MARVEL'S JESSICA JONES
THE DEVIL IN
Forget what you know about female superheroes and meet Jessica Jones. Bitter, bruised, a champion of “resting bitch face”, this super-strong private eye takes crap from no one and you won’t catch her wearing a catsuit. Oh, and make-up? Fuhgeddaboudit.
“False eyelashes and hairspray weren’t allowed on the set,” says Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, chatting to
SFX during a much-needed break in London. “And there was an extremely conscious effort to never have her play the honey pot. You know, any time you have a female cop or detective, in the first episode you’re going to have that character put in high heels, a tight bandage dress and go out and seduce somebody. Never was gonna happen here.”
In other words, welcome back to Hell’s Kitchen. Set in the same New York neighbourhood that Daredevil calls home,
Marvel’s second Netflix TV series has darkness to rival Daredevil. Josh Winning goes undercover to uncover the mysteries of JESSICA JONES
Jessica Jones is the second of Marvel’s Netflix TV shows. Sharing a few guest players with the Man Without Fear’s show (notably Rosario Dawson as nurse Claire Temple), it’s every bit as grubby, violent and morally ambiguous as its forebear. And if you thought Daredevil, which debuted to great acclaim in April, was dark, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
“One of the things I love about this character is she’s so deeply damaged, and yet at her core, she wants to do something good,” Rosenberg says. “She wants to contribute something good to the world. It’s buried deep in there... Where I connected to her was the damage, that’s what attracted me, because we’re all damaged on some level, in some way, and that makes her accessible. Otherwise she’s quite a tough character, you know, she’s got a lot of defences up and that broken aspect of her is the audience’s way into her vulnerability.”
If Daredevil was a Goodfellas-esque legal drama with teeth, Jessica Jones revels in noir-ish terrain (Roman Polanski’s Chinatown was a touchstone for the series both narratively and visually). Nocturnal, haunted by her past, always ready with a hip-flask and a fist, Jones recalls the Bogies and Mitchums of ’30s and ’40s film noir. While her origin story remains a mystery for the first half of the season (in the comics, Jones acquires super-strength after a car crash that results in her being doused with radioactive chemicals), what we do know is that after a spin saving innocents in spandex, tragedy prompted Jones to bin her super-suit.
Now, she works as a private detective, taking cases on a freelance basis, as well as doing grunt work for high-powered attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). “Not only does she have quite the dramatic childhood, but in her more recent past she’s a victim of rape, and her way of having dealt with that thus far is to forget it,” says Rosenberg, “but it keeps creeping out – the only way out is through. So
digging the darkness
she gets that opportunity and that part of our 13-hour arc is really dealing with that violence, and if you will, taking back the night.”
It wasn’t always going to be this way. In 2010, before Marvel signed a deal with Netflix to produce four gritty TV shows starring its street-level heroes, Rosenberg was approached by Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb, who handed her a copy of Brian Michael Bendis’s 2001 comic series Alias. Having spent over a decade writing for shows like Dark Skies and Dexter, Rosenberg couldn’t get enough of Bendis’s moody page-turner. “I just fell in love with it,” she says. “I went, ‘Look, this is a really dark comic book, this is a really dark character! I have no intention of lightening it, I want to go exactly where this comic goes – and further.‘”
She quickly set about developing the show for ABC, the network that currently airs Agents Of SHIELD and Agent Carter, and it seemed like the perfect home for Marvel’s next small-screen outing. “When we sold it to ABC Network, they were like, ‘Yeah, for sure!’” Rosenberg remembers. Just over a year later, though, ABC passed, and Rosenberg went back to the drawing board. “Ultimately, it was really too dark for network television,” she admits.
Three years after that blockade, Marvel struck its deal with Netflix, and Jessica Jones finally got acceptance. There were early concerns, though, particularly because the show would be part of the Marvel Expanded Universe. In the comics, Jones has ties to everybody from Daredevil (he hires her as a bodyguard) and Ant-Man (they dated), and Rosenberg admits she was initially “afraid that was going to be restrictive”. “In the end, actually, it was only valuable,” the showrunner says. “The mythology is so well-defined that having this world to play in was really fun. No one ever stepped in and said, ‘You have to do it this way because it’s part of the Marvel canon.’”
And where ABC baulked at Jones’ R-rated content – its first episode in particular climaxes with an upsettingly bloody encounter – there were few limits placed on this new incarnation. “The only limit, really, from Marvel, was that we could do anything but say the ‘F’ word,” Rosenberg reveals. There was also a ban on explicit nudity, with Rosenberg saying: “There’s pretty graphic sex, but it’s more suggestive than blatant nudity. Other than
one of the things i love about this character is that she’s so damaged
those two things, there’s no boundaries, we just go all the way with everything.”
Though it would take another two years for Jones to go in front of cameras – shooting both on sound stages and on location in New York between February and August 2015 – one constant was Krysten Ritter. The 33-year-old actress, then best known for her roles in TV’s Don’t Trust The B---- In Apartment 23 and season two of Breaking Bad, was one of the first people to read for the role, “and she really set the bar for everyone else,” Rosenberg says. “No one else could hit it. Krysten has amazing dramatic chops as well as comedic.”
Even more importantly, Ritter wasn’t afraid of getting her fists bruised. She’s introduced throwing a guy through a glass door, and goes on to tackle a bar brawl with love interest Luke Cage (Mike Colter), another of the show’s key players. “She’d never really done stunts before,” Rosenberg reveals of her star, “so she got in there and after her first take she was jazzed. Like, ‘That was so cool!’ She loved doing them, but we went through three different stunt doubles for her. One broke her foot, the other hurt her neck, another one had another issue, Krysten herself got injured a couple of times...”
Violence of a more psychological variety is what really drives this first season, though, not least when it comes to the show’s Big Bad. Just as in the comics, Jones’s nemesis is Kilgrave (David Tennant), whose ability to manipulate people’s minds means he can turn just about anybody into his slave – and he’s key to Jones’s tormented past. Though he’s a waking nightmare for Jones, Rosenberg has nothing but praise for Tennant. “He’s one of the finest actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” she enthuses. “He brings so much to what he does on so many different levels. We ended up having these full monologues, pages of dialogue for him, just because we wanted to hear him do them!”
This may just be the beginning for Jessica Jones, but she’s a vital part of the jigsaw puzzle that is Marvel TV. Solo shows for Luke Cage and Iron Fist are also in the works, with miniseries The Defenders on the horizon. “There’s a lot of story that has to happen between now and then,” Rosenberg acknowledges. “They each have their own story before anybody knows what the group is. Each show is able to do its own thing. I hadn’t even seen all the Daredevils before we started shooting, and the Luke Cage people haven’t seen everything we’ve done. It’s really so that each one has its own vision, and yet there is this universe that we’re part of, so you’d watch us and we’d glance off the Daredevil world, but we’re really our own thing.”
As for the future, like Daredevil, a second season of Jessica Jones is dependent on the reception of its first. That hasn’t been a hindrance for Rosenberg, though. “At the end of season one, we leave Jessica in a really interesting place where her life is about to change,” she explains. “It’s a bit of a cliffhanger. We leave ourselves as many dangling threads as we can and then we start weaving together when we get there.” Something tells us this isn’t the last we’ll see of Miss Jones.
Jessica Jones begins on Netflix on 20 November. Read more about her comic book history overleaf.
Had you heard of Jessica Jones before you auditioned for the role?
No, I hadn’t. In fact, my manager pitched me the show so badly. He was like, “You’re so right for it. She’s a superhero, but she’s really bad at it.” I was like, “Okay, so you’re not pitching it very well.” I had a meeting with Marvel, with Jeph Loeb, and I read the script. He locked me in a room, took away my cellphone. When I came out, I was blown away. I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect this badass, rich character.
What did you like most about the character?
This is everything I ever wished to do, all in one part. She is vulnerable, she’s very funny at times, she’s kicking ass, she’s walking around the city looking like a badass. Just everything about her, I was like, “Oh, this is it. This is my part.” I’m still pinching myself that here we are talking about it.
Is it quite intimidating coming into the Marvel fold?
Sometimes it is, and sometimes I just try not to think about it. I’m not naive to the fact that Marvel is a giant super-brand, and there will be eyeballs. Yeah, it’s overwhelming and sometimes I’m like, “Oh, shit!” But at the end of the day, creatively, all I really think about is the character.
She’s also the first female Marvel superhero to headline her own show. Does that come with extra pressures?
It definitely comes with its own extra excitement. It felt very groundbreaking, very exciting. I would love for a generation, the girls coming up behind me, to be inspired by this character, and to show there can be strong, amazing female antiheroes. Jessica Jones is unique. Josh Winning
David Tennant’s Kilgrave is the mean, mindcontrolling baddie.
Don’t Trust The B---- in the latest Netflix show.
It’s not looking like, say, Age Of Ultron just yet…
Mike Colter looking the part as Luke Cage, aka Power Man.