Krysten Ritter on the return of Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Krysten Ritter has been fortunate enough to land the coveted role of one of pop culture’s most endearing and timely heroes in recent memory. Returning for the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones in the titular role, Ritter is the latest performer to transform their career by portraying a “superhero” of sorts that everyday people can actually relate to instead of an unstoppable, goody-two-shoes crime fighter. And to talk to Ritter, one gets the distinct sense that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

On the show – which returns to Netflix on Thursday, March 8, better known as International Women’s Day – Jessica Jones is a hard-nosed, hard-living, and hard-boiled New York City gumshoe known more for pushing people away with her acerbic brand of cynicism and snark than for inviting strangers and friends into her personal life. In the first season, Jones, who possesses superhuman strength, faced many traumas of her past head on, doing battle with her most personal adversary: a man who controlled her psyche and caused her no small amount of mental and physical anguish. While trying to put the events of the first season behind her, Jones continues her line of work as a fledgling detective (one the press has branded as an all powerful superhero, much to her chagrin) while uncovering more details into her own past. If the first season was all about Jessica trying to break free of trauma, the new season from showrunner Melissa Rosenberg is an equally powerful search for answers.

It’s a role that seems tailor made for a performer as charismatic and hands-on as Ritter, who filmed the second season of Jessica Jones immediately after production wrapped on The Defenders, a series that put all of Netflix’s Marvel heroes together as part of a crime fighting squad. But while Ritter has spent over a year in Jessica’s sure-to-be-worn-down shoes, it hasn’t slowed down her other artistic endeavours, which includes musical side projects and the publication of her first novel, Bonfire, late last year.

We chatted with Krysten Ritter over the phone from New York earlier in the week to talk about how Jessica Jones has become a hero for our times, why character depth is so important for her, why she prefers a hands-on approach to everything she does, and how she balances her time as the face of a major franchise and her desire to keep growing as an artist on screen and off.

The world that this second season of Jessica Jones is coming into is considerably different than the world at the time the first season was released just a few years ago. At that time, we were just starting to have serious conversations again about women in the film and television industry, but that conversation hadn’t exploded yet, and in the few years that have transpired between the first and second season, this conversation has really intensified and come to the forefront of discussions about culture in general. What’s it like for you as a performer to be the face of a show like Jessica Jones that has only grown more timely and relevant since it first premiered, and as a part of a new season that has seen every episode directed by women?

Krysten Ritter at the New York premiere of Marvel’s Jessica Jones at AMC Loews Lincoln Center on 3/7/18 (Photo by: Marion Curtis / StarPix for Netflix)

Krysten Ritter: It’s really exciting for me as an actress to be on a show that challenges me creatively, but it’s also amazing to be a part of something that can contribute to larger social issues and discussions in ways that this show does. It makes everything really worth my while, you know? It makes me want to work even harder and go deeper. It gives me even more of a reason to make that effort. It makes me want to go the extra mile to do this character justice and bring her to life. All of the messages and themes that we explore have been resonating with women – and men, we hope – in a big way.

It’s a testament to Melissa Rosenberg’s writing more than anything. Sometimes I don’t know how she’s able to tap into issues of the social zeitgeist and women’s issues. I’ve been wondering lately if she has some sort of crystal ball. (laughs) At the same time, she’s not even talking about anything that’s really new. These are issues that have been here forever, and women have been dealing with things that Jessica goes through for as long as she can remember.

The fact that we can help people to let their voices be heard and to get everything out in the open is exciting, and that excitement will always make me want to work harder. I think Jessica shares an anger that a lot of people in our current climate can relate to. It’s exciting whenever my job and vocation pushes society forward, even if it’s only in a small way. Even if it were only affecting five or six or seven women, being able to be a part of this would be just as huge of an honour.

Jessica Jones also comes at a great time in the history of comic book adaptations. I think just a couple of decades ago, some actors would have scoffed at getting offered a role in any sort of comic book adaptation. Now, with shows like Jessica Jones and films like Black Panther, there’s a legitimacy to these kinds of stories because gifted storytellers like Melissa Rosenberg can show that these characters can stand for something and tell stories that are more true to life and specific cultural experiences. Do you think it’s an interesting time to be working as an actor in this kind of genre?

Krysten Ritter: I think so. I mean, for me, character always comes first and there has to be something there that speaks to me. What made me want to take on the role of Jessica Jones in the first place was just the complexity and range of her as a character. As an actress, that complexity always gives me a lot to pull from, and I think people relate to the complexity of characters in their daily lives, too.

I never thought I would be in a superhero type show, mostly because if you were to ask me a few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that a character like Jessica would have existed in such a world. But whether Jessica is a superhero or not is completely secondary to me because what we’re doing is getting inside her head. Jessica Jones, even moreso this season, is a psychological character study of what’s going on inside her head. For me, that’s always the most important aspect of the work, and I love that we have the space to tell the story of a person in such a patient and detailed manner.

At its heart, Jessica Jones is a detective show, but most of the mystery surrounds her own search for a sense of identity and answers about her past. There has to be something liberating about playing a character where there are revelations and new traits arising to keep the character constantly evolving. What’s it like to play this character in a second season, and realizing that you’re still getting a lot more new information to inform your performance?

Krysten Ritter: Oh, I love it. This is like “actor candy.” This is the kind of work that I think everyone hopes and wishes they can get. Jessica Jones is the kind of material that I think you would most often find in an indie film that it’s likely no one would actually see. (laughs) This is a character and a show so lovingly crafted that it never feels like this huge thing. It always feels like a passion driven side project. It just so happens to have these global platforms like Netflix and Marvel backing it up, and it makes coming to work every day this embarrassment of riches.

There’s so much work to be done, but I’m really a hardcore person when it comes to work like this. I love that complete and full immersion. I throw myself into the role, and my prep work, and breaking down every episode. I spend a lot of time preparing, and I’m given a lot to prepare. It’s a huge investment of time, but I love that high intensity and high stakes. If you give me all of this material to work with, I’m just, like, “Fuckin’ rock and roll. Let’s do this.” I’m so lucky that this character is in the forefront of the show, and that the exploration of this character is the most important thing to our writers.

And unlike a lot of other shows of this nature, that depth extends to the other characters in Jessica’s world. Particularly in this new season, we get to see a lot more of the people around Jessica and how the change and influence the world around them. What’s it like for you as a detail oriented performer to be on a show where the supporting characters are given almost as much depth as Jessica?

Krysten Ritter: It’s awesome, and I can say that it does make your job a bit easier. (laughs) Those guys are my buddies! Watching them get a huge chance to step up this season in roles they can sink their teeth into even more just makes everyone better. We encourage each other so much to keep going deeper and to work harder. It’s always said that you’re only as good as your scene partner, and from day one everyone has always brought their A-game to this show. We got so lucky to have a cast of actors who want to work hard, and I’ve always thought that working hard is the coolest thing you can do!

I was talking to Rachel [Taylor] about this today: We realized that we’ve both been performing professionally for about fifteen years now, and I think by now we know how rare roles this meaty are. We kind of just embrace it as much as we can, and I think we’re all grateful to have parts like this because we know they don’t come around every day, especially for women. I think a lot of what you’ve pointed out is absolutely true, and all of those reasons build a sense of appreciation and gratitude. We’re all people who want to work hard, and we’re rewarded with roles that are so deep that anyone would be lucky to have them.

You bring up how you like to really throw yourself into your characters, so has playing Jessica made you a better detective in your own personal life?

Krysten Ritter: (laughs) It’s funny that you say that because I was thinking the other day that there have been a lot of moments lately where I’ll come up with an answer to something and immediately think, “Oh, man, that’s some REAL detective work!” (laughs) But I really don’t think that Jessica has helped me in my everyday sleuthing, sadly. I think in getting into her skin and her particular kind of physicality, I think I have gotten a lot more confidence more than any tangible detective skills.

Shooting this show is such a beast. You’re on set for long hours, and I’m in almost every scene of the show. For me, it’s kind of like boot camp, so there’s plenty of things that I pick up for my own life and my artistic pursuits outside of acting just from being around a show of this size. I’m always hanging around and trying to learn every aspect of production. I feel like I am getting to learn so much just from being there. I’m kind of a sponge, and I’m just soaking all of this in.

You have been working on a lot of things outside of your acting, like your music and your writing, but you’ve also been working on Jessica Jones for so long that I’m amazed you find time for everything. What’s it like balancing the demands of a show like Jessica Jones and your other passions?

Krysten Ritter: Time management is something that I have really learned a lot about while making Jessica Jones. (laughs) Jessica Jones on its own is a six month schedule, and this was a special kind of situation because, as you know, I did The Defenders and Jessica Jones back to back. So that was twelve months in my schedule right there, and when you look at how much work that is, it’s pretty easy to visualize that you aren’t going to have a ton of time to do much of anything else. But at the same time, I also approach something like that as an opportunity to just strengthen my craft.

I wrote my book before all of that happened, which was during a fifteen month hiatus, so that time I devoted only to that because I knew what was on the horizon. Then when we wrapped Jessica Jones in the fall, I just sort of hunkered down at my office at my production company. I’m one of those people who just has a lot of interests, and I love to put into practice the tools that I’ve picked up and the lessons that I have learned on the job along the way. Everything I work on really goes back into the things that I want to develop from the ground up. I pay close attention, and I learn every day.

For example, I love soaking up everything that the writers are doing, and I take that skill and start to make it my own. Everything that I have learned in my acting process has found a way to lend to my writing process and my love of creating and producing. In a way, it’s all the same job to me, so even if I’m working on the same show for a year at a time, I am always finding a way to learn how this is going to fuel all of the other passions I have.

Season two of Marvel’s Jessica Jones hits Netflix on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker fell in love with film growing up across the street from a movie theatre. He began writing professionally about film at the age of fourteen, and has been following his passions ever since. His writing has been showcased at various online outlets, as well as in The Globe and Mail, BeatRoute, and NOW Magazine. If he's not watching something or reading something, he's probably sleeping.