Daredevil has been a massive global success for Marvel and Netflix. The 13 episodes of season one debuted on the streaming service on April 10th and since then, fans have binge-watched the entire series. Daredevil brings a dark, compelling vision to the Marvel Comics hero. Critics are already calling this the best superhero series of recent times.
EF’s Jason caught up with the star of the show Charlie Cox during a roundtable press tour to discuss all things Daredevil. Charlie chats about his preparation for the role, his hopes for season two and beyond, the intricacies of portraying a blind person and what drives Matt Murdock’s character. He even gives us his opinion on Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Daredevil!
*WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Were you familiar with the comic books before you got the role?
Not at all, no. I’d never read a Daredevil comic before I auditioned – I didn’t even know he was blind! They neglected to mention that in the email! So I probably sabotaged my audition my missing a major point!
How was it portraying a blind person?
There are many different aspects of his blindness – there’s the maintaining of the illusion that he operates as a regular person, when he’s out with people that perhaps don’t know about the other side of his life. And then there’s the deadness of the eyes which is very important. It’s tricky because when Matt Murdock is operating as Daredevil, in his apartment by himself or is with people who know about him, he would never use his eyes to find anything or pick anything up or to put on a costume. And that’s where it became very tricky because I, of course, need to do that! I had to make sure that I knew exactly where everything was and had a sense of it. Matt would never fumble to find anything.
Did you work with the blind to prepare you for the role?
Yeah I worked extensively with a guy named Joe Strechay, who’s been legally blind for twenty years, and I spent a great deal of time working with him – reading Braille, watching him do household chores etc and making sure, more than anything, that I had a real consistency around how, in each scene, Matt would move and stuff. For example, when he first moves into a new environment like the office space, for the first few days he would use his cane to figure it out. But after that he would never use his cane because he knows the space. Those things you don’t necessarily know about until you talk to someone about them.
How difficult was it to convey emotion to the other actors without being able to look them in the eye?
Really hard, yeah. I didn’t anticipate that. I was so caught up with making sure that all of the aspects of the blindness were authentic and appropriate. And because I was working with the consultant Joe so closely, it became very important for me to get that right. There was a moment at comic-con where a young boy stood up and asked a question and talked about how important Daredevil is to people who have grown up with a disability. It was a very humbling moment actually – I knew there was a huge fan-base but I hadn’t thought about this idea that he’s a character that has grown up with a physical disability, therefore is particularly helpful and popular to people who have grown up with similar adversities.
As an actor I think you can only reach a place of true, authentic emotion when it’s drawn out of someone else. Acting can only really survive when it’s given, rather than received if that makes sense. It’s kind of an abstract concept, I’m not sure if I’m explaining it very well, but in the past when I’ve done films and television shows, great emotion is sometimes required. If you think about in your personal life, sometimes you can be fine, even though something bad has happened or you’re quite upset about something – and you’re fine until someone looks at you with pity. And then you break down. Similarly as an actor, you feed off the other actor. So it’s tricky for me. It’s tricky for them too because I’m never being able to engage with them from that place. But you find other ways – hopefully!
Were you familiar with the Daredevil film?
I remembered it but I didn’t know it was a Marvel film. I didn’t even know that much! I watched it once I’d been cast.
What did you think of it?
Haha, big question! The honest truth is, if you watch it… Ben Affleck does a wonderful job as Matt Murdock. I think he’s a great Matt Murdock and he physically represents the role much better than I could ever. He’s got that American jaw-line that’s spectacular! But the film suffers tonally a bit – as brilliant as Colin Farrell is, he’s not quite in the same movie tonally. It’s a valid interpretation but I do think, having read so many of the comics now and become familiar with the different artists and illustrators over the years, that our show is a better representation of what the comics are. And the most beloved series appeal to a slightly more sinister, sophisticated tone and theme. But that’s just my opinion!
A lot has been made about the fight scenes, especially in episode 2. How was that to film?
I really enjoyed it and one of the things I’m really impressed with was this intent to keep it really grounded in reality. So you really feel the heavy breathing. Just two guys trying to kill each other, who need a minute… needing a second to muster up enough energy and stuff. I find that thrilling. It’s much more thrilling to watch than people think it’s going to be. I think people think there needs to be constant, constant action and constant moves etc. But actually let them breathe – this is something that I discovered and witnessed. It wasn’t my idea but the stunt coordinators to really involve that.
It was also nice to see and include the idea that Matt Murdock gets better as the season progresses – because he’s not really used to going out every night and fighting and engaging in vigilante justice. So earlier on, he takes a real beating. There are lots of elements to a fight scene when there are just two guys – a bit like a wrestling match – holding onto each other, trying to get a punch in, rather than every move being spectacular.
Do you find that Netflix affords you more licence to do that more creatively and realistically?
Certainly more than network TV… there are censorship rules that Netflix doesn’t have to abide by. That’s really helpful and why, on the Netflix platform, it suits the source material, because the comics are quite gory and gritty and have mature themes. Another thing is, if you make a Marvel superhero movie, it would be poor business to make something that excludes, due to certification, the children or under 14s. 14 year olds don’t have Netflix subscriptions themselves, the family/parents do. And that’s not going to have a major impact on the revenue and that’s very helpful to us.
Which Daredevil comics did you read in preparation for the role?
The first piece of Daredevil material I was subjected to was the first two scripts. So once I auditioned and they were interested in me, they allowed me to go into a room at Disney and read the first two scripts. I walked out of there, and having been interested in the idea but having not grown up on comics, I was blown away. Spectacular – especially script 2, both written by Drew Goddard. I remember walking out of there thinking, ‘this is really different and interesting’. I wrote an email to my agents saying I’ll play any part in this show – but I want to play Matt Murdock!
I then went away and immersed myself in the comics and I was able to identify which comics best suited the show that they were trying to make. So I didn’t have any pre-conceived ideas as it were, on who Matt Murdock was or what the show is. It was an open canvas. And Marvel gave me an unlimited account! One of the great perks! I’m keen to find out, whenever I’m not doing Daredevil (whether it be in ten years or tomorrow), how quickly that unlimited account expires!
I spent a lot of time with the Bendis/Maleev stories – I really think they explore some wonderful themes and they’re very film noir in their presentation. The panels are so engaging and well thought-out. I’ve never had a problem with Daredevil, he’s quite consistent. But Matt Murdock seems to change quite a lot. Earlier ones are more American hero and earnest which wasn’t the show we were making. And they didn’t cast me for that because I’m just not the obvious choice. So I found the Matt Murdock that’s more morally ambiguous, confused and conflicted in terms of his career as a lawyer and his Catholicism.
One thing that the show does very well is show the downsides to being a superhero. Are there any downsides to playing a superhero?
The downside is playing a superhero that takes a beating! Let’s say you are in a stage or film-fight – when you win, you’re throwing a lot of punches so your arms might hurt a bit but you’re not getting hit a lot. When you’re taking a beating, every time you get hit you are throwing your neck back, spitting blood and throwing yourself on the floor! And you have to do every take in different sides, speeds and angles. There’s a big fight scene at the end of episode 9 which I did a lot of. And I felt so beaten up after that! Beaten up having not taken one single hit!
Now that Daredevil – Season 2 has been announced, can we expect more of the same or will it be more character-driven?
You know, I have no idea. Marvel are, (and so they should be), very protective of their characters. They’ve also been very generous and trusting when they handed him over to me by making him my own. I tried to be as respectful as possible. They don’t feel the need (and nor should they) to ask my opinion on how a second season might go, or storylines or characters that might appear. Maybe they will. I’m happy for them to take control of it.
In the movie universe, I think they’ve nailed it. There was a period of time when people thought that Marvel shouldn’t make their own movies but the films they’ve made in-house at Marvel Studios have been the best superhero movies out there. I have to include the Christopher Nolan Batman’s in that because I do think they are pretty amazing too. So I’ve no idea which way they’ll go. I know we have two new show-runners who were writers on the previous season, who I know very well. And that’s probably because Steven DeKnight is probably busy and has been booked up for a long time.
I hope they maintain the notion of a superhero that might not make it. It’s very hard to do when you’re the lead character of a show because part of you knows he’s going to make it. But I do find it tricky when I watch shows and TV/movies… Superman for instance, if you can punch through a building and nothing ever hurts what can you do and how can you really, kind of, get to someone. I liked that Matt Murdock took a beating in episode 9 and Netflix and Marvel are smart enough to say, ‘ok he needs an episode to recover’. So the whole next episode is on the couch.
Daredevil takes place within the larger cinematic universe, with references to the battle of New York (Avengers). Going forward, can you see yourself transitioning into the films?
I’d like to think that’s the case! It would be so cool to pop up in Civil War or the new Avengers or something! I think Civil War is already underway so I don’t think that will happen but I would love for that to be the case. I think the primary concern right now is gearing up to The Defenders. And I’m thrilled that we’ve been given a chance to do a second season before that is made. Because the first season primarily deals with the transition of Matt Murdock to Daredevil and they’ve been really brave in taking their time and not rushing it. They really explored the origin story and the acquisition of the suit – I love that we meet Karen Page in episode one and anyone who’s read a Daredevil comic will know that she’s Matt Murdock’s great love. And by the final episode of season one that’s barely been explored at all, other than just being nodded to. So I like that we’ve got a second series to really find Matt Murdock/Daredevil and really get to know that persona and who that is, and how he can accept that part of himself before we get to The Defenders.
Can you discuss the duality between Wilson Fisk and Daredevil?
In the writing, I thought it was so brilliant that Wilson Fisk and Daredevil keep saying that their goal is the same thing, which is to clean up the city. That’s something that Steve DeKnight discussed a lot about – that there should be this moral ambiguity about those characters. If you weren’t a Daredevil fan and you switched on Netflix and watched a random episode, you might not know who’s the good guy and the bad guy. Steve DeKnight used to say that our Matt Murdock is one bad day away from being The Punisher! So I think that’s really smart, more human and more real. I think we relate more to that.
Again, I don’t want to pick on Superman but… and I really did like that film, I have to say… I thought Henry Cavill did a wonderful job – I know that’s DC so I’m not supposed to say that! But the other problem I have with Superman is that he’s so earnest – so earnest – and I think that sometimes distances us a little bit because I don’t think many people operate in that way. I know in my life I’m constantly trying to do the right thing and failing. And we see with Matt Murdock, he knows in him he has the ability to work towards the greater good, but he’s fallible – he’s human. He goes too far and he hasn’t found that line yet. He hasn’t figured it out and he recognises and realises that when he puts on that mask all bets are off. I think the one thing he promises himself he’ll never do is kill someone. But he also makes a promise early on that he’ll never involve anyone else and very quickly, that doesn’t work in his favour.
Were you surprised that the character kept the Catholicism element – religion seems to be something people shy away from these days?
No, one of the first series I read was Joe Quesada’s ‘Guardian Devil’ – that opens in the same way our show opens with Matt Murdock in a confessional. I wasn’t surprised – maybe I’m biased because it became a large part of how we made our show but I think it would have been a shame to have excluded it. It’s such a great inner conflict. You get to play a character that, one the one hand, is a lawyer but at the same time is taking the law into his own hands. And he’s a Catholic and believes in God and presumably, therefore, God’s will and divine order. And at the same time he’s playing God. And the great thing about our show – thanks to the writing – is you witness that and then get to go home with Matt and sit with those feelings and explain what it’s doing to him… tearing him up inside. The not knowing, the battling with that, whether it’s right or wrong? Should he engage with this vigilante justice because he’s capable of it? Is that God’s will or is that a test because he’s not God?
Was their room for improvisation?
Yeah, Marvel were so generous with their time and their trusting of me with their character. There were a few moments – they seem small when I repeat them – but they meant so much to us and me. For example, in episode four, I’m in Claire’s apartment. The scene ends and I walk out. The scene is described as ‘he opens the window and steps out’, and that’s a cut. I noticed that there was a fake balcony (on set) and it wasn’t fixed properly. And I went up to the creators and said can we keep running and I’ll just drop out of frame at the end – there’s a matt there and I’ll just drop out. It’s not like in Spider-Man where you get to see the swing – we don’t have that budget or those capabilities – but maybe if you leave it to the imagination it’s still quite thrilling. So they put everything on hold and spent 45mins fixing this balcony just because I had suggested it, so they attached it properly. And then someone showed me that clip a few months later and I thought it’s such a lovely little nugget – he just walks out and disappears into nothing, you just don’t know. So, very much so!
Marvel’s Daredevil is available to watch now on Netflix.