Melissa Rosenberg has had a pretty varied career so far, having penned the scripts for three of the Twilight movies and written for shows like Dexter, The OC, Birds Of Prey and many more. Now, she’s serving as showrunner on Jessica Jones, Marvel’s second Netflix series and only its second female-fronted show. We spoke to her about how she became involved, staying true to the comics and what’s up ahead…
What initially attracted you to Jessica Jones and her story?
Brian Michael Bendis’ comic books were amazing pieces of writing. Here was this character who was just incredibly complex, flawed, deeply damaged with post-traumatic stress disorder and this really dark history, but who was also just very unapologetically who she is. It just immediately drew me to her, and there are so few female characters like this on the big or small screen. I was just so hungry to see it as an audience member but also to write for her.
How did you and the directors and Krysten [Ritter] approach bringing her to life?
We started with Bendis’ book and that dark tone and going in that’s what I wanted, that’s the tone that I actually wanted to go further with. So in creating the TV series that was our launching place. And we approached the character just as this is a character that we could go to the darkest places of her psyche. She can be ugly, she can make bad choices, she can be a human being, a damaged human being, but still knowing that at her core there was a need for redemption, or a need to do good in the world.
I think it’s the darkest Marvel show I’ve seen. How much free rein did you have?
You might be surprised by this, but I had enormous free rein. Because this was such a departure for Marvel, they were incredibly supportive of my vision of it, and with Netflix, we were really partners on this. We kept pushing the edges and expecting to get pulled back and no-one ever pulled us back! So we were like, okay, we’ll just keep going. It was wonderful. It was just a great relationship.
Did you feel an obligation to stay close to the source material or did you feel free to go in your own direction?
The source material is an incredible portrait, but it’s an extremely different medium. So we all knew going in that this was going to be its own being, the television show, its own world. It’s a very different world than the comic book. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has different rules and such, so what really survived is the character of Jessica Jones. And then we brought a lot of other characters into it.
I’ve already noticed some visuals that are taken directly from the comics, like the shot of Luke Cage sitting on the bed while she’s getting dressed.
Yep. And also her sitting on the toilet. That’s another one. Trust me, we used as much as we possibly could from the books, because I just loved them so much. There’s a lot of references to the books that anyone who is a fan of the books will get, and other people will just have no clue. But they’re just little subtle pieces here and there that are Easter eggs.
So far I’ve noticed that Jessica’s powers are very much in the background. It’s not your classic superhero show. How important was it to you to make this different to the usual superhero fare?
One of the things I love about this character is that superpowers are simply a part of who she is. It’s not a show about superpowers, it’s a show about characters and their journeys, and the superpowers really stand in as a metaphor for who she is and her own individual power. As they do with most things, the show is not about aerial fighting, that is not who she is. First of all, she doesn’t wear a mask… I’m only interested in fights and stunt work as they relate to character. It doesn’t interest me to blow something up for the sake of blowing it up because it looks cool. If it’s tied to a story point or the journey of the character then I’m interested, and that goes to the fights as well. So that’s how I approached the powers. Do they serve the moment, are they a part of the moment, do they inform the moment.
You said earlier that there were so few female characters like this, but this show has a female lead, a ton of female supporting characters, a female showrunner and a female director for the first few episodes. It’s rare to see and it’s refreshing, it means you can explore her as a human, not as a Strong Female Character.
Exactly. SJ Clarkson… between her and I and Krysten, we just really felt empowered to tell the story we wanted to tell. Those inform the storytelling, but the storytelling is not about her being female or about her having powers. It’s about a character dealing with trauma and pain and trying to make a living. I think it’s one of the traps that writers, or storytellers, get into, defining a character by their external attributes.
I want to talk a bit about Killgrave now, because I think he’s one of the best villains in the Marvel universe, and he is so rarely used, so I was thrilled to see him in this. And you’ve got David Tennant!
Unbelievable. Amazing. Just one of the great actors and people I’ve ever worked with.
Killgrave must be a difficult character to work with. Traditionally the hero and villain will come face to face multiple times and have showdowns and conversations. But with Killgrave, as soon as he’s in a room with someone he’s in control, so it must be difficult to include him in the show without him taking over the whole thing.
There are very specific rules about the mythology of his powers and what he can and can’t do. But yes, his powers are pretty wide-reaching. But how he uses them and what he’s after… this is not someone who’s out to rule the world as so many villains are, or just to do bad stuff. He has his own agenda, and it’s very personal to him and very grounded in his own experience. What a great character. It’s very hard when you’re writing a character like that for an actor like that, not to just let him take over scenes, because you start writing all these page-long monologues because you just want to hear him say them. Then you kind of go, “Oh, wait a minute, someone else is in this scene, we better dial that back.”
Looking ahead, would you be up for doing a Season 2 if that was on the cards?
Oh my God yes. I would be thrilled.
Were you relieved with the success of Daredevil? Has that made you feel more secure?
Well, yes and no. Yes because if it had bombed we’d have had a much harder time getting an audience. But the other side of that is that they set the bar very high and now we have to live up to that. It’s intimidating, how well they did.
Have Defenders discussions started happening?
They probably are happening at very high levels among Jeph Loeb and his team. I’ve been entirely focused on Jessica Jones, so I’m not in touch with those discussions at all, I’m not sure where they’re at with that.
Can you see Jessica being a team player in the Defenders?
(Laughs) No, I can’t really, but that makes it so much more interesting.
Jessica Jones will air on Netflix from 20 November.You can find out more about the characters and the comics that inspired them by picking up the latest edition of 100 All-Time Greatest Comics.