Mark Waid and Chris Samnee aren't the only ones who ended a critically-acclaimed run on Daredevil; so did Steven S. DeKnight.
DeKnight was the showrunner behind the first season of Marvel/Netflix's Daredevil. And although he's moved on to feature films with an unnamed feature film and a chair at the Transformers' writer's table, the writer/director is very proud of the work he and his crew did on the first season -- and is open to return to Marvel down the road.
Newsarama talked with the New Jersey native about taking on Daredevil on short notice, steering it into the hit that it became, as well as Easter eggs, his own plans for season two, and even how the recent Daredevil comic book run featuring a more jovial Man without Fear could fit within the Marvel/Netflix series.
Newsarama: Steven, now that your season of Daredevil is out and warmly received by fans, how do you feel about the whole experience?
Steven S. DeKnight: Fantastic. It was a lot of work in a short period of time, but everyone working on the show really grew up reading Daredevil and loved the character. The only person who didn’t know a lot, funnily enough, was Charlie Cox, who played Daredevil. He didn’t know much when he was first cast, but he dove into the material pretty quickly.
That’s actually a funny story. Marvel is very tight with security and leaks, so when Charlie first came in to audition the script didn’t have character names and we couldn’t even tell him what he was auditioning for. He said he had a feeling it might be Daredevil however, who is, of course, blind. He had to call his agent however, to ask “am I supposed to be blind?” His agent was able to clue him in for him to nail the audition.
I really came at Daredevil from a deep love for comic books, especially Marvel Comics. I grew up looking at Marvel books before I could even read. Drew Goddard, who created the Daredevil show, calls him his favorite superhero. And of course, Marvel’s head of television Jeph Loeb wrote the character, and Marvel CCO Joe Quesada has both written and illustrated the series, so we had a lot of people on our side with a professional and personal interest in making this show work.
Nrama: You mentioned Goddard, who was the original showrunner before departing for some movie work. What was it like being brought in at relatively the last minute to run Daredevil?
DeKnight: It was a hand-off, and Drew and I go way back; we both worked on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. We actually wrote scripts together on Angel, and our styles are very similar. And we both knew Jeph Loeb from our time on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, as he was developing an animated series. I wrote a couple of scripts for that, but unfortunately the show never got off the ground. But we all knew each other, and were very friendly.
So when I was called, it was an incredibly smooth transition. Drew and I talked, and he said, “Look, I love the show and I love what’s been set up… but it’s your show, Steven. Feel free to change anything.”
I loved his first two scripts and the broad strokes of what he had mapped out for the season, so it was really a match made in heaven. There’s mutual respect and love all around.
Oftentimes when showrunners are replaced, the first thing the new one does is try to make it their own and throw out what came before. For me, I saw it as a starting point to build on and flesh out.
Nrama: But unfortunately, you won’t be continuing on to the new season. Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez are currently underway with the second season after you announced in April you were moving on. In the past you’ve talked about several potential projects including your own Incursion series, and you were also said to be part of Paramount’s Transformers writer’s room. Can you talk more about what you’re working on now?
DeKnight: I’ve joked that the showrunner position on Daredevil is kind of like being the drummer for Spinal Tap or the showrunner for The Walking Dead. For Daredevil, it was a unique situation wherein a previous commitment Drew had make heated up and he had to leave, and then a similar thing happened for me. When I came in, this script was already in the works with the studio – I told Marvel that if it heated up, I had to go. So it’s a bizarre coincidence that both Drew and I left in the same manner for feature writing/directing.
I can’t give a lot of detail on the new project however. It’s sold, and I’m supposed to direct if we can get the casting finalized. Casting is often one of the big “make or break” moments for a potential project, as you have to find lead actors both the studio, producers and director can agree upon. Studios will say something to the effect of, “Here’s 20 names. Get one of to be a star and we’ll talk.”
So while I’m waiting on that, I signed on for the Transformers writer’s room to work with Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pickner to flesh out that franchise.
Incursion is something I always keep my fingers crossed on. It never died, and is still in active development at Starz. It’s incredibly complicated and incredibly extensively, but I’m still open to get that up and running.
Nrama: Staying with Daredevil –as you said, you started work with some scripts and an outline from Drew. How much notes and ideas did you leave behind for the next season’s showrunners, Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez?
DeKnight: Not really. It’s completely their own thing. When I was working on season one, there were certain points in the writer’s room where I mentioned things I thought would be cool to do in a second season. Doug and Marco were with me in the writer’s room, but it’s up to them.
On my way out, I did have a lovely dinner with the Marvel execs. During the evening, I gave them my broad thoughts on a second season, freely, saying in effect “take it or leave it.” I feel very much like Drew did when he left.
I have the utmost faith in Doug and Marco. Marco was great on the first season, and Doug was my right-hand man – and executive producer on Incursion. Doug and I also worked together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Nrama: Even though you won’t be charting Punisher’s debut in Daredevil, Charlie Cox said during the filming of season one you described Daredevil for him as “one bad day away from being the Punisher.” And you’ve said that the Punisher would make a great Rated R series of its own. Is Punisher something you thought about during the first season of Daredevil?
DeKnight: The Punisher has been in the back of my mind for 40 years. I love Frank Castle. He’s absolutely one of my favorite characters, and also someone who’s real tricky to do in a movie.
I remember talking to Jeph Loeb 10 or 12 years ago about how much I’d love to do a Punisher TV show. At that time it was a risky gamble, but now in this day and age with new media outlets and changes in basic and premium cable, it’s changed.
It’s heartbreaking to me that I had to leave Daredevil, because I had a strong inkling we’d introduce Punisher very soon
I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this, but I actually wrote a script for the second Punisher movie. They hired me to do it, and then I believe 10 or 11 writers came after me. [Laughs]
But I always loved the character. I thought the casting of Jon Bernthal was fantastic; really, really great casting. It would be great if he was so popular that it is spun off into its own series.
Nrama: Although you’re primarily known for TV, you’ve also written comic books – including an issue of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Could you see yourself possibly doing Incursion or some other story of yours in comic books?
DeKnight: Funny you should mention that.
I just had a meeting about that with a very popular comic book artist that unfortunately I can’t say anything about. We’re talking about collaborating if we both have time, which I would love.
Right now while talking to you on the phone, I’m in my office looking at an original page of art from Buffy The Vampire Slayer where the animated cast comes to live and attacks everyone. It’s one of my favorite things in my office. I would love to do some work in comic books.
As you said, in addition to Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight, I also worked on the four issue Spartacus tie-in. Doing that made me realize that writing comic books is a lot of hard work; it’s a very different muscle than screenwriting because you have to figure out how many panels per page, where a page ends, etc. It’s so exacting. I actually find it a lot more difficult than writing television or movie scripts. Basically, you have to hit those 22 pages. You have to figure out where the splash pages are. It’s a whole new level of working out a puzzle.
It’s challenging, but I would love to d more. My house is filled with Absolute editions and IDW Artist’s Editions. I would love to dive in for more.
Nrama: And this week, the comics creators on Daredevil, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, ended their long run. I know you’ve been busy, but did you read any of their run, or any recent comic books in general, during work on Daredevil?
DeKnight: Definitely. Having Matt really enjoy being Daredevil was great. I’m a little bit behind on the last few issues, but I’m going to drop by the comic book store today and catch up.
I always remember one thing Drew Goddard said during a writer’s guild panel, that showrunners handing off a show to someone else is just like they do in comic books. Frank Miller does a run, then comes someone else. Bendis and Maleev, then Brubaker and Lark, and on to Waid and Samnee now. It’s the same character, but different people do different interpretations.
Nrama: Since you’re familiar with the broad strokes then, do you think something like what Waid’s Daredevil comic book run could work on the Marvel/Netflix Daredevil series at some point? Perhaps as a season?
DeKnight: Sure. It’s always a possibility at some point.
For me, I always gravitate more to the dark, tortured hero. That’s just my thing. But I could absolutely see this run be incorporated down the line in the Daredevil TV series once he gets past a lot of issues.
I will say that doing a season where things go well is always tricky on screen, especially with the expectations built into Daredevil. I think you get a lot more drama onscreen when things don’t go well. But I think there’s room for it with the right people involved.
Nrama: Since we’re speculating here, let me ask you one more question before we go.
Although you’ve left, could see yourself returning to a Marvel project, be it television or movies, down the road? And if so, is there anything particular in mind we should pass along to Jeph Loeb and Kevin Feige?
DeKnight: [laughs] I would love to work with Marvel again. I love Marvel, and I was literally raised on their comic books.
When I actually came in to meet with Jeph Loeb about Daredevil, I told him: “Listen, I know we’re talking about Daredevil here, but I’d love to do Iron Fist too.” I know they’re developing that currently, and I’m not available. But I’d almost kill to be involved.
I would also love to take another crack at Howard The Duck. Steve Gerber’s work there is some of the best social commentary I’ve ever read, and I think in this day and age there’s perfect opening for it to work.
Nrama: One more. You mentioned Iron Fist, and your first season of Daredevil distinctly showed the Steel Serpent’s logo and some suspect one of the villains could have been from K’un L’un. Can you say anything about that?
DeKnight: I can neither confirm nor deny anything. I will say this: everything was intentional.