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.”

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