Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - WORDS DORIAN LYNSKEY

On set of Marvel’s new se­ries. Spoiler: his fist is ac­tu­ally just made of clenched hand.

Some su­per­hero ori­gin sto­ries re­quire more sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief than others. Take

Iron Fist. Danny Rand is the gilded heir to Man­hat­tan’s bil­lion-dol­lar Rand Cor­po­ra­tion un­til, at the age of ten, he loses both his par­ents dur­ing a trip to Asia and is adopted by the war­rior monks of K’un Lun, a mys­ti­cal city that rarely in­ter­sects with the Earthly plane. Un­der their guid­ance, he be­comes a for­mi­da­ble fighter and earns the ti­tle of the Iron Fist by slay­ing the an­cient dragon Shou-lao. When the por­tal fi­nally re­opens 15 years later, Danny de­cides to re­turn to New York to re­claim his iden­tity and dis­cover who’s to blame for his par­ents’ un­timely end. Got it so far?

Now, in the con­text of Marvel comics, Danny’s story is par for the course, no more out­landish than that of Thor or Doc­tor Stephen Strange. But in the world of Marvel’s Net­flix shows, firmly grounded in the streets of con­tem­po­rary New York, it sounds rather like the ram­blings of a mad­man.

“Danny has to deal with so­ci­ety’s re­ac­tion,” says Finn Jones, the Bri­tish ac­tor who plays

Iron Fist. “He comes back and says: ‘Hey, guess what? I’ve been in this place called K’un Lun for years, I’ve got this thing called the Iron Fist and I met a dragon!’ And ev­ery­body’s like, ‘What the fuck are you talk­ing about? You’re in­sane.’”

Jessica Hen­wick, who plays Danny’s ally Colleen Wing, com­pares it to Dorothy’s sit­u­a­tion at the end of The Wizard Of Oz. “She has a full, rich mem­ory of this mys­ti­cal city,” she says.

“And she tells peo­ple in Kansas about it and they think she’s crazy. We kind of have the same sit­u­a­tion here.”

Danny’s chal­lenge is per­suad­ing others that Iron Fist is the real deal. The team bring­ing the ad­ven­tures of Danny Rand to a whole new au­di­ence faces a sim­i­lar task.


the fourth and fi­nal com­po­nent of The De­fend­ers, the all-star show to­wards which Marvel and Net­flix have been work­ing since the first Dare­devil de­vel­op­ment meet­ings in 2013. The char­ac­ter wasn’t an ob­vi­ous choice. An Iron Fist film had floun­dered in de­vel­op­ment hell since 2000, when Ray Park (Darth Maul in The Phantom Men­ace) was mooted as Danny, be­fore Jeph Loeb (head of Marvel TV) re­vived the char­ac­ter as a De­fender.

He has al­ways been one of Marvel’s B-lis­ters. Just as Luke Cage was Stan Lee’s at­tempt to grab a slice of the blax­ploita­tion pie, Iron Fist shame­lessly ex­ploited the mar­tial-arts craze spear­headed by the late Bruce Lee. Launched in 1974, the char­ac­ter com­bined writer Roy Thomas’ kung-fu fan­dom with artist Gil Kane’s af­fec­tion for the 1940s char­ac­ter Amaz­ing-man, an­other or­phan raised by monks. When his solo ti­tle strug­gled, Iron Fist was teamed up with Luke Cage as the street-smart ‘He­roes For Hire’, but he never made it to Marvel’s top ta­ble. When writ­ers Ed Brubaker and Matt Frac­tion pitched their 2006 comic-book re­boot The Im­mor­tal

Iron Fist (Jones’ favourite), they said Marvel still needed to “re­po­si­tion Iron Fist as more than just a kung-fu riff from the ’70s”.

It’s not en­tirely sur­pris­ing, then, that nei­ther Finn Jones nor showrun­ner Scott

Buck had heard of Iron Fist be­fore be­com­ing in­volved in the TV show. Buck, an un­flap­pably busi­ness-like vet­eran of Six Feet Un­der, Rome and Dex­ter, con­sid­ers his ig­no­rance of Marvel lore prior to meet­ing Loeb in late 2015 a virtue. “When Jeph pitched me the idea, he said, ‘Don’t take the comic books too se­ri­ously, be­cause that’s just a jump­ing-off point.’ There wasn’t a re­ally clear iconog­ra­phy, so that en­abled us to be more cre­ative.”

We first meet 25-year-old Danny on his re­turn to New York, cul­ture-shocked and bedrag­gled, try­ing to con­vince peo­ple he is in­deed the long-lost Danny Rand and find a way back into his in­ter­rupted life. “It’s a com­ing-of-age story, but played a hun­dred times big­ger be­cause he’s not just fig­ur­ing out who he is as a per­son, but who he’s go­ing to be as the Iron Fist,” ex­plains Buck. “It cre­ates an in­ter­est­ing di­chotomy be­cause he’s this New York bil­lion­aire boy, born with a sil­ver spoon in his mouth, and also this monk war­rior. He’s

part of two dif­fer­ent worlds, but doesn’t feel fully com­fort­able in ei­ther one of them.”

Hen­wick com­pares Danny’s dis­jointed boy­ish­ness af­ter spend­ing 15 years in an all-male monastery to Tom Hanks’ char­ac­ter in Big. “He’s a bit so­cially in­ept. He doesn’t un­der­stand that he sounds weird and lu­di­crous.” Jones agrees: “He’s al­most like a child in a man’s body. He has no idea what he’s do­ing. There’s a lot of in­ner tor­ment to work through while try­ing to come to terms with mod­ern-day life.”

Buck says he cast Jones for his “youth­ful in­no­cence”. For the ac­tor, the call to au­di­tion for Iron Fist came at the per­fect time. He was at the air­port, hav­ing just filmed the fi­nal scene of his six-year run as dis­graced gad­about Ser Lo­ras Tyrell in Game Of Thrones. “I was only just start­ing to think about life be­yond Thrones and then this char­ac­ter sud­denly ap­peared,” re­calls Jones. “I knew just from read­ing the char­ac­ter break­down on the Marvel web­site that I’d be in­ter­ested. He has a qui­eter spir­i­tual el­e­ment to his su­per­pow­ers.”

The first friend Danny man­ages to make when he re­turns to New York is Colleen

Wing, a Ja­panese-amer­i­can woman who runs a mar­tial-arts dojo in Chinatown. Buck says Colleen’s arc mir­rors Danny’s. “She thinks her destiny is meant to be one thing, but her life is com­pletely up­turned so she’s left in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. Who is she? What is she go­ing to do with her life?”

Jessica Hen­wick also has Game Of Thrones ex­pe­ri­ence, al­though her whip-tot­ing killer Nymeria Sand is so far far­ing rather bet­ter than Ser Lo­ras. Hen­wick first came across Wing when she was comb­ing the Marvel Uni­verse for Asian women she might con­ceiv­ably play. There weren’t many op­tions, so when her agent alerted her to an au­di­tion for a co­de­named char­ac­ter that sounded like Wing, she jumped on it.

“It was a shot in the dark but it came to­gether,” she says. “Colleen was raised in New York un­til her mother died and her father sent her away to Ja­pan. She’s a chameleon who’s had to as­sim­i­late to jar­ringly dif­fer­ent cul­tures.” Hen­wick is aware of the mi­nor con­tro­versy last year when Marvel comics writer Mar­jorie Liu used Twitter to call Iron Fist an “ori­en­tal­ist­white-man-yel­low-fever nar­ra­tive” that could only be sub­verted by cast­ing an Asian ac­tor, but thinks peo­ple should hold fire un­til they see the show. “Marvel and Net­flix have trans­formed Luke Cage and I’ve tried to do the same for Colleen,” she says. “So I hope Asians will give the show a chance and see what I’ve done. I’m Asian, I’m fe­male and I’m an ac­tor. If any­one un­der­stands mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, it’s me.”

Iron Fist’s third lead is David Wen­ham as Harold Meachum, the for­mer Rand busi­ness part­ner who now runs the cor­po­ra­tion with his daugh­ter, Joy, and son, Ward. In the comic books he was knocked off af­ter four is­sues, but could this it­er­a­tion of Meachum be Iron Fist’s su­per-bad equiv­a­lent of Kil­grave or the King­pin? “Meachum brings a big mys­tery with him,”

Buck says, cagily. “We have one ma­jor en­emy but we don’t fully re­alise who that is un­til we get closer to the end of the sea­son. Danny finds him­self fight­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple. He thinks he’s re­turn­ing to the com­forts of home, but he’s sur­prised to learn that wher­ever he turns there’s an en­emy he wasn’t fully aware of.”

Among his foes are The Hand, the mur­der­ous ninja clan in­tro­duced in Dare­devil’s sec­ond sea­son. “The Iron Fist is the an­tithe­sis of The Hand: the light to the dark­ness,” ex­plains Jones. “Or so

Finn Jones finds him­self in a new ’hood as Iron Fist. Right, from top: With Jessica Hen­wick’s Colleen Wing and Rosario Daw­son’s Claire Temple; Wing shows off her mar­tial arts skills; Iron Fist. How did he get that name?

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