VANITY FAIR – Charlie Cox is best known as the titular star of Netflix’s Daredevil—but you may be surprised to learn that his most passionate fans aren’t necessarily Marvel die-hards. “I was in the gym the other day. This big, very muscular guy was staring at me with that look, trying to figure out where he knew me from,” Cox recalls. “Eventually, he wandered over to me and I thought, ‘Okay, here we go, he’s going to mention Daredevil.’
“Then, in this very thick Russian accent, he goes, ‘I know you! I couldn’t figure it out for a while but I know now. You’re Tristan!’”—naming Cox’s character in Stardust, a 2007 Neil Gaiman adaptation that certainly has a smaller reach than the Marvel machine.
Released 10 years ago this Thursday, Stardust opened to a measly $9 million, and barely made its way toward recouping its $70 million budget, with an eventual global gross of $96.9 million. But it’s not just that Russian bodybuilder who still fondly remembers what once was written off as a summer box office curiosity. Part The Princess Bride, part A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Stardust brought together big-name stars including Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Claire Danes—as well as newcomer Cox as the dreamy, romantic Tristan, who falls for Danes’s falling-star character, Yvaine—for a seamless blend of fantasy, romance, and adventure. It’s a gentle, endlessly likable film that caters to audiences of all ages and demographics—and that’s not accidental.
“I remember talking to [director Matthew Vaughn] about the movie he wanted to make, and he kept on saying that he’d recently had two young children, and he was tired of watching movies with them that they loved but he hated,” Cox, who will play Daredevil next in Marvel’s The Defenders (out August 18), recalls. “The way that he described it was, ‘I want to make a kids’ film for adults [and] an adult film for kids’—and I think that’s one of the things he achieved really well with Stardust.”
While fans of Gaiman’s work, which effortlessly combines the weird and the fantastic, were likely drawn to the adaptation based purely on the source material, much of Stardust’s big-screen success had little to do with Gaiman himself—especially given that the movie isn’t particularly beholden to the novel. Screenwriters Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn fine-tuned the plot to cut out extraneous detail, focusing in on what they felt was at its heart. Cox, admittedly very new to the business when he was cast, fondly remembers bringing their script to life.
“Writing a great fantasy story is one thing, but then turning that into a movie is a whole other ball game. [Goldman] understood the characters; she understood what works about the book, who the key characters were. There were a few she even removed from the movie, like Tristan’s best friend, because she didn’t feel like it added anything necessary,” he says. “And then [Vaughn] came in with this phenomenal encyclopedic novel of movies that he could pull from for every scene of ours. I learned a huge amount about movies from him.”
Cox’s relative greenness when it came to making movies certainly translated well on screen, infusing Tristan with a naïve, charming playfulness and openness. But once the cameras stopped rolling, the then-23-year-old London native was surprisingly cool-headed, especially when it came to working with some of his acting heroes.
“I remember the first time I met Robert De Niro, or ‘Bob’ as I was encouraged to call him. They asked me in one of the latter casting stages if I wanted to rehearse with Bob, and I thought, oh, it’s some other random actor trying out for a role,” he remembers. “I was sitting on the steps of the studios and this car pulled up, and out stepped Bob De Niro. I knew logically that it was crazy that I was getting to work with someone of his stature but I tried not to think about it too much. At the time, I think I was just grateful to have a job and to be telling such a phenomenal story.”
Indeed, 10 years on, Stardust still holds up as a magical, exciting, and minimally dated feel-good film. Its special effects aren’t too cringe-worthy despite the advancements made in the past two decades, the subject matter is timelessly appealing, and the cast is so comfortingly familiar—the likes of Ian McKellen, Ricky Gervais, Sienna Miller, and Peter O’Toole were also involved—that it’s hard to get sick of, no matter how many times it gets replayed in syndication. (And let’s be clear: it’s on TV a lot.) It also happens to be the best adaptation of Gaiman’s work, capturing his unique blend of darkness and whimsy perfectly. Given the current political climate and the rise of prestige entertainment, it’s nice to occasionally kick back and watch a heartwarming yet exciting movie where the stakes, while high, aren’t particularly stressful.
That said, Cox still isn’t sure what has made Stardust quite so memorable to its fans, who still recognize him as Tristan long after he’s moved on to higher-profile roles. Still, he’s grateful that he was able to be part of a movie that hit with fantasy fans and those with more mainstream tastes alike.
“What I’ve learned about cinema now and TV as well is that there’s no secret formula to making something that works. If there was, you could just turn out hit after hit after hit by hiring the right people,” he says. “Somehow, this just came together—the chemistry was there between the actors, the directors and producers were phenomenal, and people really loved it. It’s impossible to know if it’s going to work going into it, but you just have to hope for the best—and sometimes, it takes off.”