Daredevil‘s Philip Silvera talks about his Emmy-nominated stunt coordination
Philip Silvera makes one thing very clear when he discusses Daredevil‘s fight sequences. He’s not there just to stage a fight between two characters. He is very clear that his “action design” is there to push the story forward and help further develop the emotional arc of the characters. Best known for his stunning Season 1 Daredevil hallway fight sequence, Silvera shockingly missed out on a nomination during last year’s Emmy cycle. Like any great fighter, though, he picked himself up, moved on, and came back bigger and better than ever. His Season 2 stairwell action sequence makes the hallway look like an average day at a daycare.
Philip Silvera faces some stiff competition in the Outstanding Stunt Coordination For A Drama Series, Limited Series Or Movie category, including what even he admits is fantastic work in Game of Throne‘s “Battle of the Bastards.” Still, when you look at Daredevil‘s extravagant stunt choreography, it’s clear that the series lives on a completely different playing field. They’re such an integral portion of the series that it’s near impossible to imagine Daredevil without them. That’s the intensity, professionalism, and dedication Philip Silvera brings to the critically acclaimed series.
I know next to nothing about martial arts aside from what I’ve seen in films and on television, including both seasons of Daredevil. How do you approach choreographing these amazing fight sequences?
I think the most important thing is that we are designing for the characters and each specific character has a different style. So, we want to make sure that when we are designing any type of action sequence whether its a fight scene or a driving scene it’s relative to who these people are and pushing the story forward. That’s our biggest thing. When you look at Daredevil, he pays homage to his boxer father, but he spent very little time with him growing up. He spent a lot of time with Stick (Scott Glenn) grown up who is a world-class martial artist and an assassin, but Matt doesn’t believe in those things. So, when he gets a little tired, you see him fall back on the boxing, but he also has the acrobatic sense to him. We try and make sure that we tell those things the right way so that it’s not too martial-arty, not too tricky, it’s just the right balance for him.
With Jon Bernthal’s character, the Punisher, he is tactically trained and has a different mindset when he approaches a battle and how he enters it. He’s proficient with a gun. He’s proficient with hand-to-hand combat, but he doesn’t mind killing. It helps alleviate the pain for him at times. So, I think we keep all of those things very close to how we approach the action and push the story forward.
Would you even use the term “choreography” when describing what you do? It is almost like a perverse dance between the two characters when they engage in a fight sequence.
Right, yeah, you can absolutely use the word choreography. I tend to use the word “action design” because it’s the overall story that we’re pushing forward, but choreography is a great way to describe it.
The single scene I most remember from Daredevil Season 1 was that fantastic hallway fight sequence. Was there a sense of apprehension going into Season 2 that you had to top that?
[Laughs] There is a feeling that I didn’t want to travel down the same path for sure. Especially with doing another one-shot. That was relative to that story, and I think Doug [Petrie] and Marco [Ramirez], our showrunners, had a great vision for not topping it but doing something different. And I think we did. We did something very different with that Episode 3 sequence where we start in the hallway, which is very similar to what we did in Season 1, but then we take it down a staircase. Their idea and concept for it was a descent into Hell, and he’s fighting to hold onto the character that he is and not cross that line, which I thought was genius because if you see every time we get deeper into the staircase, the stakes are raised.
He’s been riding a line and almost getting to that point where he’s crossing it. In that episode, Jon Bernthal’s character the Punisher talks to him about that and tells him, “You’re one bad day away from becoming me.” So, I think that sequence had a totally different feeling to it. It was him fighting to hold onto who he was. The challenge of it for us, though, logistically speaking was in Season 1 we did it on a set with an overhead track. This time, we had to figure out how to do it on an actual location moving through a hallway and down a staircase, and I think that was our other challenge, which he achieve I’d like to think.
Is that your personal favorite Season 2 sequence? The stairwell sequence?
I have a few favorites. It’s hard to pick which one you like the most. Every sequence is special in its own way, and it’s difficult to pick which one you like more. If I had to, I think I love the opening sequence between Punisher and Daredevil in Episode 1. It’s the coming together of these two iconic characters. I love the scene that we just talked about where they’re heading down the staircase in Episode 3. I love the scene in the jail where we see Frank Castle become more and more the Punisher character and his interaction with the Kingpin. And then the most iconic thing we get to see throughout the season is Daredevil throwing his baton for the first time, which again I thought what better way to show Daredevil’s evolution to becoming who he is. That was a fan-favorite moment for me.
How do you work with the creative team to orchestrate the fight sequences? Where do you get engaged into the overall process?
Again, this is a TV show, so we have very fast turnover. As soon as we get the scripts, we go into meetings and we start discussing right away… we’re just kind of running with the ideas. For me its easy because I understand the background of the characters because I’m a fan. I get to bring that to the table.
You’ve been able to work with a lot of Marvel properties in your career looking at your resume.
I’ve been very fortunate to do that, I have.
So you were a Marvel fan before this?
I’ve been a comic book fan my entire life, so yes, I’m a huge Marvel fan as well.
So you’re basically living the dream.
I am. I absolutely am.
I’d read somewhere that you consider “the Black Widow” move “one of the most overused moves for females.” Did you make a conscious effort to avoid that when working out fighting styles for Elektra?
Well, I made a conscious effort to avoid using it, but it does end up in the show and doesn’t work out her way. There’s a scene in Episode 10 where she’s fighting in the airplane hanger where she tries that move, and she fails miserably. So, I just wanted to show another side of it where it actually doesn’t work out.
Is that where [Elektra] flies across the airplane wing?
Correct. And gets slammed right back down on top of the wing.
So, what’s next for you in terms of the Marvel projects? Are you working on things like Iron Fist or The Defenders?
No, that’s going to be a whole other creative team and action coordinators, and I can’t wait to see what they do. For me right now, I just finished working with Steve DeKnight on Pacific Rim 2 for a little bit, and now I’m starting to prep Deadpool 2.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination this year, of course. Looking back at last year’s nominees, I was surprised to see Daredevil Season 2 garnered you your first nomination. What does the Emmy experience mean to you?
It’s a huge honor for me. Number one, I’m nominated with peers I’ve looked up to for many, many years and who have inspired me. I’m very grateful that people like our work and are excited about it. Working on this series is a great honor and a privilege, and it’s very fulfilling that people agree with that and enjoy the work we’re putting out.