Big-budget success stories come and go, especially for a movie powerhouse like Marvel. Avengers: Age of Ultron was an unsurprising hit this year, but the little (well, relatively speaking) Netflix show that could opened all sorts of eyes to another brand of Marvel entertainment. Much closer to Batman than Captain America in tone and feel, the street-smart sensibilities of Daredevil took fans by storm, due in no small part to acting veteran Elden Hensen, who plays main protagonist Matt Murdoch’s best friend, Foggy Nelson. Paste caught up with Henson to talk about the secrets to the show’s success, his pre-Daredevil comic book cred, and where Foggy might go from here.
Paste Magazine: Before this role came about, were you a fan of Daredevil or Marvel comics in general?
Elden Henson: I know of the Daredevil comic because it’s so iconic. I feel like pretty much everyone has heard of Daredevil, but I wasn’t well versed in the comic. It was actually one of the things I was a little bit nervous about going in, because I didn’t really have the history or experience down. I was just really hoping the fans would accept someone playing Foggy who didn’t really know the history of the comics that well. I was also a little bit nervous going in because when I got the job I was still in Berlin finishing up the Hunger Games movies. I literally flew home on June 19th, my son was born June 20th, and we moved to New York at the beginning of July to start shooting Daredevil.
I had pretty much no time to do any research, which was scary, because normally that’s where I feel like I do my best work—being prepared and doing research and that kind of stuff. I really had to rely on all the people around me. Luckily Charlie [Cox] and Deborah [Ann Woll] were there for me. I just couldn’t ask for better actors to work with. Everyone was helpful and made sure they were guiding me in the right direction, so that I felt taken care of. It was definitely a little daunting for me.
Paste: Do you think not knowing that history actually ended up helping you formulate an original take on Foggy Nelson?
Henson: In retrospect, there probably was some of that. I’ve been acting a long time. I’ve been a member of SAG since 1982. I’ve been working for almost 30 years and I like to think hopefully I understand a little bit about characters and story. I sort of just tried to find something in myself that I could relate to Foggy.
For me, it was his real love of his friends and the people around him in his neighborhood. I really related to that because I have the same group of friends that I’ve had ever since I can remember, and they’ve always kept me incredibly grounded throughout my career. None of them are actors or are involved in the business in any way. They’re construction workers or they’re teachers, you know what I mean? I think I really related in that way, because Foggy is a man of the people. He really cares about his neighborhood and I feel the same way. I love the fact that I’m an actor and I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to be able to do what I do, but none of it really means anything without the people around you.
Paste: At this point, Daredevil has been seen and loved by a vast amount of fans and critics, most of whom seem to credit the show’s success to its dark, edgy feel—a true departure from other Marvel film and TV products. Was there a specific goal to appeal to that mature fanbase that might be looking for something a little grittier than Iron Man?
Henson: I think that’s probably a better question for the people at Marvel who make the decisions, and obviously have been doing an incredible job of keeping fans happy. What I will say though is that when I screen tested over Skype from Berlin for the job—and after my audition went terribly and I literally butchered the dialogue—seriously, I’m not kidding you. It was probably the worst audition of all time over Skype. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong.
Anyway, I was speaking to [Marvel Head of Television Jeph Loeb] after the audition and he asked me if I knew a lot about the comic, and I was honest. It’s funny because, as an actor, agents and managers always tell you to lie. Like, “Oh yeah, I can play guitar.” I knew going into this one I would be caught right away if I tried to lie at all, or say that I knew anything that I didn’t know. I was honest with Jeff and he said, “Well you know, that’s actually good because we’re not just trying to make a comic book show, we’re also trying to make a crime show.” For me, that was great, because it was something I feel like I hadn’t really seen before.
I can’t really speak to what Marvel fans as a whole were missing or not, but for me, I really responded to the fact that it was a little grittier, a little bit darker. Daredevil takes place a lot in back alleys and rooftops, and Hell’s Kitchen is really a character in this show. Hopefully it helps bring some other people into this world, if they aren’t necessarily into the bigger or more fantastical things like wormholes opening up and aliens coming through—which, by all means, is awesome. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Avengers movies, and Iron Man and Captain America. I love all that stuff, but I think it was very cool to see something more on the ground level.
Paste: It’s an interesting place to be. Do you think that those associated with your show have a unique sense of pride because you’ve created this great product without the big budgets or special effects of your big-screen counterparts?
Henson: I’ll be 100% honest with you. As an actor, I’m always just so pumped when I get any job. To be a working actor takes a lot of luck. I don’t know that it’s my particular skillset that’s making a difference, but I do think that these are great characters and at the core of them they really believe in and fight for what’s right. That’s something that I really responded to. Now that I have a child I think that he when he’s old enough to watch the show—because it is a little violent—he will be proud of it, and he will look at his father and think that it’s a very cool character to play in terms of his moral values and stuff like that.
To be honest, I’m just so happy to have any job and then to have a job like this where you get to reach so many fans—I wish I could say I had anything to do with this, but these characters have been established for a really long time. These fans have been around a long time, before I ever became involved so I actually feel like I’m the lucky one to get to come in and hopefully bring some life into this character. I don’t know that I have so much to do with it, really.
Like I said, there’s a reason why this is such an iconic comic. These are characters that people can really relate to. So I just feel lucky that I got the job and that I get to go back to work with these guys. I love working with Deborah and Charlie. They’re two of the most lovely people you’re ever going to meet. They’re zero ego. And look, I got to put a little money away for my son’s college fund—that was the most incredible thing for me.
Paste: Marvel has already announced that Daredevil is getting a second season. Before that premieres, is there any chance that we’ll see Foggy pop up on one of Netflix’s other Marvel shows, or maybe elsewhere in the MCU?
Henson: I hope so. I mean, I didn’t sign on to this just to be in Daredevil, man!
But no, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I would say there’s probably a better chance of Charlie showing up. I don’t know that my character is a superhero. He’s sort of that everyman hero… at least, that’s the way I like to think of him.
But selfishly, I want him to crossover into every Marvel property. It’s all for selfish reasons. I want to meet Robert Downey Jr. and I would love to work with Chris Pratt. Dude, trust me. I’m out there pitching ideas for Foggy to enter into any Marvel world, but I don’t know if they’ll actually let me.
Paste: And what Marvel character from outside of Daredevil would you pitch as a logical guest star on the show?
Henson: When you bring in the word “logical,” that’s when it makes it real difficult for me, because I am a very vain, selfish actor and I only exist to serve myself. And I want to meet Chris Pratt real bad. Now, that logically probably won’t happen because it would be mighty tough for “Star Lord” to make his way to Hell’s Kitchen.
Logically? Let’s just go with Iron Man, Tony Stark.
Paste: Okay. Maybe Stark Enterprises is developing some real estate in the Hell’s Kitchen area. That could make sense.
Henson: Sure. But again, it’s really just the selfish actor in me, wanting to meet Robert Downey Jr.
Paste: Thanks for talking with us, Elden.
Henson: Thank you.