When Elden Henson was asked to audition for Foggy Nelson on Netflix's Daredevil, he was filming The Hunger Games in Berlin, so he Skyped it. That worked about as well as the WiFi at Nelson and Murdock.
"I couldn't get the Skype to work on my computer. I could get it to work on my phone, so we just did it over the phone, but then everyone I knew picked that precise moment to start calling me," Henson tells TVGuide.com. "I don't think we even made it through the audition scene once. I kept getting interrupted or messing up. It was a miracle I still got the job after butchering the scenes. What's funny is the more I was getting flustered and freaking out that this was all going so badly, I think they were probably like, 'He just is Foggy.'"
Bumbling, incompetent — classic hallmarks of a stereotypical superhero sidekick. Toss in some wisecracks and you've got the hat trick. "I went from not talking [as Pollux in The Hunger Games] to talking all the time [on Daredevil]. Foggy never shuts up!" Henson says. "That was a quite a change. I certainly don't want to listen to myself that much!" It's easy to label Foggy as the loud, annoying BFF at first blush, but that would only be reductive and a disservice to the comic book history of the character and Henson's complex subversion of him. Foggy is smart, capable, lovable, funny, caring, serious and way more than the goofy bestie and law partner of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) — he's a hero. Not an ass-kicking superhero like The Man Without Fear, but a hero in the everyman sense of the word. He's an imperfect guy trying to make a more perfect world, an Average Joe who fights the good fight (but isn't above a little cigar bribing).
"The cool thing about playing Foggy is he really is a good guy," Henson says. "He talks a lot and cracks jokes and you think he's not taking things seriously, but he is. I think you see he's got a big heart. He cares about people and he really wants to do good. That's why he got into law. He really believes in what's right. He's probably the most idealistic of everyone, even Matt."
Not that he knew too much — or anything — about Foggy at first. Henson, who knew of the comics but never read them, didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the show. Last June, literally the day after he returned from filming The Hunger Games, his son was born. A couple weeks later, his family relocated to New York for Daredevil. "I don't think I slept for the first five episodes," he says. But stepping into the role wasn't difficult, thanks to the show's gritty, grounded realism. "I think a lot of it is in the writing. The first two scripts ... blew me out of the water and when you have that [foundation], it makes it easy," Henson says. "What I tried to do was find a characteristic that I really identified with and sort of start there. For me, it was how much Foggy cares about Matt and his friends and Hell's Kitchen and the people around him. I could really relate to that. I still have the same group of friends from way back when, ever since I can remember, and they're like brothers to me. And my brothers are my best friends. That's where I started with Foggy."
Foggy and Matt's friendship is the backbone of the comics, and now the show as well. He is the one person who grounds Matt, the cheery light to his dark, traumatic inner turmoil. That dynamic has its big payoff in the 10th episode, "Nelson vs. Murdock." One of the best hours of the season, the episode is built around the pals' intense confrontation after Foggy learns of Matt's crime-fighting identity. It's a rare, emotional deep dive into a bromance on any show, much less a comic book one, that handles the inevitable secret reveal with the gravity and honesty it deserves. "That episode is really important for the show and the fans," Henson says. "The guy who directed Episode 10, Farren Blackburn, also directed 5. He was really incredible for me. And Charlie is just awesome. We knew what a big moment this was in [Foggy and Matt's] relationship and we really wanted to do it right."
Beyond the obvious betrayal of Matt being a masked vigilante by night — and Foggy rightly questioning the morality and violence ("Maybe I don't want to stop," Matt says of all the bloodshed) of his agenda — there's a far more agonizing, hurtful betrayal at play. Because Matt's heightened senses have made him a human polygraph machine, he has an edge in his friendship with Foggy. Foggy's face upon realization, a palpable ball of anger, pain, distress, confusion, disbelief and vulnerability, is heartbreaking. Juxtaposed with the college flashbacks to carefree, happier times when they decided to be Avocados at Law, and the cut goes even deeper. Foggy has treated Matt as his equal since the beginning of their relationship, blissfully unaware that it's always been unequal.
"I think for Foggy, it's a lot of feelings he has to shift through, which is interesting and fun for me. It's not as simple as them no longer being friends. There's a part of him that wants to walk away, but he can't. I think just who Foggy is, he can't. That's why he reaches out [to Matt] later. He's trying to understand Matt and reconcile it with his feelings and beliefs. And it's him who makes Matt sort of stop and think [about what he's doing]," Henson says. "That's why I love the flashbacks. I think those really gave a look into their dynamic that shows how deep their bond is and how much they each need each other."
Plus, he adds, "They were so fun to shoot. Charlie and I got to be more playful and I had that long hair. ... There was a second there where they were thinking of giving Foggy a handlebar mustache because Steve [DeKnight, the outgoing showrunner] has one. I don't know where they got this mustache from, but it was thick. It was like a Selleck mustache. It was blonde and it looked so funny on my face. But we ended up doing a goatee or something. I should find those pictures. Maybe we'll do that next season."
Of course, Henson has absolutely no idea what's in store in Season 2. "They tell you nothing. Marvel actually owns the rights to my son," he quips. But given Foggy and Matt's baby steps and the plaque-on-the-building official opening of Nelson and Murdock, Attorneys at Law, is a full reconciliation in the cards? Or more importantly, can Foggy ever fully trust Matt again? "If you're asking me, I think there is a way. I like to think of Foggy as a pretty forgiving guy. Having said that, I think it will take some time. It's fun to see everyone's reactions to that and Foggy. Someone was like, 'I don't understand why you're so mad at Matt!' I'm like, 'But he betrayed him!' I love it."
"I've been doing this a long time," Henson, The Mighty Ducks trilogy's erstwhile Fulton Reed, continues. "And I've never worked on anything that has had this long of a history and it's really cool. You go to Comic-Con and you see people in costumes, really into it. It's a real gift to be able to reach that many people. Honestly, I know it sounds corny, but as an actor, I'm just so happy to have a job. And for it to be one where it's such a fun, interesting character and where everyone really cares about every aspect of the show and is not just there for a paycheck is even better."
But if he had to choose, would he be an Avocado at Law or a Bash Brother?
"Wow. I don't think I can choose!" Henson says with a laugh. "Daredevil is incredible, but I mean, The Mighty Ducks put me in a conversation that I wasn't in before. I feel like I owe a lot of my career to being in those movies. What's funny is I still, more than anything, get recognized for The Mighty Ducks. I love it. When I was younger, I would get embarrassed. I played sports growing up and I'd be playing baseball and the other team would be quacking at me and stuff. I love those movies. I feel like these things come once in a lifetime and to experience this stuff as a kid and as an adult, I just feel really lucky. I just hope they figure out a way to keep me from aging so I can do it forever."
All 13 episodes of Daredevil are streaming on Netflix now.