The Punisher may finally have met his match — and her name is Karen Page.
Yes, Frank Castle and the champion of Hell’s Kitchen will be throwing down vigilante style as one would expect in the second season of Marvel and Netflix‘s streaming series “Daredevil.” But it’s Karen who stands up as an unlikely but formidable ideological opponent. No longer the scared, nerve-wracked young woman of Season 1, Karen is the person who challenges the whys and wherefores of Castle’s vigilante crusade.
And that’s just one facet of Karen’s evolution. As actress Deborah Ann Woll reveals in conversation with CBR News, there’s romance ahead for her as well. Woll also hints at her still secrecy-shrouded backstory and, despite her lack of superpowers, the potential for her to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, outside the law offices of Nelson & Murdock.
CBR News: Along with getting closer to Matt Murdock, Karen spends a good deal of time with the far more frightening Frank Castle. What was interesting about that dynamic for you, playing against Jon Bernthal and just kind of exploring that interesting thematic dynamic they have?
Deborah Ann Woll: One of the first things I did when I knew that was the direction they were going was, I reread “Silence of the Lambs,” because for me, that felt very similar to this. In a way, he is a mentor for her, even though he may do things that she doesn’t agree with, or he does them in a way that she finds to be too violent, or unjust, or illegal. He still represents someone who is trying to make a difference, who is doing it his own way. So the relationship can be one of admiration, and distaste. It’s a very interesting, complex relationship.
What were the things you wanted to do to kind of indicate the growth she’s had? She spent a lot of the first season scared and finding her way out of that fear. Now, she’s a lot more confident.
Well, even as simple as something as posture — you look at Karen at the beginning of the first season, and it’s this beaten down woman who tried to do something right. She tried to blow the whistle on what she thought was embezzlement that ended up being connected to something so much bigger. They tried to beat her down, and she wouldn’t let them.
Throughout the season, I wanted to show her being afraid, but not letting that stop or hold her back. It can be something as simple as starting to stand a little straighter. Does your voice quiver when you speak? Or do you try to control that? Do you hold on to every last bit of dignity that you have, even when you’re in terrible, dire, scary situations? Just trying to let her courage win the day more and more.
Her relationships with Matt and Foggy take new turns, with her and Matt exploring a new, more romantic direction.
I have to say, it was one of the most fun things, and really very easy in terms of the work of it. Obviously, acting is a challenge and you take that on. [Charlie Cox] is such a giving, generous actor and a generous person. We would often talk beforehand, before a scene, and really try to figure out from what direction we wanted to approach this scene and what we thought it meant for them in the broader story. It really felt like such a great collaborative effort.
He and I get along so well. It was such a great day — today we did a bunch of interviews at Sirius. It was just great, chatting with him and sharing the fun that we had doing this story this season. I love that it’s a romantic story, but it’s also one about really deep friendship, and about, how do we become vulnerable with people? How do we expose every last bit of ourselves? Even the parts that we think they will hate, we think that they will turn away from us if we tell them who we really are.
There’s still sort of that tentative Foggy/Karen connection, where we see him kind of looking at the blossoming Matt/Karen relationship a little askew, occasionally.
Foggy means so much to Karen. He was there in the very beginning when she needed him. He’s always been, in the way that Foggy sort of represents the lightness in what is a very dark show of “Daredevil,” he’s also the lightness in Karen’s life.
Matt, as much as she might have very deep feelings for him, he’s also very complicated and very secretive. Foggy is so clearly, “what you see is what you get.” There’s a very pure joy in that. Even if the romance sort of goes off the table with him, he will always be someone that she cares about and that can brighten her day.
From Matt’s side of the equation, this romance with Karen is playing out in direct contrast to his relationship with Elektra — two very, very different dynamics. Did you keep that in mind in creating what you guys were doing, as opposed to what he and Elodie Yung were doing.
Yeah. Obviously, this is Matt Murdock’s story, so we’re looking, at how do these two different women bring out different aspects of who he is? I think Charlie said it this way, and this is what we discussed in our rehearsals, is that, in a way, he can be completely Matt Murdock with Karen. Totally vulnerable, totally himself, who he is — and that’s scary.
With Elektra, he can be totally Daredevil. All of the darkness, all of the desire to break the law and disregard other people’s feelings and needs. That kind of temptation side.
Hopefully what he’ll search for in the end is someone that he can indulge in both of those sides with. I really appreciate what the writers did, really just representing two very different women, and it wasn’t about who’s better or who deserves him or who does he deserve. It’s just about choice and feeling and wherever that falls most strongly.
What was the biggest challenge for you this season, whether it be something on a practical level, something you had to pull off physically, just shifting a headspace? What was the thing you had to work hardest at?
I mean, you have to work at it all. The thing that I simultaneously love about Karen and terrifies me is, really, her guts, her follow through. I tend to be a more shy, somewhat self-deprecating person, and I’m learning through Karen how to stand up for myself and how to say out loud when something makes me uncomfortable or feels disrespectful. So every time Karen stands up to the DA, or stands up to Matt and Foggy for not accepting her and all of the work that she does, I learn as Deborah to stand up for myself in similar situations.
In Season 1, where Karen comes from, exactly, what’s gone on in her immediate past, we don’t know, and we don’t get a whole lot of clues yet in the first seven episodes of Season 2 either. Are we going to move there? I know from talking to you last year that it was definitely going to be a slow burn, revealing her backstory.
We’re definitely not dropping it. I mean, you will get hints. You will learn new things. How much we’re willing to give you, you’ll have to sort of wait and see. But it absolutely plays into this storyline for Karen this year. Certainly, the Punisher’s arrival and everything that he represents, that directly enters into her thinking about what happened with Wesley, and as well as what has happened in her past. So we will get little hints.
I don’t know if you noticed, but in the first couple episodes, she talks about her brother. There are these little hints about where she’s from and who she was, and she’s sort of slowly beginning to open up to Matt about some of these things. If she feels comfortable enough, maybe she’ll tell the whole story.
How much of a full picture have you been given? Were you always kind of aware of what her backstory was going to be? Or has it been slowly unveiled to you as well?
Well, I spoke with the writers because “I killed a guy” is very different than, “I used to be a stripper.” Both of them you might want to keep a secret, but it’s a different feeling when you talk about it. It was important to me that I knew, generally, what direction they were going. So I called the writers, and we had a really long conversation and they told me what they were thinking. I told them how that sort of affected me and what I would do with the role moving forward, and we all felt really good about it.
I purposely decided never to share that with my costars, not until the writers decide to do it in the story. So I, Deborah, have this sort of secret. I know Karen’s story. I know her past, and no one else does. It helps in terms of the acting, to sort of have that secret for me.
At this point, how deep a dive have you gone into the comic book source material? Have you had time to really explore it and learn beyond just the things you kind of need to keep in mind about Karen, but get a sense of the whole “Daredevil” mythology?
I honestly didn’t go that deep. When I first got the job, I read the very beginning. I read the Karen-centric storylines. Then I read the few series that I knew the show was taking direct reference from. [Brian Michael] Bendis, [Alex] Maleev, and Miller, Frank Miller. These particular writers and artists that I knew were going to be heavily influencing our show.
Beyond that, I sort of think I’m sort of privileged and fortunate in that we are really creating our own Karen. She has some really specific story plotlines in the comic books, but in a way, it was like she was a lot of different people in the comic books. Our Karen can be our own different idea of who she is. I’m pleased with that. I think we have a lot to offer this character.
The juxtaposition of your Karen in contrast to the Elektra that we’re meeting in the show is kind of a brilliant dramatic move, to put those two characters on either side of Matt.
Yeah. Of course, Elodie is so talented and gives so much to that part that I think if the two of us do our job, we’ll make it very hard for Matt to decide who he wants to be. Does he want to follow that id, or does he want to try to be the man he always thought he could be?
Now that we’ve seen “Jessica Jones,” and we know “Luke Cage” is right around the corner, how intrigued are you to be a part of that expanding Marvel mosaic, particularly amongst the Netflix shows?
I’m incredibly excited. I also have to give a shout-out to how wonderfully diverse the Defenders are. I mean, to have Luke Cage an African American, and Jessica a woman. “Iron Fist” is going to bring in a lot of Asian actors, I’m very pleased that we have such a wonderful, diverse mix of people and experiences. I’m very proud to represent maybe a more realistic view of the world — even in a superhero show.
How much ownership do you now feel over Karen, especially as there’s potential for her pop into a season of “Jessica Jones” for a minute, or fit into “The Defenders” world? Are you going to be a fierce champion of who she is to you?
Oh, I have to be. Obviously, you do it in a collaborative way, and you accept everyone else’s ideas and thoughts, and you all try to find what really will work best. But if Karen were to show up on another series, I would then be working with writers who haven’t been with her as long as I have. In some ways, I do know her better than some of the people who might be writing for her.
If I were a writer, I would think of that as a great asset. I would really use my actor and their understanding of the character to further the stories that I tell. On the other side of the same coin, I think it’s really smart for actors to trust their writers to take their characters to the next level, to take them out of the box that they’ve already been in.
Sometimes I’ll read something and I’ll go, “That doesn’t seem very Karen,” but what if I really committed to it and we said, “Well, this is a new aspect of Karen,” and I really took that on? You want to challenge each other and make sure that everyone’s keeping in mind who this person is.
As grim and gritty as this show can get, there’s also a sense of humor that exists, in a very Marvel way. Behind the scenes, was there ever a situation where you’re like, “Oh, God, this is just too silly for words?”
We have a ton of those, but the one that’s coming to mind right now is Elden [Henson]: he was talking about how sometimes Foggy kind of talks like an old man. His lines will be like, “loaded for bear,” things like that. He had to say something like, “Well, he’s not the freshest fish in the barrel.” Elden just could not get out “freshest fish.” And I get it, it’s a really hard one to do, especially when you’re trying to rattle off lawyer talk. We just couldn’t get through it.
He would finally say it, and Charlie and I wouldn’t be able to keep our cool. We’d lose it and start laughing. It’s one of those very few moments where, in front of the camera, while we’re rolling, we just dissolved into an unprofessional pile of goop because it was too funny.
“Daredevil” Season Two begins streaming Friday, March 18 on Netflix.
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