The Defenders: Charlie Cox on the Challenges of Daredevil

Daredevil is the window into a larger world for The Defenders, and Charlie Cox told us about what went into making the new Netflix series.

Marvel’s The Defenders will of course see the return of Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil. But how can a character like Murdock, who seemingly hung up his red costume at the conclusion of Daredevil Season 2, and who has his own issues to work through, handle operating with a team of similarly damaged heroes? 

As part of our in-depth look behind the scenes of The Defenders, we were fortunate enough to speak to Charlie Cox by phone while he was filming an upcoming movie back in May. Here’s what we learned.

Den of Geek: What are you shooting right now?

Charlie Cox: There was a very famous robbery in London in 2015. A bunch of guys who broke into a safe depository, and they stole millions of pounds worth of diamonds and jewelry from people who stored all their wealth in safes. Anyway, it became kind of a famous story because of the nature of the robbery itself. No one really knows how much they got away with. Some people say 25 million, other people say 200 million, 300 million.

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What was extraordinary about it is when they found the guys, they were all in their 70s. So it kind of became an amazing story, and everyone couldn’t believe that these old geriatric had pulled off such an amazing robbery. And the robbery itself was amazing. It was extraordinary. The only reason they got caught was because they didn’t understand technology, so afterwards, they just talked about it on their cellphones.

That’s pretty different from Daredevil and The Defenders.

Yeah, it is, exactly.

But that’s something that you’re kind of known for. I mean, you’ve done all these period dramas. People know you in America from things like Boardwalk Empire and Stardust. Does it ever strike you as funny that your best known role now is for something so different?

You know, it’s odd. There’s a period in my career where I wondered if I’ll ever do anything that took place post 19th century. Post 1950s, even. Every line I ever said seemed to be preceded by “Your Grace” or “My Liege” or something like that, and I was desperate to have a cup of coffee in a scene. So it’s quite nice now that the thing I’m most known for, probably, is something that takes place in the present. Yeah, man, it’s kind of wild. I never thought I would have the opportunity to play a superhero. And I had friends, British actors, who have done that and had the experience, and… You know, I turned 30 in 2012? 2013? I thought that ship had sailed. So it’s been great, it’s been an amazing journey.

Why do you think that British actors keep getting all of these iconic American superhero roles?

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I genuinely have no idea. I don’t know if it’s a trend because Christian Bale did such a good job, or because Tom Hiddleston was so popular. I have no idea. But we’re not going to fight it. We’ll take them if they’re there for the taking.

It’s a really good question. I think it’s surprising because there are some unbelievable American actors. Probably my favorite actors of my generation are almost all Americans, so it’s nothing to do with that, I can assure you. Maybe it’s just a fad, but I’m very grateful that it is a fad in this time because I’m getting benefits from it.

You’re not just playing a superhero, you’re playing a superhero a lot. Defenders is basically your third season as Daredevil, and Daredevil will have a season 3 as well. That kind of makes you the elder statesman of this group. How do you feel about that, and when they started casting the rest of the Defenders, did you reach out to any of them as this was going on?

I did not. I mean, I reached out to—by the time they casted Finn, we’d done two seasons of our show, and I’d met Mike and Krysten and I’d spent some time with them. And all three of us were aware that we’re still waiting for the fourth member. So when they casted him, we all sent an email to him to say, “Congratulations. Can’t wait to meet you,” blah, blah, blah. But when they were doing Jessica Jones, I knew we were going to do The Defenders at some point, but it felt like such a long way away, and it felt like—you know, the Jessica Jones show—it didn’t feel like it had anything to do with my show at all, it was very different. I mean, I was excited to meet her, and we ended up getting along fantastically when we shot Defenders.

But, I don’t know, it kind of felt like we all had our journeys privately, and then we came together for The Defenders. The “elder statesman” comment that you made, if that was ever true, that no longer feels true to me. By the time we got into The Defenders, it was very much an equal playing field. We were all given a similar amount of material, similar storylines. We all just kind of—we got on fantastically well, the four of us. There was no feeling at any point that any of us are more or less important than the others. It never felt like I’ve been there the longest. At least, it didn’t for me.

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I’ve watched the first two episodes, and I was impressed by how balanced it is between the four stories that are being told. I thought that was really something. Does that take some of the pressure off you?

Yeah, I think it probably does actually. I mean, look, I think it’s going to be very, very different to the other shows. It certainly feels like it’s very different to Daredevil. And I’m sure comparisons will be made because we’re playing the same characters, but I always would hope that wouldn’t happen.

I think the show that we made, The Defenders, totally, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of the same world as the other shows. I don’t think. It’s got a different vibe to it. If you can take Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that to me feels very different from The Avengers. And I think that’s a good comparison. The Defenders, I think, is going to be a little bit more lighthearted. There’s going to be more opportunities for tongue-in-cheek humor, and… you know, lightheartedness, without lowering any of the stakes, I hope. There’s more levity there.

One of the things we tried to do very little in Daredevil is when violence exists to try and negate it with a joke. We want the violence to be real and valid, but also not to pretend it’s not painful. But in The Defenders, I’m not sure that we quite do that. There’s a different feel to it. That’s partly because one of the organizations that we come up against is the Hand, and they are a fictional organization that exists outside of common life as we know it, et cetera. So there was more opportunities for that.

You mentioned the opportunity for levity, and everybody on the internet kind of latched on to those moments with Matt and Jessica in the trailers. What was your relationship with Krysten Ritter like on set? Because there does seem to be these natural pairings, you know, there’s Matt and Jessica, and there’s Luke and Danny.

I can’t say enough good things about Kristen Ritter, I really can’t. Me and her had a lot of stuff together, and I think Luke and Danny had a lot of stuff together—Mike and Finn. But, you know, the highlight of The Defenders for me is working with Krysten. I think she’s a phenomenal actor.

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She’s also an incredibly inspirational human being, she’s a real go-getter. She’s a master of many trades, I mean, she’s amazing. She’s an amazing individual. I loved working with her. She’s incredibly funny, and… I’m not traditionally very funny, certainly not that way, so it was really fun for me to try to explore being funny, and I mean, she’s knockout funny every time. So I feel like I’ve got my work cut out for me with her, so it was really fun to try and play those, you know, exchanging witticisms with Krysten Ritter on a regular basis. And I’m pretty sure—I haven’t seen the edit, I haven’t seen the show yet—but I’m pretty sure she wins most of the banters.

You’ve worked with [Daredevil and Defenders showrunner] Marco Ramirez quite a bit in the past, and it’s tough to ask him this question because he’s a little bit closer to his process. But did you see a difference in how he was approaching the material? How different was this for you than Daredevil season 2 was?

I think it’s very different. Like I said before, I think the show feels very different. It certainly felt very different to shoot it. But I don’t think he has a different approach. I think that was born out of necessity, you know. He’s not making a story that centers around one human being. So like, everything that happens in Daredevil has an impact on Matt, and we get to see that impact. And this is a show where the impact affects all four of them, to greater or lesser degrees, you know what I mean?

So just in terms of structuring the story it’s a completely different ball game. I was amazingly impressed by how he was able to take that and run with it. I can’t even imagine what it was like for him to write this show with four characters, all whom already exist, three of whom you’ve never written for. All of those guys have other people who wrote their individual shows, and they’ve already created the characters he has to try and find the voice of that matches what was already filmed and put on screen. And then he’s got to try and tell a story involving all four of those people with conflict, with drama, remaining true to everything that’s been done so far. Something like 50 hours of television, or 60 hours or whatever it is. And also make it compelling.

In terms of some of the acting challenges or even the physical challenges, what was your most challenging moment as Daredevil? It could be as how it relates to what you’ve done on Defenders or whether Daredevil season 2 or season 1 was easier than this. What stands out to you as something where you’re like, “I don’t know if I could do this”?

I think the thing I found the hardest is… In season 1 of Daredevil, other than Matt Murdock’s ability, there wasn’t really any in that that was kind of hard, that was kind of a huge step from reality. You know what I mean? It was pretty grounded.

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And then in Daredevil 2, we introduced the Hand, and that was a real challenge. And of course, they’re present in The Defenders story. And I just think that that in itself has been the biggest challenge for me because I’ve always wanted the show to feel like the emotional impact of what happens to the characters are relatable. Like it really is terrifying. It should feel really scary. And it should feel painful emotionally as well as physically what these characters go through.

I don’t think the shows ever want to glamourize violence or what we’re doing is really cool. I think one of the great things about these shows is you meet superheroes who are kind of ashamed, in many ways, who are kind of lonely. They don’t fit into the world. They feel like freaks of nature, that kind of thing. And they’re ashamed about what they’re doing, as well as recognizing the importance of it.

I think the biggest challenge for me is when you introduce a organization like the Hand where there’s any sort of ambiguity around how these people live and die, whether they can be exterminated, and all that kind of stuff, in order to keep that grounded and real, from an acting perspective, I find that really challenging. Because you also need to pay attention to the tone of the piece. The tone of the piece does not mean—in The Defenders, at least—it does not mean sitting around for hours talking about how to possibly explain the craziness of what happened. It’s a story that’s fueled by plot, and so we need to get on with it. And every now and again, as an actor, I feel frustrated that we haven’t as characters been given an appropriate moment on screen to go, “Hold on, this doesn’t make any fucking sense.” That’s the stuff I find the hardest, just kind of balancing having the story that has the mythical elements or supernatural element and try to keep it grounded and real and relatable.

The shame element that you mentioned, I got that impression with where Matt is in those first two episodes. When that weird quake happens and he goes out, it’s like a compulsion. I thought that was really effective.

Cool, cool. I will say this. S. J. Clarkson, who’s the director of episodes 1 and 2, is a bit of a genius, so I’m not surprised that those first two episodes are great.

What do you think everybody’s role on the team is?

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There was something that came out of the story that was interesting, which was Danny Rand and Matthew Murdock have experience with these people, with The Hand. So the story for them is already personal. When we get to the point where we realize as a group that The Hand are involved, and we don’t know what’s going on exactly, but we know what’s going on, it’s up to Danny and Matt to explain who these people are to the other two, because they’ve never even heard of them. For them, they have to have that journey of disbelief before they get to that point.

Now Danny and Matt have seen it. They’ve experienced it, and as hard as it is to explain, we know it exists because we’ve been there. Jessica and Luke don’t have that. Initially at least, the role for Matt and Danny is quite similar. They’re the ones that have to bring the other two up-to-date and explain how serious this situation is and how you can’t just walk away from it and how dangerous these people are and what they’re capable of, blah blah blah. So that was kind of our role.

And then Jessica and Luke, the flip side of that is they’re the ones that have to go on the journey of disbelief through to “holy shit”, and getting on board this… If someone says there’s ancient evil organization who are capable of destroying an entire civilization, it’s very easy for someone like Jessica Jones to say “Okay good luck with that. I don’t believe you or have any interest in being a part of that.” So… Obviously there’s a great story in The Defenders, there’s a wonderful plot, and hopefully it sets up and resolve the story in such a way that’s satisfactory to the audience. But what’s really cool is that you have four people who have absolutely no interest in being part of a team, but who are forced into a situation where they have to work together, and that from a human point of view is really interesting.

How many seasons of Marvel TV are you signed for?

You know, I actually don’t know that, and I’m afraid to ask. I would always rather not know. I signed the contract just before I auditioned back in 2014, and in that moment, I wasn’t focused on that. I was focused on getting the part. And so I actually don’t know. I’m just going to keep showing up until they tell me I’m not invited to the party.

The Defenders premieres on Netflix on August 18.

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