That goal, of course, can be interpreted a couple of different ways, and Yung is well aware of the task ahead of her. Not only did she need to convincingly pull off all of the deadly, ninja assassin-style physical prowess expected of the iconic character created by writer/artist Frank Miller, she also wanted to master the psychology that would decree exactly why Matt Murdock — and, hopefully, the audience — would become so emotionally bound to her.
In conversation with CBR News, Yung revealed the various ways in which she entered Elektra’s dark and dangerous frame of mind for the second season of the Marvel/Netflix series. From mastering the sai, striking sparks with Charlie Cox and taking many of her cues directly from the comics, Yung says her ultimate goal was to live up to the lofty goals set by fans of her comic book counterpart.
CBR News: Well, you certainly can’t ask for a more interesting character from the world of comics to portray.
Elodie Yung: Yeah, it’d be hard, right? I got spoiled with this one. It was just incredible. I was surprised, because I didn’t know her, so I didn’t really know what I was stepping in. When I understood how interesting and complex this character was, I was like, “Really? Is it Christmas for me? So many gifts, so many toys to play with!” Yeah, it’s quite the blessing to get to play Elektra.
What I found fascinating was that you don’t start from the mysterious ninja assassin Elektra and work backward. Was that exciting for you, to explore her as this reckless, thrill-seeking but not-yet-as-dangerous woman?
What do you think? Yes! Absolutely. I thought it was quite clever from the writers and showrunner to show this first, so we really get to understand her psychology, really get to understand where she comes from, in a way. Not completely, but it gives a hint of how unbalanced she is, psychologically. All these aspects of my character are really interesting for me to explore.
Playing flashbacks, sometimes you have to recreate this in your mind. “Okay, we know this guy and we’re in love with each other…” I would have had to think and imagine the relationship. Whereas here, in Episode Five, we got to play all these flashbacks, and it really gave Charlie and I a starting point for this relationship. We knew what exactly they went through when they were kids, when they were younger, ten years ago, so we could bring this in the scenes that we had to do later. We could bring these emotions in the next scenes.
Tell me about finding that very dangerous chemistry that you have with Charlie, in two different forms: both in the earlier sequences, and in the contemporary sequences. It’s a volatile mix of emotions, and you guys played it very well.
It’s something that I really can’t describe, to be honest. I like to put words on everything and try, so I’ll try to describe as best as I can: I think you have to let go, sometimes, of things and just let things happen, and I think that’s what happened really between Charlie and I. We didn’t have to get intellectual and think how this relationship was or is in present time. We just had to try things and trust each other, and really feel comfortable in our characters, be open to what the other actor offers and just respond to it.
This chemistry between Charlie and I reflects the relationship that’s Matthew and Elektra has, because it’s quite natural and organic. We didn’t force anything. I think we just kept ourselves available for the other. Yeah, it was more of an organic relationship. That allows just things to happen, accidents to happen, and then it became more of a true relationship.
Along with your acting training, you had a strong background in martial arts coming into the role. Did this role push you, as far as the physical demands? Were there things you needed to learn or to master to be able to pull off what you had to do for this season?
The rhythm was challenging. I was used to more training time on other projects, because they were movies. On this type of project, you don’t come in months before you start shooting to train. You really have to learn everything on the spot. The way things are handled on a show like this are quite different from the way choreographies and stunts are handled on a movie, so I had to be a quick learner on this show.
Basically you do all the talking scenes during the week, and then comes the last day of the episode on the shooting schedule, and this is the action scenes. This is when the stunt coordinators for the stunts present the choreography to use. We’ve never seen the choreography before, and we had to learn it on the day, literally. That was really challenging, but you just have to suck it up and do it. They show you five moves at a time, and you do it. Then, five more moves, and you do it.
When I had to incorporate the sai in my choreographies, then I asked them, I begged them to make some time for me to rehearse and practice with these weapons. As much as I can throw a punch, and the kick, because I can do it because I’ve practiced karate and blah blah blah — sais, weapons, it’s something different. I can’t play tennis. I’m really bad with things with distance and weapons and objects. I’m really — I’m quite clumsy.
I needed time to practice, and they made some time for it, so that was cool. I could go home and practice with my plastic sais, and just try to manipulate as much as I could to be able to deliver really on the day when we had to fight with it. It was challenging!
Were there any near misses or dangerous moments with the sais?
No misses, thankfully. When you’re in the heat of shooting a scene, you can definitely make mistakes, and you don’t do the scene on your own. You have partners, so it’s important to be safe. We kept it very safe, but it was tricky because — it’s a tricky one. It’s not a knife. It’s not a sword. You can’t really slice with it. You can poke people. You can beat people with it. You can stab people. It’s a weird shaped weapon, so to twist it is quite difficult.
I needed to train, and I had time to train with this, thankfully. I think the result is quite good. Once I mastered it, I really enjoyed it. At first, I was so frustrated. “Argh, I’m never going to manage to stab people with it! It’s just to tricky to twist and to make it look good.” But practice is the key, and I practiced a lot.
How deep a dive did you take into the source material? Did you go hardcore into the comics to research the character?
I don’t know if I went hardcore, but I really tried to — I mean, I think I managed to be respectful of the essence of Elektra. That was really something that I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to ignore what was done before and just talk to the writers and just do my own thing. No, no, no. I really wanted to go back to the source. I read “Elektra: Assassin,” “The Elektra Saga.” I read the “Daredevil” comics, just to get a sense really of who Elektra was, and also because it fascinated me. I read anything about her. I didn’t know who she was, and she is an amazing, complex female character, and that fascinated me.
When you read the comics, there’s so many nuances, so many things that just reveal her personality — her psychological personality. I don’t know how to say, but all the psychological signs isn’t obvious. When you read the comics, you can see “Oh, yeah, she’s a killer and she’s had a dark moment or a dark childhood,” and all that. But you really need to read and pay attention to the words and the moments in the comics. I remember, when she loses her dad, she doesn’t cry. That’s something I kept in mind: “Okay, Elektra doesn’t cry when she loses her dad,” and then she decides to leave this world that she doesn’t believe in anymore. She decides to leave the love of her life, Matthew, because, obviously they loved each other. It belongs to a world that she rejects.
Then when — I think it’s in the second book of “The Elektra Saga,” that [Frank] Miller and [Klaus] Janson did — when she meets Daredevil again, then she cries. To me, it was very important to read that and to bring this in the character we were building, because the writers, they wanted her to be a sociopath. And what is a sociopath? It is someone who’s cold. Someone that can’t attach herself to any other people. Obviously, when you read the comics, it’s not true.
I really wanted to respect that, this weak streak that Miller was talking about, and I think this weak streak is actually the love she has for Matthew. I couldn’t make her a complete sociopath. She couldn’t be just a cold, cold person that just uses people because she needs them. She is actually able to love, and that’s something that I really wanted to work on. Reading the comics really just made it clear to me.
Tell me about the visual iconography of Elektra. For the first seven episodes, at least, we haven’t seen her in any sort of costume.
My work was trying to capture the essence of all her character. I think what they tried to do — and I think they did it brilliantly in this show — was trying to capture also this essence. With the costume — of course, we couldn’t have a red bikini. You couldn’t have me running on rooftops in New York in the middle of winter in a red bikini. That would not make sense for this show. I would probably have died from coldness.
They had to translate it in a more practical way, but still keep this badass killer. Because she is also this — she’s been trained to kill. So we needed this. I think when you look at the costume that [Miller] designed and [the costume] they created for this show, I think you have the same vibe. This strong female character who — she goes for the throat, she goes for the killing. I think you have that, or at least I do when I wear the costume. I feel like “Okay, I’m in Elektra killing mode. Don’t fuck with me.” So we get that essence, that feeling.
We’re in a great moment in time where all across the media we’re seeing these interesting, complicated, empowered, fend-for-themselves female hero — and in Elektra’s case, kind of an anti-hero. What’s it mean to you to kind of be playing a key character at this moment in time when we’re really celebrating female characters in our escapist entertainment?
It feels good. I think it’s important for the writers to write more and more strong female characters. It’s necessary, I think, to have things moving forward and be more adaptive to society. TV, films — this is what people look at and watch, and it has to reflect society. Now, Elektra, yes — she’s a strong female character, empowered, she has sais, she can kick your butt, and all that, so she is a strong female character in that aspect.
I want to play female characters that are interesting because they’re going through tons of problems in their life. I want to play cowards, I want to play weak women, I want to play women in… I don’t know, you know what I mean? I think showing, portraying strong female characters is important, but I think more than anything, it’s important that we have equal parts that female can be the main character of the movie, and she doesn’t have to be a “strong” female character.
We just want to tell the story of these women who are going through problems in their life, and they don’t need to be these badass girls. That’s one type of women, and I want to play them all. It’s just important that the female characters are less and less the girlfriend of the main character.
All thirteen episodes of “Daredevil” Season 2 arrive Friday, March 18 on Netflix.