Marvel’s Daredevil, available at Netflix on April 10th, is the dark, gritty tale of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a man blinded as a young boy but also imbued with extraordinary senses, who fights against injustice by day as a lawyer, and then protects the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York by night as the superhero Daredevil. It simultaneously delves into the backstory of the character’s evolution while also starting down the path of an eventual teaming up with Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage for The Defenders.
At the show’s press day, showrunner Steven S. DeKnight and Marvel’s Head of Television Jeph Loeb talked about how this Netflix series model came to be, telling a darker story that still fits into the larger Marvel universe, figuring out the level of violence for this show, how Charlie Cox became Daredevil, and how the opening title sequence came to be. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
JEPH LOEB: There were a number of steps, the first of which was finding out that we were going to be getting the rights back from Fox. We had been watching that clock on the wall, and had been seeing whether or not that clock was going to tick out. Then, we had to figure out whether or not it was something that could be a television property because the movie division had first dibs. When it did become a television property, we had to figure out, “Where is the best place for this to be?” That was when I brought to the group this idea of doing the street-level heroes and The Defenders story. We went to Netflix and brought them this idea that we would do four 13-part stories that would be separate, individual stories, but in their own way, would feel like they’re part of the same universe. Then, those four characters would join together and be in something called The Defenders. And Daredevil would kick it off.
We looked at the model that the movie division has, which is different from the television division. There had to be Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and Thor, before you could make The Avengers. For us, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist had to exist before you could make The Defenders. But we also needed something that was organic. We couldn’t just randomly pick four characters and put them on a team and hope that it all worked out. These are characters that have known each other in the comics, and who have had relationships, in the case of Jessica and Luke Cage. It gave us the opportunity to really look at that, and to find the best place to tell those stories.
That’s where it always begins. As we like to say, The Avengers are here to save the universe, and [the street-level heroes] are here to save the neighborhood. What was challenging and compelling and interesting to, at first Drew Goddard and, later, to our showrunner, Steve DeKnight, was how to make that world live. What was it going to look like? What was it going to feel like? Fortunately, we all came to the same conclusion. That was the part that was really exciting.
This is certainly a darker take than we’ve seen from the rest of Marvel. How does that affect it fitting into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
LOEB: We didn’t do it to do it. We did it because it was the best thing for that story. It’s what the character wants. You couldn’t have told a Spider-Man story like this, or a Captain America story. I suppose you could, but it might feel off. I can’t think of two films that are more different than Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. In Winter Soldier, they’re firing live ammo into a civilian populated area, trying to shoot Steve Rogers. The Winter Soldier has done some terrible, horrible things. Then, on the other side, there’s a talking three foot tall raccoon and a tree that’s his best pal, and they’re shooting up the galaxy. But you can look at them and go, “They both feel like Marvel.” What we’re trying to do with our Netflix shows, in general, is tell the best stories for Jessica, Matt, Luke and Danny, and if they have a bit of an edge to them, good. It means the Marvel Universe is now expanding to a place where we can do this kind of story. It’s my hope that, someday, we’ll be to tell stories that take place in the supernatural universe and in the horror universe.
The Marvel catalogue of 9,000 characters really is that rich. It isn’t just a bunch of guys running around with capes and cowls who have secret identities and fight across the street from each other. It really is a diverse range of characters, in terms of ethnicity, gender and religion, that have different ways of going about the same thing, which is to be a hero and to have them challenged to be heroes. One thing we really do reach for is that our heroes are aspirational. At the end of the day, these are people who realize that, starting as far back as Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.
There is no one who is more conflicted in the Marvel Universe, in my opinion, than Matthew Murdock. Is he his father’s son, or is he the son of his father? Is he someone who is going to solve the world’s problems in a court room, or is he someone who is going to solve the world’s problems with his fist? I think one of the things that’s extraordinary, that not only Steven’s story captures, but that Charlie Cox captures, is that dichotomy to be that strong a personality, and to have that charm and wit that he has, but also to be as vulnerable as he is. That’s really the gift that Charlie brought us, in playing that part.
Was the fight at the end of Episode 2 the biggest challenge to stage?
STEVEN DeKNIGHT: The fight at the end of Episode 2 was a brilliant idea by Drew Goddard. It was scripted that way, and brilliantly realized by our director, Phil Abraham, and our stunt coordinator, Philip Silvera, and our DP, Matt Lloyd. That was probably our most complicated action scene because of the way we shot it, in that one take. Technically, it was very difficult. However, there are bigger things coming down the pike.
Can you talk about figuring out the level of violence for this show?
DeKNIGHT: There were some conversations about the extent of how much we would see, and Jeph and I were both very much on the same page. Having come over from Spartacus, I was very clear that I had no intention of pushing it that far. With Spartacus, the level of violence we had was because the story warranted it. With Daredevil, the story doesn’t warrant it. As far as the Wilson Fisk scene with the car door, we were all very clear that we shouldn’t see it, we would suggest it. It is very suggestive. There’s no doubt about it. A show that I absolutely love right now is The Walking Dead. I think the level of violence they show on screen is exactly right for that show. With us, I think it would take you out of what we’re trying to do and say. We’re always very cognizant.
I don’t shy away from violence, and god knows that one of the writers of Commando doesn’t shy away from violence. We have no problem with that. But, we never wanted to do a graphically violent thing just because we could. We always wanted to do it in service of a story. There’s nothing that really weirds me out more than a bone poking out of somebody. There are a couple of moments of that. A lot of the violence we have, though, is really, really suggestive rather than explicit. It is certainly darker, grimmer, more gritty and rounded than anything you’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, up to this point, which I think makes it feel even more violent than it is. The Daredevil comics that I loved growing up – the Frank Miller run and, later, the Bendis run – had some pretty violent stuff going on. They were pretty dark and pretty gritty. We really wanted to make it feel as gritty and visceral as possible. The beating that Matt often takes has real world consequences. We wanted him to be a real person who gets hurt. That was how we wanted to show the violence.
LOEB: One of the other things – and it’s something that Steven handled so well – is that part of what is so horrific about that Wilson Fisk scene doesn’t have to do with the violence of it. To me, it’s because you’ve spent an entire episode watching this man go on a date. You’ve been watching him be a gentleman, and really a gentle man. Ayelet Zurer’s performance opposite Vincent D’Onofrio really lets them play off one another. Vincent’s interpretation of the character is that he’s playing a child who is also a monster. You’re very much starting to root for Wilson, and you’re starting to hope that this love story is going to be okay. Then, he does this terrible thing and you suddenly think, “Oh, that’s why he’s this horrible person we all know!”
Steven always said, from the very beginning, that we should question the things Matt does, and whether or not they’re heroic. There are going to be things that Wilson does that have you asking whether he’s the villain. It’s that balance that drives the story. If you find yourself wavering between the two of them, good. That is the action of what happens in a courtroom. There is someone for the defense and someone for the prosecution, and they’re both trying to convince you that the story they’re telling you is true. You have to decide, at the end, which one is justice. If we’re able to do that in telling a Daredevil story, than we’ve really triumphed.
How did you come to Charlie Cox, as Daredevil?
LOEB: First of all, we have to give a huge shootout to Laray Mayfield and Julie Schubert, our casting directors who won the Emmy for House of Cards. They brought us an extraordinary cast to look at and helped us see where we were. I will tell you a true story. About two years before Daredevil had come back from Fox, it was eleven o’clock at night and my phone rang. It was Joe Quesada, who was in New York, and he said, “I’ve found Matt Murdock!” There was no, “Hello,” nothing. I was thinking to myself, “He’s found someone who looks like Matt Murdock? Someone he can draw? What’s he talking about?” He says, “When we make the Daredevil television show, this guy Charlie Cox is going to play Matt Murdock!” I said, “Joe, let me explain something to you. First, we have to get the rights back from Fox. Then, we have to get the motion picture division to say, ‘Yes, the television division can have this character.’ Then, we have to find a network that’s willing to put us on with the story we want to tell. If any of those things happen, sure, we’ll bring in your friend Charlie Cox. Hopefully, he’s still an actor then.” I’ve now learned that when Joe goes, “I’ve found someone,” I just say, “Give me the name.” It saves a lot of time.
It was Joe who called it, early on. We saw a lot of people. The truth of the matter is that the success of the series will make it easier, as we go along. But, I’m thrilled by this cast. And I’ve seen what Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor and Carrie-Anne Moss are doing in A.K.A. Jessica Jones. I know where we’re headed in Luke Cage. That’s how you wind up with an Edward James Olmos on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or James D’Arcy coming on and doing Agent Carter. The acting community knows that Marvel is about story and that it’s about trying to find the best people with the best material, in order to bring the best performances out of people. We also try to find directors who can bring that out and who can take broad steps that someone else maybe isn’t willing to do. Hopefully, that’s what we’ve achieved.
Who did the opening title sequence?
DeKNIGHT: We had multiple companies come in and pitch, and they all had variations of the same idea, where you zoom in on an eye and you see a sonar map of the city. This company, Elastic, came in and had multiple pitches, and one of them was to have this dripping, fluid-like blood dripping over everything. Jeph and I sat up, like an electric shock, when we saw that. You’re always very polite in the room, but when they left, we were like, “We’ve gotta do that one!” Then, we showed it to Marvel and Netflix, and they loved it. They knocked it out of the park. I’ve seen all the episodes, and I’ve watched them back-to-back. Not once have I fast-forwarded through that opening sequence because it’s such a joy to look at.
LOEB: We had a lot of conversations about title sequences and how best to deliver on them. One of the ones we all agreed had struck us, as far as imagination and delivering on what the show was about, was True Detective, and Elastic was the company that did the titles for that. They came in and showed us that and a couple of other things they had done, and we were impressed. But it was this singular image of this dark red liquid covering something, as if paint were covering something invisible and revealing it.
Daredevil is available at Netflix on April 10th.