'Daredevil': Elodie Yung reflects on Elektra, the meaning of 'strong female character'
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 2 of Daredevil. Read at your own risk!
Before landing the role of the sharp-tongued (and sharp sai-wielding) Elektra on Daredevil, French-Cambodian actress Elodie Yung had never once set foot inside a comic book store. “I’ve never had to read comics before,” she admits, adding that she had no idea she was even auditioning for season 2 of Marvel’s gritty series on The Man Without Fear.
But even after learning she would be tackling an iconic antiheroine, Yung says she didn’t feel much pressure at all. Just studying up on the character’s history helped her develop her own take. “I didn’t think, ‘Let’s try to make something different [from what’s been done],’ ” Yung says. “I just really wanted to get to know her.” That easygoing attitude has helped her work with the part’s demanding physicality (Yung’s black belt in karate also came in handy), importance to the overarching story of season 2 (Elektra’s revealed to be tied to the mystery of the Black Sky), and most of all, the pressure that came from joining a series that boasted a huge fandom, the biggest she’s encountered in her career.
Yung’s slick performance helped inject energy into the dark drama — a turn fans cheered after hoping for an impressive small-screen take on the character who previously headlined a less-than-stellar film. A few days after completing a lengthy international press tour — she chronicled her country-hopping adventures online — Yung spoke to EW to look back on her meaty, breakout role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You just finished a long leg in your press tour for the show. How are you feeling? What has it been like for you to be in your most visible role yet?
ELODIE YUNG: It feels like this month has been a bit unmoored, with jet lag. It’s been great to travel, because I really enjoyed being Elektra, so it’s not a problem talking about it. It’s all new, but I get to see this side of the job as well, and when you like the project and the part, then it’s good to share it with people… And I’m French, so I’m drinking my coffee, and it’s keeping me going.
Now that the series has been out for a few weeks, have you been following critic or fan reactions at all?
A little. I don’t really read the reviews and be too judgmental, you know what I mean? It’s done now, so that doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m new on [dealing with] Twitter and Instagram, and this [fan reaction] was all new to me. It’s a reward when you have these direct messages from the people. I’m enjoying the ride so far.
Going back to your audition, you’ve said before that you didn’t feel any pressure because you didn’t even know you were auditioning for Elektra. What was your impression of the role at the time?
I was like “Ooooh, that’s ;a juicy one!” [Laughs] It’s good to have jobs, so once you get one, you’re like, “Yes! Someone said yes to me! I am happy! Here’s my present.” And then I open the present, and it’s even better. I was like, “Wow. This is a cool toy to play with.” So it was a surprise and a pleasure for me to work on a show I liked. When I got to discover Elektra and know her and read the comics, it was like, “Where do I start?” I [read the comics] to understand what [comic book writer] Frank Miller wanted to say and wanted for her. She’s a complex woman to embody. I was very lucky, I think.
Was it important to you to have a different take on Elektra from the way she was portrayed by Jennifer Garner?
No. I hadn’t seen what was done before, so I couldn’t compare myself, and in any case, even if I had seen what had been done before, I wouldn’t think this way, of trying to be different, you know?… Because she’s a very, umm, she’s an archetypical, what’s the word?
Oh yes, thank you. I’m always like, “Oh no, people will think I’m stupid.” But I know this word in French. So yes, it’s an archetypal part in the comics. She’s a strong female, you know? And so I wanted to give dimension a bit more for the show, because I’m not a drawing, I’m a woman with blood and flesh and I wanted to imbue feelings and imbue emotion into this character. So [my process was] going from the comics to actually trying to give her some truth and layers.
You mention how she’s a “strong female.” What does that phrase, “strong female character,” mean to you?
For me, it’s, “Yes, she’s strong, but she has weakness and failure in her, and she’s got fragile sides as well.” [Elektra] appeared to be a strong female character, because she’s independent and she can kick ass, but to me, there are so many characters we can talk about that don’t necessarily have to be a strong one, a model role, something like that. I’m not really interested in that. I’m more interested in exploring her weakness. What makes her real, what makes her human?
She does offer so many different sides: She’s funny, she’s alluring, she’s violent, she’s terrifying. How do you get inside a character like that? Is there anything you do — play certain music, maybe — to get into her mindset?
No, it’s not as if I have to press a button to turn her on or off. I think for me, it’s more meeting my character. There are sides of her that I don’t need to intellectualize, that I can just empirically understand and just feel. And then there are sides of her that I don’t understand, like the killing and all that. That’s something I try to empathize with. It’s not like, “Oh, I have tricks and I play this character.” It sounds a bit wanky to say, but I never feel like, “Okay, I’m wearing her costume and her boots, and there you go, I’m Elektra.”
You mentioned Frank Miller earlier, that you read his comics to research the role. When you were first cast, he wasn’t happy about it, and while many fans applauded the casting, some fans (or rather, Internet commenters) questioned how a French-Cambodian actress could play the Greek Elektra. What were your thoughts about your casting?
I mean, we can list a bunch of actors who have embodied characters that aren’t their nationalities, and I think that’s the beauty of acting. I think acting is a work of imagination. It’s a bit surprising that people think this way.
These comments came from way back before season 2 premiered.
Yeah, but it’s… [pauses] It’s fine. [With the show] for me, and for the producers of Daredevil, I think they wanted to find someone who can understand her and who could have the quality they thought Elektra should have. They wanted an Elektra who would portray her, and then for some reason, they gave me the part. [Laughs] And also, my accent, I think they liked as well, they wanted someone from Europe. I guess they were seduced by it.
Speaking of the accent, there have been fans who have also noted that Elektra says “Matthew” in a particular way.
Oh yeah? [Starts testing it out] Matthew. Huh. Matthew. Matt-hew.
Is there anything particular you do when you say his name?
No. This is my accent. For the part, it was important that my accent was not as French as you can hear it today, when I’m more relaxed. I don’t do the right inflections on words and stuff like that, so I wanted to give her a bit more of a status and be eloquent and communicate a bit better than I do. So the way I say Matthew? I’m not even conscious about it.
Something else that’s raised flags in the fan community is the way the show portrays Asian culture. Some bloggers and writers have talked about how the drama stereotypes the Asian community. For you, as a half-Cambodian actress who was a major part of this season’s storyline that involved the Japanese yakuza, what’s your take on the way Asian culture is portrayed on the show?
Hmm, well, I think the producers and Marvel wanted to be truthful and stay as close as possible to the comics for the show… I don’t know, you know, it is important that there is more and more diversity.
Daredevil‘s certainly not the only show out there to riff off of Asian culture, so what are your thoughts generally?
The Asian culture has to be a part of what we see on TV and in movies. It’s good that we have conversations and that [the industry becomes] more open-minded, but I don’t think [stereotyping] comes from racism. [Stereotyping] comes from ignorance and bad habit. People would write [stereotypes into TV shows and films] and just think, “Okay.” You know what I mean? They wouldn’t think openly. I think we can have conversations and then people will think a bit out of the box, but I don’t personally take it as a problem. I think it’s just… there.
Personally, I’ve always had to face casting directors or producers saying, “You’re right for the part, but nahh, you’re not quite what we’re looking for.” I mean, on paper, I refuse to position myself as a victim and say, “Oh, see, this is hard for me, and I’m never going to get any work because they’re never gonna look for a half-French, half-Cambodian girl.” I’ve always said, “Carry on and work on your job, and at some point, it’ll come.”
Looking ahead, I have to ask: Is there anything you can tell us about the future of Elektra? We see that she died in the finale, but will very likely be resurrected.
No, I can’t really say anything. I auditioned not knowing it was Elektra. Marvel’s very secretive, and I’m not hiding anything, I’m not lying, it’s just the way they are. I can’t tell you anything because I don’t know anything.
So when you ask Marvel execs and Daredevil producers, they just refuse to say anything?
Oh, I’m not even trying [to ask] anymore! I just gave up. [Laughs]
Daredevil season 2 is streaming on Netflix.
Matt Murdock, the blind superhero, gets his own television show via Netflix.