Sure, there are plenty of square-jawed actors who can look appropriately heroic in a superhero suit, but it takes an entirely different skill set to convincingly, likably play the hero’s wisecracking civilian sidekick. And when it came to embodying “Daredevil’s” law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, Elden Henson knew how to add dimension to the sort of role usually reserved for one-note sidekicks.
Henson began his acting career as a child in the ’80s and has worked steadily even since, most recently as Pollux in “The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1.” He brings a deft, light comedic touch to the Netflix series as Matt Murdock’s best friend while serving as a viable potential romantic interest for their very first client. And as he reveals in a one-on-one discussion with CBR News, sometimes you don’t have to know comic books inside and out to simply get what a character is all about.
CBR News: The chemistry of the three leads — Matt, Foggy and Karen — is really what much the show hinges on, and you guys have it in spades. What can you tell me about finding that groove?
Elden Henson: Well, that was just luck, man. I didn’t have a lot of time, and neither did Deborah [Ann Woll]. I mean, Deborah went right from finishing her show to working on this, so it was just luck. They’re both incredibly lovely people. Charlie’s an amazing guy, and Deborah really might be the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life. It’s kind of crazy. At first, you’re like, “I don’t know, man.” But then you realize, “Oh, no. She really is just that nice.” It’s crazy.
I think we all came with real excitement for the show, excited to be in that Marvel Universe. To be able to tell this story on the Netflix platform is really exciting because you’re just able to do little things that you’re not able to do on, say, a network show. You’re maybe able to tell — you’re able to develop some more characters a little more deeply than you would on say like a two-hour movie or whatever it is. We just got lucky, man.
The Foggy/Karen relationship is really fun in the first five episodes, because you still don’t know where it’s all going. They have this bestie kind of vibe happening, but then again, maybe more.
I would say yes. Foggy definitely would like more, and I mean, why wouldn’t he? Karen’s a very attractive woman. [Laughs] And, he’s a guy.
What can you say about Foggy’s storyline, where he goes for the rest of the season?
I think the cool thing about this show is that Foggy really does have his own journey that he’s going to go through. Obviously, I can’t give any sort of details, and I don’t want to give anything away — I’m one of these guys that I’m like, if there’s something coming out that I want to see, I try not to look at any previews or read any reviews. I just really want to experience it without anything else for the first time. I don’t want to give anything away.
I do think, from what I know, that people will be happy. I think [Executive Producer] Steve DeKnight did an amazing job of really developing all these characters and bringing a real human element to them. Even with Vincent D’onofrio and his character, there’s a real — I don’t know. It’s just not “scary” scary. Like, he’s a human being, and that almost kind of makes it even more scary, in a way. I think fans can expect that Foggy has his own trials and tribulations.
Where was your level of comic book nerdery before this project?
I’m embarrassed to say that it was not very high. I was more of like a movie nerd. I would seek out movies and see them on old prints and stuff like that, so I can relate that feeling of being sort of obsessed or really into something — I was just more of a movie nerd.
I did a screen test over Skype. I was in Germany finishing “Hunger Games,” and Jeph [Loeb] asked me, “How much do you know about Daredevil?” And I was like, “Well, I know of it. It’s one of the most iconic comic books ever, but I’m not well versed in it.” And he said, “Well, that’s okay, because we’re not just trying to make a superhero show or a comic book show. We want to make a crime show.” And that immediately made me feel like, “Okay, cool — This is something I can do.”
One of the coolest things about the show is that it’s really fighting these things on a street level, as opposed to, like, saving the world. It’s more on the ground level. It’s a little more gritty and accessible for someone, even like me, who maybe didn’t know much about the comic — but I’d definitely watch the show.
Did they hand you a stack of the most Foggy Nelson-centric comics?
Yeah, they did. And I did my best. I’m sure people are probably sick of hearing me tell this, but my son was born right before we started shooting the show, so I was definitely up all night and, like, trying to stay awake on set the next day. I’m shocked that I didn’t get fired — I’d literally fall asleep and be snoring. But I did my best. What I did was just sort of reached out to a few people that did know the comic and sort of asked what was important to them in terms of the characteristics of Foggy.
I tried to find the things that I could tap into, and for me it was, Foggy’s very much a man of the people. He believes in what’s right, and his friends are his family. I relate to that. I have the same five friends that I’ve had since I can remember, and my brothers are my best friends. I love the people around me, you know what I mean? So that’s where I started. And once we actually got into shooting the show, I was lucky because I was able to rely heavily on Jeph Loeb and Steve DeKnight — and Charlie [Cox], actually was a real help for me. Sort of like he does on the show, he was always making sure — he was keeping me grounded, on the right track.
At your age, you’ve had a long and fruitful career, from “The Mighty Ducks” to “The Hunger Games.” How did you not become a cautionary tale — a TMZ headline or a “True Hollywood Story?”
My mom is a Golden Gloves boxer, and she would beat me up! No — I was lucky. My mom’s amazing, and like I said, I’ve had the same friends ever since I can remember, and they’ve always kept me very grounded. When I was a child, I sort of kept my real life separate from my professional life. Now, as an adult, they definitely cross over, but what worked for me and what kept me from going crazy was just that I always prioritized. My friends and my family always came first, and then the business.
I think, especially for people who are just starting out in the business, they can allow people to pressure them to make their job and their career the number one thing and forget about everything else. I think that’s the way you burn out really fast, so I always just tried to make sure I had my priorities straight.
And listen, I’ve had my fair share of being a little crazy in my twenties. But I also, I think, realized at a young age too how lucky I was. When I was a little kid, acting, I sort of thought, “Oh, I’ll grow up and do something important.” And as I got older, I was like, “Well, when can you make this much money with actually doing so little…?” [Laughs] It’s like, I’m sitting on a lottery ticket here. It would be crazy for me to rip this thing up.
And the truth be told, as I got older, I was able to play some really great characters, and acting has always been — I think other actors would say this, too — it’s therapeutic to play these other characters and sort of look internally and figure people out from the inside out. It helped me stay a little sane. Acting and my therapist help me stay sane! [Laughs]
With “The Hunger Games,” you’re coming out of a franchise with a huge, passionate fan base. This is going to have a huge fan base. What do you like about that element, where the fans are so invested?
Like I was saying earlier, I was always a bit of a movie nerd, and movies always made me so happy. To bring that joy to people, to see these characters that they love so much come to life, that’s the most important thing. I get it. I know what it’s like to love something that much. I don’t know. I just feel lucky to be a part of it, really.
“Daredevil” debuts April 10 on Netflix.
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