Stephen DeKnight and Jeph Loeb are transforming Daredevil for the screen the same way that Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen did decades ago in the pages of Marvel Comics. By taking a hard-nosed look at the character, who barely has a rep to his name, and injecting him with nuance and a healthy dose of grit, the duo are making him a benchmark entry in Marvel Studio's cinematic offerings.
But it wasn't an easy mission for DeKnight, Daredevil's showrunner, and Loeb, Marvel's head of television. Like the streets of Hell's Kitchen, the road to producing Netflix's Daredevil was a brutal, but breathtaking one. As they await Daredevil's April 10 debut with the rest of the world, DeKnight and Loeb chated with members of the press about Daredevil's evolution, it's dark nature, and who made the series' fantastic opening sequence.
When you found out this was going to happen, what was it like to know Daredevil is going to go this route?
Jeph Loeb: It was a number of steps. The first of which was finding out that we were going to get the rights back from Fox. We had been watching the clock on the wall and seeing whether or not it was going to tick out. Then it came down to whether or not it was something that could then be a television property because the movie division got first dibs. So after we got the green light, the question then became “Where is the best place for this to be?” At the same time, I think I brought the group this idea of doing the street level heroes and doing a big expanded Defenders story.
We went to Netflix and brought them this idea that we would do four 13 parts stories. They would be separate individual stories but in their own way feel like they were part of the same universe. And then those four characters would join together and be in something called The Defenders. We looked at the model the movie division has which is different than what we’re currently doing in the television division. So we looked at it and decided there has to be an Iron Man, and a Hulk, and Thor before you could make the Avengers.
For us it was Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist before you could make a Defenders.
But also, we needed something that was organic and we couldn't just randomly pick four characters and say “This is what we're gonna do and we're gonna put them on a team and hope it all works out.” These are characters that have known each other in the comics and have had relationships and it gave us an opportunity to really look at that and find the best way to tell those stories. That's where it always begins.
The Avengers, as we like to say, are here to save the universe. These heroes are here to save the neighborhood. What was challenging and compelling and interesting to...at first Drew Goddard and our show runner Steve, was how to make that world live and what was it gonna look like and what was it gonna feel like. And fortunately we all came to the same conclusion. That was the part for which we were really excited.
Was that fight at the end of episode 2 the most difficult biggest thing you had to stage?
Steven DeKnight: The fight at the end of episode 2 which is a brilliant idea by Drew Goddard...
JL: It was scripted that way.
SD: And then brilliantly realized by our director, Phil Abraham, and huge props to our stunt coordinator, Philip Severa, and our D.P. Matt Lloyd. That I think is probably the most complicated action scene because of the way we shot in this one shot kind of deal and technically it was very difficult. But there are bigger things coming down the pipe.
This is darker and grittier than most Marvel media we've seen so far. How will that effect how it fits into the rest of the MCU?
JL: The way that I like to look at it is, we didn't do it just to do it. We did it because it was the best thing for that story and it's what the character warrants.
You couldn't have told a Spider-Man story like this. I suppose you could, it would just 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 are firing live ammo into a civilian populated area trying to shoot Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier has done some terrible, horrible real life things. Then, on the other side, there's a 3 foot talking raccoon and a tree. It's his best pal and they're shooting up the galaxy. Yet, there's no point where you don't go look at them and go "They both feel like Marvel."
If that's the case then our feeling is what we're trying to do with the Netflix shows in general is tell the best stories for Daredevil, Jessica, Luke and Danny. If they have a bit of an edge to them, good! It means that the Marvel Universe is expanding to a place where we can now do this kind of story. It's my hope that someday, we'll be able to tell stories that take place in the supernatural universe, and that take place in the horror universe.
There is this Marvel catalog of 9000+ characters, and what makes it so rich is the fact that it isn't just a bunch of guys running around with capes and cowls that have secret identities and fight across the street from each other. It really is rich and diverse with different kinds of characters in ethnicity, in gender, and in religion, that have different ways of going about going about the same thing - and that is to be a hero and to be challenged at being a hero.
If there's one thing we do try reach for it’s that our heroes are inspirational. At the end of the day, these are people who realize that starting all the way back with Spider-Man; with great power comes great responsibility. There is no one in the Marvel Universe, in my opinion, who is more conflicted 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? I don't know. Or is he someone who is going to solve his problems with a fist? I think one of the things that extraordinary, not only about what Steven's story captures, but which Charlie Cox captures is that the dichotomy. That to be that strong of personality. That charming kind of width that he has and at the same time to be as vulnerable as he is. I think that's really the gift Charlie brought us in playing that part.
Steven, you said this show would be PG-16. After we see Kingpin [Spoiler - and we promise you, it’s pretty graphic & awesome], I feel like we went a little past PG-16. Respectfully! It works. Was it hard to film that and decide we're gonna show it anyway?
SD: There are some conversations about to the extent in which we’d push it. Jeph and I are both on the same page. Coming over from Spartacus, I was very clear that I had no intentions of pushing it that far. Like Jeph said, with Spartacus, the level of violence and the story we were telling, warranted that. With Daredevil, I would never make it that violent because the story doesn't warrant it.
With the scene you're talking about, specifically and what he does with SPOILER, we were all on the same page from the start that we would never actually see it. The SPOILER and what was happening. We would suggest it. And of course it is very suggestive, there is no doubt about it. I think that a show that I absolutely love right now, with some fantastic storytelling, is The Walking Dead. I think the level of violence they show graphically on screen is right for that show. With us, I think it would take you out of what we're trying to do and trying to say. So we're always very cognizant, I don't shy away from violence. God knows, one of the writers from 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 it to be in service of the story.
There's nothing really that weirds me out more than a bone poking out from somebody, and there's a couple of moments of that, but a lot of the violence we have is really suggestive rather than explicit. But, Jeph's pointed out before, it is certainly darker and more graphic and gritty and grounded than you've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to this point, which I think makes it feel even more violent than it is coming from the property. But also as Jeph stated, Daredevil, the Daredevil comics that I loved growing up, Frank Miller's run particular and later the Bendis run, there's some pretty violent stuff going on in there. Pretty dark, pretty gritty, and we wanted to really make it feel as visceral and brutal as possible. And also, the beating that Matt often takes when you see him, at the beginning of episode two, and some stuff that happens to him later that I can't reveal, it has real world consequences. We wanted him to be a real person that gets hurt and all that was part in parcel of how we wanted to show the violence.
JL: The reason that scene was so horrific doesn't have to do with the violence of it. For me, you've spent an entire episode watching this man go on a date. You've been watching him be a gentleman and really gentle man. Vincent often refers to playing Wilson Fisk as a child who's also a monster, and so you start to like Wilson, you start to sort of root for Wilson, you start to sort of hope that there's a way that this love story is going to be a okay and then oh, no no no! Now he goes and does this terrible thing. You then realize, that's why he's that horrible person we need to know.
Steven always said from the very beginning that you question the things that Matt does and you're going to question as to whether or not they're heroic. And there are going to be things that Wilson does that you are going to ask 'is he the villain?' And that dichotomy is something that drives the story. If you find yourself wavering between the two of them good! That's what we're trying to do. That is what happens in the court room. There's someone for the defense and there's someone for the prosecution and they're both trying to convince you that the story that they're telling is true and you have to decide at the end which one is justice. If we're able to do that in every time we tell a Daredevil story, then we've really tried.
Can you talk about the casting of Charlie? He's perfect, and Vincent is perfect, everybody's perfect, but can you tell us why you picked Charlie?
SD: First of all, we have to give a huge shout out to Laray Mayfield and Julie Schubert who were our casting directors and won the Emmy for House of Cards. They brought an extraordinary cast for us to look at and helped us to seed where we were.
I will tell you a true story and it is about two years before Daredevil has come back from Fox. At about 11 o clock at night, my phone rings and it’s Joe Quesada, and Joe's in New York so it's two o'clock in the morning, and he goes, "I found Matt Murdock!" There's no hello, there's nothing, just voice on the other end of the phone. And I'm thinking to myself, he found someone who looks like Matt Murdock that he can draw, like.... Joe what're doing? What're you talking about? He says, "When we make the Daredevil television show, this guy Charlie Cox is going to play Matt Murdock." So 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. And if any of those things happen... Sure! We'll bring in your friend Charlie Cox. Hopefully he's still an actor then!"
And, you know, I've now learned that when Joe goes, "I've found," I say, "Just give me a name!" It'll save me a lot of time and effort. It was Joe who called it early on. Charlie came in. We looked, we saw a lot of people obviously to play these roles. The good news is, is the success of this series, and the kind words that all of you have been saying, does make this easier as we go along. I'm as thrilled by this cast as I've seen what Krysten Ritter, David Tennant and Mike Coulter are doing. And Rachel Taylor and the list goes on... Carrie-Anne Moss running around in Jessica Jones. I know where we're headed for in Luke Cage. You know, I think that's one of...been the hallmarks of Marvel in general. We really do try our best in casting. That's how you end up with an Edward James Olmos doing S.H.I.E.L.D. James Darcy coming on and doing an Agent Carter. The acting community knows that Marvel is about story and that Marvel is about trying to find the best people with the best material in order to bring in the best performances out of people. And try to find directors who can bring that out and will look and take broad steps that maybe somebody else isn't willing to do and hopefully that's what we've achieved.
Any word on who did that fantastic opening title sequence?
SD: We're big fans. What was the name of the company? I don't remember. So many names in our heads. We had multiple companies come in and pitch and all of them had a variation of the same idea. You zoom into the human eye and it’s a SONAR layout of the city. And this company, I want to say Elastic, came in and they had multiple pitches. There was one of them with this dripping fluid like blood revealing everything. Jeph and I sat up like an electric shock when we saw that. And you know, you're always really polite in the room and they left and like 'Oh, we gotta do that one!'
We showed it to Marvel and Netflix and they knocked it out of the park. I've seen all the episodes, I watched them back to back, and never once fast forwarded through that opening sequence. I love it so much, it's such a joy to look at.
JL: We had a long conversation about title sequences and what they were gonna be. One of the things that we all sort of agreed is one of the ones that really had struck us from imagination and really delivering on the theme of what's going on, was the True Detective opening sequence and Elastic was the company that did the True Detective titles. They came in and they showed us that and they showed us a couple other things that they had done. Like Steven said, there was this singular image of this dark red liquid that was forming this other image beneath it as though paint was actually covering something that was invisible, but it was suddenly created along the way. They had sort of pitched it as this idea that the city would be unveiled in this kind of way. It was one of those rare moments where you go, that's the person we want, and it turns out exactly what it is that you're going to get.
So what do you think ComicBook.com readers? Are you excited for Daredevil to premiere? Let us know what you think in the comments below.