‘The Defenders’ EP Marco Ramirez on Why It’s Only 8 Episodes and Future of the Marvel Shows
After they’ve each tried to pave their own way as heroes, Daredevil, aka Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist, aka Danny Rand (Finn Jones), finally crossed paths and had to work together in Marvel’s The Defenders, in order to save New York City. Having been burdened with their own personal challenges and a desire to keep their loved ones safe, they reluctantly realized that they might actually be stronger fighting evil together.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, showrunner Marco Ramirez talked about how cool it is to be a part of continuing the legacy of these characters, how he transitioned from Daredevil to The Defenders, bringing these four heroes together, the challenge of finding the balance between four very different characters and worlds, how all bets are off now that they’ve met and have been cross-pollinated, and why they ultimately ended up doing eight episodes instead of 13.
Collider: As someone who was a comic book fan, as a kid, what’s it like to be running the show, first for Daredevil and now on The Defenders? How would that kid have reacted, if you’d told him then what you’d be doing now?
MARCO RAMIREZ: 99% of the time, I manage to keep my cool. I’m like, “This is fine. This is a job. I’m a professional. I’m an artist.” But 1% of the time, and I know I’m not the only person that feels this way because I know a lot of the actors and crew feel this way, we can’t believe what we’re able to do. So, that kid would do a couple of back flips, not that I would be capable of doing them, because I wasn’t. That kid would be really, really happy. So, when we’re out shooting in the back alleys of New York, at two in the morning when it’s really cold and everyone is really tired and wants to go home, it’s really smart to remember how excited that kid would be to be there. That’s what gets you through. I don’t want to get emotional or hokey or anything, but it’s also great to see kids fall in love with these characters all over again. At Comic-Con, I saw a young kid come up to Mike Colter and look at him like, “Oh, my god, you’re everything!” It was really touching and wonderful, and it was one of my favorite moments of working on the show. It’s great to be able to continue that legacy.
You really lobbied and went after Daredevil for Season 2, so clearly you felt strongly that you had something to say and something to bring to that project. Did you feel as strongly about The Defenders?
RAMIREZ: I wasn’t expecting this job. Not in my wildest dreams, when I was in the room on Daredevil Season 1, did I expect to be the guy standing on stage at Comic-Con when The Defenders premiered. That’s just not something I ever expected. So, when this job came about, it was one of those jump first things. It was absolutely a dream. I can’t talk much about what my vision was except to say that, at that time, I had seen the other shows and I had seen how important the other shows had been to so many people. I had seen how important Jessica Jones has been to so many people in my life, male and female. I had seen how important Luke Cage has been to people. So, beyond getting to work on The Defenders, the opportunity to work with these characters that were so important to so many people, and that clearly had so much to say in the cultural conversation, that’s where I was so excited to do it. I can’t believe I get to write for Jessica Jones. I can’t believe I get to live in Luke Cage’s world and write for Mike Colter and Simone Missick. Part of it was having a very emotional response that I get to do this.
How did you find that balance among all four characters and worlds, since they have such different tones, as well as different fight skills and different senses of humor?
RAMIREZ: It was very difficult to do it, but I knew we had to make the show for the audience members who had never seen any of the shows, or who had only seen one of the shows and were tuning into this because they really loved character X. I didn’t want to let any of those people down. We all worked really hard to protect the characters and the integrity of the characters, and to make sure that the show felt evenly spread across those worlds, that everyone got really bad-ass moments, and that everyone got to make choices, change, have story moments and pivot. Everybody comes out of The Defenders a little bit different from when we first meet them at the beginning of The Defenders.
Obviously, with a series like this, everyone is going to be waiting for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist to cross paths with each other and fight together. How did you decide exactly when and how to first have them do that, and how did you figure out just how often to bring them together, throughout the season?
RAMIREZ: This is my third Netflix show that I’ve worked on. I worked on Orange is the New Black the first season, and on Daredevil Seasons 1 and 2, and I know that the Netflix audience is tuning in and are able to watch a sophisticated show. They don’t mind a slow burn. They don’t mind when we take a lot of time to get into the inner psychology and don’t necessarily jump to the big fight that they came for. In the writers’ room of Daredevil Season 1, we were excited. We were like, “Are we going to get away with Matt Murdock being in black under armor for 12 episodes? Maybe the audience is going to hate that, maybe they’re going to love it, but it’s a risk we’re going to take.” I think that paid off really well. Similarly, it felt like we wanted to make sure these characters all got to the story on their own. Everyone needed to feel like they were just taking care of this problem, once and for all, independently for all of them, right now. That moment feels like, “Wait, now this other thing is emerging and this idea of working together has to emerge.” Basically, they’re all so independent that you had to let them think they were all steering their own ship, until they collided with each other.
Now that these four characters have finally met up and worked together, do you think future seasons of the Marvel Netflix shows will have to address why Jessica Jones won’t call Daredevil, if she needs some help, or why Luke Cage wouldn’t call Danny Rand, if he needs a favor? Is that something you think will have to be addressed now?
RAMIREZ: Now that they’ve all been cross-pollinated, it might be something that people have to think about. I don’t know. That’s more of a Marvel question. I have nothing to do with any of the other shows. But now that they’ve all met, all bets are off. They know each other, so you have to address that. I think that’s actually, as a storyteller, very exciting.
All of the Marvel Netflix shows are 13 episodes while The Defenders is just eight episodes. That can’t just be about the story. Isn’t it also about the cost? Doesn’t it cost a lot more to have all four of the A-list actors on one show together?
RAMIREZ: It was actually also a lot about schedule, which is another thing that eludes people. We knew that we needed to have Mike [Colter] in the chair in his own show, and we knew we needed to have Krysten [Ritter] on her own show by a certain date, so we knew that we had this much time to shoot, no matter what we shoot and no matter how many episodes we needed to shoot. That was one factor. Netflix and Marvel were both very flexible, in terms of how many episodes I pitched them. I actually had the writers’ room for awhile before we came up with the number eight. And then, we went in and said, “We can do this in eight episodes,” and they were all systems go on it. That was really a testament to them, to be honest. There was never a quota we were trying to fill. We just wanted to tell a story that was satisfying, and I think these eight episodes are satisfying.
Danny Rand brings up the idea that The Defenders were fated to come together and fight. Will fate be a recurring theme? Is that something we’ll hear more about?
RAMIREZ: Maybe. Somebody like Matt certainly believes in fate. I think he’s one of the unique characters on television, period, who believes in God. It’s always been a really interesting part of Matt Murdock’s psychology to me. He openly talks about his fate, and that’s just not something you see a lot of characters do on television, unless it’s on faith-based stuff. There’s definitely a sense, and there’s been a sense on some of these shows, that something big is coming and you need to be ready when it happens. I do think maybe you can call it fate, or you can just call it the war that they’re getting ready for.
What made Sigourney Weaver the perfect villain to require these four heroes to team up to stop her?
RAMIREZ: I wouldn’t fight her! Yes, they have superpowers and abilities, but the best antagonists on these shows have always been intellectual rivals. Whether that’s Wilson Fisk or Cottonmouth or Kilgrave or Frank Castle, these characters are people that present an intellectual challenge and not just a fight scene once. So, the idea of these four people going up against Sigourney just felt like a great way to have them go up against a master chess player, or a really sophisticated, smart, skilled person.
When audiences know that there are future seasons for the individual series still to come, how do you make sure that the stakes feel high enough to get these four characters together and have them be in real peril?
RAMIREZ: It’s tricky. It’s one of the tricks of cable TV. I don’t know. It’s hard. How does one watch the whole run of The Sopranos and think that Tony is actually in danger? It’s a very tricky storytelling device. I cut my teeth working for two years on Sons of Anarchy, and it was about making sure there’s always blood in the water, so that the audience knows that there’s always a lingering possibility for everybody. Whether that’s a realistic thing or not, it’s always about making sure that people actually get hurt in this world and that people’s lives can be changed in an instant. That’s the magic trick of dealing with a show like this.
Along with just getting to see these four heroes together, which is fun by itself, were there any characters from the lives of these four that you were most interested to see play off of each other?
RAMIREZ: 100%, yeah. I’ve been working in the Daredevil world for two years. The thought that I finally got to write for Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, these are characters that I’ve been loving and watching, as an audience member, for awhile. The supporting casts are just as integral to the story, and were just as much fun to write for.
The Defenders is streaming at Netflix.