Charlie Cox feels the pressure of playing a Catholic superhero in a major new Netflix series, writes Ed Power
CHARLIE COX’S tights are in a twist.
“I’m under a bit of pressure,” says the British actor, soon to be seen squeezed into the spandex of Marvel superhero Daredevil.
“If the show fails, it’s my responsibility, to a degree. You just have to keep your fingers crossed. As an actor this is what you want really, isn’t it? You have to focus on the positives."
Cox has consciously avoided Ben Affleck’s notorious 2003 sortie as Daredevil. A blind human rights lawyer by day, lycra-sporting avenger by night, Daredevil is no run-of-the-mill crime fighter and Affleck struggled to get inside the character.
The result was a movie that was laughed out of the box office and which constituted a serious body blow against Affleck’s credibility.
In Cox’s case, the challenge has been made easier somewhat thanks to the reboot’s relative subtlety and sophistication. Indeed, across its first few episodes, Daredevil 2.0 hardly feels like a superhero yarn at all.
The setting is gritty New York and Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s everyday alias) spends almost as much time practising law and struggling with his Catholic faith as kicking bad guys around.
The super-dark sensibility flows from a desire on behalf of Netflix, which has bankrolled the adaptation, to create a comic book show for adults, explains Cox.
“Tonally and thematically, it has a slightly more grown-up audience in mind,” he says.” It is the first Marvel show that has a PG-16 rating. So we are able to include guts and gore, as well as more adult themes. It suits the character. He is geared towards a slightly more adult audience.”
Growing up, Cox’s comic book experiences were confined to Beano and Dandy. He was aware, vaguely, of Daredevil.
It was only after signing up for the part, however, that it dawned on him how central a place the character occupies in the Marvel canon.
Was he nervous? Only after people told him that he should be nervous.
“I was in blissful ignorance about the whole thing. Then, I threw myself into the lore. It was a learning curve. I went to ComicCon and talked with fans. And I saw the online reaction as images were released.
“It became increasingly jittery. It’s a big responsibility, portraying this character. I’m cautiously optimistic — I think we are going to satisfying the expectations of Daredevil fans who have maybe not been satisfied in the past.”
This isn’t Cox’s first brush with the A-list. In 2007, he starred alongside Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Danes in Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust. He recalls feeling awkward under the spotlight, unsure how to handle his sudden prominence.
Second time around, and now a relatively mature 32, he is in a stronger place.
“With Stardust, I was one of the lead parts and I did a major press tour. I remember feeling overwhelmed. Of course, that was quite a few years ago. This time I’m going in from a stronger place, fingers crossed.”
Perhaps it’s testament to his relative lack of fame, but Cox is far more down to earth than most actors at his level. We meet in a hotel in central London and he appears genuinely gobsmacked I would fly from Ireland to interview him.
Later, I spy him in the journalists’ holding pen next door, chomping one of the complimentary sandwiches and shooting the breeze with the attendant hacks.
It’s as if nobody filled him on the first rule of the entertainment industry press junket: On no account fraternise with the media.
Cox was born in 1982 in London and brought up in the East Sussex countryside. He is supremely well-heeled, his father a prominent publisher (the Cox family tree encompasses two baronets, a colonial governor of New York and the fourth Earl of Findlater).
After private school, he studied acting at the prestigious Old Vic film school in Bristol, from where he was cast, almost immediately, in Stardust. The film was not a big hit and, for the next several years, Cox worked almost exclusively in theatre.
However, he was reintroduced to international audiences by Martin Scorsese, who gave him a part in his HBO prohibition drama Boardwalk Empire (as an IRA gun-runner with a not-terrible Irish accent).
Going into Daredevil, the actor’s big concern was accurately portraying a blind man. Matt Murdock is sightless, but gifted, with heightened senses, which allow him leap tall building and beat up bad guys with minimal effort.
So determined was Cox to honour the source material, he hired a ‘blind’ consultant.
“I was quiteworried about appearing authentic. I eventually just went back and watched Scent of a Woman.
“Sometimes, it is believable, simply because the audience knows you are blind. You don’t have to make a song and dance about it. The trick is never to look anyone in the eyes when you’re talking to them.”
Realistically portraying a blind man paled compared to the other requirement of the gig: A superhero physique.
A slender chap, Cox has had to bulk up and develop pecs in places he never suspected he could have pecs.
“I hadn’t had gym membership before. It was a new world for me. You have to drink endless protein shakes, which has a big effect on your body. You are passing wind non-stop. It’s pretty full on.”
He was better placed when it came to dealing with Murdock’s religious beliefs.
A rare superhero with a strong faith, in Daredevil Murdock spends a lot of time agonizing in church. This was no big deal for Cox.
“I was raised a Catholic. It definitely helped. You grow up steeped in that. If you’re in church, standing in front of the altar, you sort of automatically know how to respond. It all kicks in — you genuflect, you sit in the pew. I didn’t have to pretend any of that. I grew up with it and I found that enormously helpful.”
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