Charlie Cox: Perfecting the Daredevil

Photo by Dave Nelson

Charlie Cox, looking buff in a dark Henley and sporting his native British accent, charmed the crowd from the time he strode onto the stage for the Friday 10AM panel “Daredevil: The Man in the Mask” in Hyatt Centential II–III. Animated and engaging, Cox displayed a true love of both the artistic and technical aspects of filming a show as emotionally and physically challenging as Daredevil, in which he plays the blind vigilante Matt Murdock, known as Daredevil. “I thought no one would be here” for such an early panel, he said, but for Cox—dashing, handsome, charismatic, and refreshingly humble—the room was full.

While speaking about the love triangle between Matt, Karen, and Foggy, he revealed that it was based on Daredevil Yellow, one of the first comics Cox read when he got the part. He called the love triangle “very beautiful and complex” and said it was fun to act. As it morphed during the second season into the love triangle between Daredevil, Karen, and Elektra, he felt it was wonderful material for an actor. “In my heart,” he said, “I believe that Karen Page is Matt’s greatest love.” A chorus of aww from the audience indicated wide agreement with his comment. “And yet,” he said, “there has to be something that Elektra offers that is incredibly appealing to Matt, that is incredibly addictive, and appeals to [his] other side.”

Cox thinks of his character as two people: Matt Murdock and Daredevil. Karen Page and Electra Natchios bring out opposites in him, which he finds fascinating and complex. “Hopefully,” he said, “you feel legitimately torn for Matt,” because Elektra encourages the Daredevil in him but pushes him too far to his dark side, whereas Karen brings out his sense of kindness, justice, and goodness. Daredevil, Cox believes, feels safer with Karen than with Elektra because, “he’s being truer to himself in that relationship.” Cox is obviously passionate about the topic and wants to explore both loves further in coming seasons, even though “Matt’s girlfriends don’t tend to end very well.”

When asked about season three, Cox revealed that they not yet filming it. Instead, they will do The Defenders next. He admitted to being as excited as the fans, because he has “no idea what’s going to happen or what characters will be involved.” He was also excited about another upcoming relationship: Matt Murdock and Danny Rand, aka the Iron Fist.

Cox was candid about learning and filming fight scenes, giving credit to the stunt coordinator and his stunt double for most of the work. The first season’s hallway scene was one continuous shot that clocked in at seven minutes and took 12 takes to perfect. It was one the first shoots of his tenure, meaning he was underprepared for it physically.

“How do we top that?” he asked rhetorically. The second season’s iconic stairwell scene, a callback to the hallway scene, was the answer. He’d learned a lot about fighting since the first season, however, and he did a lot more in the stairwell scene. He even knows the names of some of the fighting moves now, although he admitted this is mostly because of Elektra naming them during their fight in the boxing ring. The stairwell scene took three days to film with multiple shots filmed and edited strategically so as to create the illusion of one shot—a now stylistic hallmark of the show. “No one seemed to appreciate in the writing [how difficult] that was going to be,” Cox said, referencing how Murdock carries the much larger actor Jon Bernthal (Frank Castle), who described himself to Cox as a dead weight. “The scene started with me exhausted,” he said with a laugh.

When asked how he developed Murdock’s voice, Cox reasoned that a character with stellar hearing would likely have a stellar voice—one that resonates as deeply as the world he hears and disguises his blue collar upbringing. Cox, who is British, perfects his American accent by staying in it when the camera isn’t rolling to make scenes more organic and natural.

While Daredevil has been a star-making turn for Cox, his film career really began in 2007 with Stardust, which has gained steam as a cult favorite despite its initial lackluster performance.

“Where were you guys ten years ago?” Cox asked as the audience cheered at its mention.

He almost didn’t make the film, having missed his first audition. He also hadn’t read the book by Neil Gaiman, who he described as a “very cool guy in a black leather jacket.” Now, Cox gets “lots of drunk guys in their 30s admitting they didn’t want to see it, but were forced to and loved it.”

Working on the set with Robert De Niro, who Cox described as a “true professional and gentleman,” was a highlight. De Niro was shy and kept to himself, which made Cox wonder how the filming of the scene where De Niro’s character is caught dancing in dress would unfold. During the film’s first screening, Cox said people yelped—some thinking it was funny but others unwilling to accept the legendary actor in such a silly scene.

Since Daredevil is a part of the Marvel universe that includes The Avengers, a big question on the audience’s mind was whether Cox would appear in the upcoming Infinity War.

“I’ve made it clear that I’ll play a tree in any of those films,” Cox said when insisting that he doesn’t know if Daredevil will show up, but he trusts Marvel’s plan and strategy. Overall though, he finds the show format more rewarding than a movie, as he gets 13 hours to explore multiple storylines that can converge and take sharp turns at a moment’s notice—something very exciting for an actor. What Netflix has done, he said, “is unparalleled,” modernizing the clunky old television formula by no longer confining writers to a model that requires constant cliffhangers and reminders to keep audiences coming back weekly.

With Netflix, “they’ve changed the game,” Cox said. Like when it says ten seconds until the next episode and you’re frantically searching for the remote. “People watch as many [episodes] they want, or until they pass out.”

In his first film, dot the i, Cox worked with then-unknowns Tom Hardy and Gael Garcia Bernal and followed with a stint in acting school at the behest of his agent. He felt like he was moving backwards. Instead of spending the summer break learning the flute for an upcoming part in the fall, he went to multiple auditions for an Al Pacino film, reasoning, “I’ll learn the flute when I don’t get that job.”

It came down to the wire—the last day before fall semester began, and he was getting quite nervous—but he got the job and never had to learn the flute. It was one of the most surreal moments of his life. “I did not miss my classmates one bit.”

“Christopher Nolan will make some movie,” he joked, “and it’ll be like this: The part’s yours. You can play the flute, right?”

On Daredevil, Cox works with a number of amazing actors, calling Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Wilson Fisk, an “American icon” with an intimidating and incredible body of work and brilliant and terrifying delivery. “I don’t have to act much,” Cox said when asked about filming an intense jailhouse scene against D’Onofrio’s villainous Fisk. Cox said he learned more in that one take than in his whole career.

Jon Bernthal, too, is a force. “His emotions,” Cox said, “are so visceral and engaging.”

To bring Daredevil to life, Cox pulls more inspiration, not from how the character is written, but how he is drawn: like a boxer. “They don’t have a choice,” Cox said. “They have to believe that… they are the superior specimen” when prepping for a fight. The line between confidence and arrogance is slim for boxers and the Daredevil. “If Matt Murdock has any doubt,” he pointed out, “then he’s probably doomed.” Arrogance is what keeps him alive; it’s also his greatest vulnerability.

To learn how to behave like a blind man, Cox worked with one, watching him do even the simplest tasks, like drinking tea and speaking to others. But not all movements or habits—like watching someone’s mouth because that is where sound comes from—translate well on camera, so he’s adjusted, like changing his line of sight. Complicating this is doing multiple things at once.

“Speak in an accent, sew someone up, and [don’t] look at it,” he said. “Not easy.” It’s also not easy to grab objects while playing a blind man, who wouldn’t necessarily look at them first. Matt Murdock definitely wouldn’t look and wouldn’t falter in his attempt to, say, pick up a glass to one side while staring off in another direction.

Cox initially had trouble relating to Daredevil as the man without fear because there’s not much to play with and it’s not interesting to watch a fearless character. He decided that his nom de battle—the man without fear—is only the public’s perception, not his reality. “For me, Matt Murdock has great fear.” He gets tongue-tied and can’t express his feelings to Karen and Foggy, for example. But he is able to find his greatest attribute: courage.

When asked what superpower he’d choose, Cox paused for a moment, then said, “maybe the power to heal myself and others.” But then he remained pensive for a moment, and added, “No. I take it back. Flying. So cool!”

Authors of the article

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.

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