Charlie Cox, star of Netflix series “Daredevil”, talks about his favourite villains and what it’s really like behind the mask
By Pamela Chow
A man of privacy, Charlie doesn’t engage in social media, and prefers to spend his free time for his family and friends.
“Hi, I’m Charlie,” he greeted each of us, with a warm smile and handshake, as we entered the room. I felt like I was meeting a friend of a friend at a bar — but Charlie Cox is no ordinary bloke.
Cox has appeared in Stardust (2007), in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” but most recently (and perhaps most-notably) in the award-winning Netflix series “Daredevil” as the titular blind vigilante, Matt Murdock.
Belying his fame as the popular superhero, the British actor is chatty and surprisingly down to earth.
We unmask his thoughts about his success as Daredevil.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT PLAYING DAREDEVIL?
What’s really fun for me is to play a superhero who’s deeply flawed. We think of superheroes as being superhuman in terms of their character attributes.
Although Matt does have those qualities, he’s also got an arrogance and a temper, and he’s stubborn and selfish at times.
What’s fun is to have this superhero who, I think, is quite relatable. I love the scenes when he walks away from an encounter with [a villain], he doesn’t feel good about himself.
With a portfolio spanning diverse roles, British actor Charlie Cox recently shot to fame with his portrayal of blind lawyer-slash-vigilante Daredevil. (Photo: Barry Wetcher / Netflix)
ARE YOU A FAN OF THE ORIGINAL COMICS? HOW DID YOU STEP UP TO THE MANTLE?
Well, I am now! When I started, I wasn’t a comic book fan, but now I’ve read a lot of the comics.
It’s probably quite good that it happened that way, because I didn’t feel much pressure initially; I didn’t have this preconceived idea of who [Daredevil] was.
If I’d known how important this character is to people, I think I probably would’ve been in panic for most of the first season. I feel very blessed to have been given this opportunity.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH PORTRAYING A BLIND CHARACTER?
I worked with a gentleman very closely for the first season, and a little bit for the second season… I spent countless days watching him and filming him; having him show me how to do household chores and walk with a cane.
It’s really important to me that all those aspects were authentic.
HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY IDENTIFY WITH MATT’S INTERNAL CONFLICT?
I identify quite easily with the religious aspect of it – the guilt. One of the great things about this character is that he’s kind of a walking contradiction in many ways. On one hand, he believes in God and God’s will, [but] at the same time he’s playing God in some ways.
I myself grew up Catholic, and… I think that my experience with deciding between being lawful or unlawful is really whether I cross the street when I’m not supposed to. [Laughs]
In response to criticisms about the pacing of “Daredevil”, Charlie believes that the longer dialogues mean that action scenes are “deserved”. (Photo: Barry Wetcher / Netflix)
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST FIGHTING SCENE FOR YOU IN SEASON 2?
The scene at the end of Episode 3 was the most challenging. It took a lot of time, and it was hard to shoot physically because it takes place in a stairwell.
Just getting all of the actors and myself and the camera and all the people part of a film set into a stairwell was very tricky.
HOW MUCH OF THE STUNTS DO YOU PULL OFF YOURSELF?
I try and do as much of the fight scenes as I can. I really enjoy that so I get to do a lot of it.
WHICH OTHER MARVEL CHARACTER WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE DAREDEVIL GO AGAINST?
At some point… Bullseye would have to show up. He’s such an iconic “Daredevil” character; I would hope to see him.
I’d also like to see Wilson Fisk [aka the Kingpin] come back. In the comics, the Daredevil-Fisk relationship is brilliant and so intricate and interesting… There’s an opportunity to really engage in the sophistication of that relationship.
DO YOU THINK THE PUNISHER AND ELEKTRA CAN MATCH UP TO FISK IN SEASON 2?
That hole will permanently be there now. There’s a Wilson Fisk-shaped hole in the show, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or – hopefully – less good. It’s a testament to how engaging and brilliant that character was.
Hopefully, what we lost with not having Vincent D’Onofrio [who played Fisk], we gained by having two incredibly interesting and engaging characters.
It’s so fun to play with the dark side of man and the vulnerability and manipulation that goes on.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH NEGATIVE COMMENTS?
I don’t really read any of that stuff. I’m not on social media; I don’t really think it’s very healthy for someone to go online and read [criticism]. There’s going to be people who have opinions, always going to be people who think you’re a bad choice or you’re terrible.
I think it was important that I formed my opinion of this character, and I respected the producers’ choice for the character. You have to try to be unafraid to bring what you believe is right.
You’re not always going to get it right, you just work hard and hope for the best.
HAVE YOU HEARD ANY CRITICISM THAT YOU DISAGREE WITH?
I’ve heard some people say the pacing is not quite right, but I disagree with that – I think the pacing of the show is very deliberate… Some of the talking scenes go on, and you’re really left to sit with those feelings, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable.
But what that means is when the action comes, it’s deserved. Sometimes with some action films, I feel like it’s all too much, it’s overwhelming and unenjoyable.[In “Daredevil”] You feel every punch; Matt gets into a fight and he spends an entire episode recuperating and having to patch up his wounds. I had a bruise on my face that lasted for three or four episodes, which is realistic.
With Matt, he goes into combat and then you see him sit with the feelings of the fight in his apartment. I think that’s something you rarely get to see with superheroes. I really admire those creative decisions.
Charlie (centre) with Season 2 co-stars Elodie Yung (left), who plays Elektra, and Deborah Ann Woll (right, Karen Page). (Photo: Marion Curtis / Netflix)
HOW MUCH HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED WITH THE SUCCESS OF “DAREDEVIL”?
Not a great deal, actually. I’m quite a private person, I don’t have a very extravagant life. I don’t tend to go to celebrity parties or stuff like that.
When I’m not working, I hang out with my family and my friends. I do very “normal” stuff. One of the reasons I’m not on social media is so I can maintain that level of personal anonymity.
As a result… The fans that I’ve met so far are very respectful and kind. I’ve never felt overwhelmed or taken advantage of.
I can see how the lifestyle can seemingly become very extravagant, but I think as long as you have a strong family life – I have very good parents – and don’t start to separate yourself from other people, you should be fine.
FROM LORENZO IN THE MERCHANT OF VENICE TO TRISTAN THORN IN STARDUST TO (ST) JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA IN THERE BE DRAGONS TO OWEN SLATER IN “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”, AND NOW DAREDEVIL. HOW DO YOU PICK SUCH DIVERSE ROLES?
The honest answer is, between the roles I had, I also had long periods of unemployment. I don’t really get to pick and choose in the way the big movie stars get to.
I’ve been very fortunate that the majority of roles that I had have been roles that I really wanted, and a lot of them have turned out quite well.
If I’m ever in a position where I get the chance to choose, I look at the writing first: Do I believe the characters? Do I believe the emotions? Do I believe the complexities of these people? Is the message valid and interesting? Is it something that will touch people?
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF A DAREDEVIL MOVIE?
It’d be fun to do. I don’t know what that film would be; I don’t think we would do the origin story if they make it with me, because Episode 1 and 2 from Season 1 are basically a movie [about that].
I’ve got to be honest, I love doing the show on Netflix, I love spending the time with these characters. On a movie you’ve got to fit so much into two hours, it’s such an art form.
But one of the things I love about this show is that it breathes.
“Daredevil” is now running on Netflix Singapore.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Weekender, Issue 149, Apr 1 – Apr 14, 2016, with the headline ‘Angel behind the devil’s mask’.