[Editor’s note: Mild spoilers follow for “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” Season 2.]
Janet McTeer’s role on “Jessica Jones” was a twist that the actress was surprised more people didn’t guess. It’s revealed midway through Season 2 that McTeer isn’t just a random superpowered woman on a rampage — she’s actually Jessica’s mother Alisa, rendered unrecognizable after the accident that was believed to have killed her.
McTeer said the secret was such a shock because, as the producers noted, “subconsciously everyone goes, ‘the mom’s dead.’ They forget that they’re in the Marvel universe and that they can do anything. We were all really astonished. I was convinced that everybody would guess, but nobody did!”
Once revealed, the story becomes one about relationships, specifically mothers and daughters — though in the case of Alisa and Jessica, it’s an unconventional bond. “What was helpful for both Krysten [Ritter] and myself was the fact that they start off as strangers. That allowed us as actors to start off as strangers. Even though you’ve talked a bit about the past, in actual fact, the two characters are strangers to each other and they find that as they go along,” she said. “That meant that we as actors could find that as we went along. That was a real benefit of the shooting process.”
Also helpful in terms of developing Alisa was a meeting McTeer had with the costume designer and showrunners, during which they experimented with various looks for the character. “In my head, by the time we got halfway through the first couple of hours, I went ‘Let’s just channel Patti Smith as far as we can,'” she said.
“I’m a massive, massive, massive Patti Smith fan. I just adore ever she does and everything she writes,” she added. “I’m not saying that I’m even vaguely in her genre or in her world. That look of hair, and jackets and that face that looks out of there. There’s something about the way she looks and I just thought, ‘I want a little bit of that.'”
Hence the decision to go for a look that not only dove away from looking too maternal, but also echoed Jessica’s own wardrobe to some degree. “She’s got the jeans, she’s got the jacket, she’s got the boots. She’s got really long hair. I wanted the long hair to look a bit more hippy. It sort of evolved organically while we were trying everything on,” she said. “There’s no safety around her. I didn’t want her to look safe at all. So that everything [about her] that was safe and loving and lovely was a surprise.”
The result was a mother-daughter story unlike any we’d seen before, something McTeer noted was helped by the decision to hire an all-women roster of directors. “All these female directors were fantastic,” she said. “Because it is a female-driven show, and a lot of the storyline is between sisters and between a mother and her daughter. Those felt like two incredibly female themes.”
Added McTeer, “One felt the comments they were making were coming from the female point of view. Given the fact that what we were playing were mothers and daughters and sisters, that felt – from my experience and from Carrie-Ann’s character, dealing with her life and her sexuality, her illness – it all felt like the main theme was incredibly female. And that feels more helpful coming from female directors who get it, who’ve been there, who are there with you. They know it.”
McTeer then laughed. “It’s like, I have never understood, ever, why any woman would ever go to a male gynecologist. Why bother? They have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t get it. I never have. I never would go to a male gynecologist. I just think, ‘How could you possibly know how I feel?’ It’s sort of like that.”
While McTeer found working on “Jessica Jones” challenging and fun, she admitted it was also “hard on the knees, let me tell you.”
It was a major departure from McTeer’s previous work, as the two-time Oscar-nominated actress is far better known for period pieces and character dramas — certainly nothing as stunt-driven as the Marvel series.
“I’d watched a couple Marvel things and I thought, ‘I’m not sure that’s my cup of tea, I’m not sure I’m up for that,'” she said of being offered the role. “And then I watched the first season, I realized how dark it was, how rooted in reality it is, and how even the people with superpowers are dealing with their superpowers in the real world. It sort of felt opportune. And because it deals with women front and foremost in it, I thought ‘oh, this is a really cool project.'”
And most importantly, the fact that this was something new was also a bonus. “When you’ve been around for as long as I have, you want to do things you’ve never done before because it’s fun. All of those things ticked a lot of boxes and seemed like a good idea. And I was right, it was actually a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be,” she said.
“Marvel’s Jessica Jones” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.