To promote the premiere of Daredevil Season 2 at Netflix on March 18th, the cast and showrunners were at the TCA Press Tour to preview what fans can expect from the characters next. With Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) having grown into the role of the vigilante Daredevil, the attention that he’s received has gained the attention of both the public and the police, inspiring other vigilantes to enact their own vengeance for injustice around the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York.
During a roundtable interview, actors Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal talked about the arrival of Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, why it’s such a complex character, not spoon-feeding the viewers all of the answers, using rage as a superpower, Daredevil’s place in the larger superhero genre, and avoiding the middle ground.
Question: Jon, aside from punches and bullets, what does The Punisher bring to Daredevil?
JON BERNTHAL: It’s a complex character. What was so successful, in my opinion, about Season 1 was how layered and complex the characters were and how rich it was. At the end of the day, it’s a show not about a superhero, but it’s about a man. Hopefully, that’s what we’re doing with The Punisher, as well. It’s an enormous honor to play this character. It’s a character that’s quite iconic and very important to a lot of people. I’m extremely humbled to have the job and I look at it as a real responsibility to try to get it right.
The Punisher is an interesting character given everything that’s happening with guns right now. In Season 1, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Wilson Fisk because of his past. What are we going to learn about The Punisher that will help us get passed his actions?
BERNTHAL: I think the idea is to not spoon-feed anything and say this guy is a good guy or a bad guy, but say that he’s a man and let the audience make up their minds. I think that this character has his own brand of justice, and I think he’s in the process of figuring out exactly what that is. What’s bold and fresh and new about this show is that it’s not going to make those decisions for you. It’s going to encourage you to make those decisions for yourself.
This show is really about how each of these characters views justice and the rage they have for injustice.
CHARLIE COX: Yeah. Jon [Bernthal] said that, if Frank Castle has a superpower, it’s rage, which I hadn’t thought about until he said it, but I think it’s really insightful. Obviously, how we feel about injustice, or what we perceive to be injustice, and what we decide to do about it, how we decide to act and whether we have the right to act was a major theme in the first season and will continue to be one in the second season. When you think about justifiable anger in one’s personal life, we look at those scenarios in everyday life and through our story with a superhero, we heighten them. If the show encourages an audience to ask the question, “Is this character’s emotional response to this situation valid?,” then that’s a really good question to ask. We’re dealing with this on a very regular basis, all over the world. When there is a gun crime of some sort or any sort of violence, the first emotional reaction I have when I read the paper and see the headlines is, “Motherfucker, I can’t believe this guy! How awful! That person is the epitome of evil!” And then, you read further into the article and, if it’s a good publication, what you then begin to read about is their background, their history, their childhood, that person’s experiences, their life and how life treated them. Then, you start to have a very uncomfortable feeling like, “Wow, maybe we did this.” There’s a great expression, hurt people hurt people. That’s something that happens in our show a lot. In other films and TV shows, we might say, “Well, they’re just evil.” In our show, we’re trying to say, “There’s bad actions, but not necessarily bad people.”
What do you think this show is saying to the broader superhero genre?
BERNTHAL: It’s very personal. It’s not necessarily as simple as I’m doing what I’m doing for justice of the greater good. It’s a personal justice. What I think is special about it, and what’s courageous about the way that it’s been written, is that these are all damaged and hurt people. The idea of the greater good, and the idea of the effect that these people and their actions are having on society, is residual. That’s something they have to come to terms with. For Frank Castle in this season, he’s trying to figure all that out. It’s very, very personal, it’s very, very raw, and he’s still very, very stung. It’s reactionary. That’s what makes these two characters’ relationship quite interesting.
COX: That’s a really interesting question, actually, because what that brings us back to is one of the themes of this show, and this season, particularly, which is, “What is it that makes a hero?” What the writers do, and we hopefully can bring to life, is that they present characters who, on the surface, aren’t always heroic and their acts aren’t always devoid of selfishness. Matt Murdock, at times, is incredibly selfish. He can be very one track minded. He believes something is the way that it should be, and that this is how it needs to be dealt with. He doesn’t care what other people think. He doesn’t care what Foggy thinks. Ultimately, what we learned last year is that there are things more important to him than his best friend because he believes they contribute to the greater good. What Jon did this year with Frank Castle, which is so exciting to watch, is that we see characters, who we recognize as flawed, do stuff that we think is questionable, but then they are also capable of great heroic acts and great unselfishness. Hopefully, we ask the question of ourselves, what makes a hero?
Was it difficult to find that middle ground for your character?
COX: Yeah. It’s not a surprise that what we learn is that it isn’t black and white. It isn’t one side or the other. It’s really determined by what individuals decide it is. Some people will think one thing, and your best friend who you agree with about everything else will think the exact opposite, but that’s the nature of life, isn’t it?
BERNTHAL: Some people that are heroes to some can be looked at by another group of people as villains. As far as a middle point, just speaking for myself, that’s exactly what to avoid. My job is to avoid that. I’m constantly looking for ways to abandon the audience and make them give up on me, and then try to win them back in a different way. I think the idea is to go full force. That’s the big thing with Frank. When he’s going, he’s going 100% forward. It’s not about finding a middle ground. It’s not about saying, “He did this, but it’s sort of okay.” It’s about, “I did this.” And then, later on, we’ll be bold enough to say, “But, I did it for this reason.” We don’t have to explain that while we’re doing it, or spoon-feed the reason. Let the audience not be with him for a little bit. For lack of a better term, it’s a more nuanced way to tell the story. That’s what makes him complicated. If you just deliver something in a middle ground and say, “Well, I’m sort of doing this,” it’s half-stepping. What’s interesting about these characters is how bold they are and how they go forward 100%, and then deal with the consequences.
Jon, have you seen the various Punisher movies? What do you think went wrong with them, and why is this version different?
BERNTHAL: I’m not going to say that they went wrong, or they didn’t go wrong. There’s a million iterations of this character in graphic novels, comic books and movies. There are things that I really responded to, and things that I didn’t. For me, I got to come onto something that I really, really believe in. I really believe in this show, and I really believe in the people that make this show and the actors that are on this show and what they did in Season 1. It’s nothing that I’m doing. You’ve never seen anything in the Marvel universe that’s as grounded, as gritty, as authentic, and as raw as what these guys did last year. What an amazing place to bring this character into, to attempt to up the stakes and to make it more dangerous. Hopefully, we were able to do that. But as far as those movies, my concern is this show.
Why do you think viewers who don’t typically watch superhero and comic book movies and TV shows are responding so positively to this show?
COX: One of the things that Steven DeKnight talked a lot about, at the beginning of last season, is that what we’re trying to make is a crime drama with a superhero element sprinkled on top. We had no idea that this show would be as popular as it was, but with the benefit of hindsight, one thing I can say is that I think that was a really, really smart move. It’s very, very tempting to make a superhero film or show and make it about the powers. Whereas if you can find a way of ignoring that almost completely, and cook your dish without it and just use it as pepper on top, to go down that culinary metaphor, where Frank Castle becomes the ketchup, if done well, it means that the fans of superheroes and comic book fans get what they want because it’s still there, and the people who have got no interest in superheroes and haven’t really ever watched a superhero show in the past or read a comic are not distracted by it. It doesn’t take them out of it so much that they can’t enjoy the story.
BERNTHAL: I think any time you can go after an audience that isn’t built in, that’s the job. That’s what raises the bar and makes it better. That’s what they did with Season 1, and that’s what we’re doing with Season 2.
Charlie, how was it to have different showrunners for Season 2?
COX: Oh, it was great, but we knew them from last year. Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez had such a huge job. You can’t underestimate what that must have been like for them. The second season of a show is so difficult for so many reasons, but primarily because all of the things you get in the first season, that are the sugar, you don’t get in the second season. You don’t get to meet the characters and see what their relationship dynamics are, you don’t get to set a tone, and you don’t get to set a color pallette. You don’t get to do any of those things. The first season was the evolution of Matt Murdock into Daredevil and Wilson Fisk into Kingpin. It was the birth of a superhero. That’s happened now. So, how do you then go and do another 13 hours of television. Twenty six hours of anything is hard to maintain without jumping a shark. But what they did, which I think was really phenomenal work, was say, “This is how the show worked last season. How do we make it work, but not do the same thing again?” What they did, without giving too much away, was recognize that the first season of the show was a very slow burn. Matt Murdock happened to the world. There were rumors about him. He happened to the Russians. Fisk found out about him. He happened to the world. And in the second season, the world happens to Matt Murdock. You hit the ground running and it’s just mayhem. I think the writers have done a wonderful job in reinventing and maintaining the show.
Daredevil Season 2 will be available at Netflix on March 18th.