Q&A: Charlie Cox on crushing the ‘childlike’ arrogance of Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’
Marvel’s second season of “Daredevil"on Netflix has a slightly darker tone than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hell’s Kitchen isn’t stocked with cute villains in elaborate capes, instead it’s Vincent D’Onofrio in a business suit bashing in someone’s head with a car door.
Even the main character, mild-mannered lawyer Matt Murdock by day and crime fighting Daredevil by night, and his mission to rid the northern lands of New York of all wrong-doers everywhere are considered naive. And this notion is shared by Charlie Cox, the very actor who plays the Man Without Fear. But perhaps that’s what allows this bloody drama to ground the idea that a blind man could also moonlight as a vigilante.
And now the series is moving the Punisher, one of the more violent members of the Marvel-verse, onto Daredevil’s block. No doubt things will get ugly.
We spoke with Cox before the premiere of the new season and pressed him for details on the new season, insights into Daredevil’s mind and how he thinks the stunt crew can top last year’s famous hallway fight scene.
How is Matt Murdock different in season two?
Charlie Cox: I think that since the end of Season 1, in a time period from the end of one to the beginning of this season there’s probably been about six months. I think in that time Matt and Daredevil have enjoyed a period of time where the crime rate has plummeted, Wilson Fisk [Vincent D’Onofrio] is behind bars, and I think that Matt has come to terms with [himself]. He’s quit the debating committee around who he is and what he does and how he feels about that. He has a little bit of at peace with that. I think he’s started to really enjoy his role in society as Daredevil. And I think he’s having a really good time. There’s probably the beginnings of a little bit of a swagger and arrogance about him. Over the course of this season, very quickly he comes up against a challenge that is perhaps even more difficult to contain than even Wilson Fisk and that, of course, is incredibly humbling.
What is this new challenge?
I think the challenge is actually many fold. The obvious one is, of course, the emergence of Frank Castle [Jon Bernthal]. He comes into Matt’s world and initially, I think, Matt would like to pigeonhole him as another baddie, another kind of villain, someone akin to Wilson Fisk. Someone who’s operating from his own level of deep selfishness and evil. Of course, it doesn’t turn out to be that simple. The lines this year are much more blurry and the gray areas are thicker. What Matt discovers, which is incredibly upsetting to him, is an emotional challenge. The idea that people are starting to compare Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, and Daredevil. That is of course something that Matt initially firmly disagrees with, but then sees that there is an element of truth in it. Their methods may be different, but what they’re trying to achieve, of course, is almost identical.
And then what’s fun about the season is Matt faces romantic challenges. He and Karen, he manages to find a vulnerability in the beginning of the season. The door is open for the possibility of where they could come together. You hopefully champion that and you hope that they can work it out. Right at the moment where it could all fall into place, Elektra shows up.
Elektra [Elodie Yung], of course, presents a very, very different side to Matt. Matt Murdock gets in touch with his dark side and his chaotic side in his, kind of, devil may care side, excuse the pun. Basically I think is the main challenge that I can sum up a little bit is that Matt Murdock gets pulled in every single direction possible.
Murdock’s Catholic guilt was a big thing the series grappled with last year, how will his faith be challenged or will his faith continue to be challenged in the new season?
That is still there and that is still present in him. The only difference, this year, is that he almost doesn’t have time to think about it. Last year there was a lot of time that we sat with Matt, and there was nothing he could do. He was either too wounded or he had no more ideas or he didn’t know what the best route to take in order to bring down Wilson Fisk was, etc., etc. He spent a lot of time brooding, thinking and feeding this guilt in his apartment or in the office or wherever. This year there just isn’t that time.
There’s Frank Castle, there’s Elektra, there’s the stuff going on with Karen, and then the Hand shows up. It just goes nuts for him. He’s burning the candle at both ends, he’s being hit from every single direction, and I don’t think he has time to think about how he feels about it. I think all he can do is just beat up the next guy who’s in front of him.
What is it about Daredevil that makes everyone want to push him off his morality balance, what is it about that character?
I don’t think it’s other people that do that, I think he does that to himself. He has this very stubborn, arrogant belief that he can fix these fundamental problems in the city that he loves. He can fix and control it. And if he just sheds the light and brings to justice the right people, everything else will fall in place. I think that he’s having to learning the same lesson over and over again. Which is that he can’t do this by himself, he needs help. He doesn’t want to do that for a number reasons. One is he doesn’t want to involve people because they could potentially get hurt. And also he doesn’t want to do it because he wants to do it himself. I think he enjoys the lone wolf aspect of his job as a superhero.
The arrogance of thinking that you can fix the city.
He has that childlike belief that he is indestructible, despite the beatings he takes. He says in the second episode to Foggy, Foggy says, “Let the police control this guy,” talking about Frank Castle. And Matt Murdock says, “This guy is going to pile up through the cops. They’re not going to do anything.” If you think about what you’re suggesting, especially as a lawyer, that’s an incredibly controversial arrogant statement to make. He’s saying the cops collectively couldn’t bring down one guy, but I might be able to.
Are we going to see that side of his personality tested in the season and played with at all?
Emotionally, physically, spiritually go right to the edge. All along he’s battling with this idea, which is probably the scariest going on. Which is if Frank Castle is any way a copycat, if Frank Castle is doing what he’s doing and he was inspired to do that because of somebody like Daredevil, then really he is doing more bad for the community than he is doing good. He really would need to seriously consider packing up the suit and never engaging in vigilante justice anymore. That, I think, is probably more scary to him than he would care to admit. I think he’s addicted to it, he loves it. He loves the city even more. He wants the safety and he wants Hell’s Kitchen to operate from a lawful place, but he can’t deny that he loves being Daredevil.
Last year everyone was so shocked by Marvel and Netflix’s ultra-gritty take in this new world. It was violent [Daredevil] fights in the rain and the light hits the blood pouring off his face. It was very artistic but also really violent. People were like, finally superheroes are going to bleed in the new Marvelverse. Then you guys drop in the Punisher. That takes the violence to a whole new degree. How will “Daredevil” juxtapose the violence of the Punisher with the nonviolence of Daredevil in this new season? Are we taking it up a notch?
Yes and no ... Violence is a funny one because sometimes I think when we think about TV shows and movies that are particularly violent we tend imagine that the ones that are the most violent are the ones that are the most graphic and the most gruesome. But actually I think that’s a little bit misleading because sometimes the most violent TV shows or films are ones that don’t actually show a lot of violence, they just insinuate it. I think really violent is best dealt with when you make the emotion behind the violence very, very clear.
If you think about the scene with Wilson Fisk and him slamming the door on Anatoly [Ranskahov’s] head, you don’t actually see a lot of that. Most of that is filmed on [D’onofrio’s] face and there’s a bit of blood splatter and at the end you see like a football roll away. You don’t actually see any of the actual neck breaking or the decapitation. The fact that we know what he’s doing and we imagine it in our minds, it makes it so sinister looking. We create the graphics in our minds. That, sometimes, is more effective than showing the violence. That’s one of the things we try to do in this show, we try to walk a fine line between enjoying a bit of gruesomeness every now and again because that’s the world that we create in “Daredevil” and Hell’s Kitchen. But also, making sure that it allows the audience to use their imagination.
With the introduction of the Punisher and [that character’s notable] gun violence, is the series still pushing that, “How are we going to shoot this,” and not just show buckets of bullets? Or do you want to show the bullets and make some kind of commentary on gun-control laws?
Right, right, exactly. The thing to keep in mind is, the Punisher is not a villain. In the comics the Punisher is, I think a better way to describe him is, an anti-hero. There’s a very big difference there. What you can’t do, I don’t think, what Marvel would not want to do is portray Frank Castle in the light as they did with Wilson Fisk. Wilson Fisk is a clear-cut villain, he’s a supervillain. His purpose within the comics and within our show is the personification of evil. That is not Frank Castle. Frank Castle is one of the good guys who uses methods that are questionable.
He uses methods that we probably disagree with, but quite frankly, if we’re honest, probably divides people. There’s probably enough people out there that think that’s how we should deal with criminals. Daredevil, of course, is not one of those people. That’s everything that he stands against. He’s obviously comes to terms with vigilante justice, he’s obviously OK with the idea that he can work outside of the law, bring people in and hand them over to the police bloodied up and with broken limbs. He doesn’t believe in ending a life, he doesn’t believe that’s his job. Whereas Frank Castle takes it that one step further.
One of the key points of this season is when Frank Castle calls Matt Murdock a half-measure. I think if that’s written as well as I think it is, that hopefully you’ll get to watch that episode and that scene in particular and think, “Well, yeah, he’s got a point.” There is a point to that. They’ll decide which side of the fence they lay on. Obviously there is a commentary on gun violence and the gun laws which begins with Frank Castle in this show and I guess that’s, again, for people to make and to see how they feel about it. If they watch the show and they watch this gun violence and they acknowledge how it makes them feel, it might change some peoples’ opinions how they think about background checks, etc.
Another really big moment during the first year was the hallway fight scene, it was a big crowd-pleaser. Do you go into the second season saying, “How are we going to top the hallway fight scene?” Is there any action scene you’re really particularly excited for the audience to see?
There is a scene, we’re not trying to top the scene at the end of Episode 2 Season 1, but there is a fight sequence at the end of episode there in this season which is certainly a homage to that scene. It all takes place in effectively one shot. It’s a corridor scene as well. Daredevil takes on a number of guys and it’s a little different. It’s been wrapped up a little bit, a stairwell element has been included. It goes on a bit longer. Again, I don’t think anyone is trying to top what we did last year, but we did want to pay respect to that scene and have a bit of fun with it. I like to think that it’s the hallway scene from season one on crack.
What’s it like to play that really iconic superhero cracking the knuckles or neck before you go into an epic fight scene, as an actor?
There’s no real word for it other than just saying it’s brilliant, I love it. It’s every boyhood’s dream to play someone that cool. What’s fun about this season if we think of last year, Matt Murdock put on his black track suit because he couldn’t live with state of his city anymore. He couldn’t just sit back and let things happen, he had to do something. It was very scary and overwhelming and he didn’t know what was going to happen, but he couldn’t sit on his couch anymore he had to get off his ... and do something about it.
This year, enough time has passed, and he’s got so much better at it he really, really learns to enjoy it. From an actor’s point of view, that’s really fun. It’s really fun to play someone who is engaging in this kind of violence. Who’s got comfortable with his ability to take on numerous people at one time. He’s still out there, he’s not dead. It’s still working. And every now and again we get the opportunity to see him walk into a fight. He just know he’s going to rule these guys. They don’t even stand a chance against him. That’s pretty fun, it’s pretty cool that.
How did Elektra and Punisher change the mood of the set, if they did, and what did they add to the shooting?
It was great, it was perfect because obviously we were coming into the second season. I’ve actually done it. I came into the second season of “Boardwalk Empire.” It’s very difficult because you come in and you’re a new character on a show that’s already established and the tone is already established, everybody already knows each other. It’s not easy, you’re nervous and you gotta get to know everyone. Both Elodie and Jon did fantastically. They really threw themselves, they got familiar with their characters and they found their way. So far over two years, from my point of view, it’s been a really, really happy set. Everyone loves to work, we love going along with it, and there’s no drama. It’s a dream job in that respect.
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