Just a few weeks after season two of Marvel superhero series “Daredevil” hits Netflix on March 18, the show’s star, Charlie Cox, goes into rehearsal for the Off Broadway play “Incognito,” starting performances May 3 in Manhattan Theater Club’s 299-seat theater at New York City Center. The play by Nick Payne, the writer whose “Constellations” brought Jake Gyllenhaal to Broadway, tells interlocking stories about cognition and memory and identity. Cox (“The Theory of Everything,” “Stardust”) talked to Variety about what takes him Off Broadway at this point in his career — and what he wants every “Daredevil” fan to know before diving into the second season.
Why do a play now?
The great thing about doing a play is you get this rehearsal period, which you don’t get with most film and television roles. I’m really looking forward to that. And then to tell a story in its entirety from start to finish in order, which is not something you get to do when you do film and television because we film out of sequence — that’s wonderful. I’m also excited to act off an audience’s reactions. I do feel like I come from the theater in many ways, but I haven’t been on stage since 2010, when I was in “The Prince of Homburg” at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Long enough for me to feel quite nervous about this!
What can you tell us about the character you’re playing in “Incognito”?
There are four actors in the cast, and we all play four or five characters. The main character I’m playing is a gentleman called Henry Molaison, who was a real person who would have seizures. They did an experiment on his brain and he basically lost all ability to make new memories. So he was living in a constant cycle of 30-second lapses of attention, as it were. I play him all the way from when he’s in his early 20s to when he’s in his 80s. What I like about this play is there are moments of great humor in it. I very rarely get to do that, for one reason or another. Maybe because I’m not very funny.
Do you make it to a lot of theater, now that you spend so much time in New York?
I was lucky enough to catch “A View From the Bridge” right before it closed. I really, really loved that, and I know Mark Strong a little because we did “Stardust” together. I’ve gotten to see “Hamilton.” And a couple of weeks ago I saw Mark Rylance in “Nice Fish,” right before he won his Oscar. Mark Rylance is one of my heroes. I saw “Jerusalem” four or five times, twice in New York, twice in London.
How do you think about juggling the demands of something as involving and high-profile as “Daredevil” with other projects you’d like to take on, like “Incognito”?
I’ve gone through long periods of time when there’s no work for me. You wait for the next job to come along, and when it does there’s never a consideration about whether you do or don’t do something. So I don’t really have a strategy. But now that I’m doing “Daredevil” — and the lovely thing about it is that I do know that I’ve got this ongoing job, plus “The Defenders” coming up — it’s nice to think: If I could do anything, what would it be right now? What I came up with was that I’d love to go back on the stage. I’d love to do a play.
What do you think “Daredevil” fans would find interesting about “Incognito”?
It feels very different. Maybe I can somehow make that the selling point? There’s a similarity, in that the blindness that I deal with when I play Daredevil has a very particular set of rules behind it, in terms of performance, and there has to be a consistency there in order for it to be plausible. I’ll have to do something similar for Henry and his condition in “Incognito,” I think.
What’s the one thing you want “Daredevil” watchers to know before they binge on season two?
Of course there’s many things I want to tell them, and double the amount of things I’m not allowed to tell them! One thing I’m excited that we got to explore this year is Matt Murdock’s vulnerability. The first season, Matt was so preoccupied with Wilson Fisk and everything that was wrong with the world that he really became quite a party pooper, in many ways. He couldn’t even for a moment enjoy himself. This season, it’s not quite that simple. We get to see him open up to Karen Page, and another character enters into our world, too, this iconic character Elektra. And she brings another element of sexiness and danger and intrigue to his life. To see Matt handle these big bads and fight these very dangerous, angry people, and then struggle almost as equally with the emotions that he’s feeling for these two women — all that was a great challenge, and very enjoyable.