At the end of Season 1, Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle did some serious damage to the face of Ben Barnes’ Billy Russo. Doing battle on a carousel, the titular anti-hero made creative use of some mirrors, and seriously sliced the man responsible for the death of his family. As seen in Season 2, Russo survived the incident with numerous scars, but if you’re curious why the makeup team didn’t make the damage more intense, there is a good reason, as I recently learned from the actor:
In terms of the facial scarring, I wanted more. I wanted them to pull my eye down and push the lip up, and have it be a little bit more disconcerting. But honestly, they persuaded me to have it where it was by explaining to me. Veterans who come back who’ve lost a limb are treated a certain way; veterans who haven’t, you think they’re okay, but they’re really not.
Billy Russo a.k.a. Jigsaw is a character recognized in the pages of Marvel Comics for having large, disfiguring facial scars, and after recently watching I was left wondering about the show’s decision to tone down that element of the character. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Barnes and Amber Rose Revah earlier this week, and I used part of my time during the interview to discuss Jigsaw’s look. Barnes admitted that at first he personally wanted the makeup to go further, but eventually understood why it was a situation where less would be more.
Those who watched the first season of know that Billy Russo isn’t quite right in the head, and it was eventually understood that the facial scars needed to strike a balance with that inner turmoil. Basically, as bad as he may look on the outside, psychologically things are a lot worse — and that was something that Ben Barnes connected with the experience of wounded veterans returning home from war. He continued,
People could walk down the street and see Billy Russo with this mangled face and be like, ‘Oh my God, are you okay?’ And those are the main sets of reactions, right? But actually, if you can’t really see… Like if I look in the mirror and see a horror show, that’s more interesting than what you see on my face.
Deciding how much scarring Billy walked away with was very much influenced by the narrative direction in which wanted to take him in Season 2, but also playing a role were avenues taken by previous adaptations of the character. Played by Dominic West, Jigsaw is the central villain in Lexi Alexander’s , and not only does he have much more extreme makeup, but he is also totally different than the version of Billy Russo played by Ben Barnes. This in mind, there was some freedom to try and do something different, as Barnes explained,
It was a combination of all those things, and just wanting to reinterpret the character a bit. You can go and watch the Dominic West version, which is super comic book-y, and graphic, and over the top, and it’s super cool for what it is. But it’s already been made. In an age where there are dozens of TV shows every week, I feel the responsibility more to make something fresh and interesting and challenging than to stick to something that people already love.
As was also discussed, however, Billy Russo’s scars aren’t the only new feature to adorn his face in the second year of the show. When the new season starts, Billy is confined to a hospital room under constant surveillance — his memory fractured and needing to be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle — and part of his therapy is that he wears a self-painted mask. Barnes told me that he didn’t actually do the designs himself, but did get to choose from multiple presented options, and had specific reasons for the one he picked:
The mask they had some predesigns for. They opened a case, and it was like six of them, and they said, ‘Which do you think?’ And I said, ‘I really think it’s this one, it’s the scariest.’ But it also has this element of patriotism on the edge of it. There’s some red, white and blue on the edge of it, which is something that was in this National Geographic article. That felt a bit more honest to me, but it was also actually about, it looked like a skull. So I was like, ‘Well, that’s what’s haunting his dreams, so that’s what he’s thinking about.’
The Punisher is internationally recognized for the giant white skull on his chest, and while Billy can’t remember who attacked him at the end of Season 1 when we rejoin him in Season 2, what he does remember (and seriously fears) is a giant white skill. He has regular nightmares featuring the image, and so Ben Barnes thought it would be appropriate that the mask externalize the character’ internal horrors.
Going further, though, Barnes also noted that the skull-like mask deepens the connection between Billy Russo and Frank Castle, who he describes as “two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways.” Not only do they match a bit in their aesthetics, but with his memories missing Billy also has a completely different vision of himself in his head — a vision not unlike how Frank felt in Season 1. Said Barnes,
Billy thinks he’s a hero. They’ve switched places. Someone has done him wrong, he wakes up, he’s confused, he doesn’t know what’s happened. That sounds like Frank’s story in Season 1 a little bit to me. But he’s emotionally completely unstable in a way that Frank has everything buried, so they’re different in that way.
These are all ingredients that combine to create arguably the best arc in Season 2 — and audiences will be able to experience it for themselves very soon. New episodes of the Marvel Studios/Netflix show will be available to stream on Friday, January 18th starting at midnight PST.