“Marvel’s Daredevil” premieres on Netflix with all 13 episodes of its freshman season on April 10, starring British actor Charlie Cox as the titular vigilante, known in the comics as “The Man Without Fear.”
While many viewers may remember the critically-derided 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck (a film that was made before Marvel Studios began adapting their own comic properties for the big screen), Netflix’s version represents a return to the character’s comicbook roots — following a troubled but principled hero, lawyer Matt Murdock, as he attempts to punish criminals through the legal system by day, but metes out his own brand of justice as Daredevil by night. Blinded by a chemical spill as a child, Matt’s other senses are heightened beyond a human’s normal capacity, allowing him to clean up the streets of Hell’s Kitchen despite his lack of sight.
Variety spoke to Cox about the process of taking on the iconic and much-beloved character (who first appeared in print in 1964), how the series might tie in to Netflix’s other upcoming Marvel series — “Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones,” “Marvel’s Iron Fist,” and “Marvel’s Luke Cage” — and Matt’s relationships with the other memorable characters who populate his world.
“Daredevil” is the vanguard for Marvel and Netflix’s partnership, with three more shows and a team-up miniseries set to follow it — how are you feeling?
Cox: Currently, I’m feeling quite good, because the last few days people seem to have really responded well to the show and that’s always very, very exciting. Up until a couple of days ago, I was very nervous. It’s obviously a huge responsibility, and you discover when you get a role like this, very quickly it’s made clear to you how important these characters are to so many people, how influential they are and how many people have grown up with them in their lives. So to give the job to some random English guy who didn’t grow up on comics is probably not ideal for many of the fans. But I’m pretty optimistic at this point that the majority of people are going to really enjoy it.
How did the producers first explain the concept of “Daredevil” and how it might tie into the other shows and “The Defenders” miniseries?
Obviously they talked to me at great length about Daredevil and the show, and what they wanted to do internally and stylistically, and what they were hoping to achieve. I think often you hear things about a show, and you’re told one thing and when you get on set it doesn’t end up being that way. You’re often disappointed with the execution, and this was the opposite of that. They described a show to me and then they really, really were true to that vision and I was so impressed with their resolve in that area — because it is a bold move for Marvel to do something like this and to make a superhero but to alienate a younger audience, because it’s so sinister and gory at times.
But in terms of the other shows, I really have no idea. If you read the comics of The Defenders, none of these four characters exist as part of that. The Defenders are a different group of characters. So our Defenders, I don’t know what that will be. I will be interested to see the other three shows and see what those guys are doing and get a sense of how we will all come together and form this unit, and I guess a lot will also depend on who they get to showrun that series.
Were you daunted by the idea of these interconnected storylines and tying into a wider universe, or was that part of the draw?
I don’t really remember thinking too much about how [it would all tie together]. I never really understood, because there’s been a lot of discussion on the internet as well about what this collaboration is. I don’t think I really understood it either. It’s hard to form an opinion when you don’t really have a time frame… I wasn’t sure, were they guaranteed? Were they not guaranteed? What’s the deal there? And also my focus is entirely on Daredevil and this first show, the idea of “let’s get this right first.” But yeah, I love the Marvel films and I love it when you watch Thor and everyone sticks around at the end after the credits to get a little clip of Thor hanging out with Captain America or whoever and then you know something’s going to happen in the next one. I love all that. Marvel’s tagline being “it’s all connected” is exciting.
Showrunner Steven DeKnight said you had a unique take on the character when you auditioned — how did you initially envision Matt?
It’s funny, because I didn’t get to see what everyone else was doing so I didn’t feel like mine was any different. I knew when I got the audition that I’m not the obvious choice, certainly in terms of physique. But also I’m English and that’s not the kind of work that I’ve done in the past — I knew that they would have to think outside the box in order to cast me. I thought, “well, if I’m going to get it, if I’m going to have any chance of getting this role, then it’s going to be because I do something different,” rather than that I can do a good impression of someone who is more like a superhero.
My idea was just to remove the superhero element entirely and just to play a guy who’s willing to take a hell of beating over and over and over again. Daredevil was known as “The Man Without Fear” and I just thought, “well, I don’t think that’s very interesting.” I don’t think it’s very interesting to watch someone who’s incapable of feeling fear. It also removes from the palate my favorite character attribute, which is courage. If you’re not afraid you can’t exercise courage. So I thought maybe he’s a man with great fear, but despite that fear he chooses every day to attempt to do something about it, and as a consequence he is labelled “The Man Without Fear” by the people who see what he does, rather than what he feels.
Matt’s Catholicism is a major part of the character in the comics, so how much of a role does his faith play in the series?
It’s one of my favorite things. It’s another aspect of the Daredevil comics that makes him unique. It’s like a goldmine for an actor that you get to play with this Catholic guilt. As an actor I get to go out and beat the crap out of people and have all the fun that that entails from an acting point of view, and then I get to go home and sit quietly with myself and be tortured by what I’m doing, and question everything, and have all the doubt and the loneliness and the shame around it all. So I thought that the Catholicism just offers a wonderful conflict to play with.
How would you describe Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the threat he poses to Matt’s mission?
When we meet Matt at the beginning, he’s just started this vigilante activity. He’s just started going out at night and although in some ways he’s going out at night to beat up the bad guys, he discovers in the first few episodes very quickly that there is someone, there is some organized force behind all of it. It’s not just a bunch of criminals. There is something going on that he can’t see straight away that’s operating at a much higher level than anyone is aware of, and Matt seems to be aware of this. Initially his goal is to find out who or what this thing is. Obviously as he gets closer to it, it opens up cans of worms and it becomes overwhelming in how far and wide this character that we learn the name of — Wilson Fisk — how far and wide he reaches, how great his influence is.
And then from that point on, it’s about how these two people’s lives are interwoven, how they affect each other, and also this lovely thing that Steven DeKnight was very clear about is this idea that from the outset, they’re both trying to do the same thing. They both describe wanting the same thing for their city. In the middle of the show I think you’ll begin to feel an ambiguity about who’s actually on the right path. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? And that’s another thing I loved about the show. That’s very human. That’s very realistic. My life is often blurry in that way rather than black and white.
What’s his relationship like with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), whom he comes into contact with in the first episode?
I think Matt has to keep himself distant from everyone, even from Foggy [Elden Henson], his best friend. I always find it’s very interesting when you’ve got two people who are best friends but they don’t really seem to have any other friends. If you have one best friend you can hide in that relationship. You can reveal what you want to that person and not be held accountable for any of the other stuff you don’t want to talk about. I think Matt hides in those relationships a little bit, but what we will begin to see is, I think Karen will challenge him in a way that he hasn’t been challenged before and will emotionally put him in situations that he can’t deal with.
The comics often balance Matt’s vigilantism with his work as a lawyer — what kind of ratio will we see between his role as Daredevil and his job in the courtroom this season?
I think Matt really, truly believes in the law and justice and the justice system, and in dealing with criminal activity and adversity from a lawful standpoint, and I think therefore he’ll always try to bring them back to that. In the course of this first season, he’s battling this other battle and then trying to find some sort of balance and some sort of harmony between the two, and my feeling is… I haven’t seen the whole season yet, but my feeling is that in this first season, Daredevil takes up more and more of his time, and so the Daredevil begins to win that battle. But he’s constantly trying to bring it back to a place where he can deal with these people legally.
How intensive was the fight training, and how much were you allowed to do, because there are some very brutal, impressive maneuvers on display.
It was great — I love all that stuff. I said to them over and over again to let me do as much as much as I’m allowed to do, and they were very generous and they let me do a lot. I did as much training as I could and got as comfortable as I could with the sequences. Obviously, the difficulty [was], I didn’t have much time to learn the sequences because I’m often filming other things, so I would have to learn them in the morning of the day we were shooting or on the day of, so I could never really learn an entire fight sequence. What I could do was learn the whole thing in six to ten moves, if you know what I mean — I’d learn six, ten moves ahead of time. We’d film that section and then we’d move on to another section.
Having said all of that, I had an amazing stunt double. He went above and beyond — other than being an incredible gymnast and martial artist, he really watched my body and attempted to move like me and stand like me and hold himself like me. That was like such a gift. His name is Chris Brewster and he is capable is doing some stuff — which you’ll see as we get later on into the series, because the other thing about the show is [Matt’s] still learning at the beginning; he’s getting better; he’s still developing and honing his skills. But as you get later in the season, [Chris] starts pulling off some moves that will blow your mind.
Matt’s obviously driven to clean up the city — but what do you think is the catalyst for that? What do you think drives him past the point at which most people would give up? (SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST EPISODE.)
At the very beginning of the show, there’s a scene with him in the confessional and he’s saying to the priest, “I’m not asking for forgiveness for what I’ve done, it’s for what I’m about to do.” And at that point he’s probably been going out at night for a couple of months and I think by the time we get to the opening of the show he’s got a taste of this and he knows he’s not going to stop. He knows that it’s not going to end — you’re not going to end up doing this for just a couple of months. I think he knows that his life now has changed and he is going to have to see it through — whatever it is inside of him, this burning desire, this need, he’s going to have to see it through. And later on in the series, there is an episode where he talks about why he did it for the first time — the first time he ever went out, what happened and why that happened, so we learn a little bit more about him in that episode. But the other driving factor is, once he finds out that there’s this unknown entity of Wilson Fisk and there is this man behind it all, ultimately there is potentially a solution in the removal of this man. I don’t think he thinks he can ever stop until that has taken place, whether it kills him or not.
Get a first look at “Daredevil’s” iconic red costume below:
All 13 episodes of “Daredevil” debut Friday, April 10 at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET on Netflix.