In Netflix and Marvel’s “Daredevil,” viewers never question the idea that a blind lawyer can go toe to toe with mobsters, assassins and crimelords with nothing but his fists — partly due to star Charlie Cox’s charisma as Matt Murdock, and partly because his stunt double, Chris Brewster, makes superhuman feats look effortless. Variety talked to Brewster about how he makes some of Marvel’s mightiest heroes look super on the big and small screen.
How did you get started in stunt work?
I’ve been doing martial arts since I was four years old and I grew up wanting to be a Ninja Turtle or Jackie Chan. I competed for several years. I won 13 world titles and traveled around the world doing martial arts competitions and that brought me into the world of performance.
I was doing live shows with a martial arts team called Sideswipe, and we did everything from halftime shows at NBA games to corporate events, and we started getting a lot of commercial work. We’d get “America’s Got Talent” and stuff. So people started hiring us to do commercials and TV shows and we were hired as martial artists, but they would want us to do action. So, we started meeting all of these stunt coordinators and that’s really what brought me into the stunt world.
How did you transition into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
I had a great start in my career. I’m very lucky and blessed to have worked with incredible coordinators and I have a lot of good brothers in the stunt world that brought me up quickly. I feel like it was pretty much a fluke. In terms of the beginning of my stunt career, I was known as being more of a specialist, in that I do everything: I do car work, I do fire work, I do everything on the wires, every kind of stunt you can do. But most specifically, I get hired a lot because of my martial arts, my acrobatic background, and I just feel like that found its niche in the superhero world because every superhero flips and kicks and fights, so it just worked out that way.
You’ve now performed as a stunt double for two of Marvel’s biggest heroes — Captain America (in “The Winter Soldier”) and Daredevil. How do you approach embodying such different characters?
You’re looking at the two absolute opposite stunt styles and superhero styles out there. Captain America is not human. Captain America is faster than the fastest human. He is stronger than the strongest human. So when Captain America gets in a fight… in the first “Captain America” movie you saw him hold a motorcycle over his head and you saw him punch a heavy bag so hard that it broke and went flying across the room. So, you can’t put any realism into Captain America’s fight because he isn’t very human, he is a superhero.
But Daredevil doesn’t have super strength or a suit that’s going to protect him. He is human and he is the actual first street-level superhero out there. When he gets in a fight he’s in a lot more jeopardy. If Captain America gets punched in the face, it’s going to feel like an ant, it’s not really going to do any damage, but Daredevil can get beat up and you see that in the series. He takes a beating and gives a beating.
What goes into developing such contrasting fight styles — is that something that the stunt coordinator designs or something you bring to it?
The stunt coordinator and the fight coordinator will normally design a lot of the action, and then they use the stunt doubles as well to help choreograph and create the style. And luckily the comic book world is so in-depth that it’s already written for you.
In the comic books, you know that Captain America studied judo and he was a gymnast, so you kind of know what his background is. You know that Daredevil, growing up, his father was a boxer and his dad never wanted him to become a boxer, but he always idolized his father and he spent a lot of time training in his father’s gym. So you know he has a boxing background and you know that he is well-versed in many different styles.
So, bringing that to life is where the stunt coordinator and fight coordinator step in and on Daredevil we had Phil Silvera, who is literally one of the most amazing fight coordinators and stunt coordinators out there. He is very, very adamant about not doing cliché action. He wants the action to tell a story, and I feel like he really accomplished that in this.
The stunts in “Daredevil” are some of the most cinematic I’ve ever seen — definitely on a par with movie sequences.
I’ll be honest with you, I am more proud of what we did on “Daredevil” than on anything I’ve done in my entire stunt career. I’ve worked on some really, really wonderful projects in some of the coolest movies out there, but every single action sequence that we did in “Daredevil,” we made it count.
One of my favorite things about Phil Silvera is he would say, “yeah, they’re small fights, but the small fights are just important as the big fights. I don’t care if it’s one move or 120 moves, it has to count and it has to matter.” So everything was just very, very well-thought out and well-choreographed.
As you said, Matt takes a real beating over the course of the season. How did it feel to transition from something like Captain America’s near invulnerability to a character that gets bloodied and bruised, where you’re actually performing his weariness and the toll every battle takes on him?
I love it. I love the amount of stunt acting, physical acting, involved with every fight scene because it’s much easier to walk around like a typical superhero where all you have to worry about is doing your punches and kicks — because if something hits you, it’s not going to do anything. Whereas when Daredevil fights he’s getting punched one way and swung back another way. It’s a lot more visceral, it’s a lot more grounded — it’s dirty street fighting a lot more than just a choreographed dance.
One of the standout scenes from the first season was the one-take fight scene in the hallway at the end of episode two, which seemed like a massive undertaking. What was the filming process like for that?
It was a five minute-long scene and there are well over a hundred moves in this fight. And when they mentioned the potential of trying to do this in one take, I thought it was going to be the absolute coolest challenge ever. And watching it evolve was such an honor and such a great thing to be a part of, because in the beginning I thought it was impossible.
There have been a couple one-take fights in cinematic history that as a martial-artist-turned-stunt-man, I’ve studied over and over and over and I’ve researched them. In these movies they had months and months to prepare the scene, and when they brought us this idea and said, “okay, we want to do this in one take,” I was assuming we were going to have at least a couple weeks to prep it. And they go, “okay, we’re filming this literally in three days.” We had two days to prep and on the third day we filmed it.
So in three days it was conceptualized, choreographed, rehearsed, and then literally put together and filmed. And not only did every single movement by the stunt players and Charlie and myself matter, but there were so many variables and literally the entire crew came together… it was a beautiful dance, it really was. The camera guys were in perfect sync with our movements and it was unreal.
We did 12 takes of that fight just because there are so many things going on and at the end of almost every take, almost every take was awesome and we were like, “that’s good, but it’s not perfect. We don’t want good, we want something that’s going to go down in history.” So we just kept going for it and then when we finished that twelfth one we were like “that’s it, that’s perfect,” and we watched it over and over and over. Every hit was a perfect sell, we loved the movements of Charlie and myself with all of the stunt actors. It could not have worked out better, so on number 12 we were like, “okay, we’re good.”
When the series starts, Matt is only just beginning his vigilante career, so you get to see his fight style develop over the course of the season — how would you describe his evolution?
You get to watch Matt evolve into Daredevil. There are flashbacks that go back to literally the first time he put on a suit and was a vigilante. It all follows along with the story, and Charlie literally took the comic book story and made it come to life because in the early-on action scenes he’s fighting with his heart, and that’s it. He doesn’t have any amazing techniques. You know he’s been trained and you find out later on who his instructor is and who really did most of his training, but he’s not fighting as a technician. He’s not fighting like assassins or superheroes fight. He’s fighting with his heart. He is just trying to do good and take out the bad guys.
And I think that as time goes on he learns, he adapts. His fighting style is flawed in certain ways, so he then gets better. You learn throughout the story that his vigilante outfit might not be the best thing to be wearing in this situation and you actually see the thought process evolve, and he goes from wearing one thing to wearing another thing.
You also see his techniques go from very visceral and gritty to [how] he has to think faster on his feet and he fights a lot differently in a one-on-one that he can very easily control to when he is heavily outnumbered. He’s a very smart superhero and you literally see him approach each situation in the most technically sound, intelligent way.
Charlie had a lot of praise for your performance and the way you mirrored how he stood and moved — is that how you approach every role, just studying the actor you’re doubling for?
It’s so funny because Charlie gives me so much credit, but I have to throw the credit right back to him. Normally I try to put a lot of thought into “how do you make this character come to life? How would this character move?” But Charlie is so, so, so perfect. He was the absolute best casting choice they ever could’ve gotten.
I watched him literally morph into Daredevil in front of my eyes. I can’t even put it into words. I was watching him and seeing that he is Daredevil, so it was very easy. There was no thought involved. I saw the way he moved and I’m like “that’s right, that is exactly how Daredevil has to move.” So I saw the way Charlie holds himself, the way Charlie — even when he’s interacting in a friendly manner with somebody — positions himself, and then how he holds himself while he’s in more of a combat situation. It was a very cool experience because I have become the biggest Charlie Cox fan. He is incredible.
What was the most challenging scene to film, and what was your favorite?
It’s funny, because in a way that scene at the end of number two, that hallway fight, was one of the most challenging and one of my absolute favorite scenes. I will remember every second of that scene for the rest of my career. I absolutely love that one.
I do also have to say there was a fight in episode nine that was the most insane… basically the way it was written literally said “the mother of all fights,” so the challenge was making those words come to life. I feel like the first two episodes of the whole show started off on such a high note that every episode we tried to expand and to make it bigger and better, and by the time we got to episode nine, Daredevil was flipping through the air — the fights were so gritty.
We had this huge fight in episode seven and every step of the way we’re like, “oh my God, this is the biggest thing we’ve done, this is crazy,” and then we see the words, “mother of all fights,” so that one was huge. We spent about a week rehearsing it and putting it down on paper to see the angles, make sure everything works, and then we spent maybe nine days going through the entirety of that sequence. There were a lot of big things involved. But we were literally fighting and flipping and breaking things and slamming into things for almost a month straight for that one fight. So that was another challenge. Those definitely have to be the two most challenging scenes of the show.
“Daredevil” season one is currently streaming on Netflix.