'Daredevil': The story behind that one-take hallway fight
The moment that defines Daredevil—at least the character as played by Charlie Cox on Netflix’s new superhero series—is decidedly un-super. More than two minutes after throwing the first punch in the second episode’s climactic fight against a group of Russian mobsters, Matt Murdock is bloody and bruised. More importantly, he’s tired. The only thing the audience hears as Matt reaches to free a child who’s been kidnapped by traffickers is his sharp, exhausted breathing.
And that’s exactly how the five-minute-long take was supposed to end, according to Daredevil’s fight coordinator, Philip Silvera. The scene, which instantly became an enormous talking point on social media, is the result of close collaboration between Silvera, his stunt team, Cox, the episode’s writer and series creator Drew Goddard, showrunner Steven DeKnight, and director Philip Abraham, with the goal of creating something that hadn’t been seen before in the Marvel Universe.
Silvera is not new to the realm of superheroes. As a performer, he’s been beaten up by Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, and Cat Woman, and he choreographed the ancient battle that served as a prologue to Thor: The Dark World. He’s also currently working as the co-stunt and fight coordinator for Fox’s Deadpool. When he initially pitched to get the job on Daredevil, Silvera brought his own preferences as a comic book fan to the table. “Even though these are superhero characters, what I like to do—and this is just my personal approach—I like to find grounded, real-world weight to them,” he says.
That approach suited Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen who relies on his other heightened senses and relentless drive to stomp out evil in his city. “This is just a guy with pure will and determination to do the right thing,” Silvera says. “He can take the punishment, and he keeps working through it, as much as he gets it. He’s a lot more vulnerable in that sense.”
That vulnerability looms large over the hallway fight in the second episode. Before leaving the project to develop a Sinister Six movie with Sony, Goddard scripted the first two episodes of Daredevil—and much of what we see in the final product was laid out on the page.
From Silvera’s perspective, such a fight was a tall order, especially on a TV production schedule. “When I first read it,” Silversa says, “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is a pretty big fight to do in a short amount of time.’” The stunt team would only have two days to rehearse the Raid-and-Bourne-inspired fight.
Silvera structured the fight scene around both Matt’s personal fighting style and Abraham’s insistence on pulling off the shot in one take. “I’m thinking of ways [of] maybe cheating in the lights, or we do certain things where we can cheat the camera. But Phil Abraham really wanted the appearance of a one-shot,” Silvera says. “I think that helps for the tone of the show overall, because it let us slow down the fight and gave it this very grounded feeling to it all.”
That tone carried over to the creation of Matt’s brutal moves. From the very beginning of the series, the stunt team equipped Daredevil with his own unique style of fighting that combines elements of boxing (inspired by his father), the Filipino martial art Kali, and Wing Chun. Though Charlie Cox spent a good deal of time training in the hybird style for many of the hand-to-hand scenes, he left the flips to his double, Chris Brewster.
When it finally came time to shoot the sequence, the crew, led by Abraham and series director of photography Matthew J. Lloyd, spent half of the day—yes, singular—blocking the elaborate camera move. That left Silvera and his team just half a day to get the fight perfect. By his estimation, the stunt men ran through the five-minute shot somewhere between eight and 12 times, with each take featuring a sneaky switch in which Brewster replaces Cox and then switches back. Silvera, keen to protect trade secrets, won’t say when—but a close inspection of the scene’s several trips through doors and into side rooms will give you a good idea of how those switches went down.
Hearing about the kind of preparation and work that went into the fight, it only makes sense that the action breaks down into a tired, sloppy brawl by its last moments. From Silvera’s perspective, that creative choice was based in the truth of Daredevil as a hero still finding his way; this was the only way the bout could end. The context of the fight not only allowed for that kind of performance, but also depended on it. “The fight has to continue the story,” he says. “If it doesn’t, it’s just punches and kicks.”