‘Jessica Jones’ Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg Talks About Her Tough Heroine


On Friday, Netflix premieres the first season of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” — and one of the revelations of this interview with executive producer and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg is that there’s a chance the show might film a second season before a planned “Defenders” series. The drama is part of a cycle of Netflix-Marvel shows that includes “Daredevil” and an upcoming Luke Cage series starring Mike Colter, who also appears in “Jessica Jones” alongside star Krysten Ritter.

Of course, a second season of “Jessica Jones” hasn’t been officially greenlit, but Rosenberg said she is raring to go if Netflix and Marvel give her the go-ahead. By the way, this interview is safe to read if you haven’t seen the show yet — and it’s also worth pointing out that you don’t need to have seen any other Marvel TV shows or movies in order to enjoy “Jessica Jones,” which is reviewed here.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Can you talk a little bit about how the show came about? Did Marvel come to you and say, “What character would you like to work on” or did you go to them with an idea?

It was actually a meeting with ABC Studios, and they’re obviously under the same corporate umbrella as Marvel. I was meeting with them right after the “Twilight” and “Dexter” runs were wrapping up, and I said I would love to do damaged female superhero along the lines of an Iron Man. They suggested I look at the “Jessica Jones” comic books and they were so awesome and so beautifully written, so I jumped on it.

Speaking of the comic books, I saw Brian Michael Bendis’ names in the show’s credits — what was his involvement in the series?

He was involved in that I used so much of his work from the comic books. He also came to visit us and we talked about the character and had a really fantastic discussion. That was about the extent of it. He really allowed us free rein to do what we needed to do with the TV show, and that was so lovely of him. 

What attracted you to Jessica?

It was the character. She was exactly the character I wanted to write my whole career. She was a fully-formed human being, not a one-dimensional character — she was not the wife or the cop partner or whatever. She was beautifully drawn in the comics, in every way — she was just profoundly damaged and deeply flawed and very dry. I love her sense of humor.

But at her core, she’s someone who ultimately wants to do something good in the world, though that is buried under many layers of damage. For years, we’ve had these really great male characters on TV, and then there would be the female detective off to one side, wearing false eyelashes and supplying exposition. For a long time, so much about so many female characters was just lazy and dull.

This show goes into some fairly dark places, and I would assume that there were conversations with Marvel about that, given that they have to protect their overall brand.

Absolutely. But they’re also the ones who publish the comic book, and it was their first truly adult comic — it was for mature audiences. So I said, “This is the tone I want as well; I want to start with this and go even darker.” They have a reputation for being very involved and protecting their characters and brand, but with this one, because she is lesser known and it’s dark comic to start with, they just said, “Go for it.” They supported my vision for it and also Jeph [Loeb, head of Marvel TV] supported it. Jeph is also a writer of TV and comic books and films, and he gave his full support to every move I made and pitched in with ideas.

Also, the Netflix-Marvel TV series are their own animal. All of them exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but [they’re on a different scale]. The Avengers are off to save the planet —  these characters are out to save their neighborhood. Or for Jessica, she’s saving maybe her job and apartment.

And maybe also saving herself. So much of the season is about her just taking her own life back — reclaiming her soul, if you will.

Yeah, reclaiming her soul, that’s really the arc of the season.

It seems like the “Jessica Jones” themes and ideas you’re most interested have to do with control and autonomy, especially as they play out for a woman.

Very much so, that is such a rich seam and such a rich aspect of a character to explore. Kilgrave will mess with anyone — he does damage regardless of gender — but with Jessica Jones, certainly that played a role.

And it seems as though you took your time introducing the scale of the damage Kilgrave inflicted on Jessica. Having that become apparent over time seems like it made the extent of if that much more horrific. It seemed like a conscious decision to let that emerge slowly.

Absolutely. When you’re telling a story on Netflix, the beauty of it is you have that kind of time. You normally don’t have that kind of real estate, but when you’re not on a network, you don’t have to break for commercials and tell people again what they just saw five minutes ago or what they saw last week. You’re laying out a story over the course of 13 hours and you’re assuming the audience is coming with you. You can assume an intelligence from the audience. I mean, you don’t know if they’re following you, because it’s not airing [and there are no ratings] and you’re not getting feedback, but you have the time you need to lay it all out in a different way.

Over the course of the seven episodes I saw, Jessica is both dealing with PTSD and the effects of being a rape survivor. Is all that accurate to say?

Absolutely. She’s a rape survivor. That’s one of the themes of the season — the impact of rape and abuse.

I have to say, I think it’s effective that, in what I saw, you don’t show the actual rape. But you show the effects of it on her life and how she is coping with it, which is extremely valuable.

What we really wanted to show was the fallout. The imagery of rape — I mean, how many shows have you seen where there’s an image of a woman with her clothes ripped off and she’s been violated and she’s on the ground and all of that?

Way too many shows do that. And really so often, rape and assault are just there to add “edge.” There’s a lot of, “Well, let’s make our show grittier with a spot of rape.”

I know. It’s just so tired. It’s lazy and dull storytelling, if nothing else. We have this rich, complex female lead and we are looking at what happened to her from her perspective. We were not going to do that thing where it’s about how the hero’s wife and child were killed and how his wife was raped — and it’s all about how he has to get revenge because that was “his woman.” We are not doing that. We are looking at the aftermath of what happened to her from her viewpoint. 

You had a lot of ground to cover with this show, in that you were introducing Luke Cage as well. Did you feel like you had a lot to get done in your first season?

You know, nothing was really dictated to us. It was very much like “Dexter” at the start, where you figured out where you wanted the lead character to end up at the close of the season, and you structured the story to get there. There was no real dictate from Netflix, they only thing they really said was “Slow it down, you don’t have to rush thorough this.” We ended up telling a whole lot of story in each hour because there’s that sense you don’t have to speed through it.

With Luke Cage, their connection is an important part of both their stories. When we were breaking stories, Jeph would remind us — “Luke has his own series.” That was absolutely perfect to hear. We have what’s important for our series, but that really relates to an important incident that connects him to Jessica, and there is so much more to learn about him in his show.

What was the casting process like to find your Jessica Jones?

It was a lengthy process, but Krysten Ritter was on our lists from the very beginning. We needed to do our due diligence, but she was one of very first people we saw, and she set the bar so high that every person was compared to her. No one else even came close. So it was a long process but in the end, a pretty simple decision.

I’ve seen her do a lot of comedy and more dramatic things as well, but I was taken aback by how much of Jessica’s depth and pain she revealed through her performance.

She is an actress of many levels and many depths, and she has such tremendous range. In the first place, she can deliver a dry sarcastic line so well, and it’s actually hard to find actors who can do that. And then she can also deliver these complex, wrenching, emotionally dramatic moments as well, sometimes in the same scene.

How about casting Kilgrave? Given that he is the worst, and yet he has to be watchable, I wondered if that was difficult to cast as well.

That was an easier process, because everybody loves to play a villain. With David Tennant, we actually went to him way in the beginning, but he was not available. We kept looking around, but then we learned that he became available, and we jumped right on that.

He got to show a lot of his range on “Doctor Who.” Had you been a fan of that, or did other performances draw you to him?

I have seen some “Doctor Who,” but really, what I had seen more of was “Broadchurch.” And then there was “Fright Night” and “Harry Potter.” He is such a great actor all around. And that’s what you need for Kilgrave. The objective with that character is not to have “a villain.” He doesn’t see himself as being evil. He thinks he is quite reasonable. He just wants what he wants, and ultimately he’s a sociopath. I mean, who does someone become when, from the age of 10 or so, he has gotten everything he wants? Nobody tells him no. What that would do to a human being, how would it shape them?

I’ve seen through episode seven [and viewers who haven’t seen up through that episode might want to stop reading now]. That episode seems like a hinge for the season — it’s a pivotal episode where the story takes a big turn.

Episode seven is crucial. Jessica ends up literally trapped in a house with Kilgrave. The second half of the season really becomes kind of a mano-a-mano situation. They are in close contact and we see more of their history and his actions. There are more confrontations.

Do you have ideas for a second season? Would that be after the “Defenders” series?

We might be able to do a second season of “Jessica Jones” before “The Defenders.” I think they are working that out now. It might not be possible from a logistical standpoint, so we don’t know just yet. And of course they haven’t given us a second season, though I am ready to dive in if they do. Throughout the first season, as we were breaking the story, so many ideas were coming up. For season two, the idea was to leave a lot of storytelling doors open and to have avenues to pursue for many years after this season. We leave this season not necessarily on a cliffhanger, but there is a big change in Jessica’s circumstances.

“Marvel’s Jessica Jones” is available on Netflix now.

For a discussion of “The Man in the High Castle,” “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” and “The Expanse,” check out the most recent installment of the Talking TV podcast