Charlie Cox got to experience all the challenges an actor faces when stepping into a classic Marvel superhero role: figuring out the costume, adapting to the physical training, working through the fight sequences and capturing the proper iconography. And then he had to figure out how to do it while dropping his natural British accent and playing blind — kind of.
As the lead in Netflix‘s hotly anticipated 13-episode “Daredevil” series, Cox — previously known for roles in “Stardust,” “Downton Abbey” and “Boardwalk Empire” — ably demonstrates that he was more than ready to rise to the occasion of embodying both the not-exactly-blind attorney Matt Murdock and his radar-sense-possessing, ninja-street-fighting vigilante alter ego Daredevil. In a succession of conversations with CBR News at the press roundtables and the show’s premiere, the 32-year-old actor revealed how he jumped relatively fearlessly into the role of the Man Without Fear, creating in the process a new superheroic role model for a generation of young fans.
What was the interesting creative challenge of getting into this character — the most fun part and the hardest part?
Charlie Cox: It feels like it was many-fold. There were so many aspects to it. The obvious ones that jump to mind is the blindness and everything that comes with that. It was important to me that there was a real consistency around how Matt and Daredevil operate. So, for example, when Matt’s out in the public, he has to maintain the illusion that he operates like a regular blind person. However, when he’s on his own or when he’s with people who maybe know about him, he can operate better than a seeing person, so he wouldn’t need his cane per se, and he wouldn’t need to feel for things on the table, etc., etc. So finding out what that felt like and what that looked like was one challenge.
And then there’s also the difficulty of the eyes themselves and what they do. When he’s not wearing his mask, he’s wearing his glasses, what are his eyes doing, and what would that look like? I worked very closely with a wonderful gentleman called Joe Strechay who’s been legally blind for 20 years, and I spent a lot of time working with him on my cane technique and household chores and things like that. But also, I filmed him, and filmed him talking to me, and filmed his eyes in particular and what they were doing. So the blindness, obviously, is one, that whole area, was one area that I concentrated on a lot.
The most challenging aspect of that is that, as Daredevil, he would never need to find something with his eyes in order to pick it up. Me, Charlie, I do need to do that. So there were many scenes where I perhaps had to pick up a pair of gloves or move a glass, but I can’t look at it – and I also wouldn’t miss it. You’d be able to know exactly where it is at all times. So we had to retake a lot of scenes because I pick up the wrong glove, or I put my shirt on backwards or whatever it is.
There’s also the physical aspects of the role, the martial arts and the training, and that, again, I just did as much of that as I was allowed to do. I really enjoy that aspect of filmmaking. I really relish the opportunity to do it. And fight sequences come to me quite quickly. I can pick them up relatively quickly, so that was a bonus. And then the third thing worth mentioning is reading a ton of Daredevil comics. [Laughs]
Were you a fan of the source material at all before?
I was not, no. I didn’t grow up on comics, and I read very few — and I hadn’t read any Daredevil comics which is a shame — I know now it is a shame. It actually, in some ways, kind of served me quite well, because the first anything Daredevil that I was subjected to were the first two scripts by Drew Goddard. In a way, it was quite helpful because I was then able to go away from having read them, read the comics, starting from 1964, and work my way up. And I was able to identify series or different artists or illustrators and writers that best suited the show that I read. So as it were, I didn’t have too many preconceived ideas about who I thought the character should be or what the show should be like. I was able to just isolate the comics that best suited the show that I read and focus in on those ones.
In this show, there’s this great confidence you carry as Matt where whenever he enters the room.
The honest answer is, I’m not sure how that quite came about. I think it’s very evident in the comics, in the panels. There’s often a lot of motion to Foggy. There’s a lot of motion to other characters, and Matt’s often very, very still. So I think that was clear to me. The only other thing that I was kind of aware of was the idea that there’s a sensory overload going on with Matt Murdock. He’s receiving so much information. And in a way, what that might do to a person is just keep them very centered and very still as they intake it all. So it might be that that confidence is more of a byproduct of what he’s dealing with. How he’s living his life. What he’s feeling and sensing on a daily basis. But I think there’s definitely something to be said for the kind of person who has command of a room, whether they can see the individuals in it or not.
Does Matt Murdock become Daredevil, or is it Daredevil who pretends to be Matt Murdock?
I so don’t want to want to answer that question. Rosario [Dawson] was saying something really, really interesting earlier on, which is that really, the mask that Matt Murdock puts on is when he doesn’t have his mask on. It’s when he’s walking on the streets as a lawyer and maintaining this illusion that he would need a cane or that he would need to feel for things on the table to find them. So that’s an interesting kind of example of what you’re asking, I think.
I think that in our show, what we’re seeing is, we’re seeing the evolution of Matt Murdock into Daredevil. We’ve got these 13 episodes to plot that very, very slowly and carefully. So I would say that it may be — it’s like a pendulum. It kind of swings, because I think in some ways, the Daredevil that we will come to love and know, hopefully, by the end of the show and by seasons to come, is who he is, innately. That’s who he is and who he’s always been since the accident and everything. He will embody, fully realize who he is as Daredevil. But at this point, in the beginning of the show, I think he’s still having to find his way with that. So it’s almost like it starts the other way round. It starts with Matt Murdock, and the alter ego is Daredevil.
The fight scenes are pretty incredible, and some of them are really relentlessly intense. Was there any one in particular that was really complicated for you, or that took the longest?
Well, the way that we did it is, I worked very closely with the stunt coordinator and my stunt double, and I would be able to break up the fight sequences into moves about six to ten at a time that I could learn. So it really depends on how complicated those movements were — and of course, the other actor. But the great thing is, we always found the time to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, make sure it was a safe space, make sure that both actors or actor/stunt double felt safe within the moves.
And then, it’s a bit like fast-forwarding a tape: You start doing it in slow motion, and you get quicker and quicker and quicker. And then, when it all comes together, it’s a real collaborative process because it requires both the performers and the lighting because you’re actually not hitting people, and it’s looking like you are. So it’s not just about throwing a punch. It’s about selling a punch, and it’s also about the camera angle showing, covering it in a way that it looks like it’s a real hit to the face or whatever… You can have the most emotional moment as an actor ever, and many people [on set] would be like, “Okay. Cool. What’s next?” And one punch or fight scene, everyone’s like, “Yeah!”
Sounds like you really enjoyed doing the physical stuff.
Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. That’s my favorite aspect of the filmmaking process. Whenever that opportunity arises, I always call ahead and say, “Please, let me do as much as I’m allowed to!” Obviously, I don’t want to put the production in jeopardy and be shut down for two months because I sprained my ankle. But at the same time, I love all that stuff, and I want to do as much of it as I’m allowed to.
What’s the coolest thing you learned how to do?
They let me do a ton of it. I was really lucky. They let me do loads of the fight scenes. My stunt double, Chris Brewster, who is extraordinary, and some of the stuff that he’s capable of doing will blow your mind. I think people will watch the show and at times, they’ll think it’s CG-ed — but it’s not!
But when you’re doing a fight scene, it’s not so much one move that’s thrilling. It’s when you piece together five or six moves. And you’re hitting. Then you get hit. And you go to the knee and a right hook or whatever. And you have to learn that sequence, both of you, you and your partner. And when it all comes together, and it works, and it sells on camera, it’s a very exciting moment. It looks so cool, and the crew love it as well. Those days when we did big fight scenes, it was really invigorating.
Are you ready to be considered a hero or role model to younger people as a result of this role?
You know, when we went to [New York] Comic Con, we had a Q & A at the end of it. And there was a young boy who got up — probably 12-years old. He’d come from the hospital, and he was going to be put back. I forget, but I think he said he had Cystic Fibrosis or something, and he talked about how important Daredevil is to him because he’s a character with a physical disability who’s overcome that adversity in life. And I remember listening to this boy talking, and I remember thinking, it was first time it really hit home to me how important this character is to so many people. And for more than just entertainment purposes. It was a very humbling moment. So I hope so. I really hope so. It’s like Stan Lee said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And I hope I’m afforded the possibility to touch peoples’ lives in that way.
“Daredevil” debuts April 10 on Netflix.
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