Marvel is unleashing yet another superhero on to the screen. The stars of Daredevil talk to Lydia Jenkin about why this one's different.

It's understandable to feel sceptical about yet another comic book superhero arriving on yet another screen.

After all, so many have been churned out in recent years, and not all of them good.

But fans can rest easy. Netflix's new collaboration with the Disney-owned Marvel on Daredevil - yes the blind vigilante in red leather Ben Affleck played in that lacklustre 2003 movie - will restore one's faith in turning cult comic figures into screen stars.

Marvel may have been building its universe on the big screen, computer-generated blockbuster by blockbuster - a second Avengers movie is only weeks away. But Daredevil is a street-level superhero. It's dark, grainy, and noir-ish.


It's also the start of another Marvel team-building exercise with plans for Netflix series' featuring other members of "The Defenders" - Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage.

But first comes Daredevil's 13 episodes where its characters are facing grey areas, moral dilemmas, and some less-than-heroic moments - all of which appealed to the leads.

"I felt, just based on the scripts, and the way we filmed, that this was the next evolutionary jump in superhero television, and that was very exciting, to be part of that" explains Charlie Cox, who plays the eponymous Daredevil - struggling lawyer Matt Murdock by day, masked vigilante by night.

It's a career breakthrough for the English actor who was a series regular on Boardwalk Empire as an Irish henchman to Nucky Thompson.

Also moving into a leading role in the series is Deborah Ann Woll, who played redhead Christian-girl-turned-vampire Jessica in five seasons of True Blood.

Deborah Ann Woll.
Deborah Ann Woll.

"They're definitely going in a slightly more adult direction I think, and a little more realistic and gritty," says Woll.

The villain of the piece, Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, is played by veteran character actor Vincent D'Onofrio, best known to television fans as the enigmatic Detective Robert Goren in the long-running Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The Daredevil series creator is Steven S. DeKnight who was also creator of the New Zealand-filmed Spartacus and its offshoots.


The first thing that comes out of the actors' mouths when asked why they wanted to do his new show is: "the scripts".

Cox remembers getting through the audition process to a stage where he was allowed to see the first two episodes.

"Yeah I walked out of that reading and called my agent and said, 'These are two of the best TV scripts I've read, I want to be a part of it, in any role, if they'll have me'. And then I said, 'But I want to play Matt Murdock'."

Cox had never read the comics, and in fact never even really imagined himself playing a superhero.

"I've seen lots of my friends go down the path and have the best fun ever, and also have it enhance their career too, but I never thought it would be me. I never thought there was a character that I would've been suited to, and I never would've thought I'd be suited to Daredevil. Cos I don't think I'm your typical choice for Matt Murdock.

"The way he's drawn, he's taller than I am and heavier, more muscular, so I had to do a lot of gym work to even get in the ballpark, but what a thrill - it's amazing what life can throw at you."

Charlie Cox and Deborah Ann Woll in Marvel's Daredevil.
Charlie Cox and Deborah Ann Woll in Marvel's Daredevil.

Woll hadn't read the comics either, though long-time boyfriend E.J. Scott had told her a bit about the world.

"He's a huge comic book fan, so I knew a little bit through him, and I was certainly aware of Daredevil's 40-year history on the page."

The back story for Woll's Karen Page has been altered on screen. She's a victim of a terrifying incident in the first episode, and ends up being the first client for Murdock and his lawyer buddy Foggy Nelson. But Woll is clear that she's more than just a damsel in distress.

"In the comic books, in the beginning Karen is very innocent, and then towards the end she's really swung a full 180, she's in a lot of trouble, so I wanted to find a way to make her both of those things at the same time. Can she be a really wonderful, kind person who is a little bit attracted to danger? She's not just always getting into trouble because 'Oh, silly woman!' Karen is actually looking for it, and she won't let her fear stop her from finding the truth."

Meanwhile D'Onofrio is also very clear that his Kingpin is not just another Marvel villain.

"Oh my God, you are not going to have to compare him to anybody ever again! He is going to be his own thing. The way we go about it is just completely unique."

Overcoming a villain like Kingpin, whose threatening persona comes both from his huge stature and also D'Onofrio's imposing presence, is not Daredevil's only problem of course. He's blind. And in this series, we see where Murdock is first learning to fight and learning how far he can push himself.

"He can't walk into a situation with countless dudes with guns, because he won't survive, he has to be very smart and savvy about how he does it, says Cox. "And in our show he's only just beginning, so he's learning, he makes mistakes, he gets badly hurt, and I love that. I like it when you feel like there is a real chance that your superhero might not make it through."

Playing a blind person convincingly was Cox's greatest challenge. "As an actor and a person, your eyes say so much, you can be saying one thing with your mouth and something completely different with your eyes, and you can achieve great emotional states from looking in someone else's eyes, and obviously I couldn't do that.

Charlie Cox in Marvel's Daredevil.
Charlie Cox in Marvel's Daredevil.

"I had to be conscious all the time of where my eyes were looking, and what they were doing and how they'd look, making sure I wasn't looking at something before I picked it up, or turning my head to look at things."

Cox worked with a blind consultant, filming him a lot to replicate his movements, as well as filming himself, doing things blindfolded, and even had a pair of contacts made that looked like his own eyes, but actually made him completely blind.

"I used them early on, but that became a logistical nightmare, because you can't be taking them in and out all day, so that didn't work, but it was a good exercise. It got easier, but it was complicated."

Obviously it also gave him great empathy for people who live without sight.

"The guy I was working with used echo-location [where a blind person clicks their fingers or tongue to assess the space around them], and we did this exercise sometimes where I would blindfold myself, and we would go out walking with our canes, and walk around the streets, which was very frightening for me. But he could tell, just from the sound, when my cane technique was wrong, and he could also tell me, before I had any idea, that I was about to walk into a wall. That was amazing."

Woll has first-hand experience of the impact of sight-impairment - E.J. Scott has a genetic eye disease where he is slowly losing his sight - and the fact that Daredevil's blindness doesn't stop him from living the life he wants to live is partly what attracted her to the show, too.

Vincent D'Onofrio in Marvel's Daredevil.
Vincent D'Onofrio in Marvel's Daredevil.

"Absolutely. There are not a lot of characters in film and television right now that have physical challenges, so I love the idea that not only this show will remind people that blindness is still a widespread condition - it's amazing the number of people who think that blindness has been cured - but also that people who are blind are quite capable, even the ones who don't have super powers, and that this isn't something to be pitied or feared, simply to be aware of, and to do what we can."

D'Onofrio laughs when it's suggested that a supervillain with a blind nemesis has it easier than most. "You have to remember it's Daredevil and you have to give Daredevil his kudos. He's an amazing character and written very well. So they are a very good match. And with Charlie as Daredevil, with Charlie's take on his character - which is amazing - and my take on Fisk, and Steven's writing, it's a formidable match-up for sure."

Not least because the two opponents have surprising similarities - their altruistic ideas lead them into murky waters, and each has a moral ambiguity in his approach.

"These two are so far apart, that in many ways they're kind of similar. They both want the same thing to a degree, and in the middle part of the show, if you turned it on, and you didn't know anything about Daredevil, and you didn't know who these characters were, there would be some ambiguity about who is the good guy and who is the bad guy," Cox smiles. "It's a much blurrier world than superhero stories can sometimes portray.

Charlie Cox stars in Marvel's Daredevil.
Charlie Cox stars in Marvel's Daredevil.

"I love that it addresses the idea that evil doesn't always look like evil" Woll adds. "That was something that we talked about with True Blood too. Looking like a monster - a vampire, a werewolf - doesn't automatically make you evil; some are good and some are bad, and with Daredevil, they're leading you to ask, 'Is Wilson Fisk a bad man?' I don't know. Or 'Is Daredevil a good guy?' Sometimes that's doubtful. You can't always look at evil in the face and recognise it."

It's clear all three of them are excited about the series, but D'Onofrio gets the last word to sum up why fans and sceptics alike should be excited too.

"The way that Steven [DeKnight] wrote it it, and the way Marvel formed their concept of it, the way they go about telling the Daredevil story is amazing. My character is just everything an actor could ask for. The coolest thing about this Marvel-Netflix collaboration is that there is a lot of freedom for artists to really bring it. If you have the guts to bring it, they have the guts to stick with you and get behind you."

* Additional reporting Russell Baillie
Who: Charlie Cox, Vincent D'Onofrio, Deborah Ann Woll
What: New Marvel Defenders series, Daredevil
Where and when: Launches on Netflix from April 10

- TimeOut