Over the past several years, director Rosemary Rodriguez has directed episodes of many of TV’s biggest shows, including The Good Wife, Elementary, Empire, and, of course, Jessica Jones. In addition, she’s written and directed her own film project (Silver Skies) and hosts her own podcast with guests ranging from other directors to actors, including Jessica Jones herself, Krysten Ritter. Rosemary directed one of the most gruesome episodes of Jessica Jones, Season 1, Episode 10, “AKA 1,000 Cuts.” You may remember the episode as one of the most shocking or as the episode where the intensity of the show increased leading through the end of the season. Rosemary tells us how she approached one of Marvel’s darkest stories thus far, the pressure of working in the Marvel Universe and her desire to be on the list of “Great Directors.”
Among fans and industry types alike, Marvel is a dream. However, success brings pressure and extremely high expectations put on everyone from showrunners to actors to directors. “I felt the pressure because I was very, very, very, VERY, I can’t even stress how excited I was to be working with Marvel and Netflix and with Krysten and with Melissa and to honor Jessica Jones -- her character, to honor the darkness, to sort of bring it to life, and so I felt the pressure of that,” Rodriguez said. “[Jessica Jones is] something that’s created already that’s so compelling, and I had read the comic and just really loved that character. I felt like I really wanted to deliver something that would live up to what was created in a different version. So the fact of having great material to start with and to honor a character who has such a great backstory and to be in a world that is so successful, you know, to be in the Marvel world as a female director? It’s very exciting.”
Fans and critics alike have discussed the uniqueness of seeing a character like Jessica Jones on TV; an antihero who directly opposes popular superhero stigmas associated with some of Marvel’s lighter stories. She’s badass and has extraordinary powers, yet unlike the Tony Starks of the world, Jessica seeks to remain out of the spotlight. This uniqueness of character is part of what draws audiences to Jessica Jones. "Jessica is broken, and she’s flawed, and she wants to do the right thing, and she’s sort of, she’s damaged and ... only in the movies that I direct, that I write and direct have I been able to deal with characters that are that human, which is ironic since she’s actually a superhero,” Rodriguez said. “She ultimately is this character that is super relatable and I think we get used to watching, or we get used to being fed female characters that are perfect in every way and even if they make a mistake here and there, they really go back to being perfect or they go back to being the good girl. And that wasn’t the case with her.”
“AKA 1,000 Cuts” is a unique episode of Jessica Jones for several reasons but the humanity of the character is one aspect Rosemary explores as director. The episode begins mid-action where episode 9 ended as Kilgrave has left his parents to die and flees with Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). Jessica is left to clean up the mess of bodies and plan her next move. “AKA 1,000 Cuts” is pretty gruesome. “I just think visually it was like just more fun than other opportunities because of the Marvel people were really like, you get to do things graphic, that’s fun”, said Rodriguez. But the episode is also packed with important character scenes in addition to the bloody action. “I think the scene where they’re in Alias together and they’re sort of confronting each other [is important] and it’s really interesting to me how when something happens every person has a different perspective of it and so I thought it was really interesting to really get inside of his head and see that his perspective of her was in this little window of time,” Rodriguez said. “Like he convinced himself that that little window of time was enough so that she actually stayed there and wanted him. He had convinced himself of that and that she had a totally different perspective of that moment. You know, and that everything that happens to us is open to our own interpretation. It’s endlessly fascinating to me.”
In “AKA 1,000 Cuts”, we learn more about the abuse in Kilgrave’s childhood and see his true brutality, then flashback to Jessica’s “happier” time with Kilgrave. Rodriguez sees this juxtaposition of stories as an important aspect of the episode. “I felt like I got to see her for the first time in the series up to that point...we put her in a dress, and she’s on the rooftop and she’s vulnerable and she’s got like her fantasy life going on. It’s a more, to me it’s a more psychological episode with her, but with Kilgrave it was more, it physicalized his psyche more than the other episodes did. Because he always gave commands to people and they did them but you never really saw the graphic, like how violent he can be and then I felt like there’s an opportunity to show that darkness. So I felt like I had an episode that had really dark and really light.”
Rodriguez also began a podcast called The Director’s Chair in order to discuss collaboration with actors, writers, and other directors. “I felt like part of the success of Jessica Jones for me was the ability to collaborate with Krysten Ritter, and all of the actors were amazing, but in particular [Krysten] because she’s the lead and she was working so hard and she wanted it to be so good”, Rodriguez said. “And collaborating with people like that, and with the DP, who was awesome, Manuel Billeter. Like the ability to collaborate with really talented people is what makes something great.”
Jessica Jones is a testament to Netflix’s dedication to telling stories traditionally not seen on broadcast television, further demonstrated by shows like Orange is the New Black and Master of None. Just this past pilot season, female-led shows like Nashville, The Good Wife, and Agent Carter were canceled. Then, CBS announced multiple shows starring straight white men were greenlit while failing to pick up its Nancy Drew pilot because it “skewed too female”. There are almost weekly conversations about equality both behind and in-front of the camera in Hollywood. Whether it’s calling out pay discrepancies or more dismal statistics on the number of female TV directors, it’d be easy to think Hollywood is taking notice and making changes. But Rodriguez says change is a process and there’s still a long way to go. “It’s been talked about but the statistics, nothing’s changed yet that we have proof of and I just hear a lot of the same stories,” she said. “I’m a very fortunate director but there’s a lot of jobs that I would like to have that normally don’t come my way, and that includes movies. And so, that’s always disappointing on some level because I know what I can do and I know what I’m capable of and I know what other directors are capable of.”
However, Rodriguez focuses on the work, hoping the statistics will improve as she consistently proves females can direct the same things men can -- as if that should even be a question. “I just keep working. My solution for all of that is just to keep working really, really hard,” said Rodriguez. “I can’t take it inside because I’ll get too discouraged so I have to keep moving forward. If I’m not going to get in somewhere I’m just gonna keep going and keep going and keep going. You know, it’s Patty Jenkins directing Wonder Woman. I think that’s amazing. I want to direct one of those movies. I’m happy she’s directing one of those movies. That’s where we get excited.”
And so far, her hard work has paid off. Next up, Rodriguez is directing an episode of The Walking Dead and her film Silver Skies is out now. Rosemary Rodriguez is certainly proving to be an in-demand director. “I always feel like I want to be in that Great Director category, and not in the female director category”, said Rodriguez. “And once I’m in that category, and maybe I’m there and I don’t know it, but once I’m really there and I don’t go into the ‘female slot’ then that would really be amazing. And that’s the hope. That’s the hope for people coming up behind me.”
Follow Rosemary’s adventures and projects on Twitter. Also, make sure to subscribe to her The Director’s Chair podcast.
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