The Man Without Fear is coming to a Netflix near you soon.
Forget leaping from tall buildings and pummelling cigarchomping criminals. Charlie Cox got a taste of just how dangerous it can be to play a vigilante superhero during filming of an epic scrap on Marvel’s new Daredevil TV show.
“I almost broke my finger!” the actor laughs, chatting amiably to SFX in a cosy London hotel that’s roughly 3,500 miles away from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. “I went to punch this guy and I smacked the pole right in front of him. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone!”
Okay, so it’s not Batman’s Bane back-crack, but you can understand Cox wanting to keep his injury on the down low given he’s the new Man Without Fear. Shouldering the unenviable responsibility of rebooting Daredevil after Ben Affleck’s divisive 2003 movie, Cox is also first out of the stalls as Marvel TV unleashes a super- team’s worth of new heroes on Netflix. The on- demand service struck a deal in 2013 to produce four 13- episode shows – individually headlined by ground- level heroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist – that will eventually climax with the quartet bumping fists for miniseries The Defenders.
It’s a cross- media mutation of Marvel’s tried and true Avengers formula, this time putting the studio’s more real- world- y heroes up front and centre, with a projected team- up planned for some time in the near future. “That’s the plan,” Cox confirms. “I remember [ Marvel TV boss] Jeph Loeb telling me about when he was at the Avengers premiere in New York. As he was walking in, he thought, ‘ Ten blocks from here, that’s where the Defenders would be right now. Just hanging out. Street- level crime… That would be cool.’”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. While Defenders will happen eventually (“I can’t wait! I hope it’s sooner rather than later,” Cox enthuses), all eyes are currently on Daredevil. Oveseen by Angel, Smallville and Spartacus producer Steven S DeKnight, it’s being touted as a grittier take on the Marvel universe that cleaves to the stories of comic greats Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis.
“It’s certainly geared towards a slightly older audience,” Cox nods, bright- eyed on this inappropriately sunny March morning, and clearly having the time of his life aboard the Marvel train. “Daredevil seems to be more compelling when it’s got slightly more adult themes. When I think about the show, there’s something very lonely about it; all of the characters are lonely, ashamed or scared.”
If that sounds adult, it’s probably because it is. Early Daredevil footage has pitched it as Marvel meets The Wire, which should please fans of Miller’s brutal, crime- saga ’ 80s comics, and there’s not a superpower in sight ( aside from our hero’s “radar” vision). Originally masterminded by Cabin In The
Woods director Drew Goddard, the show retcons Affleck’s outing and reintroduces blind lawyer Matt Murdock as he goes up against real- life baddies in Hell’s Kitchen, New York – rather than, say, horny gods with dubious invasion tactics. Though Goddard eventually departed Daredevil to work on the upcoming new Spider- Man movie ( remaining attached as the show’s consulting producer, with DeKnight now showrunner), his vision for the series stands. Think brutal. Think bloody. Think Alex Maleev panels brought to pitch- black life. “When I read the first few scripts, I thought, ‘ These are cool. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen Marvel do before,’” Cox reveals.
First auditioning in March 2014, the 32- year- old actor admits he’s “not an obvious choice for something like Daredevil”. Chatty and easy- going, and still best- known for 2007 fantasy Stardust and Boardwalk Empire, he’s your typical unassuming Brit. Beneath his chequered shirt, though, there’s a ripple of muscle that hints at the hard labour he endured to bring Daredevil back to life.
Landing the role in May 2014, Cox had just one month to hit the gym and “read, read, read” before cameras rolled in New York. On the comics front, he name- checks Miller’s celebrated ’ 80s and ’ 90s runs – including The
Man Without Fear – before revealing: “I really kind of settled in the 1998 era onwards, the Bendis/ Maleev era. I felt like that suited the show I’d read. I read the scripts and I looked at those comics and thought, ‘ They seem to fit in nicely with each other.’”
Perhaps the biggest sign that Cox was perfect for the role of Daredevil? He was unafraid of sitting through the Affleck movie. “I’d heard so many different things about it,” he says. “I happen to think Ben Affleck did a wonderful job; he was a great Daredevil. But it was very evident as soon as I put it on that we were doing something very, very different.”
That couldn’t be more true. With 13 hours’ worth of TV to play with, the DeKnight/ Cox
Daredevil is an atmospheric slow- burner that cherrypicks choice moments from the comics while adding its own dark wrinkles. Gone is the quippy devil of Karl Kesel and Joe Kelly’s guard ( even before them, Daredevil’s ’ 60s adventures landed him the moniker “the sightless swashbuckler”). This new
Daredevil is a brooding saga that journeys with Murdock through the dark heart of Hell’s Kitchen as he establishes himself as both a lawyer and a hero. “This first series is really the evolution of Matt to Daredevil,” Cox reveals. “It’s a much longer build and that’s one of the benefits we have of having all this time – and hopefully future series.”
Like all origin stories, it’s a rough ride, not least on the physical side of things. While the comics have seen Daredevil besting both Wolverine and the Punisher in battle, the show finds him embroiled in even scuzzier scraps, including tackling a kidnapper’s den in breathtaking Oldboy style for that scene in which Cox injured his finger. “I love that stuff,” Cox says, shrugging off the injury. “For me, any of the physical stuff they’ll let me do, I’ll do. The great thing about Daredevil is, because he doesn’t have any super- powers, I was able to do quite a lot of it.”
Things are tougher still on the emotional side. Murdock makes plenty of mistakes (“He takes things too far at times, and other times he makes the wrong decision,” Cox says), and as he’s dragged further into the dark underbelly of Hell’s Kitchen, his only anchors to the real world are co- workers Foggy ( Elden Henson) and Karen ( Deborah Ann Woll). “You can’t make a Daredevil show without either of them,” Cox acknowledges, but if you think you know where those characters are headed, think again. “The show is not a foregone conclusion,” the actor teases, “and I’m really excited for that.”
Further complicating Murdock’s life is crime boss Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. Introduced in Miller’s comics as Daredevil’s arch enemy ( though he originally turned up in early
Spider- Man stories), Vincent D’Onofrio plays him with cold- eyed menace in the series, somehow channelling both Tony Soprano and Hannibal Lecter. And while his game plan remains murky at best, it’s reasonable to assume he’s going to be a considerable thorn in Daredevil’s side.
“It wasn’t difficult to be intimidated by him!” Cox laughs. “There’s a few characters in cinema history who have really terrified me: Sir Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast or Begbie in
Trainspotting. I think Kingpin may be added to that list when you see the show.”
DRESSED TO THRILL
Which brings us perhaps the most important part of the series: Daredevil’s iconic suit. In early episodes, Murdock wears the black get- up comic fans will recognise from Miller’s Man Without Fear. While Cox is keeping shtum about what the final
Daredevil costume looks like, he does reveal that the show took inspiration from Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy when it came to unpacking just why a regular guy decides to dress up to fight crime.
“There’s a practical element to it, there’s a reason for it,” Cox says. “He gets hurt and he has to get extra padding and all that kind of stuff. They found a balance between paying reverence to the suit, and having the iconic suit that you need, but also tackling the functionality and the reason behind it. Why it looks the way it does, why it’s made the way it is. And the reason someone chooses to wear a superhero suit, what is that reason? We discussed that. It’s very rarely discussed, and it’s great.”
It’s clear that DeKnight and Cox have great ambitions for their Daredevil. And with the horned one back in the Marvel fold after Twentieth Century Fox’s rights to the character expired back in October 2012, there’s also the possibility of expanding beyond the small screen. Because, yes, this Daredevil is 100% compatible with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Marvel are incredibly particular about that,” Cox says. “There’s a guy on set whose job is to be the eyes and ears of Marvel. The fans love this interwoven universe. There are comics where Daredevil and Spider- Man are mates, or Daredevil gets with the Defenders – and then there are comics that are just about Daredevil, which is closer to what our show is for now. But there are Easter Eggs, and that’s exciting!” Cue scenes in which
Daredevil’s antagonists discuss capitalising on the destruction wrought on the Big Apple in
Avengers Assemble. “What a great idea!” Cox enthuses. “Nobody ever thinks about that. That’s a very sophisticated thought to have.”
So while another season for the horned avenger won’t be considered until Netflix cranks the numbers on the first, there’s always the possibility of Daredevil eventually joining the Avengers on the big screen. “I would love that!” Cox grins. “No one has had any conversation with me about that, so I’d hate to presume, but that would be a great privilege and joy. I mean, it’d be fucking cool!”
Expect the series to start off in the manner of a gritty crime drama.
Charlie Cox stars as the blind lawyer with the lively brief.
You don’t become a crimefighting superhero without a bit of training…
Rosario Dawson co- stars as Claire Temple, a character from ’ 70s Luke Cage comics.
Daredevil is on Netflix from 10 April.