Charlie Cox may be the nicest man on the planet, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing one of the most morally conflicted superheroes of recent times in Netflix’s hit show Daredevil. We sat down with the British actor at a round table interview to discuss the surprising depth of the show, his hopes for the newly-announced Season 2, and potentially turning up in Marvel’s other exploits. Also, a warning that potential spoilers for Daredevil follow.
Were you a fan of the comics beforehand?
I was not, no. I get asked that question quite a lot, and I always get a little nervous when I answer. But the truth is, I wasn’t; I had never read a Daredevil comic, and I hadn’t seen the film [2003’s Daredevil]. In a strange way, it kind of ended up being quite helpful, because when I was allowed to read the script early on in the audition process, I was allowed to read the first two episodes, and then when I eventually got the job, I was able to go away and immerse myself in the comics and the history and this incredible back catalogue, and identify which series and which writers and illustrators that represented the show that was being written. So in a way, I think it was good that I didn’t have too many preconceived ideas of who the character should be, because you know, you meet fans and they have a very particular idea – they respond very much to certain writers and illustrators, and I think that if I had that, there would’ve been a danger that I try to please everyone, and very early on, I thought right, this is very specific, and it’s very similar to this run or these runs, and so I could concentrate on them.
It’s been very well-received. How about in the States? Do they know you’re English? Because yet another superhero…
Yeah [laughs]. Someone just sent me a headline from America, saying ‘The Brits are coming, and they’re wearing our tights!’ [Most likely this New York Post article.] But there’s a lot of us. I don’t know… it hasn’t come up to me personally, but then again it probably wouldn’t. I don’t know if someone would go out of their way to tell me that they’re annoyed about it. There’s something odd about it: Andrew Garfield, Tom Hiddleston, Ben Cumberbatch, Christian Bale… Henry Cavill. All they’ve got is Captain America, and then Iron Man! It’s a funny one – lucky for us, I think.
I think it’s the chins [laughter]. Everyone’s been talking about how good the action scenes have been, and I think one thing that’s missing from the conversation is how good the rest of the show is, how good the drama is. What do you want the series to be known as – as a great superhero series, or a great crime drama series?
Oh, wow. Ideally, both. You know, one of the things we talked [the creators] about, if we could make a show that survives regardless of the superhero element, then what we’ve potentially got on our hands is a very successful television show, because you’re always going to attract the fans, and it’s absolutely the most important thing which is not to alienate them, which some shows make that mistake. You have to gear the show towards the fans primarily, but if you could make a show that survives regardless of it, then hopefully you can also attract an audience that didn’t necessarily grow up on comics or superhero films, and can still find the story sophisticated enough and interesting enough that the superhero element that’s peppered on top is kind of a fun, different element to a crime drama. But to answer your question more concisely, I would say that what I would love is for people to walk away from the experience of watching Daredevil and think it’s quality TV. That it’s well-acted, it’s new and different and bold; it certainly feels that way from a Marvel perspective.
A real surprise is how brutal it is [the show].
Yeah, and a cool little nugget is kind of every episode there’s something [that makes you go] ‘ooh, fuck’. Even just to read it, you know. And then I got Episode 9, and there’s obviously that epic fight scene with Nobu (Peter Shinkoda). There’s the end bit where… I can never say the instrument that he uses… the shurga something? Ah, you’ll have to wikipedia it [laughs]. But the end of it is a hook, like a fish hook, and it hooks into Matt Murdoch and he’s pulled across the room. Anyway, the people that wrote that episode are a married husband and wife, called the Cages, and Chris Cage came up to me and said, ‘yeah, Ruth wrote that. Terrifying.’ His wife has written that bit!
It’s an incredibly challenging role for you, obviously: physical training, blind acting and a US accent on top of all that. What kind of preparation did you across those three very different, very difficult things?
So… yeah. A huge amount. When I started, I was probably 160 pounds, I’d never had a gym membership, so the first thing they said to me was, ‘you need to put on a ton of muscle.’ And I had about a month to do that. So I just went to the gym every day; they set me up with a trainer, and I just followed him around. ‘Pick up that ten times, over and over again.’ And just ate a lot of food and drank protein shakes, that kind of stuff. I just did what I was told, basically. That was kind of easy really, because I just had to do it. And we incorporated into that some martial arts training and some boxing training, that kind of stuff.
Similarly with the accent, it’s just work. And I actually find accents quite difficult; for some reason I always get given an accent to do. They don’t come naturally to me; I know many actors who can just listen and [snaps fingers] do it. And that’s not the case for me, I have to work really, really hard. So I had an accent coach, and I just went over and over and over the sounds. And I can still hear mistakes that I made, so I’m hoping to improve for the next season as well.
And the blindness, again, was particularly challenging; I worked with a blind consultant, and it was important to make sure we were all consistent with what that looked like in performance, because there’s different elements. There’s Matt Murdoch when he’s by himself, or he’s with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) – someone who knows about his condition. So that’s a blind man whose eyes don’t work, but he still operates better than a seeing person, you know. And there are technical challenges, because if there’s a glass in front of him, or there’s a glass behind him, he would pick it up and never look at it. And me, Charlie, I need to look at something if I’m going to pick it up. That had to be all choreographed. And then, of course, there’s the Matt Murdoch who maintains the illusion that he operates like a blind person, with a cane and reading braille and finding things on the table with his knuckles and stuff. There were lots of elements to it. And – sorry to go on – but then, the added complication was that it’s very hard to act with people when they can’t look you in the eye. It just makes it that much harder. But there’s also fun elements to do that, you get to do more, you know.
How did those elements get separated out? Did you do batches of scenes, where you’d be the knowing blind character, and then other scenes were shot differently where you were going through the other sets where other people know in the scene?
Well, no. I kind of did that by myself. Insofar that I understood, what were the boundaries? If he’s with no one, or he’s on his own, it’s this; if he’s with people who don’t know about him or he’s in public, it’s this; and there’s also what happens to the eyes when he’s not wearing his glasses or his mask. I just made sure I knew what the boundaries were, and then was as consistent as I could be with those in the scenes when they presented themselves. One of the hard things about the blindness is, what Joe does when he talks to me is his eyes tend to look at where the sound is coming from; so his eyes focus in and around my chin area and mouth. So I thought that’s great – that’s quite easy to copy, I can just do that. The problem is the camera is very rarely a POV – it’s always over a shoulder. And so that doesn’t really work very effectively. So I had to sometimes, depending on where the camera is, I had to adapt where I was looking so it felt like there was a blindness. But at the same time, if a guy’s talking to you here [motions with hands], I wouldn’t be looking over there, because I know the guy’s there. So I was worried about it for a while, and then I went back to the comic and I looked at the panels, and I realised that Matt Murdoch’s blind because you know he’s blind. But if you didn’t know, you would sometimes look at the panels and it looks like he’s looking at the characters – so you had to have trust in the fact that the audience will remember that stuff.
Do you have any favourite Daredevil comics by now?
Yeah, well as I said I’m a big fan of the Bendas / Maleev series. I spend a lot of time with them. Um… it’s kind of hard not to mention Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear, because it’s just so iconic and it was a great influence in our show. Personal issue favourites that I really liked, in the Bendas / Maleev series early on in the ’30s, I think, there’s a lovely series where Matt Murdoch defends the White Tiger, and I think one of the reasons I really responded to that is because I like seeing Matt Murdoch as a lawyer. I like seeing him give his closing argument. There’s something poignant about the idea that he’s defending a superhero; although he’s defending White Tiger, he’s also defending himself, and I think that there’s just so many interesting levels to that. Since we finished filming, I started reading the first Frank Miller run with Klaus Janson, and I really love it, man – it’s tonally very different, and Spider-Man’s all over the place. I don’t imagine we’ll have many of those villains come in, I don’t think Hulk will be in our show. But the Punisher is in that run, so I’ve got high hopes that he’ll exist in our show, but I’ve no idea.
What about Bullseye?
At some point, Bullseye has got to come on. I’ve no idea if it’s going to be this season [Season 2], but I think at some point we have to have a Bullseye. I hope so.
You’ve got a Season 2 now – and you’re quite happy to continue?
Yeah. I’ve been doing this [acting] 12 years, and in that time I’m not one of those guys… I started out as an actor, and I was very, very fortunate very early on and I got some great roles. And then I couldn’t work. I couldn’t get a job. I went through periods of six, seven months of being out of work, so the idea of regular work for me is just so thrilling. The fact that I love this show, and I loved being on it, and I was so impressed with the execution and the resolve of the creatives, is a bonus, and the fact that it’s been well-received obviously makes you feel very, very good. It’s funny when people say, ‘oh, are you worried about being on a hit show?’ [Laughter]. No! It’s a fucking dream! You know what I mean? Go ask Andy Lincoln if he enjoys being on [The Walking Dead]. I’d be very surprised if he’s like, ‘aw, Walking Dead ruined my life.’
Were you worried at all while making it though? ‘Cause the way Netflix works with everything being released all at once, you kind of don’t get any feedback. Did you get a sense of the kind of show that you were making?
Yeah, I got a sense, and as we went on I was very cautiously optimistic. Like I said, they really stuck to their guns in terms of what they wanted to do, and I definitely felt like it was the next evolution of television superhero-ness, in terms of the tone and thematically. But yeah, I get quite nervous – I do feel that there’s a real sense of responsibility. People come up to you in the street and say how excited they are, and you can’t help but take that on, you know?
Early on, I rented a place in Fort Greet in Brooklyn, and round the corner from my house there was a guy who, on the weekends, he sets up a tiny stall about the size of a desk and he just sells Daredevil comics. He sells other comics as well, but he had lots of Daredevil stuff. And I didn’t tell him I was doing the show, and I used to go there and just chat to him about Daredevil and ask him what his opinions was, and he knew that they were making the show, and he would talk a little bit about his hopes for the show. Eventually, I told him – I gave him a poster signed by the cast, and he was pretty excited. And he emailed me the other day, saying he was thrilled with it.
But having those conversations – I know it sounds silly sometimes – but you realise how important these characters are to so many people. And my trainer, the guy they set me up with in New York is by chance a massive comic book fan, and he said to me in a moment of vulnerability, ‘it sounds silly, but when I’m in a struggle in my life, when I’m faced with real adversity, one of the questions I can’t help but ask myself is, what would Superman do?’ Or, ‘what would Spider-Man do in this moment?’ I get that. There’s something very cool about that. And if you think about why superheroes, why they started making them, started writing them and distributing them, I believe an aspect of it had to be to help young kids identify with the hero in themselves, and hopefully inspire that kind of behaviour.
How do you feel about maybe being that inspiration to younger kids now? Hopefully they’re not watching Daredevil, because it’s a bit too [violent]. But as they grow up, they’re going to be watching Daredevil. Do you feel like some kind of burden, perhaps?
I feel better equipped now. I did a children’s movie in 2007 when I was much younger called Stardust. And you know, in this country it did quite well, but in the States, it didn’t, and it ended up [being] we never made another movie. And I was thinking about that recently; I’m slightly older now, and I’ve been through the troubling part of one’s 20s and all that stuff. And so I feel slightly better equipped now to be… if I now were to be looked and watched at in terms of my behaviour in society, I feel like I could be more of a role model. I’m not going to be falling out of nightclubs and this, that and the other – and I say that ’cause I do think it would be naive of people to be in the public eye and just reject that side of their lives. It’s a real thing. I’m always very impressed with young actors or musicians who take that part of their life and their career seriously. I think it’s important.
What would the likelihood be of Matt Murdoch turning up in other Marvel shows and films?
Yeah… I mean… smile on my face… it would be great. I’ve read Civil War now, I’ve read the New Avengers, I know he’s [Daredevil] in there [laughs]. But I think I’ve probably missed the boat on Civil War, because they’re filming that. Marvel have not mentioned it to me at all. It’s in my contract that if they want me to do it, I’m there, and I would love that. That would be an extension of the dream – but I’m a pretty happy customer at this point, to get to do this series again. And we’ve got The Defenders of course to look forward to.
Were you a little disappointed that your name already alliterates, they couldn’t have changed it a bit and made it Charlie Cox?
Oh, the CC? [Laughs] Yeah, yeah – CC, MM and DD. Slightly off the point – and again, I’ve been told nothing so I’ve no idea what’s going to happen – but looking forward to Season 2, one of the things that I personally hope happens is that the suit evolution involves some sort of a ‘DD’ on the chest. The great thing about doing a superhero show on television with all these extra hours, is that you really get to spend your time in origin; you get to spend your time in the evolution of the suit and the acquisition of the suit and how it’s made and who makes it. In our show, there’s a conversation with the priest, with Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie) that inspires the suit. And I just think that that’s such a great Easter Egg. I love that stuff, rather than it just being an assumption.
Are you also hoping for the billy club to swing through the city?
Well, we’ve got the billy club. There were so many different aspects to this – it’s very advanced, and we only had the one episode, obviously, but it comes apart and it has the wire… yeah, that’d be pretty cool [laughs]. It would just cut to me in a massive rig, shitting myself above the city.
Daredevil is available to stream on Netflix now.