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Jessica Jones Creator Melissa Rosenberg on Her Character’s Modest Powers, Many Flaws, and Uninhibited Sex

Marvel’s Jessica Jones, the latest streaming series in the ever-expanding, world-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe, arrived in its entirety on Netflix this morning. Starring Krysten Ritter as a fiercely independent, moderately superpowered private investigator, the show has generated considerable early buzz for its apparent willingness to explore themes no previous Marvel property was willing to touch. For one, as Vulture’s Abraham Riesman discussed after seeing the pilot, there’s a ton of sex. Our friend John Horn, host of the KPCC radio show and podcast “The Frame,” interviewed Jessica Jones creator Melissa Rosenberg just before the show’s release — and that topic is where their conversation began.

The way sex is dealt with in the show is very candid. It’s not judgmental whether people are straight or gay, how they like their sex. You are very, ‘This is the way the world looks in real life, and we’re going to depict it that way.’
One of the things that pulled me to this character, and one of the reasons I love writing for the show, is that we’re able to create and tell stories for women who are multi-leveled, complex, sexual beings. They are, in other words, human beings, and fully developed characters. So often in film and television the woman is relegated to the role of wife. That’s her dimension. Or maybe a sassy cop or Madonna-whore thing. You get one or the other, and that’s who you are. Being able to push beyond those boundaries is always attractive. That goes for the sexuality as well.

And Jessica Jones herself is far from perfect. She is an alcoholic. She suffers from horrible traumas. She is not a poster child for good behavior.
No, she isn’t, which is incredibly fun to write. The original source material was written by Brian Michael Bendis, and he drew such an incredibly complex, deeply flawed character. The kind of character that he initially introduced was very much along the lines of the characters in television that I had been loving but were written pretty exclusively for white men: Tony Sopranos and Walter White and Dexter, even, or Vic Mackey, these very deeply flawed, interesting, sometimes morally ambiguous characters. I’d been dying to do the female version of that forever.

When Jessica Jones became a Netflix series, how did you change your approach to it? Obviously, you can do more with language and violence and sex, but in terms of the way you could tell the story, what did the change of platform mean to you as a storyteller?
The biggest difference when telling a story for something like Netflix versus network television is you don’t have commercial breaks. You don’t have a week in between episodes, so you don’t have to spend any real estate recapping what just happened.

“Last week on Marvel’s Jessica Jones …”
[Laughs.] Exactly, “Previously on …” And when you have commercials, oftentimes when you come back from a commercial break, you’re having your characters say what your audience just saw. Instead, this is like a 13-hour movie. It assumes that everyone is watching it one after the other. You have more real estate to tell more story, but you also have to push it further because it has to go further.

Before Jessica Jones, you wrote the screenplays for the Twilight films. They were obviously incredibly successful. Most people might have followed that with another film. You went to TV. Why make that move?
Actually, I went from television to film to television — I had had a good 15-year career in television. The last show I was on was Dexter, and I was doing it at the same time as I was doing Twilight. But I’ve always been a fan as an audience member of TV, and it’s my favorite kind of storytelling: continuing story lines. If you’ve created a character or a world that’s interesting enough, it would kill me to just end it in two hours, as you would with a film. So hopefully it has endless possibilities. The Twilight franchise really gave me some incredible opportunities when I came off of that. Things were being offered to me that never would have been prior to that. One of them was this.

I want to talk a little bit about the mythology of Jessica Jones. Even though she’s not a well-known character, there are going to be a lot of people who know everything about her. There’s a moment in episode five when she’s talking with her friend about coming up with a superhero name:

Trish Walker: Fine, be the Naked Superhero. That can be your alias.
Jessica Jones: It’s better than the name you came up with.
TW: Jewel is a great superhero name.
JJ: Jewel is a stripper’s name, a really slutty stripper, and if I wear that thing, you’re going to have to call me cameltoe.
TW: Okay, okay.

So there’s a very inside joke there about Jewel. Can you explain it?
It’s exactly that, and throughout the 13 hours, we got to pepper pieces from the comic book, from the Marvel Universe, into each episode. We really loved sort of those inside references, which, you know, the scene still plays whether you know that Jewel was the comic book’s superhero name for Jessica or not. It was quite fun.

When you hear the name for the show, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, I think a lot of people would rightly assume it’s a superhero story. You seem very intentional in not making this a superhero story. We don’t see a lot of Jessica Jones’s super powers. We do in glimpses, but even in the pilot, they come late and are fleeting. As you were writing with your staff, were you talking about it as a superhero story? Or are you talking about it kind of a film-noir version of that?
We talked about it a great deal in terms of it being a character portrait. Everything was driven by character. I was less interested in the sexy fight scenes. That’s sort of the stuff of Daredevil, which they do quite beautifully. What’s most interesting are the characters and their relationships. I loved using her superpowers as a metaphor, but also as a sort of matter-of-factness, very much like how we treat the sexuality. It just simply is what it is. She treats it as who she is. Again, very unapologetic.

And when she throws somebody across the room, she just throws them across the room. She doesn’t throw them down the street. It’s not heightened that way.
Her character has always been that she has powers, but they’re not the A+ powers. They’re sort of a B+ level. It’s fun that she has these sort of B-level powers. She’s strong, but she’s not the strongest out there. She can jump, but she can’t necessarily fly. Even her powers have flaws.

Jessica Jones Creator on Powers, Flaws, and Sex