“It’s been really fun to look people in the eye,” Cox, who plays the blind lawyer-turned-superhero in the Netflix series, laughs to The Hollywood Reporter. “I had gone to an audition — one of those things that are super secretive and they don’t tell you, but I’m pretty sure it was for the Han Solo reboot— and halfway through it, the casting director stopped me and said, ‘Why aren’t you looking at me?’ I realized I had gotten into a habit of not making eye contact, because the only thing I had done for two years is play someone who is blind. I never got invited back, probably because they couldn’t figure out why I was acting like a complete idiot.”
After a few days of rehearsing for the Manhattan Theatre Club’s brain-teasing play — penned by Constellations’ Nick Payne, staged by Doug Hughes and running through July 10 at New York City Center — “I was fine, since I of course use my eyes in my everyday life. The interesting thing now will be if it’s hard to go back to playing blind again.”
Cox, 33, goes Off Script to talk losing his memory onstage, playing an Englishman again and indulging in his new pre-show superstitious.
What drew you to Incognito?
I’ve been looking for an opportunity to do a play; I last did one in 2010. It’s such a wild journey — you spend almost the entire time being utterly confused, and then suddenly, it all makes sense. As an actor, I saw it as such a challenge.
What have you given up to play this role?
Eating. I’m just not hungry before 7, and by the time I get home, it’s too late to eat, so I just won’t.
What time do you wake up on a show day?
For a matinee day, I get up before 9, make breakfast and get on the subway as fast as I can; it takes me 40 minutes to get to the theater from Williamsburg. If I get here ten minutes early, there’s a really good coffee shop across the road called Tisserie.
Charlie Cox in ‘Incognito.’ Photo credit: Joan Marcus
What’s something special in your dressing room?
Someone sent me an Irish keyring, and I thought it was strange. I’m not Irish. But the next day, the keyring that holds my keys broke.
Any pre-show rituals?
I share a dressing room with Morgan [Spector], and I had been having knee pangs during the first two weeks of the show. He showed me how to use a foam roller, and though I’m fine now, it’s become a superstition.
You’re onstage the entire show. What goes through your mind when you’re “sitting out” of a scene?
It’s really annoying when you need to pee. There were a couple of shows where I sit down after the first two scenes, and I’m like, “Oh shit.” And what’s happening now is, because I know the play so well, I’ve noticed I’ve started mouthing their lines. I’ve gotta stop doing that.
What do you do on your day off?
My one rule is to not go into Manhattan. I really don’t want to take the subway on my day off, but I can totally meet up for brunch if it’s in Brooklyn.
What’s your toughest scene?
I find Henry, who is losing his memory, so endearing. When he has to ‘reset’ — suddenly he’s not there, and he acts like he’s seeing the woman he loves for the first time in a long time — I want those moments to be truthful. He’s based on the real Patient H.M. and the English pianist Clive Wearing who would greet his wife like he hadn’t seen her in twenty years, and she had to go along with it because it was the best way to not confuse him even more. Cumulatively, we get the sense of how much this man loves his wife, which makes his story quite heartbreaking. And it’s nice to play an Englishman again; I’ve been playing an American for the last two years. I get a lot of his speech patterns and mannerisms for free.
Charlie Cox and Heather Lind in ‘Incognito.’ Photo credit: Joan Marcus