbie, etc. Also be sure to catch up with his ’90s fare. It’s a lot of fun and he deserves way more love for that era of his career. Here’s hoping he does indeed get some sort of modern revival of those kinds of movies going. I’d love to see it.

In the meantime, you can check out Skylines in theaters, at your local drive-in, or via most VOD platforms. If you’re also interested in catching up with the other two entries, Skyline is currently streaming on HBO Max and Beyond Skyline can be found on Netflix.

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