Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdox in "Daredevil." (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)Link
Charlie Cox in "Daredevil." (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)Link
Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, left, and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple in "Daredevil." (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)Link
Charlie Cox in "Daredevil." (Netflix)Link
Charlie Cox and Paul Mann in "Daredevil." (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)Link
A portrait of actor Charlie Cox taken at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan, NY. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)Link
“Daredevil,” the comic-based, crime-inflected drama that arrived Friday with 13 episodes on Netflix, represents a very different direction for Marvel.
Think of it as superheroes, Scorsese-style.
“Daredevil” is unquestionably more somber, and more graphically violent, than its Marvel Universe siblings, ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter,” two shows that reflect the company’s customary blend of uplifting entertainment, humor and mostly happy endings.
“Marvel really wanted to take a chance,” said show runner Steven DeKnight (“Spartacus”). “When they told me that they wanted this to be grittier, very grounded, morally complex, that was right up my alley. We approached it as a crime drama first and a superhero show second.”
According to Marvel’s head of television, Jeph Loeb (who, in his previous life as a comic book writer, wrote the miniseries “Daredevil: Yellow” for Marvel Comics), the company’s deal with Netflix offered it the opportunity to depict “street-level” heroes such as Daredevil, along with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, in an “edgier” world.
Each is set to headline his or her own New York-based Netflix drama before coming together, Avengers-style, for an event series, “The Defenders.” (“A.K.A. Jessica Jones,” starring Krysten Ritter as a superhero-turned-detective, will be the next to arrive later this year.)
“We are doing TV-MA,” Loeb said. “A lot of people don’t really think about our movies as anything other than family films, but in fact they are PG-13…. The thing that I like to always point out is that in the past year you could not think of two films that are more different tonally than ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ Yet somehow when you watch those movies they capture the Marvel spirit. What we’re trying to do in the television division is [generate] that same kind of magic.”
The Matt Murdock character debuted in comics with the April 1964 “Daredevil” No. 1, by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. As a youngster, Matt is blinded in an accident by a radioactive substance that heightens his other senses to superhuman levels. After his father, boxer Battlin’ Jack Murdock, is killed for refusing to throw a match, the son takes up the fight for justice on two fronts: in the courtroom as an attorney, and on the streets as a vigilante.
Classically trained actor Charlie Cox was chosen to star as Murdock in the Netflix series, but “Daredevil’s” first starring turn on the big screen came in 2003 with Ben Affleck as Murdock in a little-admired film that nevertheless spawned a 2005 spinoff featuring Affleck’s now-wife Jennifer Garner as the assassin Elektra. Once Marvel acquired the property from rights holder Fox, a plan for a tonally dark series began to take shape.
“You have to be able to start with what the original IP wants it to be,” said Loeb, referring to intellectual property. “For a long time, because of people like Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis, the book became a crime drama. It was just as interesting to look at the world in the mean streets of New York and to look at what Hell’s Kitchen looked like in those days and really set it in that world.”
Shooting the show in New York was critical to give “Daredevil” the right kind of energy.
“We wanted to be able to use the city as a character in the show,” Loeb said. “We’re on rooftops. We’re down in the subway, we are out on docks. We’re in the streets. Where else are we going to be able to get that steam coming up out of the street? Or that odd kind of amber hue that comes off a taxi cab’s headlights? Or the way that the color blue washes out at night in New York? That is the palette of our show.”
Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”) wrote the first two episodes and was originally set to oversee “Daredevil” for Marvel. When commitments to movie projects forced him to bow out, DeKnight, a lifelong comics fans, was brought on to oversee the show. (Both men have an executive producer credit.)
Those early installments explore Daredevil’s origins in flashback, while in present day, Murdock and his legal partner/best friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) set out to help a woman, Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), accused of murder. At night, Cox’s Murdock begins his masked quest in earnest, which ultimately puts him in the orbit of antagonist Wilson Fisk, also known as Kingpin, played by Vincent D’Onofrio.
For Cox, Murdock might seem to be a serious career departure from his previous roles in “Downton Abbey,” “Boardwalk Empire” or the wistful fantasy “Stardust.” And it’s true that the actor had no previous connection to the character. But in the five weeks between landing the role last spring and filming, he began to study Daredevil’s five-decade run (both Cox and DeKnight mentioned the work done on the title by Miller and the team of Bendis and Alex Maleev as especially influential).
Cox said he became intrigued by the inner turmoil that plagues Murdock, who, as a practicing Catholic, wrestles with an additional level of angst over the extreme actions he takes as part of his covert crime-fighting.
“He believes in God, he believes in divine order,” Cox said. “Then he’s going out and he’s effectively playing God. Having done those things he goes back home and has to sit with himself. I think he’s terribly confused and terribly conflicted and torn in all these different directions, and doesn’t know what the right path is and can’t talk to anyone about it.”
DeKnight thinks Cox’s Murdock studies have paid off.
“He really makes the character live and breathe,” De Knight said. “What I love about his performance — and you’ll particularly see it even more as the season progresses — is that he’s really being torn apart inside…. There’s a part of him that enjoys hurting people, the guilt that he carries with that…. Charlie really brings that out.”
Cox also worked quickly to pack about 20 pounds of muscle onto his lean frame to more authentically represent Murdock’s fighter’s physique. As often as he could, he said, he endeavored to do his own stunt work.
“What’s nice is we meet Matt Murdock at the beginning of his evolution to Daredevil; he’s just starting,” Cox said. “At the fight scenes at the beginning of the series, he’s not that good. He’s obviously trained but it’s gritty — there’s not a lot of scenes with amazing acrobatics. It’s more rolling around in the mud just trying to punch the other guy before he punches you.”
Certainly, Cox has found that that there are some real upsides to playing a superhero.
“I felt very cool a lot of the time, I’m not going to lie,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a British actor. I’ve spent the vast majority of my career saying things like, ‘Yes, my liege,’ or ‘No, your grace.’ To get to wear the black boots, the black cargo trousers and a massive black bandanna over my face just felt like the coolest thing I’d ever done.”
— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex
Blake Hennon contributed to this report.
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