‘The Punisher’ Season 2: Josh Stewart on the Show’s New Villain, John Pilgrim

The Punisher Season 2 picks up right where the blood-soaked first season quietly left off, with human war machine Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) suddenly finding himself without a war to fight and all out of people to shotgun in the face as vengeance for his family’s death. Earlier this year, Netflix invited Collider and a few other journalists to the show’s Brooklyn set to get a look at a sophomore season that is—if you can believe it—darker, more violent, and more bullet-riddled than before. In addition to getting a glimpse of Frank’s junkyard trailer hideout he shares with a new teenage sidekick of sorts, Amy (Giorgia Whigham), we got the chance to speak to Bernthal, Ben BarnesAmber Rose RevahJason R. MooreJosh Stewart—who plays this season’s creepy antagonist, John Pilgrim—who all confirmed that Frank Castle will never be able to hang up the old black-and-white skull vest for long.

In the following roundtable interview, Josh Stewart discusses what the season’s newest antagonist, John Pilgrim, brings to the story, the character’s devotion to Christian Fundamentalism and violent past, clashes with Frank Castle, and much more.

Image via Netflix

Question: So who is John Pilgrim?

JOSH STEWART: John Pilgrim is a fairly quiet, still person. On the exterior a man who is a Christian fundamentalist who had sort of a rage, a violent side of him. It’s buried deep. I think where this is all headed, that sort of side of him is going to resurface a bit.

Can you elaborate on the Christian fundamentalism? How does that define his character?

STEWART: You can look at the stereotypes of what Christian fundamentalism is. Your imagination would probably run pretty wild, right? So I think there’s some elements of that, maybe. There’s just…what’s true is true to him, and what is right is right to him, and what God says is what God says to him. I think if I get too much more into it then it’s going to start giving things away. But fundamentally, that’s it. It’s like the fundamentals of basketball. He pays attention to the fundamentals of it. He’s very by the book. With his past, I think that was the only way that he can…come out of that. Balance that side of him. It’s not something he can half-ass. It’s kind of like an addiction. You can’t kind of want to be sober and kind of not. So it’s all or nothing with him.

Can you say if this is delving more into cult territory or just organized religion?

STEWART: No, no, no. It’s nothing cult about it. It’s nothing like that. He’s just a guy who believes the word. He knows that he’s got to follow the word by the word or it would be too easy for him to go back to his old ways. If you’re gonna change you got to change. You can’t have one foot on the boat and one on the dock, you’ll end up in the river. It’s all or nothing.

Image via Netflix

How would you describe John’s relationship with Frank Castle?

STEWART: His past ways being a violent man from way back, in the TV show called The Punisher, I think those two worlds are going to collide in some capacity. That’s about all I can tell you.

What you were saying about Pilgrim’s completist fundamentalism, how he has to go 100% for everything, it sounds like kind of a perfect compliment for Frank Castle, who has a mission to get things done and do it his way and not stop until he’s finished. Do you think there’s a common ground that they have?

STEWART: I think in this world, we live in a grey. There’s no clear-cut this is one thing, this is another. Even though Pilgrim is a fundamentalist and he’s all that way, he comes from a completely different world. There’s that constant battle inside of everybody. It’s like the Thin Red Line, right? The greatest war is the war of the mind. It’s a constant fight. You can take that with so many characters in this world. What they’re doing today and the reasons they’re doing it completely contradict what they’re doing tomorrow. But it doesn’t mean there’s a wrong thing. It doesn’t mean that it’s bad or it’s good. It’s just what needs to be done in their mind, in their beliefs, in their way. To me, living in the grey is the more interesting place to play. Especially for an actor in storytelling. If it’s just the good guy and you’re gonna’ put on an effing cape and do what you’re gonna’ do. Superman’s gotta’ do a certain thing, or whoever the hell’s gotta’ do a certain thing. But if it’s this grey area, then we can talk about it. We can discuss…

Given that John is a Christian Fundamentalist, does he have any particular kind of feelings about what vigilantes are doing within this world?

STEWART: I don’t know that he has a specific feeling about “This is right, this is wrong” about what they’re doing. Again, he goes back to what the word says. He goes back to what he believes he’s being instructed by God to do. So whatever that is, that’s what he’s going to do.

Image via Netflix

Does he have any feelings about empowered individuals in particular given his relationship to his beliefs?

STEWART: He believes there is only one empowered individual.

Are you training for a lot of fight scenes?

STEWART: I [train] regularly. I used to box, I was a fighter in college.

Is that one of the reasons you wanted to be involved in this show?

STEWART: I’ve known Jonny [Bernthal] for a long time. We’ve been dying to work together. It’s always lent itself to these types of shows and characters. I play a lot of these types of things. The more physical, or what have you. It’s just what your nature is I guess is where you end up. Some people back there behind a curtain somewhere decide where they’re gonna’ stick you. And that’s where they stick you.