Earlier this year, Netflix invited a group of journalists to the Brooklyn set of Marvel's Daredevil. The streaming network was deep into production on season 3, so we got a great sense of a story that seems to be a return to basics of sorts for the superhero series after the mystical, Hand-based madness of season 2 and The Defenders. In addition to getting a glimpse of Matt Murdock's new church basement hideout and Wilson Fisk's fresh-out-of-jail penthouse apartment, we got a chance to talk to stars Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, and Joanne Whalley—who plays a new character, Sister Maggie—who all seemed genuinely jazzed about the grittier street-level direction new showrunner Erik Oleson is taking the series.
Below, Cox discusses Daredevil's new black outfit, the season's more grounded tone, Matt Murdock's crisis of faith and dangerous new mission, and more. When we spoke with the actor, he had just finished filming an incredibly intense scene alongside Woll in which Matt Murdock, as always, viciously blaming his issues on his friends. It might even contain Daredevil's first "fuck."
CHARLIE COX: We don’t always do that...when you feel like you have to get into an angry state, the fast track is to just swear at each other. We don’t do that every day, I promise.
Question: You really were modulating your level between takes, weren’t you?
COX: We’re at that stage of the season where we’re catching up on scenes we dropped. So we’re having a little less time than we would usually like to prepare. So in this instance, Deborah and I hadn’t spoken about this scene prior, nor had either of us spoken to [director Jet Wilkinson]. It’s both of our first days with Jet. We know that we’re still just tweaking some scenes that are coming up with Karen and Matt. And I guess we just came in and we both felt like this scene could play in completely different ways, and luckily Jet, who I’ve heard is fantastic, because she did an episode of Jessica Jones, I kind of said, "If we can, just for the sake of it, let’s just play both versions."
The other thing is, there’s a really important scene that happens right before this scene, and we haven’t filmed it yet. So we’ll film that tomorrow night. That might dictate a lot of it. So it was nice to have a couple of versions of that tonight. We don’t always have that luxury, but tonight it was important.
You’re back in the season one costume—or a version of the season one costume—what does that mean for you as an actor to slip back into those duds again?
COX: First of all, it’s so much more comfortable. So I’m very grateful for that. The thing with the costume has always been, for me, it sounds silly, but I really need to feel like, from a story point of view, it makes sense and it’s in keeping with the genre and the tone of the show. So the way we transitioned into the red costume at the end of season one, the thing that really sold it for me was the conversation Matt had with Father Lantom, where he says, “Sometimes it’s important for there to be a symbol to be feared by people.” It keeps them in check, it allows them to remember why they behave in a moral way. That was the impetus for Matt to go and embrace this symbol, this iconic red suit. Earlier on in this season, there’s an equally compelling reason, I hope, for him to not be in the red suit anymore. It’s not explicit, but my understanding of it is clear. Matt, for various reasons, no longer feels like he is deserving of it. It’s almost like he’s lost that privilege. And also that he is, in some ways, outgrown what it stood for. There’s also another reason why he cannot, literally can not wear the suit.
We started today talking to Erik and he told us that one of the big themes of this season is fighting your own inner fear. Can you talk a little bit about how that is affecting Matt this season?
COX: I kind of feel like that, in some ways, is consistent with Matt from full stop. One of the things that makes this character enjoyable to play and hopefully compelling to watch is, he’s a walking contradiction in everything he does. You can equally look at him and see someone who is beneficial, moral, upstanding member of society and in the same breath, you can see him as an absolute menace. Someone who is detrimental to law enforcement and society running smoothly. When we meet Matt at the beginning of this season, he’s basically dead. It’s amazing that he’s not dead. Early on in the season, there's a point where he’s convinced that he will not be able to continue to operate as he has done. As a result, he cannot be Daredevil. He can’t function that way anymore. Of course, the first thing that takes a massive hit with that kind of information is his faith.
I’ve never been a lead in a TV show and done three seasons of it, so one of the challenges now, of course, is how do we maintain the integrity of the show, how do we tell an interesting story, and be consistent with who these characters are and who these people are and what this world is? But also not rehash the same stuff over and over again. And it is tricky with all TV shows. Only the very, very best, the Breaking Bads and all that, manage to avoid that. One of the things that me and Erik talked a lot about in the beginning is Matt’s attitude since the end of The Defenders, and also since the end of Daredevil 2. How has Matt’s attitude changed going into season 3? We kind of landed on two elements that I’ve taken and run with. One of them is Matt’s relationship towards God. I think now, he still believes in God, but he believes in a punishing God. He sees God as, at times, quite cynical. And almost vindictive. Hopefully, he’ll come back from that, but early on, at least, he’s that angry. He feels that let down. If you’re someone who believes he was given this gift in order to help, and then that is taken away but you’re still alive, it throws everything into question.
The other attitude that has changed a bit is that Matt goes from believing that he was Matt Murdock with this alter ego of Daredevil, to believing he’s Daredevil with a lie of Matt Murdock. It’s a very subtle shift but mentally it does some interesting things. It makes him a little bit more reckless early on, which is fun. He’s less concerned with being caught. There are scenes where I feel like there’s almost like an enjoyment to the recklessness of it all.
How is his relationship with Karen and Foggy going to change in terms of them coming back into his life?
COX: I actually, genuinely don’t know. I know that other actors have a different process, but I don’t get told anything until the script lands. I don’t know anything after what you just saw. I haven’t read the final two episodes. Matt, Foggy, and Karen have been estranged for a lot of this season. He’s genuinely been on his own, Matt. Really and truly kept people at a distance, particularly the people he cares the most about.
Is that because he wants them to be safe or is that because he feels like that part of his life that they were a part of is over and gone?
COX: Ostensibly, it’s because he wants them to be safe. I think it’s probably more complicated than that in reality. Matt probably thinks that is the way to protect the people that he cares about. The truth of it is that he hasn’t had the ability to go to that next level of vulnerability with anyone, particularly with Karen. And that fear is so great that he has found excuses to ever prevent it from ever being a reality. The anger that you reference in the scene that you just saw, it’s directed at Karen but it’s not. When you see it in context, it will hopefully make sense. He has absolutely no right or reason to be angry with her, at all. That’s all at himself.
COX: No, in that moment, it’s “I am failing everyone and myself. I’m making terrible decisions, over and over again, and it’s your fault because I don’t have anybody else to blame.” As silly as that sounds...there’s a moment where he says, “I had my one shot and I had to come here and save you.” No you didn’t. That’s you. That’s your fault. So I guess it’s a bit childish, is what it is.
It seems like Matt is dealing with tons of demons inside his own head...is that scary to do as an actor?
COX: Yeah, it is. But the scary part of it is...somebody who begins to spend a lot of time alone and isolate themselves to the degree that Matt does in this season, madness creeps in. And that, for me, has been clearly written. He begins to lose himself. As an actor, that’s hard to play. It’s easy to do that badly. It’s like drunk acting. It’s easy to do an impression of it rather than to live it...I know that I go home and think, “Oh God, I hope that was okay, I hope that worked, I hope I wasn’t terrible.” The scenes that I probably had trouble with the most this year are those scenes where there’s just something off about him. If you get it right, when you’re playing that kind of a character and you get it right, they live in a place where you’re like, “He’s normal, he’s normal, he’s normal, oh, no he’s not.” As soon as someone walks on the screen and they’re like woooo, crazy, I don’t believe that for a second. So you’ve really got to find that balance. What’s really scary about someone that’s not right in the head is when they seem normal for a period of time and then they do something that’s like, “Fuck, that’s not right.”
With everything Matt’s gone through over the course of the three seasons of the show and Defenders, zombie ninjas to the like, dragon bones beneath the city…
COX: Thank you for reminding me.
...how has his perception of the world changed?
COX: Great question, I could drive myself crazy with that. I really struggle with that question. I mean, in the context of my amazingly lovely job and great life and all that. What eventually helped me is going back to the comic books and remembering that I can still read and enjoy the Daredevil books that have none of the mythological stuff in it. Even having read the ones that do have them in it. They’re all part of that...over the years there’s been writers and illustrators that have really dug deep into The Hand and that mythological element. Then there’s the Frank Miller and there’s very little of that. My preference is the stuff that doesn’t have as much mythology. I actually don’t know the answer. We’re now back in a world that feels grounded and real. Those things happened. But in the same way in the first season, it was all grounded and real but we still lived in a world where Iron Man exists. We still lived in a world where Thor exists. And we’d make fun Easter Egg references to them. But the nature of this moment in this show we’re not dealing with that anymore. That’s what we’re doing with season 3. We’re back in a much more traditional crime-thriller-like environment.
Since Matt is starting this season in such a different place than season 2 and even The Defenders, you’re starting at the bottom with this character now. How different is your physical and mental preparation to get to a place where the start of his journey is rock bottom?
COX: It’s not hard. The tricky thing is that, everything you just said, plus having a new showrunner. So I’m not walking into a relationship that is already up and running and built and we can communicate easily. Me and Eric had to build that relationship. He is fantastic, I really can’t say enough good things about him. For me, it’s about attitude. How has what’s happened to [Matt] changed his attitude towards himself, the world, and in this case, as well, his God? Once me and Erik went back and forth, long emails talking about things and talking about what had happened and what it had done, once we got on the same page and were infused by this new idea and new tact we were taking, it was very, very easy. It was just about finding that headspace. With any preparation for any acting job, it’s all about just about spending time talking and thinking about it.
Do you think Matt will see himself approaching some parallels with Frank Castle?
COX: Yeah, yeah. Steven Knight, the showrunner of season one, said, before they had any idea that Frank Castle would come into season 2 and then have his own show, Steven would talk about “This is a Daredevil who is one bad day away from being Frank Castle.” That’s something I’ve always run with, I’ve always enjoyed playing that aspect of him. I feel very blessed this season to be a part of a show in its third season. Because it’s immensely challenging, trying to find the balance of the same and different. Enough of the same, enough of the character that we’ve met and liked and the tone of the show that has earned us a third season. But also enough change to keep the story going and enough growth so you don’t feel like you’re saying the same stuff over and over again in the same way. I’ve played this character now for forty-something hours, so inevitably I’ve said some of the same things many times. I guess it’s trying to know when to say them differently and trying to know when you’ve just got to say them the same way.
Sister Maggie is an important new character this season, what are we going to see early on between her and Matt?
COX: That’s actually been one of the things that has been great because it’s a whole new relationship. So that has been one of the areas where, as an actor, I got to explore a different kind of vulnerability. Joanne, I was thrilled when she was cast, a fellow Brit and I’m a huge fan of hers. She’s been great, man. She’s been fantastic. I played a priest once in a film years ago and it’s very tricky. It’s very easy to walk around pretending to be pious. It doesn’t actually work because it’s not real, it’s not human. Joanne, not that I ever doubted she wouldn’t, she knew that you can’t do that. You let the costume do that and you play a real human being and she did that from day one. The first episode was all me and her. I just loved that. I love that relationship and I’m excited for the fans to see that. I think some people will think that they know who she is to me, and whether they’re right or wrong it will be interesting to watch that dynamic.
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