Iron Fist showrunner talks 12-day fight scenes and the last link to The Defenders

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Apr 27, 2017, 11:59 AM EDT (Updated)

When Marvel’s Iron Fist debuts for your bingeing pleasure dark and early Friday morning on Netflix, the last building block for The Defenders will finally be in place.

Initial reviews have not been especially kind for the kung fu-inspired adventure. But introducing Danny Rand into the mix was always going to be the trickiest element of the much-anticipated team-up of Marvel’s titular streaming heroes. For starters, Rand is a man thought to be long dead, who suddenly returns to New York City as a martial arts master. Skills, incidentally, that he picked up while training in a mystical city in Heaven. Pairing that bit of mysticism with the streetwise grittiness that has come to define the Marvel Netflix shows is quite the challenge. 

It’s a task Iron Fist showrunner Scott Buck was happy to embrace. Much of the storytelling sensibilities he honed on shows like Dexter are on display in some of the character beats on this show, especially in capturing Danny's struggle to adapt to quote-unquote "normal life.". But his love of martial arts movies — something he apparently shares with most of Iron Fist’s writing staff — also shines through. There’s one massive fight sequence in Episode 6, “Immortal Emerges From Cave,” that took nearly two weeks to film, and might be the most ambitious slugfest in a Marvel series to date. 

We talked with Buck after checking out the first six episodes of Iron Fist. We covered a lot of ground, from the show's kung fu influence to Danny’s complicated relationship with Colleen Wing (played with show-stealing charisma by Jessica Fenwick). We also gained some insight into playing nice in the Marvel TV sandbox.

Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick and Rosario Dawson in Marvel's Iron Fist

This feels very different than the other Marvel Netflix shows, at least through the first six episodes. The series feels more deliberate in how the storylines are rolling out. Was that a conscious decision?

By the time I had started on this I had the opportunity to see Daredevil. The other shows [Jessica Jones, Luke Cage] were not completed yet. Along the way, I did get to read the scripts of the other shows and I wanted [our series] to inhabit the same world. It is not tonally the same, but tonally brothers and sisters. So I just set about writing the show the best way to do it. The thing about these shows is they are all approached through character, and because our Danny Rand character is so different from the others, it’s just natural this show would feel a little different from the others.

Danny is unusual in that he’s been gone for so long, he really is a man out of time, who grew up outside of New York City and outside modern civilization. Much of his assimilation back into “normal life” has been about reconnecting with the Meachums, and that has been anything but smooth. And that dynamic is a key part of the show.

The Meachum family has always been a strong part of the Iron Fist comic book history. And we needed to populate the world and because Danny is coming back to a world that he thinks is going to be home, but his parents aren’t there. And when you’re a kid, your parents basically are your home. He’s trying to …to form a family with the only people he knows, but he only remembers them as … a 10 year-old kid. These people have grown up and changed and gone through tremendous life experiences that Danny has not. So these are not really the people he remembers. We use them as a sort of way to show how Danny doesn’t really belong in this world anymore, that he doesn’t have the same life experiences as them. And as you said, Danny grew up in a different world, but the fact is, Danny hasn’t fully grown up yet. In some ways, he’s still just a kid in an adult’s body, still trying to figure out who he is and where he’s going and what world he truly belongs in.  

You see some of that naivety when he gets back involved with the Rand Corporation and he gets burned by that viral video that compromises the company a bit. You see some of Danny’s childlike…honesty, I guess, for lack of a better word. 

Right. And I think that honesty is something that was instilled in him by his parents when he was a little kid. But he still has sort of that childish view of honesty that you have to take it to great extremes. I think thats also something that would have probably continued to be instilled in him in the Monastery [in K’un-Lun], and he followed that.

The flashbacks and imagery we see of his teachers back in K’un-Lun, are they leading to a deeper exploration of Danny’s time in the monastery? And will actually see K’un-Lun in the back half of this season?

We will not see much of K’un-Lun, because the idea that this is a mystical city that exists in heaven was sort of a big production challenge [laughs]. We sort of hint at it from time to time and we might see a little bit more of it in later episodes. At least for this first season, we preferred to keep it more of a mystery of what it was and what it meant to Danny. 

I don’t think I’m ever going to hear the song “Take On Me” by A-ha the same way ever again after watching Episode 6, “Immortal Emerges From Cave.” 

[laughs] I hope people will be entertained by it. 

Besides the ‘killer karaoke’ scene, that episode also has perhaps the most complex extended fight sequence I’ve seen in a Marvel TV series, even more than the ones in Daredevil. It’s also directed by RZA, who’s a devout fan of kung fu movies. How long did that take to shoot and what went into staging it?

Episode 6, we sort of knew right from the beginning when we were writing the show that we wanted to do one episode that felt more like a standalone martial arts movie. This was that episode, and it was directed by RZA, who is a little more in tune with that world, with the martial arts scene. We wrote very purposefully more intricate and more involved scenes using some characters from the comic books, particularly like the Bride of Nine Spiders. And a tremendous amount of training went into it with Brett Chan, who is our stunt coordinator, taking the helm as far as the fights go. And just spending as much time rehearsing as possible. We brought in the actors as early as possible to rehearse that, used our stunt people to a great extent as well. I think that [sequence] was shot over ..I would guess about 12 days.

In episode five, “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus,” Danny meets Claire Temple. And as she has done with every one of her appearances across the Marvel/Netflix shows, Rosario Dawson has brought her own special energy to Iron Fist. Claire and Colleen Wing seem to really have hit it off as friends. Is Claire going to play a more prominent role in the back half of season one?

We were very fortunate to have Rosario for this show as well, because the character of Claire Temple is a super strong and fun character. For our show, she sort of serves as a big sister to both Colleen and Danny, in that they’re both a little naive at times, and they’re both a little immature at times. [Claire] is someone who can guide them and help them see the reality of the situation in the world around them. So yeah, she continues to play a very big role in the second half of the season.

Let's talk about Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, because she is awesome!

Isn’t she great?

Every one of her scenes just pops. Are we going to see hers and Danny’s relationship develop more? In a couple of episodes we’ve gotten a bit of an ‘affectionate friendship’ vibe from them, and then other times the romantic sparks have been obvious. Their relationship seems very complicated.

I think the relationship between Danny and Colleen from the beginning is complicated and only becomes more complicated as we go further along. Both of them have troubled pasts in which they’ve sort of built emotional walls around themselves, and they’re not used to breaking through those walls. And Danny is just completely inexperienced when it comes to relationships, so its never going to be a smooth pass between these two. Ultimately, they’re both really good people who want to do good. So, we’ll find out along the way. There’s still some big surprises that you haven’t seen yet. But yes, their relationship goes to some very interesting places.  

In the first half of season one, we’ve already seen a few threads connecting Iron Fist to the other Marvel shows and build up to The Defenders. Madame Gao has showed up, obviously so has Claire Temple, Jeri Hogarth is in the mix. Can we expect more links and story threads that tie in your show to the next Marvel series?

Well our show does lead up to The Defenders, so we do start to set things up more for that series, which will bring in Daredevil, Jessica and Luke. You’ll see tiny story hints as we go further down the line [in Iron Fist] that make perfect sense in the next series.

Is that one of the toughest parts about running a show like this, keeping every storyline straight and tying all the loose ends together?

Well, fortunately, I have a lot of support. I have the entire Marvel studio helping me and guiding me along the way. And I do meet with the other showrunners just to make sure we’re all in sync and that anything I can do to better help set up ‘Defenders’ I’m obviously happy to do it. And I need to inform them exactly what I’m doing so when they pick up the Danny Rand character and the Colleen Wing character in “Defenders”, they’ll know exactly where I’m leaving them off.

There is a clear affection for kung fu that permeates the series. Are you a fan of the genre? Is that part of what drew you to Iron Fist?

I have always been a fan of martial arts movies. Taking the helm of this show was an excuse to go back and rewatch many of my favorites, and seeing many other films that I hadn’t seen. And there are number of other writers on the show, like Scott ___, who has probably seen every martial arts movie out there, so yeah, we did try to imbue the show with the spirit of those movies whenever we could.”

The entire first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist debuts Friday morning on Netflix.