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[This story contains spoilers for season three of Daredevil on Netflix.]
The most mysterious and tightly shrouded aspect of Daredevil’s third season has been its villain. Until the show’s panel at New York Comic Con, it was hard to tell whether the season would feature a new antagonist at all alongside Vincent D’Onofrio’s fan favorite, Wilson Fisk.
While that panel confirmed that Wilson Bethel’s “FBI agent” would in fact become the iconic comic book villain Bullseye, season three is very much his origin story, exploring the disturbed man behind the supervillain.
Benjamin “Dex” Poyndexter is an FBI agent whose tightly wound competence disguises a hair-trigger temper and a very dark backstory. Orphaned at a young age, he began to show violent tendencies during his childhood and suffers recurrent episodes of rage and loss of control. As an adult, Dex has found a way to keep his instability in check with structure, routine and work, although there are still clear red flags — he has no social life and spends his evenings stalking a former co-worker, Julie (Holly Cinnamon), from afar. When Fisk identifies Dex as an easy target for psychological manipulation, his fragile version of normalcy quickly unravels.
Bethel talked with The Hollywood Reporter about Dex and Fisk’s complex relationship, the “Daredevil vs. Daredevil” fight sequence between Dex and Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and how Dex might evolve into Bullseye.
This role was incredibly shrouded in secrecy until earlier this month. How much did you know upfront about what you were auditioning for?
Very little. They did tell me that it was Bullseye, or alluded to it, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the comics to know anything specific about him. Even if I had been an ardent Daredevil fan, there was nothing that really could have prepared me for what the season would look like in terms of Dex’s story. What [showrunner] Erik [Oleson] has done is really take a character who is iconic and a lot of fans feel strongly about, but who doesn’t actually have a particularly in-depth backstory. He had the chance to really be the architect of a Bullseye that is not known even to comic-book fans and create an origin story that didn’t really exist. The Bullseye that fans know is the one that will exist at some point in the future, after the end of this season.
What did you find compelling about the backstory that’s revealed for Dex in episode five?
I think what comes across most powerfully is, here is someone who has real psychological issues, but found a way to deal with them, as a lot of people do. I think that’s a unique perspective on psychosis: A lot of people out in the world are dealing with major psychological issues and have them under control in any number of ways, whether it’s medication, therapy, having routine and order in their life. What episode five establishes is that Dex, through the help of his therapist and his career and so on, manages to rein that in and gain some control over his life. And then the rest of the season is the unraveling of all his mechanisms that are in place.
One of the first things we learn about Dex is that he’s stalking Julie. What do you make of the way he relates to women?
This is clearly a guy who just has not had a lot of normal social interactions of any kind. I think he can fake it really well, but I don’t know that there’s ever a version of Dex that has his guard completely down and just has a normal, free conversation in his daily life, or goes out to a bar and gets drinks. There is no normal interaction for this guy, so of course his version of a relationship with a woman is going to be really fucked up. I don’t think he’s a sexual predator — I think he just doesn’t have a grip on how one would even begin to have a normal relationship.
You get a sense, in his relationship with his therapist, that this was one person who he had some semblance of an open and honest relationship with, and then she’s gone. Julie becomes a version of that, but it’s very murky from the start because of the power dynamic there. It’s never very clean, and certainly short-lived. And then Fisk becomes that. I started feeling a deep sympathy for Dex at that point, once Fisk’s manipulation is so complete that Dex actually thinks that this is someone he can trust. This is a guy who for a long time hasn’t had a relationship where he could be trusting and open in, and he thinks he has that, but he’s just being used.
How was it developing that dynamic with Vincent D’Onofrio?
Vincent was amazing to work with, and they were easy scenes to fall into because of how nuanced the build was into those scenes. And also because of Vincent and this character he’s created and his presence on set —doing scenes across from him, it’s very easy to believe him in those moments as a nurturing father figure in a weird way. One of my favorite scenes in the whole season to shoot was the scene where Fisk finally shows me the controlroomand ends up kind of pulling me up off the ground into his arms and hugging me, and I’m in a fragile state. Being held like that, in an older man’s arms, you’re just immediately a kid and that’s your father. That was some of the really interesting, fun work.
The Daredevil vs. Daredevil fight where Dex faces off with Matt feels like a turning point. What was your experience of shooting that scene?
The stunt team on this show is so incredible, and the level of care artistically that is given to these fight scenes is beyond anything that I’ve ever done in the past. But part of what’s so cool about the way Daredevil treats fight scenes is that they’re extensions of the story, and essential to it. So the scene in the Bulletin newsroom is so important for me as a character, because that’s the first free expression of my violence unhinged and let loose upon the world. It’s the first expression of Fisk’s intent for me, and me really leaning into that and being OK with it.
There’s a freedom there, and I remember Erik telling me that they were going to do something where [Dex] is hearing voices, and then they stop. The idea being that the pure version of Dex is violent expression, and in being able to express that, all of the voices drop away and he’s free of this burden. That’s where Dex is coming from, and Matt is defending the people he loves most in the world, and that’s the context in which these two insanely violent, physically adept people meet. Hopefully that makes the stakes of the fight that much higher, because it’s not just some random slugfest.
One of the most delightfully insane moments of the season is after Fisk has Julie killed, and Dex ends up driving around with her body in his passenger seat and talking to her …
Oh yeah, and full credit to Erik, because that’s risky. It felt very risky to me in the moment, like, “I don’t know if this is gonna work! This might just be ridiculous.” But there’s a lot of trust involved, and ultimately it does serve to tell the story of this guy who is really lost.
Especially once he’s off his medication, he’s probably not sleeping much or at all, and there’s a lot that’s going wrong inside him. His orientation toward the world becomes increasingly skewed, and [after Julie is killed], there’s so little left for him at that point. By the very end of the season, he’s basically lost it all, so it’ll be very interesting to see where Dex goes from here. He’s almost in a similar place to where Matt Murdock was at the beginning of the season. His life, as he has known it, is over.
The last shot of the finale, when Dex is having surgery, hints at what he’ll become. How much do you know about what Bullseye will look like in this Daredevil universe?
There’s nothing of any kind that’s concrete about future plans, but I think even in this season, he’s not the Bullseye that people necessarily expect to see, which is a truly gleefully unhinged baddie. This season deals a lot with his descent, and what’s going on in his head and how he expresses himself through violence, and finds some relief in that. From what I understand, the version of Bullseye in the comics is grinning ear to ear while he’s doing fucked-up shit, and that’s not really who you see in this show yet. But I think we’re starting to get an idea of how he gets there. I would love to play that character at some point, and I think there’s a version of Dex that starts out in the next season of this show, trying to rebuild from the rubble of his life, and finds this whole new trajectory that gets him there. For now, what’s so special is we got to create something completely new, and experience Ben Poyndexter the man, even knowing where he’s ultimately going.
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