Krysten Ritter doesn’t get sick.
Yet heading into her final week of press before the release of Netflix’s “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” the actress is desperately staving off a sore throat before boarding a plane to New York City.
“I’m pounding vitamins and oregano oil,” Ritter says. “I refuse.”
It’s this same steely determination coupled with a wry comedic sensibility that won Ritter the title role in what may be Marvel’s darkest yet most humane television project yet. The series based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name begins streaming on Netflix on Friday.
The new 13-episode series focuses on a former superhero turned detective who, like the best film noir characters, battles demons external and, more particularly, internal. The character, best known for her appearance in Marvel’s “Alias” series written by Brian Michael Bendis, is struggling to come to terms with sexual abuse and its traumatic psychological consequences.
“The thing about PTSD is that it’s not just a memory, it’s feeling like you’re back in that situation,” Ritter says. “So it’s about building all of those situations and your reactions to those situations. It’s something I worked really hard on because you want to do it justice.”
"[For Jessica] the superpowers are just a matter of fact. She doesn’t advertise them, but she doesn’t deny them. She doesn’t hide them,” show runner Melissa Rosenberg explains. “What I love about this character is she’s so unapologetically who she is. She’s unapologetic about her sexuality, about her powers, about her drinking, about just about anything. She is who she is.”
“Jessica Jones” becomes the second Marvel Television enterprise with a solitary female lead, joining ABC’s “Agent Carter” as a show that primarily chronicles the exploits of a female hero. But Ritter doesn’t see Jones as a character that’s solely defined by her gender.
You’ll never see me putting on a short skirt and heels to use my ‘sexuality’ to get what I want. I don’t want to play that.
“We never fell into the typical tropes of female P.I. shows,” she says. “You’ll never see me putting on a short skirt and heels to use my ‘sexuality’ to get what I want. I don’t want to seduce someone to get what I want. I don’t want to play that.”
Nevertheless, sexuality is a critical part of “Jessica Jones,” though in a way not usually seen on television.
“With rape, we all know what that looks like,” Rosenberg says. “We’ve seen plenty of it on television, used as titillation, and I didn’t have any need to see it again. But I wanted to experience the damage that it does. I wanted the audience to really viscerally feel the scars that it leaves.”
The series too deals with consensual sex. Rosenberg says it was her intent to portray those moments as grounded in the same realism as the rest of the show.
“I have zero interest in portraying female sexuality as anything other than empowering and as a very natural part of our makeup,” she says.
Jones is haunted by a mysterious character known as Kilgrave (David Tennant), who casts a frightening shadow over the heroine’s days and dreams. The highly manipulative character can literally control the actions of others with a simple look — as he once did with Jones. In short, he’s the monster of the tale.
But Tennant warns against judging him so simplistically.
“I think there’s something quite tragic in where he [Kilgrave] has ended up,” he says. “If you’re someone whose every word is acquiesced to, then your perception of reality is going to be quite skewed. You’ll never be able to interact with people on a normal, human level. I don’t think the show lets him off the hook, but I think we see glimpses of why he is who he is.”
Given the intense subject matter, a series adaptation wasn’t an easy sell in Hollywood, even during an era when darker material seemed to be thriving and even earning Emmy awards. The Jessica Jones story was originally developed for ABC in 2010 before eventually landing at Netflix in 2013.
“At the beginning, the most important element of this character was to be able to deliver a dryly comedic line,” Rosenberg says. “But between then and when we actually landed at Netflix, Krysten’s stint on ‘Breaking Bad’ happened and I thought, ‘Oh, wow, she’s got some serious range.’”
The range was essential to a story that bravely explored the journey of a survivor and her healing.
“For the TV series to be true to the creative legacy of the ‘Alias’ comics, it must also contrast a hard, unflinching look at the effects of trauma and vulnerability with the superhero’s pretensions of perfect, unassailable power and morality,” says Justin Hall, cartoonist and California College of the Arts assistant professor of comics.
“It’s shameful that television and movies have such a poor track record of female superheroes,” Hall adds.
“If Netflix can pull this off right, ‘Jessica Jones’ will go a long way in redressing this with a powerful, but in many ways broken, complex, and very human hero.”