When Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg sat down to start developing the first season of her critically acclaimed Netflix drama, she faced a unique dilemma. In addition to crafting a compelling comic book series with darker psychological elements mixed in, she also had the responsibility of introducing another Marvel character who would go on to be the lead of his own show: Luke Cage (Mike Colter).
Before Luke Cage was even in its earliest development stages, Luke was already having adventures on Jessica Jones as a love interest and ally for Jessica (Krysten Ritter). He was introduced early in season one of Rosenberg’s series as a character with a mysterious past, a tragic backstory and potentially a part in Jessica’s future. Their relationship ended for two reasons: Jessica was responsible for Luke’s wife’s death … and he had to go on to lead his own Marvel series.
So how much influence did Rosenberg actually have in shaping the live-action version of the iconic comic book character versus how many notes Marvel gave her on how to create him?
“It was very collaborative with this particular character because it was very clear that I was introducing someone else’s lead character for a show,” Rosenberg tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He wasn’t mine to play with. So I really wanted the input. I wanted to be respectful of the canon and his place in the universe.”
According to Rosenberg, there were a few people who helped her stay on track when it came to being faithful to Luke’s comic book persona.
“Fortunately, I had amongst my staff a die-hard Luke Cage fan, and he was instrumental in really guiding that character,” says Rosenberg. “[Marvel TV head] Jeph [Loeb] was also really, really clear about that. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with Cheo [Coker], who [created] Luke Cage, because he came on after I started.”
It also helped that Rosenberg understood she wasn’t responsible for setting up everything about Luke’s past.
“I knew what I needed from this character for Jessica, and that was really the objective,” says Rosenberg. “This is not the Luke and Jessica show. It was really about, how does this character resonate with Jessica as opposed to telling his whole backstory, so all the story of his deceased wife and all that was what we got to tell because it was also about Jessica.”
After season one of Jessica Jones, Rosenberg handed off the character to Luke Cage showrunner Coker, but she admits they haven’t had the chance to sit down and really discuss him.
“This is what happens when you’re a showrunner: You just get so freaking busy,” she says with a laugh. “But we pass each other in the hall all the time and say hello. But I also have, in my second season, one of the writers on Luke Cage, so in terms of moving forward with what has happened in Luke’s story, with season two — not that that’s as relevant to Jessica’s story this season. But it’s all connected, and it’s all very important. So Cheo and I haven’t had a lot of face time, but we’ve passed each other in this.”
Did she have any regrets or feelings of ownership when it came time to hand over Luke’s reins to Coker?
“Not really because my objective from the beginning was to hand him over,” says Rosenberg. “I was just trying to do it in a way that would make me the happiest, that would be the richest for that. The thing I’m most sad about is to not work with Mike Colter every day. That was a really great collaboration, and Krysten and Mike had a real special bond and chemistry. We’ll miss him in that regard. But from the beginning, we were like teachers in an elementary school, getting him ready to pass him on to the next show and making sure we’ve done all we can to set him up as best as we can.”
Rosenberg is already hard at work developing season two of Jessica Jones, even though it will have to wait until after the premiere of mashup miniseries The Defenders, in which Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) will join forces.
“We’re working on it now,” says Rosenberg. “It’s going to be a long process. It’s great because we really have a lot of time to adjust it.”
The biggest lesson she learned from developing and filming season one? “I can’t do everything,” she says.
“As much as I tried, it’s not sustainable,” continues Rosenberg. “Delegating is essential. And Krysten can’t do everything. Writing a scene or two in an episode without her in it is important. She was working eight days a week, and that’s not sustainable either. But the show is called Jessica Jones. She’s the center of the show. So she and I had to learn to find a balance with our lives and our storytelling that is sustainable.”
Looking ahead to The Defenders, Rosenberg praises what Daredevil showrunners Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie are attempting to do by bringing together all four Marvel Netflix leads for one series.
“This wouldn’t work if anyone other than them was in charge,” says Rosenberg. “The whole thing has been incredibly collaborative. They’ve also been really respectful to all the other showrunners who have invented these characters and have grown attached to these characters. They invited commentary, they invited ideas, they enjoy collaboration. That’s the only way this works. It doesn’t work if they keep it all to themselves and are possessive.”
While Rosenberg doesn’t have a direct hand in what’s happening to Jessica on The Defenders, she does have a conversation going with Ramirez and Petrie.
“We are in constant contact, ever since our stories existed,” says Rosenberg. “If something changes for one or the other of our shows, we let each other know. So far, from what I know, everything is going to be told separately. But Marvel is doing something that no one has ever done before, ever. We’re going into our second season, like Daredevil did, and there were a lot of growing pains when you’re figuring it all out, and now I feel like there’s more of a feeling where we know how to do things, so it’s nice. It’s amazing to watch it all come together.”
Once The Defenders premieres, Rosenberg will be able to discuss in more detail what viewers can expect from season two of Jessica Jones. But for now, she says she’s most eager for fans to see “something new.”
“There are new, surprising elements to all the characters,” says Rosenberg. “New and surprising relationships, who comes into each other’s orbits and why. No one is interested in having our characters keeping on doing the same things in the same ways. That’s what they do in network television. This world, you push your characters into new places they’ve never been before. That’s what gives us the most excitement.”
Luke Cage season one begins streaming in its entirety on Friday, Sept. 30, on Netflix.