Leaving his lavish life in Downton Abbey to take on the crimefighting mantle of Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen, Charlie Cox tells GT about buffing up, being better than Ben Affleck and how he’s ready for life as a gay pin-up
Getting in stunning shape to play Daredevil has been a revelation for Charlie Cox. The actor, who’d never been to a gym and whose idea of weight training was lifting a pint in his home town of London, buffed up for the Marvel TV series and now he’s hooked.
“After doing it for eight months I’ve grown to love it,” 32-year-old Charlie tells us. “When you’re in the habit of going to the gym you feel great and I’ve gotten better at it. I used to go ‘I wouldn’t even know how to sit on that thing or which way to face,’ but I’ve now got a sense of which machines do what, which body part they work, and I’ve got regimes if I just want to knock out a full-body 45 minute workout. There’s less anxiety about it now.”
Tucking into a Toblerone and remarking, “I get to eat no fucking Toblerone when I’m doing the show,” Cox gives a smile that radiates charm and perfect dental work and adds: “So I keep up exercise now because I really enjoy it. Also, if we DO do a second series, I don’t want to have to start from scratch.”
Here’s hoping Daredevil – which is on Netflix with all the high production values you’d expect from the channel that’s brought us Orange is the New Black, Better Call Saul and House of Cards – gets a second series, because the first one is brilliant. It stars Cox, who we’ve had a soft spot for since he played Tristan Thorn in Stardust, as Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, a lawyer by day who fights crime at night on the dark and dingy streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.
He also takes his shirt off quite often, a breathtaking sight that the actor only had four weeks to prepare for. “Which, when you’ve never had a gym membership and never done weight training, isn’t an awful lot of time,” he grins. “Plus it wasn’t about losing weight, it was about gaining weight. I had to bulk up and put ON muscle.”
Somewhere en route, Charlie also lost all his chest hair. On sexy display in Boardwalk Empire and poking out of his shirt today, it’s nowhere to be seen in Daredevil. “When I had that topless scene in Boardwalk Empire, some people thought I was wearing a sweater,” he says.
Superheroes tend to be smooth shaven like Arrow and Thor, who flaunt their six-packs at every opportunity – both on screen and in publicity shots. Charlie reckons: “It’s like an advertisement for male strength, isn’t it? It’s symbolic of masculinity. The images are so iconic and I don’t think people associate body hair with superheroes.”
Try telling that to bears and cubs, but we see his point. And we agree when he talks about the TV series being completely different, and by implication much better, than the 2003 Ben Affleck movie. “Because we’re on Netflix we’ve been able to come up with a more adult-themed show with some quite gratuitous violence. It’s a risk because you don’t want to alienate the young kids, because it’s Marvel, but at the same time it suits the world of Daredevil.”
The actor knew nothing about the superhero, who was created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in the 1960s. Blinded by radioactivity as a kid, his senses become heightened and he gets into crime fighting to avenge his father’s murder, disguising himself in a blood red costume and horned mask. Growing up, Charlie Thomas Cox was into The Beano and The Dandy, not the Marvel Universe. “So it’s all completely new to me. In fact, when I got the audition I didn’t even know Daredevil was blind. I was completely ignorant, but in some ways it’s a blessing because I was able to begin the job with no preconceived ideas. It was only after Comic-Con and images were released and bloggers started weighing in that I began to feel the pressure. I’d become fond of Daredevil and Matt Murdock, and suddenly I realised how wide his appeal was.”
The appeal extends, of course, to gay comic book fans. “It’s
interesting,” Cox says when GT tells him about Marvel’s gay fanboys. “With a lot of comic book heroes there’s an element of secrecy. Not all of them are, for example, like Captain America – who wears a costume, but he’s not in disguise, whereas a lot of them wear a mask. There’s a sense of a secret there. All of my gay friends have described growing up with what felt like a secret.”
A quick glance at Charlie’s filmography – Downton Abbey, the aforementioned Boardwalk Empire, The Theory Of Everything – shows the actor hasn’t done full-on action before. He makes up for that with Daredevil and, although he has a stunt double to handle trickier things like turning 900º in the air, he says: “I do as much as I’m allowed to do.”
The iconic red suit is there in the title sequence but not in the first few episodes. For a while he’s a man in black. “It’s like a running top, like Under Armour, skin tight and streamlined,” is how Cox describes his initial costume – and he isn’t at liberty to tell us when and how it’ll switch to red.
“I’m not allowed to say,” he sighs. “All I can say is that it’ll be revealed in the first season.” So he’ll eventually shift things up a gear from Lycra to leather? “It’s not leather,” he laughs, towing the party line about not revealing any details. “What’s really great is that, within the world of the show, with the material used to construct the superhero costume, there’s a lot of discussion about it. It’s a very cool storyline actually. Often in the movies they don’t have time for that because they have to fit so much into two hours, whereas over 13 hours of television there’s more time to explore all the elements to being a superhero.”
We push for more details. “Well, there’s a lot of discussion about why Daredevil should have a costume. What does it symbolize? What does it look like? How practical should it be? What is its functionality? I find all the stuff that surrounds the donning of the suit fascinating and I hope the fans will feel the same way.”
Our heads are spinning as to just how Daredevil will fit into the Netflix strand of the Marvel Universe, what with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist getting their own shows before they all come together as The Defenders. Charlie insists he has no idea how it’ll all pan out either, or if indeed Daredevil will get a second series. “They haven’t told me anything. They reserve the right to make that decision at any point, but my great hope is that there’ll be a second series.”
As for The Defenders, he reckons: “It seems to me that there’s an attempt to keep the characters relatively autonomous, so you meet them in their own worlds, then you meet them together. When I was a kid, when you thought about being a superhero or having a superpower, the exciting thing was the idea of being able to do something no one else could do. So it’s nice to have a show where, although we acknowledge the existence of other characters, Daredevil is special.”
There’s that grin again. “But of course, as the Marvel Universe is famous for, there are Easter eggs and things are all intertwined – and hopefully the fans will relish that.” In the first episode, for example, there’s a scene that references the fact Hell’s Kitchen is now ripe for development because a bunch of superheroes destroyed it in a big fight – which obviously alludes to the spectacular battle at the end of the first Avengers movie.
For the record, if the man playing Daredevil could have any superpower it’d be the ability to fly. He’s a bit embarrassed that it might be the obvious choice, but he’s hard-pressed to think of a better one. “I mean, invisibility would be cool but the problem with that is the mind goes immediately to lesser instincts. You don’t think about using it to help people, you imagine being in places where you could see things you shouldn’t.”
Like, perhaps, Scarlett Johansson slipping in or out of her Black Widow costume. That’s the Marvel character Charlie would most like to see pop up on Daredevil, alongside a certain web-slinger. “I read a lovely issue of the comics where Matt Murdock is assigned to represent Daredevil in court, which of course is a physical impossibility. Daredevil turns up, Matt Murdock represents him and you’re like ‘How the hell is this happening?’ which dispels anyone’s suspicions that they’re the same person. It turns out Peter Parker put the suit on as a favour, so it’d be cool if Andrew Garfield popped up on the show sometime.”
Unlikely, since Garfield has been dropped from the franchise – something that Charlie is genuinely shocked to hear. “Really? I really liked Andrew in that role. He’s a fantastic actor, as is Tobey Maguire.”
Likewise Mr Cox, who like Andrew and Tobey before him has buffed himself up for superhero-dom. Is he braced for being a gay pin-up too? He beams. “Why not? I’ll take being a pin-up full-stop.”
And he’s no stranger to gay roles, having done The Lover/ The Collection on stage – “Well, technically the character was bisexual, but I thought of him as gay” – and snogging Rob James-Collier in the first ever episode of Downton Abbey, when his lusty Duke of Crowborough got it on with Rob’s frisky footman.
“The one line in everything I’ve ever done that friends quote back to me is when in that scene Rob says to me, ‘I thought you loved me,’ and I say, ‘I do love you but one swallow doesn’t make a summer.’” He bursts out laughing. “They never let me forget that one.”