Thomas Jane was originally attached for the lead role, but he turned it down, stating that he thought the script was going in the wrong direction. He felt it was too "comic book," whereas he wanted a more gritty, realistic approach.
Sons of Anarchy (2008) creator Kurt Sutter wrote an R-rated draft that, according to him, took "the Punisher character out of the comic books" and put him into a real-world drama set in the streets of New York. At the very last minute, however, the studio decided to revert to Nick Santora's comic-book-style script with the intention of creating a sequel from that. Disgusted with the actions by the studio, Sutter refused a story credit and demanded that his name be omitted from the final credits.
Originally, this film was going to be a direct sequel to The Punisher (2004), with Thomas Jane returning in the role of Frank Castle. It was to be set five years after the 2004 film and would see Frank Castle arrive in New York and taking on Jigsaw, who is plotting to take control of the criminal underworld. However, when Jane declined, the film was rebooted and the script was rewritten and Ray Stevenson was cast as Frank Castle. However, Jane did reprise the role in the 2012 short film The Punisher: Dirty Laundry (2012).
According to Director Lexi Alexander during a recording of the "How Did This Get Made" podcast, the studio brought in Freddie Prinze Jr. to audition for the role of Jigsaw. She was surprisingly impressed by his audition, however was denied the right of casting him by Lionsgate.
After this film, the live action film rights to the Punisher went back to Marvel Studios. Ray Stevenson would later appear in another Marvel production, produced by Marvel Studios this time, as Volstagg in the Thor film series.
Lexi Alexander initially passed on directing the film but later changed her mind after reading some of the Punisher comics and getting an assurance from Lionsgate that she could make the film as brutal as she liked, and that she could cast another actor as Frank Castle.
According to director Lexi Alexander, the day she was due to meet with Marvel executives to discuss the movie was the day after the Virginia Tech massacre. The news report she watched featured footage of the shooter's room, in which a Punisher poster was prominently displayed. She asked to reschedule the meeting and decided to exaggerate the violence in the film so that viewers could not attempt to recreate scenes.
After creating a soundtrack for the film with a composer, Lexi Alexander was upset by Lionsgate's decision to not only fire her composer, but to make a significantly darker orchestral soundtrack to the film. It was cited that the studios decision for this was to make the film appear more like The Dark Knight (2008) which was released the same year.
The character of NYPD Detective Marty Soap comes from the series "Welcome Back, Frank", the series that brought The Punisher back (after a long hiatus) by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti. "Welcome Back" also featured the characters of The Punisher's apartment neighbors Joan, Spacker Dave, and Mister Bumpo, as well as the over-sized villain, The Russian. All of those characters appeared in the 2004 film.
Doug Hutchison initially passed on the project because he didn't respond to the script nor the role of Looney Bin Jim. Director Lexi Alexander called him to pitch the movie and her vision and, by the end of their phone conversation, Hutchison had already changed his mind and accepted the role.
Director Lexi Alexander said that she was against using the Skull emblem on Ray Stevenson's costume. However, fans wanted it to be more prominent than it was in the 2004 film. She described this design as "pre-schoolish" in an interview and eventually compromised with a degraded and worn skull image (similar to the 2004 movie).
(at around 49 mins) Director Lexi Alexander cited that the scene where Maginty and the Urban Free Flow gang are blown up by The Punisher was inspired by a conversation she had with a friend who mentioned that he had become upset by the overuse of parkour routines in action films.
(at around 35 mins) In one scene, Doug Hutchison is seen eating the kidneys of a hospital orderly. This is not dissimilar to one of Hutchison's signature parts, that of Eugene Victor Tooms, the liver-eating mutant in several episodes of the first season of The X-Files (1993).
After the release of The Punisher (2004), a sequel went into development. Both Thomas Jane (The Punisher (2004)) and the director of the 2004 version, Jonathan Hensleigh, had been interested in doing it. The sequel had been in the writing stages for three years. By that time, both of them left the project, Jane stated, "What I won't do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don't believe in." After they left, Lionsgate brought in director Lexi Alexander and actor Ray Stevenson and decided to reboot the movie from the 2004 version.
Dominic West would spend two hours in the make-up chair, having his Jigsaw prosthetics applied, with another hour at the end of the day having them removed. This was the first time West had worked with prosthetics, and - he swears - is the last.
(at around 1h 15 mins) The scene where Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim are recruiting the separate gangs in New York was inspired by a US military recruitment seminar that director Lexi Alexander viewed. She included it in the film as a satire of just how ridiculous these recruiters were.
(at around 46 mins) When the Punisher is speaking with Micro about retiring, Frank Castle is wearing an aviator commando wool sweater, which is his prominent wardrobe choice in the comic series 'Thunderbolts' and 'Punisher vs. The Thunderbolts'.
Ray Stevenson had appeared in an episode of the long-running British police drama series The Bill (1984) (TV Series) which he played police Sgt. Gartland in the long-running The Bill: Over the Edge (2000). Frank Castle (Stevenson) was a NYC policeman before he was The Punisher.
Like The Joker, the main antagonist in Batman (1989): Billy, a psychotic gangster gets left disfigured by Castle when falling into a glass crusher machine and becomes "Jigsaw" when his plastic surgeon unsuccessfully performs plastic surgery on him and takes over the mob when Gaitano Cesare is killed by Castle.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
(at around 1h 30 mins) According to Wayne Knight (Micro), when he gets shot in the head he was asked to keep his eyes open. He agreed, but when the scene was filmed he couldn't keep his eyes open each time he gets shot.