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'Jessica Jones' Couldn’t Have Picked a Better Time to Return

A talk with showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, and actress Rachel Taylor on the timeliness of the new season.

by Noel Ransome
11 March 2018, 9:21pm

Image courtesy of Netflix.

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

The return of Jessica Jones on Netflix at this moment in time almost feels engineered in how damn perfect it seems. This is 2018 we’re talking about here, a period in time when award shows come with #MeToo and #TimesUp addresses.

So, this feels like the right time for the return of Jessica Jones; a Marvel created, self-loathing, hard-drinking and damaged female hero whose trauma came from an horribly abusive man. She’s never been the pristine image a Wonder Woman who kicked ass before posing for pictures later. Instead, she’s a hero whose motivations manifested out of the desire to not want to be a victim anymore; the epitome of today's movements.

In Season 2, we begin to see Jessica in a period of recovery. With the main source of her worst purple shaded nightmares behind her, she’s now looking for her backstory to her super-powered origins. Whether this takes into more #metoo related scenarios, or Kilgrave-like adversaries, it’s all a season watch away.

I spoke to two very important women involved with the Netflix series that could shed some light on this season. Jessica Jones producer, Melissa Rosenberg, who also had a hand in Dexter, The OC and the Twilight Saga (won’t touch that), along with Rachel Taylor who plays Trish, the best friend/adoptive sister of Jessica Jones, about what this show is doing for women, in front and behind the camera.

VICE: Watching a good part of Season 2 felt like a recovery session. You had Trish and the producer, Jessica (PTSD) and even Jeri Hogarth and her issues with mortality. It was just interesting in how these characters had their own demons beyond some grand superhero story.
Rachael Taylor: Yeah, I have to say that Melissa has a way, even though this is a superhero show, of writing the world as it really is. We get topics around sexual harassment, and men’s violence against women. Abuse, and addiction threaded through the whole fabric of this show. She just has this knack for relaying culture through the prism of a Marvel world. It’s really kind of masterful to be honest the way she’s able to serve up a mirror to the world we’re living in now. To me, Season 2 seems even more relatable now compared to two years ago.

Trish (Rachel Taylor), confronting a former producer who exploited her in the past. | Image courtesy of Netflix.

Melissa Rosenberg: Ha, you know, the objective is always to find a story and take a character on a journey that resonates with an audience and contributes to the conversation.

But sticking to the women, there’s an authenticity right down to the things that they say. For instance, when Trish is holding a producer that exploited her sister down on a car, talking about not wanting to hold back her anger anymore. I mean, I’m curious, how much of yourselves did you guys put into these played out situations?
Rosenberg: You know, all of these episodes were actually all written and shot before the #metoo movement began, which is interesting. As writers, even producers, the objective is to use your own life and experience in story telling to make the feeling effective. This season in particular is very personal for me. I bring a lot of my experience into it, and my partner on this one, Raelle Tucker (executive producer), did as well. It was very emotional for us.

If you don’t mind me asking, what sort of experience as an example?
Rosenberg: Mostly from the emotion of it all. That scene with Jessica holding down a producer in a particular story line, that comes from a place of myself feeling unsafe in a world on that front. Very much something I’ve experienced in my life along with most women on one level or another. But then, there’s episode two, with Jeri Hogarth, when she gets in these bad moods, and her first reaction is to deny it, and do whatever she can to push it away. I’ve been in that place before. Not necessarily by drowning myself in a crowd of hookers though (laughs), but in that place of needing to drown out it out and distract or deny it as long as I can. Ultimately you have to face it.

As a comic book nerd, I respect the fact that as a Marvel property, you are are dealing a lot of non-comic-booky issues.
Taylor: Oh my god, have you read the ‘Alias’ Jessica Jones strip?

I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t just yet.
Taylor: It’s sooo dark, like really dark! As far as comic books go, the adult and mature themes are up there. I’ll be honest, I actually think the source material is way darker than you’d think. It’s why I adored being able to take part after I read the comic book series all the way through. It’s an extremely dark and rich world to draw from. And it’s funny, because my character, her maybe soon to be alter ego, Paty Walker, is so different in tone compared to Jessica’s line of stories. I gotta give it up to Melissa for being able to make a little wink to them by building up this rich backstory for Trish by simply making her a child star, with a show called Patsy Walker.

Does it really change a lot to have so many more women behind the camera Melissa? I know it was your decision to up the number, and as a fan whose a man, I’d like to know what that does to a set.
Rosenberg: If I’m going to be honest, nothing really changes on screen. A good director is a good director and vice versa. What actually does change though is the sense of parity. You have 50/50 men and women, and body walks onto a set feeling like some alien. It’s like, I’m not the only women, so there’s a real balance and I think with that, comes a certain level of safety and warmth.

I completely identify with what you’re saying actually.
Rosenberg: Yeah, people really do their best work in that sort of environment because it just becomes normalised. So when you walk off from our set, and you go to another, you’re like, wait a second, this isn’t normal at all. I’m actually the only one on set. That diverse, balanced environment just brings out the best work in everyone involved.

NY Premiere Screening and Afterparty -Pictured: Janet McTeer, Melissa Rosenberg (Showrunner, Exec. Producer) -Photo by: Marion Curtis / StarPix for Netflix.

And speaking of more women, we got some mysterious character played by the great Janet McTeer. Similar abilities to Jessica, but just as engaging as Kilgrave. What’s her deal?
Rosenberg: Oh my god, Janet, she brings such a gravitas with her. Such a presence. Watching her and Krysten Ritter play off one another as you’ll see more and more is like watching a masterclass. And she also brings a physicality with her alongside the depth. Definitely one of the most favourite people that I’ve gotten to work with. She’s just so delightful, passionate, and willing to go to some really interesting and courageous places.

No disrespect to Krysten, but she’s such a natural at playing a lovable asshole. This women who tries so hard to put up a shield, but constantly lowers it at the same time, like in the case of Malcolm and Jessica.
Rosenberg: Yeah! We get to really explore Jessica and Malcolm's characters this season in a way that we weren't able to much in the first when you're building your essential character. Being able to push them into some really interesting territory all ties back to Jessica's own experience. The richer the character that you had to play with and against, the better everyone's story was. With Malcolm, his story through addiction is very much like a coming of age. And going through that, alongside Jessica, was a really interesting look, I mean that's the mirror for him, Jessica Jones. For her though, he's something like a little brother, and a lot of that gets explored in this season. He invokes in her a caringness, that she's loathed to feel, but can't help but feel that for him.

I actually loved any scene where he actually stood up for himself for a change, like a certain elevator scene involving percentages.
Rosenberg: (Laughs) That is one of my most favourite scenes, I just love it!

At the same time, with this whole #metoo movement, and Wonder Woman release, Jessica as a character is a refreshing side to the anger and attitude the women have a right to display. What’s your takes on how that’s being handled.
Taylor: I’ve learned so much from working with Krysten Ritter around this to be honest. She’s all passion, commitment and her work is so incredibly detailed throughout when it comes to that balance. It’s funny, acting is kind of like playing tennis, you’re only as good as your partner, and she definitely makes me a better actor. Even off set, I just adore her. We’re genuinely great friends! And I think Jessica, just as a character, has been all about empowerment and bravery. Which Krysten does such a good job in portraying.

Rosenberg: It’s obviously a great and extraordinary thing to be able to contribute to the conversation. As a storyteller, you always hope to bring people into the experiences of of your characters, and your own. I’ve always approached my work as writing a character, not writing a “female” character. Jessica is a character. Certainly, her genre informs her. You walk through the world as a woman, and different things will happen to you compared to a man. But that does not define her. Whenever I read a screenplay in the past, it would be some strong and silent type, and then all these different complex, blah blah blah. For the women? It’s like, she’s the wife! (laughs). Again, these sides come with parity. We want the ability to be able to see ourselves on screen in whichever way that may come. The possibility in that will always be empowering.

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