Charlie Cox: Making Treason as Ukraine conflict began was 'painful' (exclusive)

Treason is an old school Cold War thriller that feels more prescient than ever

Charlie Cox and Olga Kurylenko in Treason. (Netflix)
Charlie Cox and Olga Kurylenko in Treason. (Netflix)

Charlie Cox says making his new espionage series Treason (on Netflix from Boxing Day) as the Ukraine conflict got underway was 'pretty intense' and heightened by the presence of his Ukrainian co-star, Quantum of Solace star Olga Kurylenko.

“It was a painful time,” the Daredevil star tells Yahoo UK of the atmosphere on set. But he has nothing but praise for Kurylenko and her professionalism: “Everyone was deeply concerned, particularly about Olga. I really applaud her courage and her bravery to keep showing up and doing the work that was required. It was a pretty intense time.”

Read more: Charlie Cox on his long-awaited Daredevil return

Treason sees Cox playing Adam Lawrence, a precocious but demure spymaster who becomes the acting head of MI6 when the Russians look to have made a strike against his superior. It's an old school Cold War thriller that seems more relevant than ever.

Watch a trailer for Treason

But he could never have expected the show to be as prescient as it was when he started filming in early 2022, just as Russian troops were being lined up along the Ukraine border. Weeks later, war had broken out and a thrilling piece of fiction was suddenly being punctuated by reality.

“Everything we were doing felt much more poignant and relevant,” Cox confesses.

Unlike many of his characters including IRA assassin Owen Sleater in Boardwalk Empire, crime boss Michael Kinsella in Kin and of course the violent vigilante Daredevil, Cox is quiet and unassuming but Treason leans closer to the Cox that we meet on Zoom.

Treason (Netflix)
Charlie Cox in Treason. (Netflix)

It’s impossible not to see real life merge with Treason with blatant nods to some of the most memorable news events of the last two decades. There’s a poisoning reminiscent of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, and shortly after Cox’s character is pulled from a school while giving a talk to children in a moment that brings to mind George W Bush being informed of 9/11 while reading to a class of seven-year-olds.

Cox admits parallels between the real and fictional and said it was 'reminiscent of that iconic moment' but also that the scene helped him really nail down his complexities of his character who he says has to “flip the switch from being a family man to becoming the professional that got him the job”. Adam does the opposite of Bush in that he abruptly ends his engagement and decisively goes into spy mode.

Treason (Netflix)
Treason (Netflix)

Adam Lawrence is no James Bond or George Smiley or really any of the spies that have permeated pop culture over the last half century. What makes Adam and Treason stand out is its focus on the family and domestic lives of its lead character.

It’s also what enticed the in demand Cox to the role: “What I really admired [about the script] was how it took it back to the family home. We spend a lot of time with the spouses and children of the people who do these jobs. We see the impact that has on families and that was something I felt hadn’t been done before.”

Cox particularly loved diving into the grey areas of morality and loyalty that the series explores as without spoiling anything, the show is called Treason for a reason. “Life in general is grey,” he says, “It’s rare in this black and white world, when you think of cancel culture and social media, to have a character that felt this human who has wonderful elements but also a history.”

Treason. Charlie Cox as Adam Lawrence and Oona Chapman as Maddy in Treason. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix©2022.
Treason: Charlie Cox as Adam Lawrence and Oona Chapman as Maddy. (Netflix)

It’s been a whirlwind of a 12 months for Cox who is back in his homeland of London after spending much of the last decade in the States. He ushered in 2022 with the revelation that he was returning to play Matt Murdock/Daredevil in the Marvel Cinematic Universe through a cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home, a secret he’d had to deny and deny for the best part of a year. He admits it proved to be a good training exercise for playing a spy with a folder full of secrets.

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Cox is forced to keep up the secrecy a little while longer as he will be playing The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen once again in 2024 in an 18-episode Disney+ series called Born Again.

While not giving anything away and insisting that he knows nothing, Cox acknowledges that it will not be the same show that fans (including superhero agnostics) adored on Netflix for its dark tone, martial arts influence and 1970’s crime drama aesthetic: “It will be slightly different otherwise there’s no point in doing it again but whether that will be in terms of story or tone I have no idea.”

(L-R): Charlie Cox as Daredevil/Matt Murdock and Tatiana Maslany as She-Hulk/Jennifer
(L-R): Charlie Cox as Daredevil/Matt Murdock and Tatiana Maslany as She-Hulk/Jennifer "Jen" Walters in Marvel Studios' She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. (Disney)

Cox, being young, good looking, British and having played a spy and a superhero, there’s a natural inclination to shove him towards the currently vacant role of James Bond but he’s frank (if self-deprecating) about it being something he doesn’t see for himself.

Likely fielding the question for the millionth time on this press run, he says: “No one in their right mind wouldn’t be fascinated by that job but I don’t think I’m right for it. I’ve had my experience of a similar role now. There are probably better candidates out there than me and I hope they give it to someone unexpected.”

True humility is hard to find, especially in Hollywood’s land of the superficial but Cox is one of the good guys.

Treason is on Netflix from 26 December.