‘The Punisher’: Deborah Ann Woll on Karen Page’s Sense of Agency & ‘Daredevil’ Season 3
From showrunner Steve Lightfoot (Hannibal), the Marvel/Netflix series The Punisher follows Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), who mistakenly thought he’d be able to disappear into a quiet life, now that he was finished exacting revenge on those responsible for the death of his wife and children. But when he uncovers a conspiracy that runs far deeper than New York’s criminal underworld, The Punisher must discover just how far and deep the injustices run.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Deborah Ann Woll (who has played Karen Page in Daredevil, The Defenders and The Punisher) talked about what she loves about the Frank/Karen dynamic, why it’s important to her for Karen to have agency in her own story, what makes Karen someone to aspire to, how Frank and Karen are more alike than either originally realized, and the different chemistry with both Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Frank Castle. She also talked about what she’s still excited to learn about Karen Page, what she hopes to explore in Daredevil Season 3, getting to work with a new showrunner, and what Karen really wants for herself.
Collider: When and how did you find out that you’d actually get to join The Punisher, and how did you feel about getting to further explore the dynamic between Frank and Karen?
DEBORAH ANN WOLL: When they knew they were going to do a Punisher show, I hoped that I would get to be a part of it. And then, eventually they call your reps and ask for your availability, and all that stuff. When I found out, I was so glad ‘cause I really love the relationship between Frank and Karen, and I’m certainly not done telling that story yet, not even after The Punisher Season 1. There’s still more that I’d like to dig into. Any opportunity that I get to strengthen those stories is a good thing.
When you originally signed on with Marvel, did you have any idea that you’d go on to be the link between these shows and characters, or has that come as a surprise?
WOLL: No! Now that the show is doing well, it’s not hard to imagine, but when we were doing the first season, we didn’t know if there would be another show, another season, or anything. We were the first ones, and we had no idea if it would be anything. As weird as that is to think about now, it was kind of a crapshoot. We just didn’t know.
You were such a fan favorite character on True Blood. Were you ever nervous about finding another role where you could really establish a character that stands out among the other characters, in the way that you were able to do with Jessica?
WOLL: From the actor side of it, you never really set out to be a stand-out character. You just want to do justice to the story and enjoy playing it, and find all the different nooks and crannies of who someone is. For each part that you get, they’re all special and you just try to give everything you can to each one. I don’t know whether they’re going to be stand out in that way or not factors into my work. They all stand out for me.
You’ve talked about Karen having agency in her own story. Was that important to you, from the moment you stepped into this role, or was that something you started to want to fight for, the more you were living in her shoes?
WOLL: That was true, at the very beginning, and that’s the kind of thing that’s true with every character. In the beginning of a show, as an actor, I don’t have a lot of say, in terms of storyline and what they want to do with [my character], at least in my position, in my career. So, for me, it is within the acting. How do I make every moment active and make choices that make her interesting and complex? And then, as the years have gone on and you start to know your character better than some of the writers and directors do, you get a little bit more of a world in which you can say, “I think it would be really great, if this year, her fate wasn’t determined by the boys,” or that kind of thing. You have to pick your battles and make sure that you’ve earned the right to talk about that.
Karen has become a superhero, in her own right. Do you think she’s more of a hero to admire and aspire to than some of these actual superheroes, who don’t always make the best choices and sometimes really screw up their own lives?
WOLL: Karen does that, too. She screws up her own life, and the lives of people around her, as well. You can’t aspire to have heightened senses, whereas you can aspire to tell the truth, every single second, and you can aspire to be dogged and just never let anything be enough, never give in, and never give up. That’s the kind of person that Karen is, and I think that’s what makes her a valuable role model. You can actually become Karen Page. It would be very hard to become Daredevil.
What did you, as a co-worker, most enjoy about watching Jon Bernthal further get to explore, as Frank Castle?
WOLL: Everything. I have such affection for him. He’s such a supportive and challenging co-star and co-worker. The Punisher is a character that hasn’t really had an arc yet. I don’t know his comic book history, as well as I do some of the others, but it seems easy for him to be the killing machine anti-hero. Jon has that natural vulnerability and sensitivity that can make you scared of him, as well as love him, at the same time. It’s an exciting show for him because he plays the character in a way that hasn’t quite been done before.
One of my favorite things about this season is the quiet moments between Frank and Karen. There are just some really beautiful scenes between them.
WOLL: One of our favorite moments is in one of the very first scenes, when she hugs him, out of the blue. I liked that because, in reading the first two episodes, you’ve been through so much and learned so much about all of the horrible things that have happened to him that by that moment, the audience wants to give him a hug. You want to reach out to him and be like, “It’s okay! You don’t have to kill!” I liked that, in that moment, I could speak for the audience. I could reach out and treat him like a human being, in a way that a lot of the rest of the world won’t.
Why do you think Frank Castle listens to Karen, in a way that he doesn’t with other people, and why do you think she’s able to see more in him than most other people?
WOLL: I think it’s ‘cause they’re more alike than either of them first realized. She has killed, even if it was in self-defense, and she protects the people that she cares about. That’s something that she’s done and can relate to in him. If he’s a monster, what does that make her? One of my favorite qualities of Karen is that she’s all about the common ground. She’s about, how can we understand each other and relate to each other? She’s not interested in absolutes. She’s interested in the grey area, in between, and the complexity of issues, not the simplicity of them. There have been great lines about how the truth isn’t necessarily better, but at least it’s real. She’s interested in understanding more than condemning, and I think that’s why she’s able to see through Frank. And I think Frank looks at her and sees that, but he can also see that she’s more complex. He doesn’t put her on a pedestal, the way that Matt and Foggy did. To Matt and Foggy, she’s just the light, and she may want that. She maybe doesn’t want them to see the darker side to her, but Frank sees it, recognizes it and, most importantly, accepts it.
You have such great chemistry with both Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal. How does the chemistry with each actor, and among your characters, feel different and define those relationships for you?
WOLL: You define it, a little bit. When I’m doing homework and I’m thinking about Matt Murdock, I have very specific points of view. He’s someone who I love, he’s someone that I’m disappointed in, he’s someone that I’m angry at. The same person that gets those crinkles around his eyes when he smiles that I love, is also the person that stood me up that night. You create a relationship. The relationship with Frank Castle is that he’s that guy I watched viciously murder three people, but he’s also the guy that understood what my relationship to love was and what my relationship to death was. That relationship that you create is what changes you. I try not to force anything, one way or another. I just look at them and think about what and who I see. Do I see someone who’s lost, or do I see someone who’s strong? And that changes you. The big difference for me is that with Frank, I can be more honest about who I am, in my past, even if I don’t show specifics. If I killed in self-defense and potentially shot someone in my past, and we’re still revealing what that ways, Frank can understand that. Karen can be more open about that darker side of herself with Frank. Matt Murdock has religion, and he has this idea of right and wrong and justice, and that it should be decided by the courts. He’s not going to ever kill. That’s a different, more absolute, more black and white approach. Karen probably feels like she has to keep a lot of herself from him, or else she’ll be judged. The journey for Karen and Matt is how they learn to be really honest with each other, be vulnerable and show who they really are. The journey with Frank is, is there ever an end? Is there always going to be torture and misery and anger, or can we find some kind of tenderness?
With a third season of Daredevil happening and endless possibilities for Karen to show up anywhere, what would you still like to do with her and learn about her? Are there aspects of her that you’re still particularly interested in?
WOLL: Definitely her past. We’ve been hinting at it, and I hope that we eventually unwrap that candy. That’s cool to me. Really, my favorite thing to work on with the character is that doggedness and pushiness. Karen is pushy, and I like that. I like it in a female character because I think it’s a quality that we historically have disliked in women. I think it can be a strength, as well as a weakness. It can be one of those wonderful, complex aspects of her. She won’t let things go, even if it gets her hurt, or if it gets someone else hurt. She’s out there, she’s gonna get the truth, and she can’t stop thinking about it or let it go, and she never will. That’s a really fun part of her personality to play with.
You have a new showrunner for Season 3 of Daredevil, with Erik Oleson. What are you excited about, as far as what he’ll bring to the table?
WOLL: He’s one of the most enthusiastic showrunners that I’ve ever worked with. He’s so excited about having this job. He’s not over it. He’s easy to talk to and he’s very collaborative. He really understands that we’ve been with these characters now, for three or four years, and he’s just coming into it, so he wants to hear what we think. I’m so excited for what he’s gonna bring. I really, truly, honestly am. He’s a true fan.
In her idea world, what does Karen Page want?
WOLL: That’s an interesting question.
Does she even know what she wants?
WOLL: Knowing what I know about Karen’s upbringing and what we’re going to do with that, I think she has ideas about what she wants, but every time she gets close to that, it’s not satisfying. She wants answers and she wants the truth, but then you get it and it’s not any better. It doesn’t fix anything. I think that’s a similarity with Frank. He can kill all these people that he thinks are responsible for his pain, but he still doesn’t feel any better. That’s something that they can recognize in one another. They’re never satisfied. That’s why it’s a tricky question for Karen. She’s never satisfied. It’s never enough. It’s never honest enough, it’s never real enough, she’ll never be good enough. It’s a constant striving. I think she wants to make the world a better place because she’s afraid that she made it a worse place.
The Punisher is available to stream at Netflix.