Criminals on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen have a reason to be nervous now that Marvel TV series Daredevil has landed on Netflix, starring Charlie Cox as a defense lawyer who leads a secret nocturnal life as a masked vigilante. Matt Murdock was blinded as a child, but the same toxic substances that took his sight also left his remaining senses preternaturally heightened, and childhood training from a mysterious stranger gave Matt the skills needed to fight crime without the use of his eyes.
The first season of Daredevil left us with a lot of questions, and who better to answer them than the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen himself? Screen Rant caught up with Cox this week while he was promoting the show in London, to ask about the experience of bringing the Man Without Fear to life.
WARNING – Daredevil Spoilers Follow!!!
Learning the Source Material
Cox’s first real contact with the character that he was set to play came when he was sent Drew Goddard’s scripts for Daredevil. The actor admits that he didn’t read a lot of comic books growing up and has had to take a “crash course” over the past year, but entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe without any existing baggage had its benefits.
“There was something quite nice about the fact that I didn’t have any preconceived ideas… I hadn’t grown up with Daredevil so I didn’t have an opinion on what the show should be like and who Matt Murdock should be. What I was able to really do was read the scripts and then go back to the back catalogue and find the different series and the different writers and illustrators that best represented the show that was being written, so I could concentrate on them. I think if I’d grown up on Daredevil I probably wouldn’t have cast me as Matt Murdock.”
Daredevil draws a lot of inspiration from Frank Miller’s take on the character’s origins in The Man Without Fear, which is particularly evident in the simple black outfit that Matt Murdock wears in his early initial vigilante exploits. Preparing for the role of a blind superhero, however, was a little more complicated than just putting on an outfit.
It’s not easy to unlearn an entire lifetime of relying primarily on sight, so in order to get some experience of day-to-day life as a blind person, Cox worked with consultant Joe Strechay, who has been blind for twenty years.
“It was absolutely terrifying at times,” Cox says, describing an exercise in which he was blindfolded and taken out for a walk around the streets with Joe as his guide (“literally, the blind leading the blind.”) The actor found himself standing at crossroads with no idea which direction traffic was coming from and unable to tell whether or not he was in immediate danger: “It felt like [the traffic] was coming from all directions. I didn’t even know if I was on the pavement or not.” Not all of the challenges were so dramatic, however.
“It’s surprising to me how difficult certain things are. I spent a lot of time learning how to do household chores whilst wearing a blindfold, so that when and if they presented themselves in the show I would be accomplished at it. Of course I would actually have the use of my eyes so long as it didn’t look like I was looking at anything, but just making a cup of tea – how do you pour boiling water into a mug and know when the mug is appropriately full? It’s the little tiny things that are very, very tricky.”
Playing Matt Murdock was especially challenging because not only has the character been learning to get by without the use of his eyes for twenty years, he is also able to see in ways that even full-sighted people cannot. Although Cox could see through his vigilante mask and had his eyes open during scenes as Matt Murdock, the nature of the character meant that he couldn’t really use his eyes for another vital function: acting.
Emoting from the Nose Down
During many of Cox’s scenes in Daredevil he wears a mask that covers everything except his mouth and jaw, and even in Matt Murdock’s everyday guise as a lawyer he mostly wore shades and couldn’t make full eye contact with the other actors on the show. I ask if it was a challenge to try and convey emotion using only a small section of his face, but Cox says that he tried not to overthink it.
“I think it would be a danger to ‘act’ more just because you’re aware that only your jaw is showing… In the comics, when Daredevil is getting angry, they do the gritted teeth…” He sets his teeth together and bares them in an exaggerated snarl. “Like that, but there’s no way you could do that on a film set, it would be ludicrous.”
Luckily the medium of film offered other ways to convey emotion, such as the tension in Daredevil’s body language and the close-ups of his clenched, bloodied fist. Even when not wearing Daredevil’s mask, however, Matt Murdock’s blindness meant that Cox couldn’t use the direction of his gaze to express himself in scenes, and had to learn how to connect with his co-stars through other techniques.
“I underestimated how much you use your eyes, as an actor, they’re such a vital tool. You can say one thing and mean something completely different based on what your eyes are doing, and obviously I didn’t have that luxury. And also you feed off other actors, you draw emotion from other actors, and obviously I didn’t have that. Nor did they, because we’re not connecting on that level, but you have to find other ways and that was interesting.”
One curious aspect of Daredevil is the audience’s awareness, while watching Matt hold on to people’s arms and use his cane to get around when wearing his public persona, that he’s not being completely honest about what he’s capable of. When he’s alone in his apartment or dressed in black and stalking criminals, it’s obvious that Matt isn’t nearly as disabled as people like Foggy and Karen believe him to be.
“If you think about it, it makes it seem like Matt Murdock is the persona, rather than Daredevil, because he’s pretending while he’s Matt Murdock to operate as a blind person does,” Cox says, though he points out that in comic book lore, Matt Murdock’s cane has other uses that weren’t fully explored in the show; he can use it as a weapon and he can also used the vibration created from tapping the ground to create a mental picture of what’s in the world around him. Nonetheless, Matt’s need to disguise his abilities from certain people meant that there were different versions of Matt that he had to play on screen.
“There’s Matt Murdock by himself or with Claire Temple… which is someone who doesn’t use his eyes but he can walk around the apartment and operate better than a sighted person. There’s Matt Murdock when he’s out in public with Karen and Foggy and people don’t know about him, and maintaining the illusion that he operates like a blind person… I just had to make sure that every scene I went into I understood how he would be with the people he was with, and just make sure there’s a consistency to it.”
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