Few Marvel products have entered the world with more trepidation from viewers than Iron Fist. The Netflix series, which premieres Friday, follows the adventures of Danny Rand, a rich kid who trains in mystical martial arts in the Far East and returns to New York to fight evil. Though the character has been white since his comics debut in the early 1970s, Marvel faced pressure to cast an Asian-American actor and eschew the racial trope of a white man becoming the greatest champion of martial arts. Nevertheless, Marvel cast Game of Thrones alum Finn Jones.
Last fall, Vulture caught up with Jones as he was filming the season’s final episode. While lounging on a couch in the show’s Brooklyn studio, he seemed relaxed and confident about the piece that he and his collaborators had put together — but he got a little testy when the subject of internet outrage came up. In the conversation below, he discusses the mysterious nature of his audition, Danny’s stoner-esque clothing, and, of course, the critical backlash that would lead him to quit Twitter — something that was a far-away prospect at the time of the interview.
You’re about to wrap shooting and you’ve been filming at these insanely late hours. Are you going a little loopy right now? Do you find yourself going off on tangents in conversations?
All the time. I’ve done that since I was born. But yeah, definitely.
How messed up is your sleep schedule?
My sleep pattern’s completely fucked up. Completely fucked up. We’ve been on nights half of this week. We finish tonight, a Friday, at, say, 5 a.m. So I’ll get home at 6 a.m. And then on Monday, we’re back on 7 a.m. We’ve got two-day shoots and then we’re back on nights again. So we’re constantly going between days and nights, days and nights, days and nights. And you’re just like, What’s going on? It’s good. It helps the character. The character’s a bit on the edge. It definitely helps me get in. ’Cause it’s disorienting, a little bit. Especially this episode — it’s a little bit out there.
I heard you jumped through a window.
Yeah, that’s why I’m ripped up. [Points at fake scars and blood.] It’s pretty cool, right? This is the damage that was created by the window.
Let’s go back in time. How much did you know about the show when you auditioned?
Not much. I knew it was Iron Fist. I looked up the character, because I had no idea about the character in the comic book. But when I was auditioning, they were super-tight about it all. They had dummy sides [sides are scenes read during an audition] and they wouldn’t send me a script. So I just had these three dummy sides. The character wasn’t even called Danny Rand. It was, like, “Kendall,” or something like that. I was just going by these dummy sides and I had no idea really what they wanted. I think they were just really looking for an actor that they could see best resembling what they had in mind for Danny Rand. So I was really just winging it.
Wait, so they gave dummy sides even though you knew who the character was?
Yeah. Because I don’t think they wanted to let out too much what they were going to do with the character. I just went in and really played on instinct. I just brought myself to the role. Because that’s all I could do. I couldn’t play their role because I had no idea what they wanted. So I just went on instinct and came up with what felt best for me. I guess they enjoyed it.
There was a fair amount of outrage online when you were cast. Critics say that Iron Fist was a racist story about a white savior who learns Asian martial arts. There had also been pressure to cast a person of Asian descent instead of a white guy. What did you think of the backlash?
There’s so much outrage in the internet these days, right? Why don’t people just — look, the issue is that people are judging before they’ve even seen the show. And that’s problematic. C’mon. Don’t get angry and start a mob when you don’t even — you haven’t even seen the show! You don’t even know what we’re doing with it. It’s unjust. It’s unfair. Whatever issues they have may be true of the comic books; it was written in the ’70s. It was a very different time to where we’re at now. Very, very different. I get it. There needs to be more diversity in film and television, in all fucking aspects of life. There needs to be more diversity, period. Unfortunately, this show was picked, for whatever reason. I don’t fully understand, really, but what I say is, Watch the show. Watch the show, then make your opinions.
Netflix and Marvel are two of the most forward-thinking entertainment distributors out at the moment. They’re making very good choices, especially when it comes to diversity. And they’re not fucking this up. They know exactly what they’re doing. The story we’re telling — people are going to be surprised at how we are going to handle this. To be honest, this is one of the most diverse shows I’ve ever worked on. It’s got an amazing cast from all different backgrounds, playing all different types of roles. I think as soon as the show comes out, all of that conversation will be completely muted, straight away.
Were you reading any of the criticism?
Yeah, I read it. But it’s like, whatever. I get the frustration. There is a frustration in the world right now, and I support that frustration completely. But what I don’t support is having frustration on something when you’ve not even seen the product yet. It’s blind rage. It’s really harmful. People need to chill the fuck out before they actually — they need to think about what they’re doing. Because it can be harmful.
Sure. On a lighter note …
Also, c’mon, let’s get angry at the real fucking injustices in the world, yeah? The real problems in the world. Not just in television. There’s some real shit happening in the world right now that people need to get angry about. Let’s get angry about that. Not just a TV show that hasn’t even aired yet. You know?
Who told you you had the job?
It was my agent. It was a funny story, actually. It was this excruciating back and forth of screen tests for two, three weeks. Am I going to get the part? All this kind of stuff. And I knew the day was coming. I had just done the last screen test and I was down to the wire. I was on the beach with my friend in Venice, and the sun was setting. It’s ridiculous, actually — the sun was setting and I was watching the sunset and I was talking to my buddy and I was trying to do this thing of like, I was trying to work out a get-out plan. Like, if it didn’t happen, if I didn’t get this job, I was talking myself out of the job. Saying, “Oh, it’s all going to be fine. If I don’t get this, I’ll just do this other thing. It’s going to be fine.” Trying to secure myself for the worst. So the sun was setting, these dolphins start fucking coming out of the sea, like, it was ridiculous. It was absolutely ridiculous. Me and my buddy are like, “Wow, what’s going to happen?”
We walk back to the car and the sun had just set, and I get into this car and my phone had turned off because I ran out of battery. And I had all these missed calls. I had this voice-mail from my agent saying, “Call me right away.” I was like, Now is the time I’m going to get an answer. And I was so nervous. I was so nervous. Because I just wanted it so badly. I had just left Thrones and it felt like this was the right thing to do. The right part for me to play at this time. They told me I got the job and I just lost my mind. I jumped out of the car, I started jumping around, screaming, hitting the car, called up my mom straight away and told her the good news and we all went out for sushi and celebrated. It was great. It was amazing.
What did Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb and showrunner Scott Buck tell you about the character? What were they looking for?
They didn’t really say too much about what they wanted. I think this was their way of just finding the right person. They just allowed me to bring whatever I thought was right, whatever I read in front of me, and they must have liked what I bring. What I found was this vulnerability, an innocence, and this optimism, in the way that I was playing it that they really enjoyed. And also the strength. So I think it was a mixture of those things, vulnerability, strength, optimism.
How did you figure out your dynamic with the female lead, Jessica Henwick?
Well, me and Jess were friends before that. We worked on Thrones together. Even though we never had any scenes together, we’ve done press tours together and Comic-Cons and we were friends before we got this show. I got cast and I got a call from her one day saying, “Finn! I’m coming over to L.A. tomorrow. I’m screen testing for Iron Fist.” And I was like, “What! When you land, come straight to my place and we’ll rehearse your audition scene. So the next day, we’re giving each other the best chance.” So she comes, she lands. She comes straight to my place.
We go through these scenes and we’re like, “Fuck, if we get this, if you get this, we’re gonna have to probably kiss.” And we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll just worry about that when we get there.” And so, we rehearsed these scenes and it felt good because we always had this friendship, then you just sprinkle a little bit of affection and intimacy. Jess is like a sister to me. I was fortunate she got the role because it was very easy to get into character with her.
I find Jeph Loeb fascinating. How much do you work with him?
Jeph’s amazing. He’s incredible. On the first day of filming, he came down to set. He’s just won the Peabody for Jessica Jones and he gave this speech, just before we started filming, and he said, “These projects are ensemble projects. From the PAs to the producers. Everyone is as valuable as everyone else. This is a team effort.” That is Jeph’s vibe completely. There is no hierarchy. It is all just about the common good. To have someone like that leading the ranks gives such a good energy to all of the shows.
I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so successful. You’ve got a man like Jeph, who is such a good dude — completely selfless, no ego — but has such passion for these projects. Such passion for the comic, superhero universe. We were out for dinner one time, and he was just, like, shooting stuff into the air. I was like, “Jeph, what are you doing?” And he was like, “I’m just sort of imagining I’ve got this super solar flare coming out of my wrist and I’m just burning down these buildings.” I was like, “Jeph, you’re a fucking dude.” He is constantly playing with his mind.
That’s a weird story.
Yeah, he’s incredible. He’s got this childlike brilliance. Talking to him about my character, he was just so enthusiastic. You could see how enthusiastic he was and that passion is contagious. To have someone like that leading Marvel television is infectious.
Tell me about the ratty outfit you wear in the pilot. Y’know, the one that makes you look like a white dude at Burning Man.
Now everybody thinks I’m a stoner Iron Fist/Big Lebowski. [Laughs.] The bum look. Yeah, that’s my look that I guess. After leaving [the mystical city of] K’un-L’un, Danny walked back to New York. So he probably went through the Himalayan mountains. Probably through Istanbul, across Europe. I reckon he probably got to Portugal and then took a boat to New York. Along the way, he just accumulated clothes. That look you see is basically a year of pilgrimage to New York. It’s Danny Rand being a traveler and a nomad. It’s a nomadic look.
What do you think when you see yourself in that outfit?
I loved the bum look. I looked super-cool. There’s kind of a ragged mystery to this character. There’s a real enigmatic kind of thing about it. When you first see Danny Rand, he’s like a child. You’ve got this raggedy, Burning Man–type look, where you expect him to be homeless, and then when he opens his mouth, he’s this innocent, wide-eyed, naïve, vulnerable human being. They don’t match. They don’t gel. It’s really, really interesting and enigmatic to watch. It draws you in. You’re like, Who the fuck is this guy?
This interview has been edited and condensed.