The French-Cambodian actress explains why the femme fatale is more than just a sociopath.
Something unexpected happened on Netflix last year. Daredevil, the gritty Marvel entry about a blind hero in Hell’s Kitchen, became, at least according to one report, the most watched original series on the streaming service. Thanks to overwhelmingly positive word of mouth and strong performances, the gritty show gained traction outside the usual cape-loving crowd. But one of the most intriguing elements of Season 1—Vincent D’Onofrio’snuanced, villainous Kingpin—is out of commission in Season 2. Marvel drafted two classic Daredevilcomic-book characters, Punisher and Elektra, to take his place. And it’s the latter—a dangerous, nimble ninja-assassin played by French-Cambodian actress Élodie Yung—who steals the entire show. In advance of the second season’s premiere, Yung spoke with VF.com about tackling the explosive legacy of Daredevil’s femme fatale.
Elektra Natchios has had many incarnations—including the leather-clad version played by Jennifer Garner in 2003—over the years but the most important thing for non-comic-book fans to know is that she’s a dangerous, risk-taking, rich Greek girl who is forever getting our hero, Matt Murdock, into trouble. If there’s such thing as a triple threat in the realm of superheroes, Yung is it. Obviously and elegantly beautiful, the LAMDA-educated actress, who holds a law degree from the University of La Sorbonne in Paris, is also brimming with the requisite brains to play a worldly, educated woman like Elektra. And when it comes to playing the action scenes, Yung can rely on her black belt in karate to get her through *Daredevil’*s trickier maneuvers.
Suffice it to say that if anyone could be ready to take on Elektra, it would be Yung. But Elektra’s loaded 35-year comic history was already something of a burden for the actress before a single second of Daredevil hit the air. Speaking at an event last December, Elektra’s notoriously cranky creator, comic-book writer-artist Frank Miller, dismissed Yung’s performance sight unseen. “They can call it whatever they want,” he told the crowd, “but it won’t be the real Elektra.”
But Yung, who says she devoured the comic books once she landed the role, has the opposite attitude towards Miller. Giving him credit for creating “such a complex and interesting character,” Yung said she has “a lot of respect for Elektra’s creator” and referred to the comics as her “bible.” And when boiling Elektra down to essentials, Yung prefers to quote Miller directly, saying, “Elektra isn’t a villain and isn’t a good girl but as Frank Miller said, she is one of the villains with a weak streak in them, and that’s a failure that I tried to explore.”
“The writers wanted her to be a sociopath,” Yung says, “I think when you read the comics there are those elements. She has no guilt and no remorse and she kills. But she also has this bond and this love for Matthew when they were younger. And that was important to me to keep in mind. I didn’t want to make a caricature version of Elektra.”
So like D’Onofrio’s Kingpin before her, Elektra is a violent, dangerous character with plenty of vulnerability.
“I didn’t want her just to be this badass ninja, this badass killer,” Yung says. “She fights this bond and this love she has for Matthew and that’s her weakness. She’s a woman torn between two poles of her personality. She’s also capable of love and she’s capable of good and she’s always torn between these two poles. And that’s the Elektra I tried to portray, one that’s always in the grey. She is a tortured soul.”
This moral fluidity works both ways. Just as Matt Murdock pulls Elektra toward her better nature, Elektra drags the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen down into her world of moral compromise. The combustive, sexual energy between Charlie Cox and Yung is another of the more compelling aspects of Daredevil Season 2. Their fights turn to sex and back again in a way that makes it clear this is not a superhero show for kids. “This is a trait of her personality,” Yung says of Elektra’s kinkier side. “There is pure, raw violence in her because these feelings are entangled with each other. Love and hate, it’s all mixed up in her.”
Yung’s nuanced, graceful performance serves as a balance to the grim brutality of Jon Bernthal’s Punisher and could, if Season 2 catches on, launch the actress into a new rung of stardom. There are already rumors that Bernthal is getting his ownNetflix spin-off and I wouldn’t count out the possibility of an Elektra series either. Comic-book fans know that Yung’s character traditionally doesn’t get a happy ending, but the actress also hinted that we may see more of her down the line.
“I would happily jump in her suit again. “She’s a very complicated character and I think there are endless things we can tell about her.”