Interview: Who is 'Daredevil' star Charlie Cox?
SINGAPORE – Before actor Charlie Cox took on the role of Daredevil, he was ironically blindsided – unaware of one major aspect of his character.
During auditions for the Daredevil series on Netflix, Charlie was rehearsing lines with his friend, who bluntly pointed out at the eleventh hour that Marvel's red-suited, crime-busting superhero was, well, blind.
"I was like, 'I'm pretty sure they would've told me if I was blind,'" the London-born actor recounted to Seth Meyers on The Late Night Show. "The first – anything – Daredevil that I was subjected to was the script. I didn't grow up on comics."
However, not for one moment did Charlie betray this initial unfamiliarity when I sat down and talked with him in Singapore, along with a few members of the Asian press. As easily as he had taken on the armor and mask of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, he quickly fielded questions, his answers revealing striking insights into his character's frame of mind.
It's a clear-cut sign of commitment to his craft, and having been a thespian by training, the 33-year-old has an impressive list of credits under his belt.
Charlie appeared in the Oscar-nominated The Theory of Everything (2014) alongside Eddie Redmayne. He was Tristan Thorn, the lead character of Stardust (2007), based on the Neil Gaiman novel. He acted the part of Owen Slater, henchman to Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) in the Martin Scorsese-produced series, Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014).
In Netflix's brave new world of binge-watching though, he keeps us at the edge of our seats as he owns every bit of his role as The Man Without Fear.
By day, he is defense lawyer Matt Murdock, partner "avocado-at-law" to Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). But after dark, he is an unstoppable vigilante and the self-proclaimed protector of Hell's Kitchen in New York City.
Clearly, Daredevil fits a classic mythos: the superhero who leads double lives. But it's the iconic character's nuances and internal conflicts that Charlie must navigate as the storyline progresses.
In the first season, mobsters and corrupt officials were the the ones calling the shots in the city, and Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, lorded over it all. When Daredevil burst into the scene, he undermined their power and brought them all to justice.
Although Matt later found romance with their legal assistant (and later investigative journalist) Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), the second season presented new challenges and upheavals for him. He encountered two key figures – well-known in the comic book canon – that challenged his grasp on his treasured principles and moral code.
There was the ruthless, massacring vigilante Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal), and then Matt's erstwhile lover, the twin sai-wielding, bloodlust-filled Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung).
Nowadays, Netflix is gearing up with more exciting Marvel titles down the pipeline, including Jessica Jones (now showing), Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and The Defenders, the ensemble series where Daredevil, along with these titular heroes, are expected to team up.
In our roundtable interview with Charlie, we took a look back at the dark, gritty, and unapologetically gruesome spectacle that was the first two seasons. We discussed how he played Daredevil and the future of his character – plus brought up a make-believe crossover with House of Cards.
Here's how our conversation with him went:
Did you have any martial arts experience prior to Daredevil?
How was the entire training process?
You know, it was kind of easier than it probably looks because I have a very amazing stunt double, and he was able to do a lot of the heavy-lifting early on. And as the first season kind of developed, then I got better at it and practiced more and did more of the scenes. You know, I was able to do kind of… more of all the sequences and I was better at it.
The second season was particularly fun because I was very heavily involved with all of the action sequences. And I was, just last year, not as much as I was this year.
What I can do is I can do the hand-to-hand combat stuff and the kicking and the punching. I can learn the choreography quite well, but obviously there is a lot of the Daredevil signature moves – you know – the big kick flips and stuff that's not me. [laughs]
In an interview with Variety back in March, you mentioned that you consider the show as one particular take on Daredevil, and not just the graphic novel version. So, in your mind, what would you think is the main difference – if any – between Netflix's interpretation of Daredevil and the comic books?
Well, what I meant by that is if you read the comics – if you read them all from 1964 – if you've read every single Daredevil comic, what you discover is that they changed immensely based on the era, the writer, the illustrator, even the editors.
The tones change. The characters change. The way they look change. The way Matt looks changes, and also his voice. I know, obviously, it's a book, but his voice, meaning, the way he talks – the way he's written changes.
And so, it's evident to me early on that there's no way that you can be all of those Matt Murdocks, 'cause they're different. You have to choose.
I have to find the Matt Murdock that is appropriate for this show on Netflix and the Matt Murdock that I believe was written by Drew Goddard in his first few scripts.
So there are issues, there are different runs of comics that I think best represent our show. I think that it was important to be specific rather than try and please everyone 'cause I think that's the danger.
You have to remember that it's me – I've been cast. So, I have to be within the realms of possibility for me. [laughs]
In terms of Matt's character, we see that at the end of season 2, there were so many questions left unanswered in terms of his development, as he struggles to juggle both his lives as Matt the person and Daredevil. Will there be more of that?
Well, I don't know 'cause I don't know what the future holds in terms of whether we do a third season or not. I mean, obviously, the next thing that happens is The Defenders, and I must say this, but I have no idea what the storyline will be for The Defenders. I guess they're writing it, or they're beginning to write it right about now. So, I don't know what those – what the story will be.
But, obviously, The Defenders means that in some way, Matt Murdock will be teaming up with other characters. And so, one of the lessons that he's had to learn in season 2 is he's had to learn to fight alongside someone else, which was something he was unwilling to do in the first season. He's adamant that he's gonna do this by himself. He doesn't wanna endanger or bring anyone else to the mix.
In season 2, he allows Elektra to help him, and he needs her. There is no way he would be able to do – they'll be able to do what they do – that nobody will be able to take on me, Matt, and ninjas that they take on in season 2, if it wasn't for her. I mean she helps him and trains him.
And so, going forward, he's able to go further with feeling comfortable with working alongside other people. And I think that's an emotional journey, as well as – you know – a practical one.
Whose way of handling crime do you prefer?
For me, obviously, I side with Daredevil's philosophy because I play him [laughs]. So I kind of have to get into his way of thinking a little bit more.
But I do think if I'm able to kind of, like, remove myself from my personal attachment to the character. I think that I can understand what Matt is trying to do and I can understand him trying to hold on to the idea that what he's doing is lawful – or not lawful, but at least is valid and understandable.
Whereas with The Punisher, it's not – for me, that's criminal. For me, I don't think that's ultimately something that realistically benefits society. I think criminals need to be dealt with in a lawful manner.
And what Matt tries to do, he does two things. One: he makes these criminals easy for the law enforcement to catch and prosecute and bring to justice – you know – using the justice system.
And he also acts as a kind of a disincentive to engage in crime. Because if you're a petty thief or criminal, and you [have] a new guy in Hell's Kitchen, there's a good chance you're gonna get a red glove in the face some time soon, you know what I mean? And that hopefully disincentivizes people from engaging in criminal activity.
Rappler: How do you think is Matt or Daredevil threatened by The Punisher or Elektra's challenge to his power or position as the protector of Hell's Kitchen?
A really good question. I think that the biggest challenge for Matt in season 2 is the emotional journey that he has to go on, and the coming to terms with the idea that The Punisher is not too dissimilar from himself, and that is immensely scary to Matt.
Initially, when The Punisher shows up – when Frank Castle shows up – Matt views him in the same way that he viewed Wilson Fisk. He's a bad guy, and he needs to be brought to justice.
And then, of course, Karen Page suggests that he's actually not a bad guy. He's kind of a force for good, but he kills people. And she is the one that kind of presents to Matt the idea that him and Daredevil are quite similar, which is terrifying to Matt because if that's true, then he is, in some ways, responsible for all of the massacres that The Punisher has brought to Hell's Kitchen.
Scarier still is in the back of Matt's mind – I think – he thinks that if that's true, if he is responsible, then he has to give up Daredevil. I don't know that Matt is ready to do that. I don't think he wants to, and I don't think he's capable of it yet.
He's fallen in love. He's addicted, and he needs Daredevil. In the way that he says that the city needs him, he needs Daredevil, you know.
Elektra is, you know, the kind of person that she represents, the way that she operates – the way she lives her life is challenging for Matt because he's very attracted to her, and she accepts him in a way that no one else accepts him.
She's the only person in his life that truly loves Daredevil, who knows about Daredevil, and loves him, respects him and wants to engage fully in being touch with his dark side. So, that feeling is incredibly empowering for him, and it's incredibly tempting.
To who do you think you're more compatible with?
[laughs] I knew that question was coming.
I think that what's interesting about the relationship, the dynamic between Matt, and Karen and Elektra in season 2 is that they both bring out – Karen and Elektra both bring out a side of Matt that is authentic, but neither of them get the full package.
With Karen, he's Matt Murdock. He's the kind of man he's always wanted to be. She brings out of him a kindness and a generosity and a belief in law and order, and right and wrong. She taps into something that is the kind of person he's always seen himself – the kind of person his father wanted him to be. But Karen doesn't know about Daredevil, and that's undeniably a huge part of his life.
With Elektra, it's the opposite. She knows all about Daredevil. She accepts that, and encourages him in a way that no one else does. But she also sees a dark side, or she tries to draw out of him a disregard for law and order, a disregard for people and property, and those things which isn't who he is.
And that's always made him feel uncomfortable like she thinks that he's something that he's not. And so, he's torn, he's drawn between these two women.
Having said all of that, my great hope for Matt is that he has a better chance, a complete chance of real love, real vulnerability with Karen. I don't think he has that with Elektra.
Hence, the cliffhanger at the end of season 2?
There was lots of discussion about that because what was important to me – what I said to the writers about that time, is somehow, Elektra drew him back in. Somehow, he was able to go to a vulnerable place with her, and he opened the floodgates of the past with her. And that affected him deeply.
In doing so, he betrayed Karen a little bit. And what was important to me was that, at the end of the season, he doesn't choose Karen because he's lost Elektra.
And the moment at the end of season 2, the sense of that scene should be that Matt – it's effectively Matt saying, "I don't know how to explain to you what happened. I don't know how you and I would recover from this. I don't know if we have a future."
"But what I do know, is that the only chance we have is if you know the whole truth – if you know everything, if there are no more secrets. And this is my secret. This is who I am."
And so that's what that moment is, and you know, if they are to rebuild a relationship, that's gonna take time, and similarly, he needs to rebuild with Foggy.
What's your favorite thing about playing Daredevil?
I think my favorite thing about this character is what the writers have done with him, which is they've made him someone who hopefully – we've made – we've found in a superhero who's relatable.
We meet someone who is – of course – he's a superhero, and of course, he's a force for good. He's incredibly brave, and incredibly generous of spirit, and kind, and is trying to help the city. He's trying to help people. He's selfless in that way.
But, at the same time, we also meet someone who suffers from very human character flaws. He's very stubborn. He's got a temper. He takes things too far sometimes. He's deeply arrogant at times, and he believes he has a childlike belief of his invincibility.
And at times – hopefully as an audience – at times, you look at Matt, and think to yourself, "Dude, what are you doing!? Like, be more sensible" or "Take it easy." Hopefully, you relate to him, but you relate to him because he kind of make the same mistakes that we make. And for a superhero, that's very exciting to me. That's fun.
Do you identify with any of those?
Oh yeah, massive. The stubbornness – his ego gets involved. In the beginning of season 2, before Frank Castle shows up, there's a swagger about him. He's believing the hype. He's kind of a celebrity. I mean, he's not – Daredevil is.
But you know, the way he moves, he sees it in his bones. He's starting to feel like, "Yeah, I'm a rock star!"
So you relate to that?
[laughs] No, but I relate to the idea of your ego attaching to your triumphs.
And then The Punisher turned up…
It's humbling – a massive, humbling experience. The Punisher, Elektra, what happens with Karen, the hole, the Yakuza, the Hand. It's just a quick humbling, and we begin to see a man unravel.
I think we saw it in the first fight with The Punisher in the rooftops, where we thought that Daredevil would get the better of The Punisher, and instead, The Punisher points a gun to his head.
As he says in episode 2, that's his own arrogance. Like, Matt is a better fighter. Hand-to-hand combat, Daredevil and Punisher is no combat – that's no challenge for him. But he gets complacent. And he allows himself to get shot in the head. Not good.
Rappler: Matt Murdock is a New Yorker at heart, but what if Daredevil came to Washington DC and Frank Underwood [from Netflix original series House of Cards] was president? As Daredevil, how would you put a stop to this politician's machinations and clandestine activities?
That's good. How would Daredevil deal with Frank Underwood?
I can see Matt Murdock running for mayor of New York, but I'm not sure I can see him running for president. But yeah, that's a good question.
Frank Underwood, in many ways, is very similar to Wilson Fisk because it's all a behind-the-scenes criminality – a very under-the-surface discomfort and feeling of not-always-quite-what-it-appears-to-be, and that's very hard for Matt because he just can't just punch that guy in the face.
What's great about Vincent D'Onofrio – Wilson Fisk – is that he was beloved. People believed that he was doing great things for the city in the same way Frank Underwood has that – he has a fan base. He has people who believe the facade, and that's tough to deal with, you know?
I think with Frank Underwood – it would have to be more Matt Murdock than Daredevil. You have to go through the official route, and expose him from a legal point of view. I don't know how successful he would be, but I guess that would be the answer. I don't see him breaking into the White House.
All 13 episodes of Marvel's Daredevil season 2 are now out on Netflix. Watch out for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders! – Rappler.com
Banner photo courtesy of Netflix