Over the past couple of years, Marvel Television has steadily been building its own corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing fans a range of characters, from Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet’s character on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) to Daredevil (Played by Charlie Cox in the Netflix series). And while S.H.I.E.L.D. has been considered a bit of a misstep for Marvel – although to be fair, the show has definitely stepped its game up over the seasons – the Netflix shows have received plenty of acclaim from fans and critics alike. In fact, Vincent D’Onofrio‘s Kingpin was continually praised as being worth of an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his fantastic performance in the Daredevil‘s first season. However, as great as Daredevil has been, it’s hard to deny that the series was nowhere as fantastic as Jessica Jones‘ first season.
Jessica Jones has already won a Peabody Award for its first season, and has seen series star Krysten Ritter‘s name being tossed around for Emmy consideration, but she’s not the only actor from the series worthy of some awards recognition. David Tennant, who played the villain Kilgrave, was absolutely mesmerizing throughout the show’s first season and managed to convey a character that, while still utterly disgusting, was hard not to empathize with from time to time. Taking some time to sit down with the folks over at Yahoo! TV, Tennant talked about what it was like to work on a series like Jessica Jones and what went into his performance as Kilgrave.
Long before the series officially premiered on Netflix, Tennant sung the praises of Jessica Jones, calling it a “brilliant concept”. He also talked about how he loved that the portrayal of the character in the series – when compared to his comic counterpart – didn’t necessarily showcase just what was ticking beneath the personable facade. There were plenty of differences between the two, but the show did a fantastic job of personifying the character to make him more than the sinister being he is in the comics. He’s still displays some disgusting behavior, sure, but he’s not the typical “take over the world” type villain. Much like D’Onofrio’s take on Kingpin, Tennant manages to deliver such a layered performance, delivering a performance that is just as notable as Ritter’s take on the titular character. While talking to Yahoo! TV, Tennant discussed what it was like during one of the most interesting scenes during the show’s first season – when Kilgrave take over the police station to declare his “love” to Jessica. When he first read the scene, Tennant admits it was a bit shocking.
It’s quite shocking when he actually says, “I love you.” I don’t think you see that moment of honesty coming, or I didn’t anyway — that he should be so candid with her in that moment. I think it’s exciting because you realize the depth of his passion for her, but there’s also a wonderful naiveté to it, which I think takes you aback, and I think ends up being quite revealing about who he is. He’s a man who has never quite grown up because he’s never really had the journey that most of us would have, where we have to learn about compromise and about negotiating around other human beings. He’s never had to do that because of this extraordinary gift or curse that he’s been saddled with.
There’s something kind of wonderful and childlike and naive and rather touching almost about the fact that he can make such an ill-judged confession to her, because I think in that moment, you see how at sea he is in the world of human emotion and how far from empathy he really is. It’s shocking for Jessica to see him reveal himself that way, and it comes in the midst of him being rather cruel and rather vindictive, and the fact that this character can switch from that callousness and that rather breathtaking open-heartedness on a dime makes it wonderful to play. Quite difficult to play, I suppose, but it’s a wonderful challenge to try and find that capriciousness in that scene.
He ricochets from one thing to another, and it’s an extraordinary bit of writing, I think, because we haven’t really gotten to know him yet: He’s just existed as this shadowy boogeyman, really, through the whole show to that point. It’s the first time he reveals anything about himself and when we really get to see him for any length of time, certainly when we get to see him looking Jessica in the eye. And it’s the first time we get to see their bizarre, co-dependent relationship. For Jessica, it’s that, too, although in a very different way.
As memorable of a scene as the police station is, it’s nowhere near as pivotable as the episode that follows it: AKA WWJD?. What’s most interesting about this episode is that it’s not one you’d expect you see delivered in a superhero series. In fact, for most, seeing Jessica Jones tackle a subject as important and sensitive as rape was shocking. (Unfortunately, prior to the show’s premiere, Jessica Jones was still a rather unheard of character, so Alias hadn’t really received its due.) But the fact that they chose to acknowledge that part of Jessica’s story, allowing the series to explore the effects of the abusive relationship between Jessica and Kilgrave, is pretty important. It’s also something that Tennant is very proud of in regards to his work on the series.
The episode (episode 8, AKA WWJD?) has one of the show’s most talked about scenes: when Jessica explains to Kilgrave that what he’d done to her was rape. As Kilgrave, you to have to convey that he never saw it like that.
That’s exactly it. I remember reading that for the first time and being quite shocked. It’s a very charged word, quite rightly, and it’s a word that isn’t used, and must never be used, lightly. We’ve got to understand the reality of this, and the different perspectives these characters have has to be understood by the audience. Indeed, that’s what Jessica suffered. You’ve got to understand the power of that, and the depth of the horror of that for Jessica, to understand how far away Kilgrave is from reality that he sees it in a completely different light.
What’s been very pleasing is that I think the writers handled that sensitively enough that people have responded to that in such a profound way. All sorts of things have been written about sexual violence on the back of that. Again, I’m just so in awe of how Melissa and Scott and the rest of the writing team managed to nuance that within the context of a superhero show. It went to somewhere more profound than you would expect, and we got to talk about some real issues about consent and about sexual violence. I’m very proud of that.
When it was announced that Marvel had cast Tennant in the role of the villainous Kilgrave, many fans were surprised. After all, many Marvel fans had come to know Tennant from his work on Doctor Who and couldn’t possibly see him as Kilgrave, especially when it was uncertain how the show would go about displaying the traumatic relationship between Kilgrave and Jessica. However, Tennant’s casting wasn’t a mistake. Those involved with the series wanted Kilgrave to be likable at times to truly showcase just how a predator acts. This is why seeing the two team up, and Kilgrave seemingly act like a hero momentarily, was so important.
I feel like one of the great things about casting you in this role is that you’re so innately likable that the audience is waiting for Kilgrave to give us a tiny opening to think he’s not completely horrible. In this episode, after Jessica shows him how he could use his power for good and they peacefully end a nearby domestic disturbance, a part of us — as viewers who’ve enjoyed this Odd Couple hour — wants to see Jessica stay with Kilgrave to “even the scales” some more as a “dynamic duo.” You feel guilty about it, but even Scott said the writers briefly contemplated whether they had another episode in them and that his wife was like, “Hon, I wish she would have done it, kind of.” It’s a great compliment to you, that you could bring this character to that place. And as Scott said, “It was important that [Kilgrave]’s so likable in this moment — because a lot of times, the predator is that way. It’s an important discussion for society today.” How did you navigate that line for Kilgrave?
I just play the script, and they wrote it beautifully. It’s just recognizing that for Kilgrave, that’s something genuine — he’s never really considered that way of living his life, and for a moment he’s thrilled. He’s thrilled because he and Jessica are working together. They are, as you say, the dynamic duo, and for him that’s all he wants. At the same time, he manages to do something rather extraordinary and he makes someone’s life better. Again, it’s that childish naiveté that he has. He has never considered that as a possibility. He’s got a psychopathic streak in him, which really doesn’t understand empathy, so it could’ve never been in his capacity to understand that he could make things better.
In a way, that is the same selfish bubble that means that he never really appreciates that he could rule the world or he could take over America or whatever else a super villain might do. For him, it’s just about his selfish little bubble of acquiescence that he lives within. For a moment, Jessica wrenches him out of that, and he rather enjoys the fact that people are grateful, that people think he’s rather wonderful. That tickles him and excites him, and it’s a new experience. He can have every experience the second he expresses a desire for it. So to have something new, to experience the thrill of being a duo, is wonderful for him in that moment. I think he gets intoxicated with the possibility. I just tried to play that sense of his thrill at the possibilities.
With voting having officially opened yesterday to determine the nominees, hopefully the Jessica Jones team will be rightfully nominated – including Ritter and Tennant. Nominees will be announced on July 14. Be sure to check back at that time should Jessica Jones be nominated in any categories.
The first (excellent) season of Jessica Jones is streaming on Netflix now, with a second season set to kick off production following The Defenders.