SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers for The Defenders lie ahead!
When the woman you love is brought back from the dead to do evil deeds, it can get more than a little personal. And things do get “deeply personal” for Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, in Netflix's new series, Marvel's The Defenders, as English actor Charlie Cox tells us in this exclusive interview with SYFY WIRE.
In The Defenders, Daredevil has to join forces with Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) to save New York City from Sigourney Weaver's character, Alexandra Reid, who leads the Hand. The series, which comes from Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, also stars Scott Glenn and Carrie-Anne Moss. All eight episodes of the first season premiered on Netflix last Friday.
In the interview below, Cox (Daredevil) chats with SYFY WIRE about his character joining forces with the other Marvel street-level superheroes, about the return of Electra, and about “getting it right” when it comes to playing a blind character.
Congratulations on The Defenders. And it looks like you have another season coming up on Daredevil, too.
Yes, we are looking to do that at some point.
This is a great new adventure, and pairing your character up with the other three superheros is pretty cool. What did you think when you read the scripts?
I was real eager to read those first few scripts, 'cause I was so intrigued to know what this show was going to feel like. Our four individual shows are different. I struggled to anticipate what the feel of this show would be. I really enjoyed reading the first few scripts. We've got humor involved. It was potentially going to be a little more lighthearted at times in order to serve the four characters, and the kind of people they are and the way that they communicate with others. You have to allow Jessica Jones to make jokes about Matt Murdock's suit, and that kind of stuff. As a byproduct of that you end up with a show that hopefully maintains high stakes.
The entire first season has been released. Why should folks tune in to watch The Defenders?
For me the people who are going to love this show the most are the fans of the individual characters. If you really enjoyed one or all of the other shows, this is the really fun opportunity for you to see how those characters interact with each other. For many Marvel fans, that's the real treat, that's the real easter egg. The thing that they get most excited about is seeing what happens when [the characters interact with each other]. And that was often the stuff that was the most fun to shoot: those character moments when we were all getting to know each other, or figuring out who we are or at odds with how we wanted to approach the situation.
The highlights of the show are really these four very different, very strong characters. They put them in a room and make them stay there, and that was fun.
Your character had a tough go last season on Daredevil. So when he starts out in The Defenders, he's focusing on law and trying to let Daredevil go. Tell me about the evolution of Matt Murdock in The Defenders.
I felt like I got really lucky with the material I had in The Defenders. It was made easier by the fact that Daredevil, of course, has had experience with the Hand. He knows about the organization. They killed Elektra. So this story is deeply personal to him. And when a story is deeply personal, you can keep the stakes very high. Of course, Jessica and Luke don't have that. They are new to this. They're playing catch-up a little bit. They don't have any real reason to have a problem with this weird mythical organization other than the fact the city is in danger.
But I felt really lucky with the stuff that I had ... It comes from a place where he's feeling pretty low about himself and is pretty down about everything, and he's given up being a superhero. He refinds his feet with his profession, his human profession. And amazingly, things somehow go from bad to worse. By the end of The Defenders, he's gone through yet another roller coaster with this same ex-girlfriend at the heart of it. And they end up fighting/making love with the city crumbling above them. It's pretty Shakespearean in many ways (laughs).
What kind of challenges did you face with the filming of The Defenders?
The hardest challenge for me was the placement of the scenes with Elektra. Effectively you're bringing back someone from the dead, which is always not easy to do. I feel like it's very easy to get that wrong and do that badly. And if you do that wrong, you lose all the stakes. With drama, if there's ambiguity about whether or not characters can live or die, you do start to lose effects. It has to be handled very delicately. So you've got this character that Matt loves coming back from the dead, and I think it has to feel as shocking and horrifying and scary and confusing as we imagine it would in real life. But at the same time, it is something that has existed in this world, in Matt's world in the past, and so he has to find a way of taking the information and making decisions that will inform what he does about it.
I didn't explain that very well. I wanted it to feel as real as possible, but also not render him completely gobsmacked, if you know what I mean. It also has to feel like he can take action around it.
This series has four co-leads. In some ways, I imagine it made life easier for you, considering you're not in every scene. What was it like working with these other three amazing actors?
Yeah, it was great. And as you say, first and foremost, the schedule was so much nicer than it had been on the individual shows, so we were all really appreciative about that. Look, it was really fun to bounce off the other three. And at this point we know that the fans are going to love that part. They're going to love the characters coming together and seeing how they interact, and what those relationships are going to be like. The four of us as actors had a great time exploring that ourselves, both on and off camera. I can't say enough good things about the other three. I loved working with all of them. I actually felt like we had some really good chemistry. I think my favorite episode is Episode 4, where we all come together for the first time, and figure out who we are and what we're doing and what the problem is. I loved all that.
You got to work with some other great actors too, like Sigourney Weaver. That must have been cool.
Working with Sigourney is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. A truly special moment.
What was the biggest surprise for you, the thing that you weren't expecting?
Dragons, I suppose. Maybe. That was not something I imagined I'd ever be (laughs) ... I couldn't ... It was impossible for me to see a world where we're fighting in the cavernous space underneath New York City and dragons ... you know ... (laughs)
You didn't know that was going to happen in Matt's world (laughs)?
Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.
As an actor, what has Matt Murdock meant to you?
Oh my God, I wouldn't even know how to answer that question.
You've done a lot as an actor in your career so far.
Yeah, but nothing that has defined me as much as an actor. I mean that for a number of reasons. Partially because I've been playing him now for three and a half, four years. But we have another season coming up, so it's ongoing. Actually it's the longest time I've played a character. But also because of the Marvel family, because of the success of the show, it's now what people know me for. So there's a loss of anonymity that I enjoyed beforehand. I was usually that guy that people recognize but they don't know where they saw me. Whereas now people know me from Daredevil.
Other than that ... this can sound a bit disingenuous in print sometimes. I worry about saying it. But I feel like I've learned a lot from Matt Murdock. It's good and bad, actually. The way he cuts and ducks, the way he handles situations, I admire him a great deal, and I would like to [incorporate that] in the way that I handle situations. And then he's also quite stubborn, and he's got a temper, and I think he finds it very hard to do something that he doesn't believe is the right thing to do. Compromise is not easy for him, and those kind of things.
It's been an amazing journey. There's so many things about playing this character that have changed my life. Another one is a byproduct of playing a character who's impaired; I'm associated with the American Association for the Blind, which is really rewarding. It's a really wonderful byproduct.
What's it like for you to dig into Matt's emotions about his blindness?
That's something that obviously I take very seriously. Matt Murdock, for obvious reasons, as a superhero, is tremendously important to a lot of people, but also a lot of people who've grown up with some sort of disability. I think he's a real beacon of light, as it were, to people who've grown up with any sort of disability, because not so much that he's transcended or overcome that disability, it's that he uses it to his advantage. And so it's an area that I think is really important to get right. I work very, very hard on that whole aspect of it, and hope that it translates well and is appropriate.
The other interesting thing is that you are not an American, but you're playing an American. Do you ever slip back and lose your American accent?
All the time. It's very, very hard. There are those annoying actors out there who can just think about an accent and then do it flawlessly. I'm not one of those. I have to work really, really hard and spend a lot of time with an acting coach and drill the sounds over and over again, and try to feel like it's my voice. It's another area that takes a lot of work. I'm constantly trying to course-correct.
What are your hopes for Matt Murdock?
I don't really know. I'm excited to see what they come up with in Season 3 ... I have so much faith in the writers and whatever they choose to do, it will be something that is interesting and valid and makes sense.
I have small thoughts that I would like to see happen ... I'm invested in the Karen/Matt relationship. I'd like to see that figure itself out somehow. I feel like they could really help each other. And I think that they love each other a great deal. So I would like for that relationship to get back on track somehow ... Other than that I'm excited that he's not dead.