Jessica Jones

How Jessica Jones and Marvel Television create a fictionalized New York City

Contributed by
Mar 23, 2018

Jessica Jones lives in the modern day, but her city is meant to be a place stuck in the past — a restless landscape of places to prowl at night, or hide from the wintry, thinned-out light on the next day's walk of shame.

"It's got a fog-rolling-off-the-water feel to it, even if we shot it on a bright, sunny day," actor Eka Darville, who plays Malcolm, told SYFY WIRE.

It's a noir state of mind, this New York, and by design, and just so you didn't miss it, Marvel's Jessica Jones shouted it from the rooftops in Season 2's premiere episode by projecting noir classic The Killers on a building so that Jessica and her BFF Trish Walker could watch it from their unique vantage point.

"What I love about shooting in New York like that, on rooftops, is that it brings a certain energy that bleeds onto the screen," actress Rachael Taylor, who plays Trish, told SYFY WIRE. "It has a certain magic to it, you know? You can feel it."

Jessica Jones NYC Subway

Credit: Netflix

That poignant rooftop reunion, by the way? That was real. "That wasn't green screen, that wasn't put in during post-production," explained the show's locations manager Rocco Nisivoccia. "When we saw that in the script, we were like, 'Oh my god, how are we ever going to find this combo? A rooftop with a building next to it that you can project a movie on, so you can legitimately watch a movie out on the rooftop if you had the right projector out there?'" His scout eventually found just the right spot, on East Sixth Street between Avenues A and B in the East Village. "That was one of those I was really happy to find."

And it was one of many locations that Nisivoccia and his team found in season two that fit the Marvel Television directive of how to shoot New York as a character itself.

When Jessica Jones was still in the concept stage, Marvel's head of television Jeph Loeb reminded the studio that New York has always been another character in the Marvel Universe, going all the way back to 1961 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four. "We often refer to New York as the Fifth Defender," Loeb told SYFY WIRE at a recent Paley Center event for the show. "Part of that is because Hell's Kitchen is not the same as Chinatown, is not the same as Harlem, is not the same as the Upper East Side. It gives us all this flavor."

Jessica Jones, subway

Credit: Netflix

Of course, not all of the show is actually shot in Hell's Kitchen — especially in season two, which took us to Rye for the amusement park in the finale, Long Island for an aquarium, and rural areas outside the city. But Hell's Kitchen is more than a location; it's a governing aesthetic.

"The movies we make, I love them, but they are very red, white, and blue, and I don't mean in a patriotic sense," Loeb explained. "Iron Man is red. Captain America is blue. The city is this gleaming white light that is spectacular to look at." By contrast, Marvel Television and Jessica Jones, in particular, is the color of the city at night, "the amber hues of a taxi cab, the way that steel washes out and becomes gray, and more importantly, the steam that comes up from the street, which implies we're sitting in hell."

But as evocative as Hell's Kitchen as a name might be, "Hell's Kitchen in 2018 is new and shiny and doesn't have as much character to it as the awesome Hell's Kitchen that once was in the '70s and the '80s," Nisivoccia said.

That pre-gentrification Hell's Kitchen look — with all the grit, crime, and inherent mistrust — can be recreated, however, especially by borrowing other parts of the city outside of the NYPD 10th Precinct's turf. Jessica's apartment building? The exterior is actually on the Upper West Side, on West 101st Street. Trish's apartment? Tribeca. Luke Cage's bar from JJ Season 1? East Village.

Sometimes, a location is transformed. A Hell's Kitchen bodega became a liquor store. A courthouse in the Bronx undergoing renovations to become a school in real life became the abandoned bank from Episode four. A cruise ship terminal at Pier 90 became a bus depot where Jessica tries to "catch" a bus in Episode nine. An East Village hats store became a wig store, "because it had the strength of bone and structure and character to it," Nisivoccia said.

A lot of location scouting time, funnily enough, is devoted to finding the best alleyways in the city. "You would think there would be so many!" Loeb laughed. "But we're running out of them. So New York, if you'd build more alleys, we'd be happy!"

Nisivoccia concurred, noting that alleyways can be tough because they can be boring to look at, used too frequently, or noisy, with too many air conditioning units. The one where Jessica's mother bangs her daughter's boyfriend's head against the wall in episode seven — on West 19th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues in Chelsea — was ideal "because it had a lot of texture to the wall," Nisivoccia said. "Even if it's an alleyway, it still has to have character to it."

Jessica Jones NYC bridge

Credit: Netflix

An even tougher find, however, is anywhere that needs to explode. For the finale tank truck explosion, Nisivoccia found a rural, wooded area in Rockland County. "You need to find a road you can close down for several days, but make it fire lane accessible," he explained. "That was a hard one."

The IGH facility, even harder. Not only did they need to blow it up, but they needed a building they could use on a recurring basis for nine months of shooting before destroying it, ultimately settling on a spot in Long Island City. "There are so many logistical things to line up with that," Nisivoccia said. "The mayor's office, the owner, the tenant, everyone. It's so much easier to blow up things in the woods!"

Jessica Jones Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.