LOS ANGELES "It was my favorite comic book as a kid," Ben Affleck said of "Daredevil." "Everybody has their one thing from their childhood that they really remember and affected them and moved them, and this was that thing for me. It was really a no-brainer."
Affleck was one of many cast and crew members of Fox's "Daredevil" assembled in a cavernous banquet room in the Biltmore Hotel which doubles as the "Daredevil" set to meet the press and sound off about the latest comic-turned-movie. (Click here for photos.)
Aside from Affleck, who plays the title character and his alter ego, Matt Murdock, Jennifer Garner (Elektra), Michael Clarke Duncan (Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk), Jon Favreau (Foggy Nelson), Joe Pantoliano (Ben Urich), writer/ director Mark Stephen Johnson and producers Avi Arad and Gary Foster were all on hand, while Coolio (Daunte Jackson) and "Minority Report" star Colin Farrell (Bullseye) were noticeable absences. With the possible exception of a sometimes disinterested-looking Pantoliano, the rest of the gang was eager to discuss the long-awaited film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics' most beloved superheroes.
"['Daredevil'] was an enthusiasm that I shared with [writer/director] Kevin Smith, who I got to know when we were doing 'Mallrats' and 'Chasing Amy,' " Affleck said. "Kevin was an avid collector of comics and had all these comic books, so he was impressed with my knowledge of the 'Daredevil' storyline, whereas my knowledge of other comic book storylines apparently was severely lacking and he was decidedly unimpressed."
Smith, the filmmaker behind "Clerks," scripted several issues of "Daredevil" a couple of years ago. His "Daredevil" stories, which included a playful nod to Affleck's Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting," were eventually collected into a trade paperback edition. Smith called Ben to write an introduction, and the actor happily obliged.
"I wrote the foreword and talked about how much I loved the comic," Affleck said. "That was something that was out there and was something [director Johnson and producer Foster] knew about."
Created in the '60s by Stan Lee who is responsible for Spider-Man, X-Men, the Hulk and countless other classic characters and Bill Everett, "the man without fear" is a blind criminal attorney who becomes a costumed vigilante by night. Daredevil uses a combination of martial arts and heightened senses, given to him by the same radioactive accident that stole his eyesight, in his one-man war against crime.
"Daredevil" comic books are decidedly darker in tone than "Spider-Man," Marvel's mightiest property, whose most recent film adaptation has given "Daredevil" an extra buzz (see "Movie House: 'Spider-Man' Breaks Box Office Record"). "Daredevil" storylines have dealt with heavy subject matter, including the hero's complex romantic relationship with a ninja assassin called Elektra and his seemingly unending battle with a crime lord known as the Kingpin. Visionary comic auteur Frank Miller, who scripted the character for a period during the '80s, played a pivotal role in the character's development.
"There's a ton of Frank Miller in here," said director Johnson of his take on the red-suited character. "I'm a big Frank Miller fan. ... There's also a lot of Kevin Smith in here."
Johnson, who wrote and directed 1998's "Simon Birch," has been feverishly pursuing Daredevil's leap to the big screen with such devotion that both he and Arad joked about a "restraining order."
"[Johnson] was always telling me about a pet project he was working on," said Jon Favreau, who plays Murdock's best friend. "It wasn't exactly 'Simon Birch 2,' so it was a big surprise to me that this was his pet project. It's like finding that your friend is into S&M when you thought they were just a normal banker. He's totally into the nuances of the book."
The day of the press conference, Johnson directed Affleck and Garner in a scene at a formal dinner. The arrival of the Kingpin, played by the appropriately imposing Michael Clarke Duncan, disrupts the fancy event.
"I was very familiar with the Kingpin," the Oscar-nominated actor said in his distinctively deep voice. "When I read the comic books, that was the only person I read it for. Growing up like I did, I never thought I'd be able to portray this guy. When they came to me and said I could be the Kingpin and I get to fight Ben," Duncan joked, "I said, 'Yeah!' It was like a dream come true."
The movie's first teaser trailer, filled with eerie gothic sounds and "Crow"-like cinematography, contains plenty of fighting much of it, according to Affleck, inspired by Japanese animation. The martial-arts emphasis of "Daredevil" is nothing new for Garner, the star of television's "Alias."
"The fights are different from what we do on 'Alias' because they're much more specific," Garner said. "Ben and I have been working on this fight that we're shooting later this week for six weeks now often three hours a day, every day of the week."
"Jennifer's great, she's fabulous," Affleck offered. "She's actually better at [the fighting] than I am. She has had so much training from the 'Alias' thing and she's a dancer, so she shames me every day."
In the comic books, Garner's character is a major player in her own right. Arad, the film's Marvel Comics liaison, said that there is an Elektra film in the works in addition to multiple "Daredevil" sequels. Arad and Foster also said that "Daredevil" is in the "home stretch" of filming, with a projected end date of July.
"Daredevil" is scheduled to hit theaters on Valentine's Day, 2003. Aside from a peek at a few pictures (see "Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck Suit Up For 'Daredevil' "), the press conference provided the first look at the film since MTV Movie House visited the set with Rob Zombie.