If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably been binge-watching the new Netflix series Daredevil over the past few days. Based on the Marvel Comics superhero of the same name, Daredevil is a gritty and grounded masked vigilante tale set in the shared movie/television world known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — the same one inhabited by Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers. You can read our first impressions of the new series here.
Daredevil star Deborah Ann Woll, who plays the troubled Karen Page in the series, was in Toronto this week to promote the show and our own Ian MacIntyre managed to pry himself away from his TV long enough to speak with her. The former True Blood star discussed her character’s mysterious past, compared genre television to playing Shakespeare, and addressed the recent controversy around Netflix not offering a Described Video feature for the show.
Dork Shelf: Welcome to Toronto.
Deborah Ann Woll: Thank you very much. I’m having fun so far.
DS: How long have you been talking about Daredevil so far today?
DAW: Since… 8:30 this morning. (laughs)
DS: Holy smokes!
DAW: No, but it’s really fun! It’s great, because I’m really proud of the show, so I’m happy to talk about it. Plus, people and journalists want to talk about it intelligently, you know? It’s really nice when the questions aren’t “what’s your workout routine,” and like, “who looks best with their shirt off?” (laughs)
DS: (pretends to cross out prepared questions) So, no…?
DAW: (laughs) Yes, cross out your workout questions.
DS: Yeah, I gotta say, I’m the kind of nerd who watched all of Daredevil on the weekend—
DS: …and your character hits the ground running.
DS: Especially from that first shot. Was that a lot to be thrown into right away? Did you get much time to prepare?
DAW: No, I did not get much time to prepare. But it’s kind of good, actually, because you can’t half ass that kind of stuff, you know? It’s so intense that you kind of have to just give it your all, or else… quit, y’know? Sometime in like a hushed, talky scene you’re like, “Oh, I can hold back a little bit.” So I was glad to hit the ground running. You’re so “in the moment” in those things, that even if my backstory for Karen wasn’t completely settled yet it didn’t matter, because she was dealing with now.
DS: Did they hand you a bunch of backstory for Karen? Because you allude to a tonne.
DAW: Oh my God. Um, no, they did not hand me a bunch of backstory for Karen. So a lot of what I’m alluding to is my own invention…
DAW: …which may not be what they’re thinking…
DS: Please, spoil all of it.
DAW: (laughs) But I did get on the phone with Steven DeKnight and Jeph Loeb and say, “Because I keep referring to this past, is there anything you can give me,” just so I know, y’know, there’s a big difference between “I killed a guy” and “I was a stripper.” I just wanna kind of know generally what we’re talking about. And they gave me a good sense of the direction to go in. So yeah, if we’re lucky enough to get another season I would like to explore the specifics of what that might be.
DS: We would really love for you guys to get that too. Obviously you can’t say anything, but have they talked about areas you might go into if they make any more?
DAW: No, I mean, we finished in December and we’ve been seeing each other at press junkets and at premieres and things like that but we haven’t had much chance to really chat.
DS: Before you started, did they hand you a pile of stuff to research?
DAW: They didn’t hand it to me, I asked. And luckily, because of the digital world we live in, they just gave me a login for Marvel Unlimited…
DS: Aw, nice.
DAW: …which was amazing, because it’s all right there at your fingertips and I could really see a lot. They did give us Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear, because that was the closest thing they were looking at.
DS: You grew up in Brooklyn, right?
DAW: I did.
DS: We know Hell’s Kitchen and Brooklyn are very different neighborhoods, but was it nice getting to shoot in New York again?
DAW: It’s great just to be home, and see my family, and my high school friends and things like that. It was really nice. I think too, when your show is set in New York and you’re also shooting in New York, it’s like half invigorating and half frustrating to live in New York City. So it’s nice that when I get yelled at by someone on the way to work I can walk in and be like “Oh yeah, Karen would probably get yelled at most days…”
DAW: And you remember that in your scenes, and I think that adds a life to it.
DS: “The actor prepares”…
DAW: Absolutely. By getting yelled at by cab drivers.
DS: Right off the bat in the show, especially by the second episode, it seems like you guys all got along surprisingly well. In a lot of superhero stuff, often any time “the guy in the mask” isn’t on screen it feels like marking time…
DS: …but so many storylines really pop in the show.
DAW: Great, thank you.
DS: Did you guys get together a lot beforehand, or did that really just happen as you worked?
DAW: It has to just happen while you work. I mean, Elden (Henson, who plays Foggy Nelson) and I both came from another project, so they had already started shooting by the time we got there. So we just got there, jumped in, and started doing the work. Now, one, as an actor you’re partially trained to just look at a stranger and be like “I’ve known you twenty years.” That’s part of your job. But it helps immensely when people are open and charming and wonderful and I’m so, so lucky that both of those actors are. Yeah, so we bonded very quickly and we were joking around the first day.
DS: Have they talked to you about maybe showing up in any of the other Netflix series?
DAW: Not really. I mean, we all know that it’s all connected and everything. I mean, I’m quite satisfied to go see Age of Ultron and I’ll be like “Karen’s down there, somewhere in the crowd, running around!”
DAW: You know, that’s exciting enough for me right now.
DS: I was going to ask, your boyfriend EJ Scott, I actually saw him originally doing comedy and improv down in Chicago…
DAW: Oh, you know him from Chicago?
DS: Like, “friends of friends”.
DAW: Yeah, super cool.
DS: Yeah, I saw him do an improv show when I was there about four years ago, he was hilarious. Because of that second Daredevil episode, where you guys had such a fun story, is comedy something you’ve ever looked at doing?
DAW: I did a tonne of comedy in theater before I came to TV, and it just sort of hasn’t happened since then. I dunno. Sometimes I wonder if maybe just my type maybe leans more towards drama so I’m less likely to get cast in a comedy. I mean, if that opportunity came my way I’d certainly take it.
DS: Do you feel like you’re specifically going after “a thing” in your roles, because your last two big things have been so fantasy/sci-fi. Is that like a conscious choice, or just cool stuff happening?
DAW: Well, it’s “cool stuff happening”. It’s so funny, because every time journalists ask me about that I’m like “It’s so funny that you all think I get to choose.” I mean, I just audition, and it’s lucky if I get something.
DS: For sure. I mean, two really cool series in a career is already pretty great.
DAW: Yeah, it’s already pretty awesome. So I just feel very privileged to have that opportunity, so yeah, it wasn’t like I was like “I’m done with True Blood, I think I’d really like to go do a Netflix series, maybe with Marvel. I think this one looks good. Let’s do that one.” So no, I just went on a bunch of auditions and this one struck.
DS: Nice. If you want, you can just say that you did all that, and we’ll just write down that that’s what happened.
DAW: Yeah, I think you should tell everyone that I was just super important and I was just like “Cast me please.”
DS: You mentioned your training a second ago. You did Shakespeare over in London, right?
DAW: Yeah, I went to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts).
DS: Do you find that that kind of background is helping you with big, outsized fantasy stories?
DAW: Totally. I mean, we have this reverence for Shakespeare, but if you really read his stuff – first of all, it was created for the mass populous. It was the genre entertainment of the time. It’s about kings and queens and fairies and guys who turn into donkeys and things like that. So it is remarkably out there, and when you train starting with something like Shakespeare you learn how to just really commit and accept and it’s like it’s a…. puzzle. And you know, when you have to say “I hate the guy” on page one, but then be desperately in love with him by page four – which seems like a ridiculously fast turnaround – you figure out how to make those puzzle pieces fit so that it works. And it helps in stories that are genre, because you’re also dealing with those kind of high stakes and fast turnaround.
DS: With this kind of genre TV and shows on Netflix, is there anything you’re binging right now? Or are you one of “those people” who likes to go outdoors?
DAW: I do like to go outdoors, but I’ve been nervous about this one. I’ve been really proud of Daredevil, and I really want people to like it. Even the fact that I’m like, you know, “Brian Michael Bendis might watch this show, and I would really like Brian Michael Bendis to think I’m a good Karen Page”.
DS: There’s like five people in America who might say that.
DAW: (laughs) Right, exactly. So I’ve been quite nervous about it and in a way to distract myself from my nerves I’ve just been binge-watching Friends. From like season one, episode one.
DS: You as well?!
DAW: Everybody is. But it’s been my godsend, it’s been keeping me from googling my name or anything dangerous like that. I’ve enjoyed every second of it. It was such a… for the age that I am, like, I remember the night that Chandler proposed to Monica…
DAW: …I called my best friend and we cried on the phone and it was like this big moment in my life. I was an eighth grader or something. Brings me right back.
DS: Back to Daredevil, I did want to ask, with the hand-off from Drew Goddard to Steven DeKnight, was that before you guys got there or after? Because it seems to have gone very smoothly.
DAW: It was handled really smoothly, and I got to meet Drew, which was great. I got to be like “you’re a huge part of why I wanted to do this.”
DS: Oh, really?
DAW: Yeah, it was his first episodes. After I’d done my auditions, and we both sort of admitted we were interested in each other, you know, it’s like dating…
DAW: I was like, I’d like to actually read some material before I commit fully, and they gave me his first two episodes and you know, reading that and seeing what a different, interesting, unique take this was, it was a big reason why I decided to commit fully. So I can’t even say I noticed the hand-over.
DS: Finally, I’ve seen people talking this past week about getting descriptive audio on Netflix for Daredevil. I will admit, I know almost nothing about it.
(Note: this interview took place just hours before Netflix officially announced they would be offering Descriptive Audio Service for Daredevil)
DAW: Oh, it’s really a cool, cool thing. We’ve used it before at home. (note: Woll’s partner, EJ Scott, suffers from choroideremia, which causes progressive vision loss). It’s a great service, and I’m sure it’s the kind of thing that would help. We have a documentary that my boyfriend and I made…
DS: Oh, Running Blind?
DAW: Yeah. So we’re doing descriptive service for that. I’m sure that they’ll look into it.