"I just think there's a much wider definition of what the word means," the actor said at The Unforgivable premiere.
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Jon Bernthal
Credit: Photo by Araya Doheny/WireImage

Jon Bernthal may best be known to audiences for his tough-guy characters (literally, The Punisher), but in his latest role, he emanates warmth and an unexpected goofiness that makes it easy to see why fans have clamored to see him star in a rom-com.

At the L.A. premiere of Netflix's The Unforgivable, which he stars in alongside Sandra Bullock, Bernthal opened up about why he thinks it's important to openly discuss different definitions of masculinity.

"The issue is sort of being hijacked, that [masculinity is] about being loud, that it's about rhetoric, that it's about rigidity right now, and I just think there's a much wider definition of what the word means," he says. "Having both the ability and the instinct to protect your family, to stand up for yourself — that is vastly important, that's not the full spectrum in any way. I think kindness and empathy and thoughtfulness and sensitivity, those are also huge factions of what it means. I think we can all kind of take a step back and stop trying so hard and just be good human beings."

Jon Bernthal
Credit: Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

In October, a clip of a Hot Ones interview with Bernthal in which he discussed the importance of empathy went viral, opening up a conversation about how refreshing it is to see sensitive leading men in Hollywood. The actor attributes that response to the "polarizing" time in the country, wherein we're more in need of empathy than ever.

"Right now, unfortunately, I think we got a lot of the wrong people holding the mic," he tells InStyle. "People are coming at things from polar opposites, whereas I think, really, where we most live is much more in the middle. I think empathy comes from having an open mind, from rubbing elbows with people that think differently than you, act differently than you, believe in different things than you, and that shouldn't be viewed as a challenge to you, it should be viewed as one of the things that makes this country really, really beautiful, that we can sit down with people who think differently than we do."

Bernthal says the chance to work with Bullock was a major draw of the film, as was working with director Nora Fingscheidt, who he called an "unbelievable filmmaker."

"Sandy, she's just the best, she's a hero, she's super-kind," he said about Bullock.

The Unforgivable is currently playing in select theaters, and will be released on Netflix on Dec. 10.