“Marvel’s Jessica Jones” is, well, a marvel. The darkly-themed Netflix series might have ostensibly been set in the realm of superheroes, but the show actually dug into issues of consent and power that spread beyond a nerd audience.
To celebrate the show’s critically lauded premiere, this week showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (“Dexter”) hosted a reception at her house (which was really, really nice, in case you were wondering), attended by cast and crew, including stars Krysten Ritter and Carrie-Anne Moss, as well as contributing writer Jane Espenson (whose nerd cred includes writing for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Battlestar Galactica”).
Indiewire got the chance to talk to all of them about their approach to the show’s feminism, how they felt about the powers of Kilgrave (David Tennant) and their excitement about how the show’s been received by fans. An edited compilation, including some spoilers for the end of Season 1, is below.
“I’ve never seen so much positive Twitter energy on any project.” — Jane Espenson
ESPENSON: I think people look back on shows like “Firefly” or “Buffy,” and they remember it with this glow about it of positive response, but if you look back… If Twitter had existed, there would have been a lot of negative tweeting about “Firefly.” Because I saw it on the Twitter of today, on the online boards. There was a huge amount of negative reaction that’s been forgotten because the quality eventually shined through. But usually it takes people a while to see what they’ve got on their plate. And I think, with “Jessica Jones,” it’s this anomalous thing where, and because of the original property being so good, people saw it right away, which is very unusual.
[To Melissa Rosenberg] How are you feeling about the response that you’ve been getting so far? How much have that have you been able to read?
ROSENBERG: You know, I really haven’t done much else. I’ve been taking it in. It’s so fascinating but also gratifying to read different people’s perspectives on the feminist aspect of it, or the way they’re talking about sexual abuse and women in power. It’s just like, “Oh, I didn’t even realize I put that in there.” The response has been so incredible. We’re just so full of energy. We’re just so, “Come on, let’s go and celebrate!” And the press has been unbelievably kind and articulate and insightful about the work.
[To Krysten Ritter] What have you seen that has really struck you?
RITTER: A lot of really personal reactions, totally. Also, overwhelmingly positive responses from women who aren’t necessarily superhero fans, which I felt we always had the potential to get. And also the Marvel fans are eating it up — and I was nervous, because when you’re watching these badass trailers for “Daredevil” and “The Avengers” — we’re nothing like that. This is a very intimate story, a character-driven drama really. The fact that they like it and women, it’s absolutely mind-blowing. It’s hard to even articulate it, it’s a rare thing.
What do you think went into bringing in women who don’t necessarily watch superhero stories?
RITTER: I don’t know what brought them in or got them to turn it on and watch it and give it a chance — I don’t know how that works. I think it’s good marketing. But for me, I like character-driven shows, I like character-driven stories, I like psychological thrillers, I like things that you can follow and that grab you in. That’s what I watch, those are the books that I read and I think that’s what this is. So for me, I would watch this show even if I wasn’t in it and maybe I wouldn’t necessarily be the first one in line to watch a big superhero thing, it’s not really my demographic.
When you talk about what kind of movies and TV shows you’re watching, what do you compare this to in your head?
RITTER: I really like character-driven pieces like “Orange is the New Black,” where you have these really interesting, dynamic characters that you don’t really see on television. I love “Homeland,” I love “Bloodline,” “Damages,” and then I also read a lot of Gillian Flynn novels, you know what I mean?
Yeah, of course. Gillian Flynn is a really interesting comparison here, because she does a lot of complicated heroines.
RITTER: Yeah, complicated heroines and a different point of view and thrillers where you don’t really see what’s coming next.
The ending is a bold move. It’s not shy.
RITTER: I know I really, at one point, started feeling so fucking bad for Jessica because she kept trying things and failing or someone else would get hurt or he would get away, just all of these things. You just wanted something good to happen for her. But I felt that watching it — I didn’t necessarily notice that when I was getting the scripts and we were shooting it. It took seeing it all edited together and laid out.
Jane Espenson’s “Dream Job”
[To Jane Espenson] Talk to me about exactly what your involvement was — how did you get brought on?
ESPENSON: During the last hiatus for “Once Upon a Time,” I got a call from Jeph Loeb, who I’d worked with on the animated “Buffy,” which was a show that never got filmed.
I remember, it was a great tragedy.
ESPENSON: It was a terrible tragedy. And he called and said, “Do you want to spend a few weeks on ‘Jessica Jones?'” As a consulting producer? I don’t even know if I had a title.
I didn’t see your name in the credits, I don’t think.
ESPENSON: I’m listed on the last few episodes, on the “Thanks to.” I came in without a title and I just came on for four weeks and sat with the writing staff, and I was the Jane of all trades. If something needed to be written, if something needed to be polished, needed to be re-written, I was just handed pages. So I just sat there for a month doing my favorite thing, which was writing dialogue. I know I’m not great at structure and story. Melissa and her staff had already done all that, so all they needed was someone to roll up their sleeves and write some scenes. And it was the dream job. It was amazing.
Awesome. I don’t know how inappropriate this is to ask, but I’m curious about any exchange you want to point to, something you’re really happy with.
ESPENSON: You know, it’s funny because I’ve been watching them, and I would go, “I know I rewrote that,” “I know I worked on that.” But I couldn’t remember everything because I didn’t know if I punched something up, or if I wrote it. It was just — it got in your blood. You embraced what was already on the page, worked with it, massaged it. There was a lot of typing, but they didn’t need a lot of fresh new takes on things. The take was already really smart. So I can’t really point to a particular exchange, but I felt pride for all of it. Even though there were huge chunks of it that were already done when I got there.
What were the elements that you really responded to?
ESPENSON: I like the way that it mixed humor, dark humor and tragedy, in a way I don’t think that I’ve seen another show do. To handle those tonal shifts with so much confidence. Normally, you can mix humor and dark humor, you can mix dark humor and tragedy, but to mix all three… There are just moments with Robin and Reuben, the next door neighbors, that are just funny. Next to these heart-wrenching scenes of PTSD. They shouldn’t be able to go together and I think Melissa did an extraordinary job in finding a way to blend them. So you’re never laughing at Jessica, ever. Even when she’s being ridiculous.
The show really is dependent on her character and how she pushed through stuff.
ESPENSON: Melissa really has mastered coming from character. Everything radiates from the characters in this work. You don’t feel like anything’s imposed.
On Being Feminist
[To Melissa Rosenberg] What’s so fascinating is how the show tackles [feminism] without making it over the top.
ROSENBERG: It’s so funny because I read all these incredibly beautifully written treats. And what’s interesting is, I’m a feminist, so obviously my point of view on the world is going to be brought into the writer’s room. But I don’t go into the writer’s room like, “Okay, we’re going to do a story point about this.”
“Does everyone have their Betty Friedan handy?”
ROSENBERG: [laughs] Yes, exactly. “I wanna make this issue point and that issue point” — no. We just go in there and tell the story. We follow the character. What we really try to do is be genuine about the character and what she would be experiencing. It’s very personal — you’re really getting inside her head, in all of the character’s heads. So, that it turns out to be this great feminist epic is awesome. Certainly that was my attraction to the material.
On the Power of Kilgrave
[To Carrie-Anne Moss] Your character has such an interesting moment in the series, where you’re almost the advocate for, “Hey, that’s a great power.” Do you feel the same way?
MOSS: I don’t know, I never thought about it like that. I wouldn’t want to control anyone’s mind.
In terms of your character then, what do you think is the root of that moment?
MOSS: I think she wants whatever she wants. And she’s shrewd at winning. At any price, she wants to win. And I think that’s where she sees that like, “Wow, I could really, I could win all the time.” She already does win, but to have that kind of power intrigues her.
[To Melissa Rosenberg] I love the original comic, but one of the things I was impressed by with the show, is that you weren’t shy about the word “rape.” When I was re-analyzing the comic, I saw that that was something which got dodged.
ROSENBERG: Yes, that was a very conscious decision. We thought, “Well, we could soft-pedal, but it was rape.” This is a street-level hero, this is someone who speaks her mind, this is what it was. Let’s be honest about these things. Again, it’s the character informing us. We didn’t set out to write a treatise on rape. We wanted to tell this character’s story.
What’s so interesting too is that — okay, I’ll make it personal. My brother and I were talking about the show, and the thing he really responded to is how it takes on trauma in an ungendered way.
ROSENBERG: Yes, it does. All the victims of Kilgrave, whether they were sexually violated or mentally violated — they were all violated. It’s all violation and lack of control. It’s gender-neutral in that regard.
You talked about not necessarily acting to bring that element in, but was that something you were thinking about?
ROSENBERG: Yeah. It was. It has to do with writing for Kilgrave’s character. This is not someone who sees himself as a rapist. He sees himself as a good guy and just giving people what they want — he has a very skewed idea of what he wants versus what they want. In trying to develop his character, it was very important that his issues are not specific to gender. He’s heterosexual, so in terms of sexuality he’s with women. Or, who knows what he’s doing I guess, but in this case, in these particular 13 hours, he’s with Jessica Jones and Hope Schlottman. But who knows what he’s done. It goes to the bigger issue of rape which is control, power. And that’s his game.
You really do dance the line, during the season, of “maybe he’s not a terrible human being?”
ROSENBERG: He doesn’t think he’s a terrible human being. And that part of Jessica Jones — why he’s obsessed with her, why she’s his foil, is because she’s the one person who can and does tell him who he is. And puts it in his face, and holds up a mirror. And that’s why he wants to control her all the more.
On Making Jessica Real (And a Real Friend)
[To Krysten Ritter] You and Rachael Taylor [who plays Trish Walker] have such a great friendship chemistry. Did you go about building that in any specific way?
RITTER: A lot of times, that is luck. We liked each other immediately. We’re the same age, we’re into the same shit, we’re kind of both ballsy chicks, and I love her and I loved working with her. Early on, she had my back, she knew I was working like a bajillion hours a day, and she sent me flowers one day just to keep spirits up. Like a real girl’s girl, and that’s how I roll too, so the chemistry is there in real life and I think that translates on screen.
That’s so nice because I feel like there’s the dichotomy of a strong female character who doesn’t necessarily like other women, but here we have a character who totally circumvents that. You can be a strong women and also like other women.
RITTER: Yeah, yeah. Women who don’t like other women are fucking assholes. That’s all there is to it. Those women are assholes.
For you, building the character of Jessica, what was really key in making that happen?
RITTER: Really building the backstory, because so much of Jessica is informed by her past and what happened to her before we actually meet her on screen. So that was really the heavy lifting. Because you have to be able to pull from something and everything you do has to come from that place. So that was the most important thing for me.
On A Potential Season 2
ESPENSON: I don’t know what’s planned, but I’ve worked on enough shows where we’ve found ways to bring someone back when you want to. And I’ve also worked on shows where you go, “People don’t know yet how much they love this new character, but they will.”
ROSENBERG: We set the bar very high for ourselves. Having done “Dexter” for four years, with Scott Reynolds, we went out in our first season with the ice truck killer and we thought, how are we going to top that? So we came up with Delilah. And the third season was a little iffy, but then we came back with John Lithgow. You have to take those risks. You could keep it nice and safe, that would be network television to keep it within a planned out, safer route. But storytelling is more exciting. We set the bar fairly high for ourselves, and we’re going to hope we hit it for a second season. I’ve seen it done before, so we have hope.
[To Carrie-Anne Moss] Have you gotten a sense, if there’s a Season 2, of what path you’ll go down?
MOSS: No, no idea. If you hear anything, I’ll meet you in the back, up by my car.
With a crisp $20 bill in it for me.
MOSS: Okay, $40.
I’ll settle for $20.
MOSS: Okay, good. I think that’s all I’ve got in my wallet anyway. I’ve got a credit card, do you take PayPal?
I know that’s a huge part of working with Marvel, the secrecy involved.
MOSS: I’m okay with it. I trust it. I have this philosophy in my own life, that as much as it’s challenging, especially after you have kids, predicting your life — I’ve never looked at my acting career as something I can count on. There’s so much unknown to all of it, so you have to swim in that. It’s exciting! At any moment, my phone could ring and my life changes. My phone could also not ring for months on end and everything stays the same. It’s the nature of the business.
Are you at all engaged with the rest of the Marvel universe now? Do you watch all the other shows?
MOSS: I haven’t even watched my show yet, but I will. I totally will.
[To Krysten Ritter] I know Season 1 definitely planted a lot of stuff for Season 2. Is there stuff you’re thinking about? Because now in theory, she’s moving towards a place where she’s not quite so much in the past.
RITTER: Yeah, and I’m really curious to see how that plays out because the ending, I felt conflicted about it. Because what is Jessica going to do now? How does she close that door? That relationship [with Kilgrave] is the reason why she got up every day — she had purpose. And the PTSD doesn’t just go away overnight. How’s she going to deal with “success,” the people wanting to be around her? I don’t think that it’ll be a switch to sunshiny days, but I am curious to see how she now handles this next chapter.
I love what you said about the door because it’s such a symbol of the whole series, the fact that she has this door that’s always broken, always open. What does that mean for you as an actor?
RITTER: It’s a fun prop. For me, on the day, it was a fun prop. It was another one of those things where you root for her, you want something good to happen because the door is also broken. Kilgrave got away, this person got hurt. It’s just one more thing and it was also an opportunity to put a button on a scene, like, “Oh, the fucking door is broken.” A place for some levity and a place for some comedy. Sometimes, in the darkness, you need that.
Yeah, and at the same time, it’s really satisfying when she does have a nice, functioning door with the pretty window and everything.
RITTER: Yeah, but it breaks again, doesn’t it?
Yeah, of course.
RITTER: Yeah, totally.
For those little minutes.
RITTER: Yeah, for those three minutes. [laughs]