The Defenders is probably in the rear view for most of you by now, with fans devouring the 8 episode epic. The culmination of three years of stories, The Defenders brought together a hell of a cast as Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist found themselves fighting for their lives and the fate of New York against the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand. The debut season of the superhero team-up is already doing incredibly well, drawing comparisons to the debuting Avengers film from 2012, and rightfully so. The Defenders has proven to be high-octane excitement with an ending that’s setting up for years of more stories.
Where The Defenders shines isn’t just in its shared universe and thrilling fight sequences, though, it’s also in the stunning cast of actors assembled. But like any real fan of cinema, you might have spent a lot of these series thinking to yourself “Where do I know them from?” We here at CBR have the same reaction and decided to look into it for you. So grab a cup of coffee (just make sure it wasn’t meant for Jessica) and fire up your favorite ‘90s hip-hop soundtrack, because here’s what The Defenders did before they were Defenders.
16 CHARLIE COX (DAREDEVIL)
As Matt Murdock, Daredevil star Charlie Cox is the unofficial leader of the group of heroes and the cornerstone of Marvel’s Netflix series. Cox has brought the Murdock character to life in ways never before seen, and his successful career as an actor beforehand gave him the chops to do just that.
Cox’s career started in the mid-'00s with turns in Casanova alongside Heath Ledger and 2007’s Stardust alongside Claire Danes and future MCU cast member Michelle Pfeiffer. Cox also appeared in Boardwalk Empire as Owen Sleater for the show’s third season, as well as having a continuing stage career with appearances in The Prince of Homburg and Incognito. In addition to his role in The Defenders, he’s currently finishing up Night in Hatton Garden, a film that pairs him up with Michael Caine.
15 KRYSTEN RITTER (JESSICA JONES)
Daredevil may be the cornerstone of the Netflix series, but Krysten Ritter’s turn as Jessica Jones is perhaps the most engaging. Pitting Ritter against a truly terrifying David Tennant, Jessica Jones is hailed as the high bar of the franchise, and so far nothing has been able to touch its emotional punch and rich character arcs.
Starting out as a model, Ritter’s amassed quite a resume for herself. Ritter started gaining attention for appearances on Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls but is probably most recognized for her starring turn in the short-lived but beloved Don’t Trust The B---- In Apartment 23, which paired her with James Van Der Beek as himself. She also had a number of film appearances, including 2012’s Vamps alongside future Defenders co-star Sigourney Weaver.
14 MIKE COLTER (LUKE CAGE)
With a gritty, grounded gangster story at its core, Luke Cage might have been the most refreshing take on the superhero genre to date. A lot of this comes from the show’s incredible casting, including a powerhouse performance by Alfre Woodard and soon-to-be Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. Bringing the cast together was a shining performance by Mike Colter as the title character.
Colter first caught eyes in 2004’s controversial Million Dollar Baby as “Big” Willie Little and has had a fairly successful career ever since. Since then, he's appeared in the time-traveling sci-fi comedy Men in Black 3 as the father of MiB Agent Jay, and in the military drama Zero Dark Thirty alongside Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt. He also did the motion capture for Spartan Jameson Locke in the Halo series.
13 FINN JONES (IRON FIST)
We won’t mince our words too much here: Iron Fist is the weakest of the Netflix series, but hell, one of them had to be. Iron Fist is not a show without its merits, but it seems like it may be bogged down with trying too hard to set up the elements of The Hand that wouldn’t pay off until The Defenders.
Star Finn Jones certainly fares better as the more settled, more mature Iron Fist in The Defenders, but it’s easy to forget this isn’t his first gig. Jones has been acting since his 2009 debut on the second series of Hollyoaks Later, a more adult-themed version of the long-running British drama Hollyoaks. Of course, he would gain his most recognition from his stint on the massively popular Game of Thrones as Loras Tyrell.
12 SIGOURNEY WEAVER (ALEXANDRA)
Every epic needs a big bad and casting a big name to menace your heroes can really draw attention. The Defenders made an excellent decision and turned a lot of heads, casting veteran actress Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the mysterious leader of The Hand. Weaver brings a gravitas to the role that few could, a professional skill set dating back to her first lead role as the iconic Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Weaver’s kept busy over the years, with roles in classics such as Ghostbusters and Avatar. She’s also done her share of television acting, notably in the 2012 political drama Political Animals alongside future MCU star Sebastian Stan. She’s still working today in film too, appearing as herself in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories.
11 JESSICA HENWICK (COLLEEN WING)
Jessica Henwick was one of the highlights of Iron Fist as Colleen Wing, the badass bushido master with a past connected directly to a chapter of The Hand. Henwick’s performance brought a lot of fun to the role while still embracing her tragic backstory, and it’s an impressive performance. Henwick nails the nuance between tortured soul and profound warrior, and hopefully, there’s plenty more of her to come.
Even more impressive is the limited resume Henwick has going into Defenders. Henwick didn’t start acting until her starring role in the 2009 children’s drama Spirit Warriors for the BBC and primarily worked small roles afterward. She appeared on Game of Thrones as Nymeria Sand with future Iron Fist co-star Finn Jones, and also garnered attention as Jessika Pava in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, becoming the first female X-Wing pilot on film.
10 SIMONE MISSICK (MISTY KNIGHT)
Simone Missick has perhaps the briefest acting career of everyone in The Defenders, with only a few appearances to her name. After graduating from Washington’s Howard University and appearing in The Epicureans under her maiden name Simone Cook in 2003, Missick disappeared from acting for several years. She wouldn’t resurface until 2008’s The Road To Sundance and has been appearing regularly ever since.
Missick’s next big role would be A Taste of Romance, a 2012 Hallmark Channel movie starring Teri Polo. She’d go on to star in a number of roles, making appearances on Ray Donovan and Wayward Pines before being cast as Misty Knight in the first season of Luke Cage. Missick’s Knight is a fan favorite, and with the set-up from The Defenders maybe we’re finally going to get some of that sweet, sweet Daughters of the Dragon action we’re all craving.
9 ELODIE YUNG (ELEKTRA)
Elektra actress Élodie Yung has an impressive resume even before she began acting. Graduating the University of Paris with a Master’s Degree in Law, Yung began acting in 2004, and in 2006 joined the cast of Les Bleus (The Rookies), a popular French police drama which she appeared on for several years.
Yung’s career would take her stateside in 2011 when she joined the cast of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she would team up with the MCU’s Mockingbird, Adrianne Palicki, for 2013’s GI Joe: Retaliation. Yung joined the second season of Daredevil as the second actress to portray the Greek assassin Elektra, a role which she absolutely killed... in more ways than one. Luckily, she got better, and more than leaves her mark in The Defenders.
8 RACHAEL TAYLOR (TRISH WALKER)
Australian actress Rachael Taylor is no stranger to the Marvel universe, having appeared in the 2005 SyFy Channel Man-Thing film that many people have forgotten about by now. Shortly afterward, she joined the cast of Michael Bay’s Transformers as hacker Maggie Madsen, which is likely the first role many people remember her from and continued to pick up parts in film over the years.
Taylor’s kept busy with television roles, too. After appearing on Grey’s Anatomy she joined the cast of the Charlie’s Angels and then that of 666 Park Avenue, but neither show found an audience. She finally joined the cast of Jessica Jones in 2015 as Jess’s adoptive sister Trish Walker, the character who would eventually become Hellcat in the comics, though such a transition has yet to become apparent on the show.
7 ROSARIO DAWSON (CLAIRE TEMPLE)
Rosario Dawson’s Claire is the glue the brings the Netflix universe together, having appeared in all four series along with The Defenders. Dawson served an excellent role in building the universe, a common thread that readers could connect with and recognize in each story, and brings a human element to the otherwise fantastical story.
Dawson, a phenomenal actress in her own right, was absolutely the right choice for no-nonsense Claire, having played similar tough girl characters in 2005’s Sin City and 2007’s Death Proof, with future MCU members Mickey Rourke and Kurt Russell. She’s also one of a select few Marvel actors to have dipped to the other side of comic movie phenomenon, voicing Wonder Woman in several DC Animated features and Batgirl in The Lego Batman Movie.
6 SCOTT GLENN (STICK)
Matt’s grizzled mentor Stick was always a jerk in the comics, but boy, Scott Glenn took it to another level. Evolving him into a straight-up asshole with a singular focus and an end justify the means mentality, Stick’s appearances in Daredevil and The Defenders really drove home that he’s not a nice person, and Scott Glenn was absolutely the right person for the role.
Glenn’s had a history of rough around the edges and irascible characters, such as Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs or “Axe” Adcock in Backdraft. He’s also had memorable turns in Training Day, The Bourne Ultimatum and on The Leftovers. It’s honestly hard to pick an actor with a more impressive resume, and Glenn brings The Defenders a much-needed air of credibility and intrigue with his inclusion.
5 DEBORAH ANN WOLL (KAREN PAGE)
Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page is a strong departure from her character’s comic book roots. Far from a feisty secretary, Karen came into her own in Daredevil’s second season as she became a reporter, filling the void left by the late Ben Urich. The transformation threw off fans, as it’s a departure from the life her comics counterpart led.
Comics Karen has always been a tragic figure, and the dark past is heavily implied to still exist on the Netflix series. Woll’s no stranger to such roles, either. Though she started out with bit parts, she first found success on HBO’s vampire drama True Blood as Jessica Hamby. She also found her fair share of success in film, starting with 2010’s Mother’s Day alongside Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Frank Grillo and 2012’s Ruby Sparks.
4 ELDEN HENSON (FOGGY NELSON)
Elden Henson has a career that started early, co-starring in Disney’s The Mighty Ducks film trilogy as Fulton Reed and fostering a haircut that would last him until The Defenders finally saw Foggy get a trim. Henson’s Foggy remains the emotional center of Daredevil, as Matt’s close friend and confidant (though that relationship was severely strained by the time of The Defenders).
Henson kept busy between Mighty Ducks and Daredevil though, with a career that included movie roles in the classic teen comedy She’s All That and the skateboard biopic Lords of Dogtown. Amidst a number of television guest appearances on shows such as ER, Psych and Workaholics, Henson also appeared in the 2013 biopic Jobs, as well as the final two instalments of The Hunger Games film franchise.
3 CARRIE-ANNE MOSS (JERI HOGARTH)
Though originally a male character in the comics, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Carrie-Anne Moss as the cold and straightforward Jeri Hogarth. Debuting first on Jessica Jones and later playing an integral role in Iron Fist as a nod to the character’s comic book origins, Jeri is sympathetic while still remaining distant, and Moss plays the role to perfection.
Moss has had a history of similarly shut off characters, most notably Trinity in The Matrix trilogy and Natalie in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending classic Memento. But she’s had a long and varied career, including a leading stint on the primetime soap opera Models Inc, AI researcher Athena Morrow on the British science-fiction drama Humans, and voicing the hard as nails gang leader Aria T’Loak in Bioware’s Mass Effect franchise.
2 EKA DARVILLE (MALCOLM DUCASSE)
Eka Darville’s portrayal of Jessica Jones’ drug-addled neighbor Malcolm Ducasse served as a hell of a surprise. The character was instantly sympathetic and powerfully portrayed, and the emotion behind scenes of him detoxing was so strong, it was palpable. Not bad for someone who is probably best recognized as another superhero, having starred on Power Rangers RPM as the Red Ranger, Scott Truman alongside iZombie’s Rose McIver.
Don’t mistake Darville for just another Power Rangers actor, though. Starting his career on the popular Australian surfer drama Blue Water High, Darville’s amassed an impressive resume that includes appearances on The Elephant Princess, Spartacus: Blood & Sand, and The Originals, and on the hit musical drama Empire, as well as the short-lived science-fiction drama Terra Nova alongside Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Jason Mara.
1 RAMÓN RODRÍGUEZ (BAKUTO)
Ramón Rodríguez turned up as the mysterious and ultimately ambiguously evil Bakuto in Iron Fist. As the mentor to Colleen Wing and the leader of a branch of the mysterious Hand, Bakuto is a suave swordsman, and by The Defenders, he’s downright terrifying in how he stalks Colleen.
Rodríguez has had a hell of a career, and he’s worked with several fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe stars previously, as well. In 2006 he appeared with Scott Glenn in the Matthew McConaughey comedy Surfer, Dude and appeared with Frank Grillo and the MCU’s original Bruce Banner, Edward Norton, in the crime drama Pride and Glory. In 2011, he played John Bosley on the failed Charlie’s Angels reboot alongside Jessica Jones’ Rachael Taylor, and also featured in the car racing action film Need For Speed with Spider-Man Homecoming’s Michael Keaton.
What else do you know about the cast of Defenders before they hit Netflix? Let us know in the comments!