'Jessica Jones' Star David Tennant on How Kilgrave Is a "Different Type of Supervillain"

"It was a perfect story arc," Tennant tells THR of his character's fate. "It was all about Jessica empowering herself and taking control and literally slaying her demons."
Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

[Warning: This post contains spoilers from the season one finale of Marvel's Jessica Jones, "AKA Smile."]

If you could talk your way into getting anything in the world, what would you want? For Jessica Jones' enthralling supervillain Kilgrave (David Tennant), it's the one thing he can't have: Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) herself.

Throughout the first season of Netflix's latest Marvel series, Kilgrave used his supercharged powers of persuasion to get as close as he could to the superpowered woman who was able to walk away from him. Since no one else in the world had ever before been able to refuse him, Jessica's rejection sent Kilgrave on an obsessive mission to once again own her. Their cat-and-mouse game culminated in the season one finale, when Jessica was finally able to end it once and for all by snapping Kilgrave's neck.  

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Tennant about taking on the psychological supervillain, possibly appearing in future seasons, whether he's sick of purple clothing and more.

The fact that on Jessica Jones, Kilgrave was a psychological rather than a physical menace was such a fresh take on what a comic book villain can be.

Yes, he's not really interested in the usual. His objectives aren't taking over Asgard or becoming the leader of the free world. It's a different type of supervillain in that sense. He doesn't have the ambition they often have. It's his own worldview he's interested in bettering and not much else.

Did that present any challenges for you in how you portrayed him?

The challenge was just in making sense of it, making a reality of whatever the character is. It's always the same process with whatever it is, whether it’s a supervillain or someone who works in Starbucks. You just want to make it as real and believable as possible. When there are fantasy elements, there are less precedents in the real world, but you just make those imaginative leaps where you can.

The way the show dealt with real issues like sexual assault and PTSD within this fantastical world was groundbreaking, and it all stemmed from Kilgrave's actions. How did you feel about that?

Looking at it now, it really is quite bold. A Marvel show is probably not where you'd look to find those kinds of stories being told. But that's a credit really to our showrunner, Melissa Rosenberg. She told those stories with such a sensitivity that I don't think it ever feels voyeuristic or titillating. Despite the fact that we're telling stories about people with superpowers, we're telling stories about human beings going through some truly terrible times and dealing with fairly dark subject matter. Melissa judged that really well, and everyone responded to the scripts she wrote. It's all a credit to her that she was able to take these stories to some really dark corners.

When you first signed on to Jessica Jones, did you know that Kilgrave was going to be killed in the finale?

I was only looking to do one [season], so I didn't quite know where it was going to end up. But it wasn't a massive surprise for me. I knew I wouldn't come back for [season] two. Whether that meant I was going to be locked up in jail or dead, you never quite know with shows set in these worlds. But it was a perfect story arc. It was all about Jessica empowering herself and taking control and literally slaying her demons. It would have been unsatisfying if it didn't end with Kilgrave being put out of action.

What does Kilgrave's death mean for your future in the Netflix/Marvel franchise? Is there any chance you could pop up in flashbacks or some other way in season two?

I would never even try to guess what they have planned for a second season, if there even will be a second season. Who knows what Melissa has in store? I don't think I'll have a central part to play because what is interesting now is where Jessica goes after Kilgrave. But I'm totally in the dark.

It's fascinating to see that some viewers were won over by Kilgrave after seeing his brutal childhood and how he became the man he was. A lot of people are even tweeting support for Kilgrave and showing their sympathy for him. Does that surprise you at all, that some fans would side with Kilgrave over Jessica?

No, not really. I think it's all in the writing. It's so clever and keeps confounding your expectations. Clearly, Kilgrave has done some really awful, reprehensible things, but as human beings, when we understand what has landed people where they are, even if that landed them in a very terrible place, we can illicit a little bit of empathy. Listen, I don't think anyone's ever going to be rooting for Kilgrave for the win, as it were. But when someone is being brutalized and damaged, we can at least extend them some sympathy. And just when you thought you understood all these characters, and you knew who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, that's when they pull the rug out from under you.

Jessica is not a straightforward hero. She does some pretty brutal things, and she tests our sympathies. And Kilgrave is a very appalling creature, but just when we think we can lock him up and throw away the key, we learn why he is the way he is. While we don't forgive his actions, we are asked to understand them. Nobody is binary. The shades of gray are much more interesting. And it's not just Kilgrave. Like Simpson, he continually confounds you. You don't quite know where he sits on the moral spectrum. It's very real and very human.

A lot of fans are also having a hard time rewatching your arc on Doctor Who after seeing you play Kilgrave, which is hilarious.

(Laughs.) Oh yes. It's a funny notion. I'm delighted if I'm confusing people and keeping them guessing. I'm quite happy for that to be going on.

Did you expect your Jessica Jones role to have such a big effect on how your fans see you?

I never really thought about it. When you sign up for a job, you hope to be challenged by it. You don't really think of what the reaction will be. And playing a character like Kilgrave, you're not expecting them to like you, certainly. But you want people to be talking about something that you've been in, and it does seem to be having an extraordinary response at the moment.

Now that Jessica Jones has debuted, what's next for you?

I'm currently rehearsing with the Royal Shakespeare Company [for] a production of Richard II. That will start in January and will play in London for a while, and then later in the year it will move to New York. And then I've got another season of Broadchurch to shoot next year. And then hopefully a film too. There's plenty coming up.

If you could have your pick of any project, what would you like to do after that?

It's so hard to think about that. Until something materializes and until you see a script, you can't imagine things in the abstract. I'm very thrilled that, if everything goes according to plan, it looks like I'll be doing a bit of theater, a movie and a bit of TV all within the next six months, which is where I want to be. I want to have that variety and range of parts in all the different media. It's all I have ever wanted from an acting career. Right now I'm feeling very satisfied with what the immediate future holds.

After Jessica Jones, are you ever going to wear the color purple again or have you had enough of it?

(Laughs.) I'm quite fond of a splash of purple! And a purple suit is really hard to beat, quite frankly. There were a lot of Kilgrave's outfits that I was coveting for myself. We shopped in all the best Manhattan boutiques for that wardrobe because he can get anything he wanted, so he would have all the best that luxury could offer. So it's not put me off purple at all. There were so many outfits I wish I could have stuffed in my bag at the end of the day.

So you're saying that you didn't pinch anything from the set? Not even a pocket square?

Nothing! Absolutely nothing. Marvel is fearsome about everything from plot spoilers to props. It's all locked up tight. I didn't get to take anything. But now I know where to shop to get it all, so maybe I'll get a discount.

Jessica Jones season one is now streaming on Netflix.

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