Joe Quesada has been many things during his tenure with Marvel Comics: a freelancer artist and writer, Editor-in-Chief and in recent years Chief Creative Officer. But first and foremost, he is a New Yorker. And so at his annual Cup O' Joe panel at New York Comic Con, Quesada brought a special surprise for the hometown crowd: Daredevil's Kingpin actor Vincent D'onofrio.
"We got caught in a Spinal Tap moment trying to get here from upstairs," he laughed as he arrived on stage and welcomed his special guest to the stage to applause.
The actor recalled his upbringing as a native of New York who was raised mostly down south as a quiet kid who found solace in nerdy pursuits like comics. "My guys were Daredevil, Captain America, the Punisher and then [one DC character]," he said. "I was not a collector, but I used to read them. We didn't have a lot of money. But I was very much into magic, and I would spend all my money – like my allowance and stuff – on instructions and learning to do tricks."
"Eventually I got into building boxes and cabinets [for magic] because I was doing shows," he said. "I bought this book about Houdini, and in there was diagrams of his tricks. There was a mailbag trick where you'd be put in cuffs and a bag and then put in a box." The actor said that he had to convince local business to help him build this classic trap, and then local police who knew his waitress mother would come over and handcuff him and chain him into the bag. He escaped the trap, which included him being dunked in water, live on local TV and then worked as an amateur magician until he became an actor.
D'onofrio explained that he caught the acting bug when he lived with his performing father in Colorodo. "I realized that I wasn't nervous [on stage], and I'm still not nervous. It was something where I realized 'I suck at this right now, but I might get good at it because I'm never nervous'...so I went back to New York."
The actor became a method actor touring with the American Stanislavski Company, though he stressed that his goal is commitment and not to go so far into the idea of method acting that he loses himself. Quesada said he has been able to observe the differences between D'onofrio and Daredevil star Charlie Cox, to which the actor said, "There's no one way to do it. I've done improvisation with Anthony Hopkins who's style is very different than me, but it's the energy in the room."
When it came to creating Wilson Fisk on the screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actor worked to find moments in his own life that connected to the character. "One of the key things for Fisk was his voice. There's a particular event in my life that I speak through that event for anything that Fisk is going through. Fisk to me is like a child and a monster and everything in between...he lives through this kind of emotional pain and state, and that's how I wanted to portray him. When he's at his most clever, he's doing that. When he's at his most romantic, he's doing that. When he's at his most monstrous, he's doing that."
Quesada asked how the cadence of Fisk's voice was found. "It comes from my mind as an actor choosing to be articulate – choosing to annunciate but at the same time coming through that emotion all the time," D'onofrio said. "It's one of my favorite parts ever, and I'm honored to do it...what's great about playing a Marvel character is that the fans so badly want you to get it right. You'd think that would pressure you, but it doesn't. It inspires you. The heart of that performance is the fan...it's the appreciation they have for the art and the way the artists paint and draw. David Mack and Bill [Sienkiewicz] helped me so much." The pair talked too about how important it was for the actor to have suits that matched the iconic look of the Kingpin.
D'onofrio said his big break came in the years in New York when he was largely working as a bounced and bodyguard for people including Yul Brenner in his last tour before dying. But while he was working the door at the Hard Rock Café, he bumped into his old acting school buddy Mathew Modine who had just been cast in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. The crucial part of Private Pyle had not been cast, and D'onofrio found a camera (a hard feet back then) and shot a monologue from a play he had been in to the director's office.
"I have to tell you something, being a bouncer I worked with a lot of cops and firefighters who were moonlighting, and they'd give me a lot of grief about wanting to be an actor," he said. When he got the call at home about taking the part in Full Metal Jacket, he was totally surprised to be taking with Kubrick who (unbeknownst to the actor) had a thick New York accent. "I thought he was British! So the minute I heard his voice, I hung the fuck up. I thought it was my friends giving me a hard time."
After another audition where he had to film himself reading lines from the film with no context for who the character was, D'onofrio landed the gig. Kubrick did not direct actors in a traditional sense, trusting the performer to create the character on their own. The biggest problem was that they wanted the character to look week, so the actor had to work to put on 80 lbs of weight during the early days of filming.
D'onofrio told a story about being in the English countryside working on the training scenes in the film with the main cast and a host of British extras. One day, the cast was working with large tires painted yellow and working out while the director sat high aloft on a crane. "He was up there, and he had this pack of lenses with a telescope thing...he would look through the lens, look through the lens, look through the lens...it was hours of him looking through that lens. Lunch would go by!" he laughed. "Every possible thing we could do [had run out]. Stanley is still up on the crane, and one of the Brits standing in one of the circles screams out 'Get off the F'ing crane!" The director came down and walked over and asked his assistant to find the culprit but also ask for patience. When he re-ascended the crane, the extra again shouted at him. The director continued to send requests for calm only to be heckled more. Finally, Kubrick rushed the group and demanded to know "Who said it?" and then spontaneously, the cast recreated the "I'm Spartacus!" scene from Kubrick's own previous film – a gambit that paid off as the director laughed and let the cast go home for the day.
"The next morning when we came back, there were less extras...but we eventually did get the shot. And if you know Stanley Kubrick's films, you know that shot is amazing and well worth the wait," D'onofrio laughed.
The actor also recalled filming key scenes in Daredevil when he finally got to spend a lot of time with Carlie Cox. The scene when the two men's characters met in a holding cell called for a high level of rage from D'onofrio, and he said, "To do it in one take is difficult...it's not like theater. It's different...I asked the directo to keep the camera rolling and asked Charlie if this was okay with him so that when I was locked in this embrace with him, I could go off and 'kill something' like breaking a chair and then come back with that same energy...basically we completed one whole side of the scene with me coming in and out of the frame going to break some thing...if I felt I hadn't done the take right, I'd go kill a chair and then come back and do it again."
Quesada said that watching the scene on set was scary for him until they called cut, and D'onofrio came over smiley and relaxed to say hi.
Asked by fans about a possible comeback for Daredevil off of Netflix, Quesada stressed that they're unable to make any comment, though D'onofrio joked that it was okay for him to share what he knew because he actually didn't know anything. But he praised Season 3 of the show as the very best and said the idea that they killed the series when they're at the top of their game was awful. As such, he'd never consider another Marvel role himself...but maybe if they offered him one, he'd go for it.
Stay tuned to CBR all weekend for more from New York Comic Con 2019.