The long-awaited return of beloved hard-drinking, super-powered P.I. “Jessica Jones” is exciting not just for fans, but for creator Melissa Rosenberg, whose noir take on the Marvel comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos has been one of the best things to come out of the explosion that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“It’s so thrilling after having worked on this for so long,” Rosenberg told IndieWire just after the show’s premiere. “People’s reactions have been overwhelmingly wonderful.”
[Editor’s note: Mild spoilers follow for “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” Season 2.]
Below, Rosenberg reveals what it’s like to be a creator working inside the Marvel universe, the choice to explore a whole new aspect of Jessica’s backstory, where things stand in terms of Season 3, and how an all-female line-up of episode directors changed things on set.
Being a Creator Inside the Marvel Bubble
The Marvel universe on Netflix has become quite the sprawling beast since “Jessica Jones” Season 1 premiered. It now spans six individual series and eight seasons of television (soon to be 12 seasons, following the release of “Daredevil” Season 3 and the second seasons of “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” and “The Punisher”).
But Rosenberg said that despite the number of other shows, she felt like “Jessica Jones” was never in conflict with them. “We’re allowed and encouraged to have our own DNA,” she said. “I really focus on Jessica’s world and if I start straying into territory that other shows are covering, or other characters, I have my colleagues over at Marvel who say, ‘you should stay away from that.’ We work pretty closely together. They enable me to just completely focus just on my little world.”
Helping make that possible was the fact that last August’s crossover mini-series “The Defenders” featured Jessica Jones in a significant role, but didn’t end up affecting her as a character all that much — something that Rosenberg acknowledged couldn’t have been easy for the writers of that series.
“[‘The Defenders’] has its own DNA and it happened in Jessica’s world, but over the course of a weekend in her life. It didn’t alter where she was at emotionally or in her story at all, so we really picked up at her journey at the end of Season 1 and just kept going with that,” she said. “The people who did ‘The Defenders’ were tasked with leaving the car where it was parked. That’s a challenge in storytelling, because you want to take it on a journey, but you have to bring at least several characters back to where they were, so they can go off in their own world.”
In Season 2, we learn more about how Jessica got her powers — and also discover that she wasn’t quite the orphan we thought she was in Season 1. But the discovery of Alisa Jones (Janet McTeer) doesn’t lead to the happiest of reunions.
The idea to make Jessica’s mother a major part of the season, Rosenberg said, came very early into the development process, as they knew that “we wanted to do more of her origin story — thinking in terms of the way in which we tell those stories, not only talking about her origins as a powered person, but as a human being. It was a great way to dive deep into her character.”
And when it came to casting, “The process was, ‘it’s Janet McTeer. We’re going to get Janet McTeer,'” Rosenberg said.
McTeer, according to Rosenberg, was the first name that came up when considering actors for the role. As played by the Oscar-nominated and Tony-winning Brit, Alisa is both vulnerable and wild, desperate to reconnect with her daughter while also fully aware of her unchecked strength and instability. She also (like mother, like daughter) gets to wear a lot of jeans and boots.
“She’s never played this kind of role, so for her it was fun and exciting to do something different, kicking ass,” Rosenberg said. “She’s such a presence, she brings such gravitas to all her work as well as a physical presence. I just love the thought of a woman my age out there killing people.”
The reveal of Jessica’s mother could have come sooner in the season (Alisa’s identity is only confirmed at the end of Episode 6) but Rosenberg said that the reason for drawing it out was that “there’s a lot of building to that moment to earn it. That’s how we were approaching it. In Episode 5, you have that sort of complete feeling of here’s what we’re building to, here’s what we’re trying to earn.”
Plus, it was another way to define Season 2 as a separate entity, rather than try to repeat the choices made in Season 1. “We knew that we weren’t going to do better than Kilgrave if we were going for the traditional villain,” she said. “We really approached this in a different kind of structure. Missing the Kilgrave of it was a challenge for some viewers, but once we sort of bring them inside the story, separating from Season 1 is more of a challenge.”
“A Great Director is A Great Director is A Great Director”
As has been known for some time, all 13 episodes of “Jessica Jones” Season 2 were directed by women, a choice IndieWire asked Rosenberg about by referencing a tweet from “Scandal” star Joshua Malina:
By hiring them. https://t.co/4RXwV3TF5M
— 🌎Joshua Malina🌎 (@JoshMalina) March 6, 2018
Rosenberg laughed, but agreed that “by hiring them” was basically the process she went through. That said, her plan originally hadn’t been to hire all women.
“It started off with my going into Season 2 wanting parity — 50-50 men and women, people of color,” she said. “And in the process of booking and finding so many talented seasoned professionals, my colleagues over at Netflix got exhausted and just said, ‘why not all 13?’ It sort of organically grew out of that.”
That roster included Jennifer Lynch, Millicent Shelton, Uta Briesewitz, Jennifer Getzinger, Rosemary Rodriguez, and many other experienced directors — because, as Rosenberg noted, this happened because the talent was out there. “The funny thing is that people assume I was out there finding fresh faces, giving people their break — not at all,” she said. “These people have long lists of sexy credits that will rival any director out there. They’re seasoned professionals, so I wasn’t doing anyone favors. They were doing me favors.”
The other assumption she encountered, she said, was that “they would change what’s on screen. No. A great director is a great director is a great director. That element doesn’t alter.”
But Rosenberg added, “What does change is the engagement on set and production. When you have parity, when there is a 50-50 split behind the camera and on set, there is a safety to it. People feel camaraderie. It really is a warm world in which people feel safe to take risks, create risks and bring a new A-game. That’s something I noticed very much. It becomes very normalized.”
Leaving the Door Open for Season 3
The final episode of “Jessica Jones” Season 2 teases a number of storylines that could easily be a major part of a third season, something Rosenberg said was deliberate. “You always want to leave the doors open when you go out of a season, unless you know for sure that it’s your final hurrah,” she said. “Starting a season is really hard. You’re staring at a blank board. So coming into it with some options… it’s really important to leave the door open. Last thing you want to do is tie things up in a nice little bow, because then you’re screwed.”
She’s optimistic about there being a Season 3, “because I feel like we have more stories to tell.” And she also believes that, unlike Seasons 1 and 2, there won’t be a two-and-a-half year wait for more.
“We had to take time off for ‘Defenders’ and there won’t be a ‘Defenders’ coming up for a year,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be on a more regular schedule. The great thing about having a gap was that we had a ton of time to really put scripts together. But that was a long time.”
Rosenberg wasn’t able to comment on suggestions that there may never be another “Defenders.” “It’s Marvel and it’s Netflix. You never know.”
You Should Be In Pictures
Early into the season, Jessica’s new super/love interest Oscar (J.R. Ramirez) is revealed to be quite a talented artist — and his work should look familiar to any fans of the “Alias” graphic novels. Oscar’s paintings were created by artist David Mack, who drew the covers for the comics during their original run and also contributed artwork to the show’s iconic opening sequence.
“That was a really fun Easter egg that people are picking up on,” Rosenberg said.
Another thing Rosenberg loved was shooting the music video for Episode 7, featuring a young Trish Walker’s big pop hit, “I Want Your Cray-Cray” (which is annoyingly catchy).
“It was the worst song ever,” Rosenberg said. “The point of it was a play on these Disney stars that have their moments as pop stars with songs like “I throw my hair” — like, one line. One lyric. It’s the most obnoxious song, but it’s hilarious.”
Length Doesn’t Matter
While it’s not uncommon for Netflix series to vary the lengths of their seasons from year to year, every Marvel series produced for Netflix (with the exception of “The Defenders”) has been 13 episodes a season, something that Rosenberg accepts.
“I’ve done eight episode orders, 22 episode orders. If you have characters who you love telling stories for, you embrace it, whatever the length of it,” she said. “In Season 2, we have 13 and we had time to really write all 13 before shooting. They’re very much of a piece… Season 2 really has a steady momentum, where everything builds and is interconnected. I love being able to approach a season like that.”
But in future seasons, she would welcome the opportunity to adjust the number of episodes in a season. “I’m open to anything. But I also embrace 13,” she said. “Storytelling is a challenge, no matter what the length. And I feel like we have a lot of story to tell.”
“Jessica Jones” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.