Inspired by England's most infamous heist.
I caught up with actor Charlie Cox – Matt Murdock, Daredevil himself in Netflix’s adaptation – for a chat on acting, film, Daredevil, influences, and what it was like to work with heavyweights like Michael Caine, Michael Gambon, and Tom Courtenay in his latest, King of Thieves, based on a very real (and very historic) British heist. Catch King of Thieves On Demand and Digital HD.
Cox plays Basil, the younger outsider to a crew of retired British thieves (also including Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent). Basil brings them into the biggest heist they’ve ever faced, and the film chronicles what ensues and how – as in many heist movies – greed takes over with disastrous consequences.
The real robbery the film is based upon is interesting in and of itself being considered “the largest burglary in English legal history”. In 2015, an elderly gang of thieves staged a robbery of safe deposit boxes in London’s Hatton Garden jewelry district. Their loot had been able to get back totaled around 13.69 million pounds (just a bit under $21 million USD), yet they ultimately settled for a paltry 3.6 million pounds for their score ($5.5 million USD). At least, that is what was returned to victims via the British courts after the gang was caught.
King of Thieves, in fact, delayed the trial for the alleged real Basil, Michael Seed. In September 2018, Seed’s barrister asked for more time to prepare his client’s defense because, “The court has little or no power to deal with it [the film], and little locus to obtain an injunction.”
Catch King of Thieves now and enjoy the interview with Charlie Cox below.
Hey Wess, how's it going?
I’m great thank you. How are you?
Very good, thank you.
Getting right into it, what was it that initially attracted you to the Basil role? I found the twist on his name at the end of the movie really clever, too.
What's interesting is, we didn't know that when we were filming. That was something that came to light after we shot the movie.
When we were filming the movie, the information that we had was that Basil was potentially called “Basil” because he was slightly posher than the rest of the guys.
His accent is slightly posher and there's a very famous cartoon character in the UK, well puppet actually, called Basil Brush. He's a posh fox on television in the UK, and so the thinking was they called him Basil because he was like Basil Brush, because he spoke like him.
That part's in the movie, but it wasn't until after the movie that someone read, or someone discovered, that possibly he was called Basil because of that play on the word.
In terms of what attracted me to the role was this is one of those ones where I kind of am amazed that I got the job, you know what I mean? Working with that group of actors obviously is a dream come true for anyone, but particularly for a young, British actor.
Those guys all were my heroes growing up. To work with any one of them on one job would be amazing, so working with all of them on the same job, it's kind of as good as it gets.
Absolutely, and honestly Charlie I think if you stay on the trajectory that you're at, you'll be at their level someday.
Oh, wow man, that's so cool! Thank you! That's funny to think about. That's funny to hear someone say that because of course, it's impossible to imagine that you'd ever reach that kind of hope of 'icon-ness' or whatever you call it. The fact that you're saying that is very encouraging.
Oh, and I mean it too. I definitely think you'll get there. Now, what did the process look like for getting into that headspace of the thief, of Basil?
It was such a fun challenge because when I got the job, I got it very late on in the process. In fact, I literally got a phone call on a Friday, and I was rehearsing on Monday, so it was a very last-minute decision, I think. They were struggling with that character, and I think a couple of people had maybe fallen through, or I don't know exactly what went on. It was a very pleasant surprise, but it did leave me very little time to kind of really investigate the character.
The challenge that I felt I was faced with, of course, Basil is the one character that got away, the one no one really knows anything about. So, we had to invent a lot about him, whereas the other characters, they're a known entity.
The thing that was confusing to me... We knew that Basil was younger, we knew that he was the guy that did the computers and shut down the alarm system, we kind of knew bits and bobs. What we didn't know was why, if he was younger, and he was the one with the key that got them in the building in the first place, that kind of was the catalyst, he got Michael Caine's character interested.
What I couldn't figure out was why didn't he have any friends of his own age that were more physically capable of doing the hard work. What was it about him that felt like he needed to go to a bunch of geriatrics to pull off one of the biggest heists in history?
Really what I thought was an important element for that character was someone who was very socially awkward and maybe doesn't have mates of his own age. Maybe there's something kind of untrustworthy about him, something that doesn't seem quite right. At the beginning of the film Brian Reader [Michael Caine] had just lost his wife and he felt lonely, and Basil by his nature is quite lonely, so they kind of take each other hostage for a period of time. That was the way I ended up explaining it.
It almost makes me wonder, too, with that if he didn't know at some level that they were going to get caught and he was comfortable with the geriatrics taking the fall or what have you. But just hypothesizing.
Any funny or memorable moments from the process of filming that stick out in your mind?
So many... It's not one particular memory, but normally on a film set in between scenes, sometimes it can be quite a long time between camera setups.
Normally people kind of go back to their trailer and they relax, or they do whatever they want to do. But because the majority of the cast were slightly older, they didn't always want to go back to their trailers, it was too far sometimes, so we would all sit together in chairs, just around the corner from the set. And what was nice about that is you end up doing a lot of socializing, a lot of chatting, a lot of stories being told.
So, I got to hear some amazing anecdotes from all these legends and their illustrious careers and the lives they've had. That was just a memory that I'll never, ever forget.
Very cool. That’d be something in itself.
We kind of touched on this, but what were the challenges like, and was there anything else that you wanted to add in there with that?
Filming with those guys in London, particularly Michael, can be challenging because of how well known he is and the fans and people who recognize him in the street. We shot lots of scenes in the streets that were almost impossible to completely block off.
And then when people walked past Michael Caine, they had a look of amazement on their face and you can't put that in the movie. He has to be someone just walking down the street, so that's a challenge.
Wow yeah. I bet.
Other than that, I just thought the whole thing was just so tremendous. To this day I can't believe that I had that experience. I think it will always be one of the great, great highlights of my life.
Absolutely. Being based on a true story, too, it's just tremendous.
I would be remiss if I didn't ask about Daredevil when I had you here, too. It sucks that it's over. That was really an exceptional show and it was very gritty. I loved that.
I heard you didn't know the character was blind until the day before the audition. That leads me to ask, what was it like getting into that Matt Murdock, Daredevil headspace and developing the character over three seasons as you did?
Again, it was a really wonderful, challenging experience. I'm lucky with that particular job that I had a couple of months’ notice, so I could really come about...
That job was hard because there were so many elements for my character that I had to kind of learn about and discover and investigate. For example, obviously, the fact that he's visually impaired. What does that mean? What does that look like? How do you act that? What do your eyes do? I spend a lot of time working with a blind coach-
Then the things that are related to the blindness apart from the eyes themselves. How do you use a cane? How do you find things on the table if you're looking for something? How do you read Braille? How do you use a computer? How do you use an iPhone? How do you do all those things? You have to learn all of that stuff.
Plus, it was the first time I'd done an American accent, so I was working very hard to get the accent right.
Oh, you did.
[Laughs] Thank you. Then don't forget there was all the martial art stuff and a lot of weight to gain because I was much, much lighter when I got the job, I think I was about 162 pounds. By the time we started shooting, I was 180 pounds. I put on a lot of muscle very, very quickly and that takes up a lot of time.
Whenever I got a second I was reading comic books, reading as many Daredevil comic books that I could get my hands on. In that job particularly it felt like there was a lot of work to do. But I loved it, I love all that.
That's actually, in some way, the best part of the job is studying to kind of learn and delve into the whole area of culture that you've never experienced before.
Switching gears just a little bit, a question I ask everybody, what films and performances have been most influential on you as an artist and an actor? A big question I know.
Yeah, it's a big question. Obviously, Brando is a go-to, Hopkins – would be the actors that I've obviously grown up with and admire. His work is so influential. Gene Hackman is one of my favorites. There are some younger guys, I think Ryan Gosling is exceptional. I think that one of my favorite actors is Oscar Isaac, I think he's amazing.
He was great in Annihilation.
In terms of specific performances, Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind I think is one of my all-time favorites. I love the Coen Brothers and I think that everyone in almost all of the Coen Brothers’ movies, all of the performances are impeccable. I love the tone of a lot of those movies.
I'm trying to remember the name there... it's something like that...
I'm blanking on the name... it's something like that. What else... that might be it. That might be all I've got on me.
Well, as I said, it's a big question, too-
Tom Wilkinson! Tom Wilkinson!
Yeah, Wilkinson! I should’ve known that… [Laughs]
Tom Wilkinson is the guy in Michael Clayton.
Oh absolutely. I couldn't think of that either until you said it and it's like, yeah, I knew that.
One other question I like to ask everybody, what makes a great film?
I think the honest answer to that is there is no formula. I think that if there was a formula, then you wouldn't get movies that were supposed to be fantastic that aren't.
And you wouldn't get movies that were made for almost no money with an unknown director and an unknown cast, that are sensational. There's no way of knowing what is... There are so many elements that need to come together when you make a film or a TV show for that matter.
There are so many things that have to be exactly right for that movie, including the acting, including the script, including the sound design, including the set, including the editing. There are so many elements and even sometimes if just one of those things isn't quite right, a movie doesn't quite work.
When they all do come together, you get a great movie. Not a good movie, a great movie. That's a very special thing. As I said, I think that if there was a formula then you could just churn out hit, after hit, after hit, and of course, we know that that doesn't happen.