Jessica Jones Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg on #MeToo and Hiring Women Directors

Melissa Rosenberg Photo: Getty Images

Spoilers below for Marvel’s Jessica Jones season two.

Times are tough for Jessica Jones. But hey, what else is new? The second season of the Peabody Award–winning Marvel Netflix series premiered on Thursday, and it finds Krysten Ritter’s titular Jessica in the midst of an emotionally draining quest to understand her origins. The rest of the cast doesn’t get off easy, either: super-lawyer Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) spirals out of control after an ALS diagnosis, and radio host Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) turns to drug use to deal with her own trauma. If they want to blame somebody for their emotional torture, they should look at Melissa Rosenberg, the showrunner of both seasons. Vulture caught up with Rosenberg to talk about hiring an all-female lineup of directors, how long we’ll have to wait for a third season, and the memorable sex scene in the second episode.

Well, you introduced the freaking Whizzer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Good lord.

Of all of the Marvel Comics properties to introduce the Whizzer, I would never suspect Jessica Jones. How did that end up happening?
Well, we had the idea for a character with some minor power. We didn’t know quite what that power was gonna be, but we knew initially it’s not someone who you buy as a superhero. He begins as comic relief in some ways, then it becomes tragic and you feel sorry for him. So we went to our Marvel partners, and Megan Bradley over at Marvel is a master of this. She dug into the vault and all she had to say was, “His name is the Whizzer,” and I’m like, “Oh, done.” It’s so perfect. And then, looking into his canon, we borrowed little things about him like the color of his backpack and his pet mongoose — the character in comic books is bitten by a mongoose. That’s how he gets his powers. We’re not saying this thing bit him, it’s just, he’s got a pet mongoose and his name is Emil, which is what the character’s father’s name is in the books. Just teeny little nods.

You introduce a story line that feels very relevant in the #MeToo era, where Trish confronts the man who sexually exploited her as a teenager. Did that predate everything that’s happened?
Oh, very much. All our stories were written and shot before any of that happened. Before the big movement, before any of it came out. It’s born out of the character — we’d always known this about Trish’s character, this thing with her background, and we’re also dealing from some of our own personal experiences. This season, for me, is very personal. Borrowing from my own life or from the writers’ lives, it was really just coming from that. It wasn’t in any way trying to make any kind of statement. It continued to look at Trish’s character, starting in season one where we saw the situation of her mother’s abuse and her mother kicking her out. That’s where it was coming from. As it turns out, I think it may be resonant with some people.

What were the origins of your decision to hire women directors for every episode this season?
Well, I tried on season one to get as many women as possible, but there’s a smaller pool and many of those who I reached out to weren’t available for these specific slots. So, I knew going into this season I wanted to start well in advance, get on their calendars, and book them. The intent was having at least fifty-fifty, but then it organically grew into all 13 [episodes] with the support of my colleague over at Netflix, Allie Goss. There’s this really deep bench. There are so many talented, qualified women. It’s not like we’re having to search very hard. With the directors, it’s not like we were discovering anyone. They’re as highly qualified with as many credits as any other director, you know?

Do you think that ended up changing the season?
It does change the storytelling. It doesn’t change what ends up onscreen. A director is a director, and a great director is a great director. It’s not like, Oh, this has a female feel to it. It just has the feel of a great visual style. But what does change slightly is the process. You look around and realize, Wow, our set is fifty-fifty women. Our meetings are fifty-fifty women. It becomes very normalized. If you take a step back, you go, This is not normal, unfortunately, on most sets. But it feels normal, and hopefully it becomes normal on every other set.

At what point did you conceive of the scene where Jeri dances with the sex workers?
Very early. It’s the second episode, so we were talking about it very early on. It was born out of [Jeri] having just found out this news about her illness and going right into denial. What comes out in that scene is her desperation to not feel that fear and not feel that vulnerability. What we didn’t want to turn it into was a gratuitous scene. It’s beautiful, and even in her desperation and in her emotional state, she’s sexy, but it’s not about the sex. It’s not about the sex workers. It’s really about her abandon in an effort to deny her reality. So, that was the primary focus. We wanted to make sure we weren’t choosing supermodels as [sex workers]. We wanted to find some very real-looking, real-feeling women, which we did. And the way it was shot, there’s a beauty to it, but it’s also very much raw. That’s all [Jeri actor] Carrie-Anne [Moss], you know?

What did you want to do with Jeri’s arc this season? Where did you want to take that character?
She’s spent a lifetime accruing power, money, and control. There are good reasons for that, her need to so aggressively pursue these things that she does. What she comes to realize very quickly is that there are some things for which money and power and control are useless. No one is invulnerable. She is branching out in a very, very visceral level, which takes her character into really new places.

What impressed you about the way Carrie-Anne portrayed the character this season?
She plays that emotional place of clinging to your old reality and your old sense of strength and power, yet being frightened and feeling vulnerable and fighting against those feelings. She’s so subtle in how she allows those deeper fears and emotions to surface. You see her just beautifully crafting the arc of this character and holding on for dear life to some sense of strength. Some sense of power.

How was Krysten Ritter different this season?
For both her and I, season one was about constructing this character. For Krysten, it’s How does she walk? How does she talk? Where are her emotions coming from? She’s an actress who works from the inside out, and that informs how she moves, down to her clothing and her mannerisms. Season two, we’re in sync. We have 13 hours of experience together, we know who this character is, and now we get to push her into some new and interesting areas because we have a handle on her. I think Krysten embodies it on such a deeper level this season. Amazing range and craft.

Overall, what did you want to do differently?
We had the quintessential villain in Kilgrave. He was a classic villain played by David Tennant, just beautifully performed. We knew we weren’t going to match him. We knew we weren’t going to be able to re-create that kind of relationship and that kind of scenario, so it was about going in a completely different direction. It’s a different structure and a different, slower burn. Where season one is sort of a bullet train, this season is like a steam engine. It gathers speed as it goes along, and you’re laying all this track in front of it. I think my metaphor is getting out of hand, but it’s really challenging ourselves to do something different and take our characters into different places.

Has Marvel changed since you’ve been working with them?
They continue to grow and have more things on the air, so they’re a little less accessible. Well, not less accessible, but they count on us to run our own show. I count on them for story notes. We don’t have things like focus groups and ratings the next day, so the first round of any story, any script, is within the writers’ circle. We get it as far as we can and then we want fresh eyes. Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel television, is one of our most important reads because he has a really amazing sense of story and character, and he always articulates what is or isn’t working in something. Then we get our feedback from Netflix as well.

Are we gonna have to wait as long between seasons two and three as we did between one and two?
I don’t think so. If and when we get season-three pick up, it’ll be … there’s no longer The Defenders in between. So, we’ll be slamming into it if and when it happens.

Were you worried that viewers might forget what happened in season one? Did you consider adding more exposition to get people up to speed?
No, because we’re on Netflix, y’know? [Laughs.] Anyone at any time can just go back and watch one. In some ways, I also think this season stands alone. You could watch this season and not necessarily have to know what happened last season. While I’d love people to watch season one and two, if they just wanna dive into two, I think that’s perfectly fine.

What’s your favorite compliment or fan response that you’ve received about Jessica Jones?
A colleague was on the first season with us, Scott Reynolds, our executive producer. He has a 13-year-old daughter and the other day he was just saying, “I get to watch this with her.” His eyes were tearing up because it was so meaningful to watch his 13-year-old daughter see onscreen a powerful, real woman. It’s just so moving for him. I think those are the greatest compliments I receive. The most gratifying thing is knowing that women, young women, people, young men, are watching this and seeing a character they can invest in that is reflective of who they are.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jessica Jones’s Melissa Rosenberg on Hiring Women Directors