Hell’s belle

jessica-jonesThe inside line on Jessica Jones, Marvel’s second Netflix TV series…

INT. BAR – HELL’S KITCHEN. NIGHT. A dark-haired woman bowls inside just as a fight erupts. The bartender – big, imposing – trades blows with drunk patrons. The woman hurls a guy across a table. Breaks another guy’s hand. Within minutes, groaning bodies litter the floor. The woman and the bartender share a look, recognising that this isn’t exactly normal…

“I actually did punch somebody in the face by accident,” laughs Krysten Ritter, the dark-haired pugilist in question, chatting to Lounge six months after shooting that bar scrap on location in New York City. “I didn’t mean to, accidents happen! I punched a stunt guy, and I sent him a bottle of whisky to apologise. Honestly, I think he got a kick out of it. I feel like the stunt guys like it a little bit.”

That, or this stunt guy was understandably intimidated by Marvel’s latest superhero. After all, Jessica Jones isn’t somebody you mess with. Sarcastic, abrasive, always ready to throw a punch (or a barbed one-liner), she’s the star of the studio’s second Netflix TV series, which arrives in the wake of Daredevil’s acclaimed first season. Set in the same neighbourhood – Hell’s Kitchen – /Jessica Jones/ is equally as dark, following the titular private eye, an ex-superhero who snoops on behalf of freelance clients and sniffy attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). At least, that’s when she’s not drinking herself unconscious.

“Because of her dark past, she can really see the darkness in others,” explains showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, Dark Skies). “What she’s lacking is the ability to see the good in people. She’s a pessimist by nature.” They’re characteristics drawn directly from Brian Michael Bendis’ R-rated 2001 comic, Alias, but Rosenberg also references Chinatown as a tonal touchstone for a show that trades in gorgeous noir imagery. It also fosters a foreboding sense of paranoia, not least when Jones is drawn into a case involving dangerous mind manipulator Kilgrave (David Tenant), who may hold the key to her traumatic past.

Rosenberg initially pitched the show to ABC back in 2010, when Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb gave her a copy of Alias, and she’d had her eye on Ritter to star ever since. Though Ritter was best known for comedies like Don’t Trust The B—- In Apartment 23, her role as Jessie’s girlfriend in Breaking Bad proved she wasn’t all sweetness and light. “The Breaking Bad role was like, ‘Ooooh-kay, I get it, you’re dark. You can go deep,’” Rosenberg recalls. “The range that she displays in this show is just extraordinary.”

For Ritter, it was a no-brainer. After reading the script in secret (“Jeph Loeb locked me in a room, took away my cell phone”), she was struck by the strength of Rosenberg’s story, and in particular how different it was from Daredevil. “That show is super-violent and has a lot of fights and cool stunts and shit,” she says. “And Jessica Jones is a much more character-driven psychological thriller, where the violence is more psychological.”

“There’s a need for redemption, which is a very traditional, heroic drive,” adds Rosenberg, “but buried on top of that are so many wrong moves, so many mistakes and bad choices… It’s quite fun trying to get there.” Perhaps hindering more than helping Jones on her road to redemption is that imposing bartender, who just so happens to be Luke Cage (Mike Colter), another Marvel hero. Where Jones possesses superhuman strength, Cage seems almost indestructible.

“They’re opposites, yet they have the same fucking thing they can’t tell anybody about,” Ritter says. “They’re, in a way, the same person. I love their relationship. A lot of it exists in the quietness, in the subtext. And I love me some Mike Colter.”

Colter’s getting his own solo series next year (it’s currently shooting), but Jessica Jones is notable as the first female Marvel superhero to get her own series – and it’s also the first time a Marvel character has been brought to the screen by an almost entirely female team.

“Don’t mess it up!” laughs Rosenberg on how it feels to be the first woman in Marvel’s hitherto all-boys’ club. “It’s incredibly inspiring and I’m utterly delighted and honoured to be here! I think women have earned their place in the cannon, but it’s also a great deal of responsibility, which I know Krysten feels as well.”

Not half, though Ritter is more excited than nervous. “This is amazing in so many ways,” she enthuses. “It feels very groundbreaking, very exciting. I would love for a generation, the girls coming up behind me, to be inspired by this character. There can be strong, amazing female antiheroes and complex characters we can root for. Jessica Jones is so unique.”

While Jones will eventually team up with Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in mini-series The Defenders, Lounge can’t help wondering how she’d react to meeting the Avengers. “I think she might think they’re a little full of themselves and a little glossy,” Rosenberg muses. And Ritter? “Erm… I can’t talk about any spoilers,” she says. This is about to get very interesting…

As featured in Total Film magazine.