If you were nervous Jessica Jones might be a watered down version of the character, or that Marvel and Netflix would shy away from the adult elements of the Alias comic by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos, you can relax. I’ve seen the first two episodes of the upcoming Netflix show and was extremely impressed by the adult themes the series was willing to deal with and show in the Marvel universe.
Since many of you might not have read the comics, or don’t know much about the character, here’s a little bit of a primer: Jessica Jones is a former superhero that now works as a private investigator in New York City. She’s an alcoholic. She’s dealing with PTSD. And the person that derailed her life (Zebediah Killgrave) and made her do things she couldn’t prevent might still be alive. And while this might sound like a total downer of a series, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) have managed to create a fantastic blend of seriousness with levity and character moments that sold me on Jessica and her universe. As the second episode ended, I immediately wanted to watch the third, which is a sign you’ve done your job.
With the series premiere date fast approaching (November 20th), I got to participate in a group interview with Melissa Rosenberg and Krysten Ritter at New York Comic-Con this weekend. Since we were shown the first two episodes prior to the interview, we were actually able to discuss some specifics of the show like the adult themes, dealing with the expectations of the fans, Easter Eggs, how much they used from the comics, the casting process, figuring out where the line is between cool, badass, and unlikable, and more. In addition, I tried to find out if they’re already thinking about a second season. Read what they had to say below.
Jessica Jones also stars David Tennant, Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker), Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, and Wil Traval. For more on the show, read Evan’s review of the first episode.
Question: I’ll just jump right in and ask both of you since you’re both the engine of the show in different ways. You’re inheriting –Even though it’s a newer property it’s got a cult following certainly. So I’m wondering how constraining it can be because you’re part of a larger Marvel universe, the fan expectation is so high, just sort of how hard it was to maneuver within that?
KRYSTEN RITTER: I think it’s so positive. I never like to focus on like what was bad about it or what was hard about it. The great thing is having this amazing character, one of the coolest characters in the Marvel universe if you asked me, and having this strong badass, tough female character that we haven’t really seen before. And then having the support of Marvel and being a part of a bigger picture. I mean, that’s thrilling, it’s like the most amazing thing.
MELISSA ROSENBERG: And you start off with material like Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, I mean, that book just blew my mind. So we start off with incredible source material and Jessica Jones isn’t as well known in the universe obviously as Daredevil and everyone else, so it really allows for a lot of freedom in there. So there are restrictions in terms of the Marvel universe of certain rules of mythology, but within that it’s free pass, it’s great.
When you were creating the character how much did you take from the comic and from your own ideas?
RITTER: A lot form the comics because she’s so well-drawn. We have some lines that are pulled from the comics, but then the script –She’s as developed for television as she is in the comics and the scripts are fucking fantastic. You have someone like Mel, arguably one of the hottest, most established female writers in history, next to her sensibility and her integrity for writing for a female character, I mean, it was all there. And then what I did was just go in a start building and bringing what I can and getting to know the character so well that anything you do is gonna be right.
What I really enjoyed about the first two episodes is that they’re much darker than I expected, shit goes down, and also you’re not afraid to show sex and violence. How much creative freedom did you have to be able to do because you’re in the Marvel universe? Where’s that balancing act, did they ever say, “You can’t go that far”?
ROSENBERG: The only thing we couldn’t do was drop F-bombs, which we wanted to really.
RITTER: And show my boobs, because I didn’t want to.
ROSENBERG: But other than that, honestly…
RITTER: It’s pretty edgy.
ROSENBERG: And one of the things I think is particularly unique about this character that’s played by Krysten is that she’s not afraid as an actress and Marvel wasn’t afraid as a studio to let Jessica Jones make some really stupidass decisions, to be wrong, to look ugly as a character, to go into this dark. And I think that defines the show in so much ways, you could have a character who actually really fucked up but there’s something really at her core that keeps us with her.
RITTER. Yeah. At her core I think that Jessica is a good person. She goes about things in a very odd way, she’s very rough around the edges, and dry and sarcastic and a total asshole sometimes. But I think at her core she’s a good person.
When you’re crafting the show and you’re preparing to play the role, you have some experience on this in Dexter, you’re trying to create an antihero badass. How do you tell the line between cool, badass, and unlikable?
ROSENBERG: Well, I think what we were just talking about her core is what keeps her accessible to an audience, and that’s true of Dexter as well. But very deep in there is this desire, this need to do something good in the world, there’s a pursuit of redemption in some ways and healing. And I think Krysten is able to bring that out in the character if I allow room for that in scenes on the page, she can plain and dry pull you in. That’s really what keeps an audience with us. And that was just crucial in casting, and why Krysten was like the perfect person, is that she’s also likeable…
RITTER: Go on.
ROSENBERG: I mean, she’s fun, and funny.
RITTER: But it’s about finding those like little moments where there’s vulnerability or goodness.
One of the things I really liked was that at the beginning of the first episode you don’t try to explain shit, you’re just jumping into her world at this moment, it’s just when the camera got turned on.
RITTER: That’s what I love about it too, and not to cut you off, but when I watched –I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell you, but I watched the episode. But usually in pilots there’s so much exposition and this you just kind of get in, you see Jessica in her world and then it’s like this incident happens and sets off the whole thing.
Often where you start it’s the toughest thing to write because where are starting this story? So was there a lot of versions of different beginnings or was this always what you were thinking, we’re just gonna start with her life at this moment, go?
ROSENBERG: You know, the Killgrave part of it, and the reentry of Killgrave in that arc of that history was always gonna be a part of it for me, it’s a big part of the comic book as well. So that I took from the comic book and I built on that. But all the other stuff, different things going on with Luke Cage initially and the we realized, “Oh, wait a minute he has his own series” so I can’t say anything about Luke Cage [Laughs] so a man of few words [Laughs]. But as it turned out it ended up being perfect, the chemistry plays beautifully.
We haven’t seen as much of it in the first two episodes but obviously you are gonna have your big action superhero moments I’m assuming and certainly when the Defenders rolls around as well. How grueling is that physically to shoot, because most of us will never get to be superheroes?
RITTER: Right. Three injuries. It’s fun, it’s adrenaline. It’s very fun and I’ve never done stunts like that before, I’ve never done action sequences. So I’m very fortunate to have a part where I get to do drama, comedy, and action. It’s thrilling, because I have no experience I may have accidentally punched a few people for real, but I think they kind of like it. The stunt guys loved it, they might get payed more, I don’t know. But just committing, and I would break alive because I would like be in this stunt maybe hit somebody and be like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” totally switch from badass Jessica Jones to like Krysten [Laughs]. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” “It’s ok Krysten, you’re fine.” and then just getting comfortable with it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, I loved the stunt guys, the whole department. I was afraid, I think I went in thinking, “Oh, they’re gonna think I’m a little girl and can’t do this” but they were so warm and so supportive and they just made sure I looked cool.
When did you guys wrap?
RITTER: We wrapped middle of August. So we just finished.
So you guys are really hard at work in the editing room.
RITTER: No it’s done now.
ROSENBERG: The editing was done and was delivered. So we’re on vacation.
RITTER: They do that as you go. I started January, finished middle of August, and they were like halfway done at that point anyway.
With Daredevil they weren’t sure they were gonna do a second season or if it was just gonna be a character that waited for Defenders. How much has Netflix or how much have you guys talked to the network about doing a second season before Defenders? Because it’s obviously all at play at this point.
ROSENBERG: That’s the hope.
That’s what I’m wondering, we know what the arc is for the first season. But how much are you already thinking…?
RITTER: You are trying to get us in trouble.
I don’t do things like that, I just ask questions and hope for answers.
ROSENBERG: Defenders is a big question mark. I have no idea, I don’t know if they know, how it’s gonna be put together and how it’s all gonna come together. Because the stories are still being built of Iron Fist and Luke Cage, they’re still being put together and if we do a second season, the Daredevil –So it’s gonna be quite the puzzle.
RITTER: Lot of moving parts.
ROSENBERG: Lot of moving parts, so we’re just focusing on Jessica at the moment.
You’re known as a scene stealer in comedies, so are you excited to get into a dark world and do something different?
RITTER: Yeah, totally. This is a world where I got to do it all in one place. You’re right, I was doing comedy or doing drama, and this is an opportunity to do both and then action on top of it. I mean, it’s a great part, man. It’s like the coolest part in television that’s been available to me or not available to me. So I’m just thrilled to bring her to life.
I love Jessica Jones’ character because she’s edgy, she’s smart and she doesn’t hold back, and she is this awesome kickass.
How does it feel that you’re Jessica Jones and that you’re Netflix’s first female..?
RITTER: And Marvel’s first title female.
How does that feel to know that?
RITTER: It’s incredibly exciting and intoxicating. It’s overwhelming, I feel very blessed, I feel a lot of pressure as well. It’s like amazing and scary at the same time.
ROSENBERG: There’s an element of responsibility to it. But it’s something that we’re well aware of. Our director for the first two episodes also is a woman, S.J. Clarkson.
RITTER: S.J. Clarkson, such a start, love her. We’re so lucky that she did our first two episodes.
ROSENBERG: Yeah. But it’s a character that’s defined by her gender which is what I love most about the character, she’s just a cool character.
RITTER: I agree. It’s so androgynous even with the way I look.
ROSENBERG: And I think that’s what I get asked a lot like, “How do you create a strong female character?” and it’s like, “Well, you just create a character.” And you don’t assume gender into it. It informs the character and it inform the storytelling but it’s not who she is.
I’m curious about easter eggs, how many have you planted along the way of the 13 episodes, is it something like are there some that are really in the background, how much are you thinking about it when you’re writing and on set?
ROSENBERG: A little is always there and in the writer’s room we have some fanboys that know all this stuff and they’re all geeking out with different stuff. But if you noticed in the pilot there’s just little references, a lot of references are to the book, so at one point she’s on the toilet, just little hints like that. So they’re all throughout.
I’m also curious specifically about the bigger Marvel universe, is there a newspaper is there…
ROSENBERG: They’re in there. I think every episode has some little something in it.
Are you looking forward to having your own Jessica Jones figure?
RITTER: Yeah, of course! I’ve been shamelessly wearing my Jessica Jones hoodie every day. I’m like asking my boyfriend, “It’s ok right? The show’s not out yet” [Laughs]. I’m wearing it at the airport, around the city, everywhere. I feel like I I’m a huge fan.
While she’s sitting right next to you…what did you see, because obviously it’s the most important part to cast, what did you see specifically?
ROSENBERG: No, it’s easy to talk about. From back when I was looking doing it on network television years ago, she was on top of my list.
RITTER: I was? I didn’t know that!
ROSENBERG: You were on the top of it, I can show you the list. Particularly after the Breaking Bad piece because I had seen the comedy but then I’d seen how dark she could go and how emotional. Because this character runs the gamma, as Krysten was saying, you have to be able to do everything. Krysten was probably one of our first and was on top of the list and they wanted to make sure we ran around and got everyone but she was the bar that everyone had to hit, and you can get a lot of sort of straight drama performances but man that dry line, if you can deliver a line, it’s crucial because when you’re dealing with such dark subject matter you gotta be able to being some levity to it. And that’s just kind of like the world we were playing in, the dark comedy.
RITTER: And it was a long process, I think, because it’s a big show and it’s part of a bigger machine, Netflix just picked it up. I had to go through a very rigorous audition process.
ROSENBERG: Yeah, but it was always like that. We didn’t tell her.
RITTER: Yeah, they didn’t tell me.
ROSENBERG: We made you suffer.
RITTER: They made me suffer, and it was like a two-month process. I think my audition was in October of last year, I didn’t get the part officially until December 3rd. So it was a process, and then I felt, because it’s a big part, it’s a big responsibility, it’s a lot of pressure, I felt like I earned it, I’m like, “Ok, I feel confident, I should be here. I won the part by going in and going in” So yeah, it was cool.