Cox finds 'sinister enjoyment' in 'Daredevil'
Lots of folks taking the New York City subway read comics on the train, but only one guy reading back-issues of Daredevil just happens to play the superhero himself.
British actor Charlie Cox has made the Big Apple a second home in recent years, starring on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and now playing blind lawyer Matt Murdock (and his masked alter ego) on Marvel's Daredevil, premiering on Netflix Friday.
It's a big deal in geek circles, and Cox is rethinking his favorite pastime on the trip from his Brooklyn apartment to his Manhattan gym. "When the show comes out, there's bound to be people who recognize me and I'm going to be sitting there reading a Daredevil comic," says the 32-year-old actor. "I'm starting to think maybe I should get a special cover."
The first season of the Netflix show focuses on the origins of the hero who will become Daredevil, his mission to protect residents of New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and the arch enemy he finds in crime lord Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio).
Because Matt's still in his early vigilante phase, he gets whupped. A lot. Thankfully, he meets an ally in "night nurse" Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).
Yet there's almost "a sinister enjoyment" to the beatings he takes (and gives), Cox says. "Some of the fighting isn't very pretty — it's rolling around in the mud and getting cheap shots in here and there. (And) when he puts on the mask, he would probably never admit to it, but he's probably enjoying it more than he should."
One thing Cox has learned about being a screen superhero: It's much more painful to lose a fake fight than win one. "You're spending a lot of time throwing yourself on the ground," he says.
For Cox, there was appeal in the bloodshed (and there was plenty of it on Boardwalk). "Whenever there's a character in movies where there's some sort of ambiguity about whether they can die or not, how do you hurt them?" he says. "I like it when there is a very clear line that is crossed in terms of the kind of punishment that our hero can take."
In addition to taking a punch, Cox brings a complexity and depth to Daredevil, says executive producer Steven DeKnight.
"There's something a bit wounded and a bit broken about Matt Murdock, especially when we start out," he says. "But on the other side, he can be incredibly charming and warm, and Charlie could really play all those things, quite often simultaneously."
One aspect of Daredevil that stands out from other comic-book superheroes is his religion (he's Catholic); he believes in divine will and order, but is playing God at night.
"He really does believe in the law and he does have faith, yet he's torn," Cox says. "We see that inner turmoil and those conflicting feelings eat him alive."
The opening scene of Daredevil shows Murdock in a confessional, echoing a scene in a comics story by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada. Cox sees the source material as a series of endless storyboards, and he is becoming a nerd himself — names such as Heroes for Hire and the White Tiger roll off his tongue as naturally as any Comic-Con attendee's.
Cox was spotted on the subway by a fellow Daredevil fan just after the actor started filming last year.
"All he wanted to know was one thing: 'Is the suit red or red and yellow?' " I said, 'No, I thought it was green,' " Cox recalls. "The look of horror on this guy's face! And then I said, 'I'm kidding, dude. I couldn't possibly tell you.' "
The actor knows that guy probably won't watch just one episode Friday. He's probably taking the day off.
"If on that night I go to bed early, there's a good chance that by the time I wake up, people have watched every episode," Cox says, laughing. "I'm going to be binge-watching with the rest of them."