Vincent D’Onofrio Won’t Call His 'Daredevil' Character a Villain

With the Marvel show's return, we had a chance to speak with the legendary actor about returning to the suit of the Kingpin.

by Noel Ransome
Oct 18 2018, 3:30pm

Image courtesy of Netflix

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Veteran actor Vincent D’Onofrio isn’t too keen on the word “villain,” at least when it comes to Wilson Fisk. “You can't make me see him that way,” he reveals. “I wouldn’t be able to play this character working with that.”

And I get it. “Villain” has a lazy association with that mustache-twiddling, cackling over a damsel on some train tracks shit. The yesteryear Marvel “Kingpin” shared a likened DNA, uniting the Capone-mobster obsessions of the 60s—Bald head, white suit, cigar in hand—with the superhero exploits of both Spiderman and the Daredevil. Since Daredevil’s Netflix introduction in 2015, D’Onofrio’s remix of that caricature brought with it a humanity to the once cartoonish villain that challenged the way bad dudes could be beloved and hated in the Marvel universe—the bruised and the manipulative.

With the reintroduction of season 3 of Daredevil, the talented D’Onofrio makes a comeback, bringing with him the ability to complicate the once uncomplicated. Before the Netflix debut on Friday, I took the chance to have a quick chat with the actor about his much-desired return, and whether or not they let him keep that fresh to death white suit.

VICE: It must be great to become the main baddy to the Daredevil again as Wilson Fisk, but I really want to know what it’s like to be in those fresh suits again.
Vincent D'Onofrio: Man, it's great, especially that white one.

They let you take that bad boy home?
[Laughs] No, no, I'm not even sure what I would do with a white suit. But I admit, they were beautiful pieces. They weren't just costumes, they were made incredibly well from Michael Andrews here in New York, he's actually my personal tailor, and he's just constructed these absolutely amazing looking suits. Combine that with the costume designer Elisabeth Vastola who picked fabrics and they were just incredibly well made.

We’re three seasons in. We had people praising for Fisk in season one, and folks begging for his full return in season two. For you personally, what’s the best thing about continually playing this character?
The character just works. I, of course, began this journey with showrunner Steven D. Knight's first season, and now I’m working with Erik Oleson in this third season. They’re both great writers in their own right who understood the arc of this character differently. Both added their own style of layers to make him a complete and incredible character, despite again, them both being different. Having those tools made my job that much better. Just the idea of Fisk still being functional after three long seasons matched with the freedom of Marvel and Netflix was one of the most rewarding and satisfying things. It’s just thick with all that good stuff that's just good, never boring, and always super interesting. We still have a lot farther to go with it, and that's a really great feeling.

It’s been a while though. What sort of methods did you use to get back into character. Wilson Fisk is obviously very different from you.
I’d hope [laughs]. I definitely did similar stuff as an actor as far as the practice of my voice and the like. But as far as artistic inspirations, I used Bill Sienkiewicz's stylistic illustrations a lot of the time. You know him?

Name sounds familiar, but I don’t think so.
Man, you should check him out, he's on Twitter. He's just an incredible artist and I actually met him along with David Mack on the same day a few years ago. Mack’s artistic vision definitely guided my take on the character in the first season, and Bill’s pen and ink style did the same in this third season. These guys were so inspiring, and their art is so moving as far as pinpointing a mood. But there are other particular things that I do as an actor. As far as my environments, sometimes they need to match the tone of the environment my character will be and other methods. It’s in those moments when I’m able to bring Fisk out.

Yeah, and in bringing him out, he seems deadlier than before. Not because of his violence, but in his ability to understand fear and use it as a source of manipulation. What’s his purpose?
In my view, he’s on a mission. It’s no longer about business or about the city. Fisk realizes he wasn’t complete and defined, and more then ever, he needs the love of his life Vanessa Fisk to help him be that much more complete and refined as an individual before starting that journey in the white suit. I think this whole season is about his thirst and what he’s become to satisfy that thirst. I think he knows that Daredevil, the one man that wants to get in his way, is not going to win any wars, he may win a battle here and there, but it ends at that. Just the knowledge of that keeps him going.

I once heard you say that you had an issue with the term villain. He seems pretty bad here. Do you still have issues with people calling him that?
I really do. You can’t make me see him that way. I don’t think I could play this character, or any character that I thought was going to be some giant bad comic book dude, like a token evil villain. I wouldn’t be able to play a character working with that. I think he has his way of doing things that aren’t so black and white.

Yeah it’s funny because I think today, many villains outshine our heroes because there’s a truth in what they believe in.
That’s right. He thinks he’s right like many bad guys think they’re right, and his journey according to his world view, is the correct journey to be on. He feels strongly about that. I don’t think I can ever bring myself to call a character like him a villain. He’s just a guy on a specific path.

What about the challenges of coming back to a character like that. You’re obviously someone that’s sensitive to the characters that you play. What’s the difficulty in selling that darkness?
Well, like a lot of bad roles that I’ve done, some days are full of emotion and intensity, and other days it’s just plain fun. I’ve had several emotional days that felt taxing. Especially the monologues that we shot in one day that had to be done in a particular way with a specific kind of energy and emotion. A lot of stuff with Agent Poindexter in particular felt difficult, a mix between what was fun and intense. That will happen with a good script and a great set of actors anytime you go down that road of human trauma. Combine that with the awful and very manipulative relationship I had to make believable through the chemistry between myself and Wilson, that was hard. But that’s really what I’m there for. My job is to dig deep and get it all done no matter how exhausting it may be. But when you sit and look back once it’s all over, you’ll say to yourself, sure, that was a tough couple of weeks and that certainly wasn’t easy, but you did that. That’s the reward.

Yeah, that Bullseye character you mentioned was a great addition.
Yeah, it was a pretty smart addition that they stuck in there. I mean he’s so similar to the comic version of himself but still very different in so many other ways. I think Wilson approached that role in a very internal way and it showed on screen. That was very smart as an actor. That’s not mentioning how great he is at the craft as far as his commitment and just presence on set. The same goes for Charlie Cox and newcomer Jay Ali. These guys are wonderful actors and they're there to get it right. Wilson just pulls it off. It was interesting watch and be a part of the moments of getting in each other's minds. Fisk getting into Bullseye, Fisk getting into Daredevil and vice versa, it was all so cool to do.


What do you guys do off set that builds that chemistry? Because in watching this season, I was surprised by how intense everything felt. The hatred and despair between characters felt real.
Well, I think there's an openness between us and a trust that we've developed as actors through the years. If we couldn't develop that we would have found another way to do it, but our best performances came from all of us connecting and trying our best to get each line and every action right. We all felt so comfortable with each other and we knew that when the cameras started to roll, that each person would be as committed to telling this story in every way. Wherever we had to go to make that happen had no limits. We just went there. And when the cameras weren't rolling and we were in-between takes, whatever small conversations and forms of bonding that we had were completely a part of that. There's a trust between every cast member because every single one of us is going to give 100 percent, and then afterward we'll lift each other up and give each other encouragement.

So what are you expecting audiences to come away with?
I’m expecting that they’ll be entertained. This is really a complete blockbuster sort of season and I think it's full of all of these characterizations that elevate the Daredevil story. I don't know, maybe I'm biased because I'm a part of the show, but I really believe that these actors really knocked it out of the park and combined with Erik's instincts around this, it was all so amazing.

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