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Interview: Rosemary Rodriguez, Jessica Jones Episode 10 Director, “AKA 1,000 Cuts”

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Rosemary Rodriguez directed the tenth episode of Jessica Jones, titled “AKA 1,000 Cuts”—one of the darkest episodes of the entire season. I had the opportunity to pick her brain about all of the details of the episode, big and small … including lots and lots of spoilers, so hopefully you’ve all more than finished watching the show by now!

Maddy Myers (TMS): How did you end up with the opportunity to direct an episode of Jessica Jones?

Rosemary Rodriguez: I did a show a few years ago called Red Widow for Melissa Rosenberg. That was for Fox, with Radha Mitchell. So we just had a good time working together, so she was loyal and remembered me and hired me for Jessica Jones.

TMS: There are a lot of women directors who ended up getting to work on the show. Did the rest of the team have mostly women, as well? Or was that just true for the directors?

Rodriguez: That’s a good question. Actually, the first Associate Director was female, the second AD was female. Bettiann Fishman was the first AD, the second AD was Nicole Feder. I’m just realizing how many women were involved. The writer—one of the women that wrote the script was Dana Barratta. It was Dana Baratta and Micah Schraft. So that’s two people that wrote the script, but one of them was female. I think they had three female directors out of thirteen episodes or something, which is pretty big odds.

TMS: Would you say that’s different from other shows that you’ve worked on?

Rodriguez: Yeah, I would say so. Yes. There are some shows—you know, Shonda Rhimes, and I think on Transparent—there are some shows that hire a lot of women. I haven’t directed those shows. So for me, it’s unusual.

TMS: Do you think that was an intentional decision on the part of the people who set up the show? It’s a story about a woman, there are a lot of women working on it …

Rodriguez: As far as Marvel’s message—I don’t really know what their intention was. I don’t really know what anyone’s intention is. I think Melissa Rosenberg has made it clear that she has a certain viewpoint and likes to support female directors. I think it’s clear from her history that she likes to support female directors. You know what I mean? I think her intention was that, and I think maybe Marvel and Netflix’s intention was to do that, but also to support her.

TMS: Right. And I think the show—I think the results speak for themselves.

Rodriguez: Sure. And I’ve directed a lot of The Good Wife as well, which—you know, is created by Robert and Michelle King. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not—I have no idea—but I’ve directed more episodes there than anyone else. Like seventeen episodes … and that show is amazing, too! It gives you a female lead—Julianna Margulies is another person who is super loyal and has become a friend. It’s very special. But we can talk about that another time. [laughs]

TMS: Of course! But for now let’s talk about the episode of Jessica Jones that you directed. It’s very dark—a lot of characters die, and the camera doesn’t hesitate to show all of it. There are these very long shots on gruesome scenes. Was that your decision? Or was that mandated by someone else?

Rodriguez: No, no, it doesn’t work like that. There’s this idea, which is wrong and false and I don’t where it comes from—but there’s this idea in television that directors are sort of puppets or something, or that we don’t really—that they’re not really directors, or something? But it’s actually not true.

What you do is you have meetings, you have all kinds of meetings before you start shooting. You talk about everything with all of the departments, as well as the producers. You know, you have a content meeting, you have prop meetings, hair and makeup, wardrobe—all the things you would do if you were making a movie. Right? You just have them in a very condensed—you have basically seven days to prep an episode. You’re shooting for eight days minimum.

So, I think that show probably—I can’t remember what my schedule was. It might have been eight or nine days. In any case, you have all these meetings in pre-production. And so you shoot ideas out there—you’re always collaborating with people. You’re shooting ideas out there, they’re shooting ideas out there… some ideas stick, and the ones that don’t really fit kind of go away. At the end of the day, once you’re on set, you do what needs to be done. Because you’re running everything. That’s the kind of director that I am. When I’m directing, that’s how I feel about it, that’s how I run it, that’s how it goes.

Anyway, when I got this script, I thought, obviously: this is very dark. A lot of shit is gonna happen to the characters. It wasn’t necessarily a big action script, right? I figured, it definitely shows the dark side. I felt like I had a chance that other episodes didn’t have to have, which was to show the really dark, graphic nature of the violence that Kilgrave can ensue on the world. I didn’t want to shy away from that.

It’s very much a psychological journey that the characters are having. He’s telling people to do things. They’re doing them. They’re bad things. But the people that are doing them are innocent. So it’s not like Jessica can go out and just kill the bad guy. You know what I mean? Because everyone’s doing bad things, even an innocent person that’s doing it, because Kilgrave told them. So then it’s very psychological. So once it came to this episode, “AKA 1000 Cuts,” I was like, all right. Now we can actually show it.

I wanted to be graphic, I wanted to show—and Melissa, Marvel, everyone was down with that. I was really happy they were down with that, because that was really fun for me. For me, that was really fun. To have a great stunt coordinator, Chris Place. Great special effects people — this guy Johann [Kunz]. Just great people that work as a team. Makeup. You know what I mean? The guy doing the prosthetics — you know?

TMS: Yes. And that’s what makes it so effective — it looks real, it feels real —

Rodriguez: Exactly, exactly right. So all that — you work with a team of people, you put their ideas out there, and you basically go “Yes, no, yes, no.” Ultimately, it felt like a great collaboration between all of us. That’s how it felt to me. I was really happy. I had a great time on the show as well.

Sometimes you can be on a show where the people are — where they want to dictate. And I think that’s where that idea comes from, that there’s somebody running the show who is like a dictator? That doesn’t happen that often, though. When that happens, it’s not very much fun. It kind of sucks, actually. But that wasn’t the case there.

TMS: You would rather have a team dynamic on the set, then?

Rodriguez: I would say during prep it’s more collaborative. But once you’re on set, it is a collaboration, but at that point anything that’s been decided, has been decided. It’s my set. Does that make sense?

TMS: It does. So, I wanted to ask you about that flashback scene where Jessica is with Kilgrave, and she imagines — there’s the horse there, and she’s wearing the yellow dress —

Rodriguez: That scene. Let me see. That was definitely something that took a lot of — there’s a vision, right? You read the script and you have a vision for what the story is, what’s going to happen, how we’re going to tell it. And then it’s my job to communicate that vision to everybody. So with that particular scene, I was really excited to have her being able to come off the building, to have this crazy backdrop — I love the way it was written. It was intercut between what’s now, and then the past. You get a glimpse of his power over her, and what she was up against. The idea that there’s this window of time, where he was like: “For 18 seconds, you were mine. You really wanted to be there.” That was what he held onto, this little obsession that he has. I found that to be really, really interesting.

So you go location scouting, and you have great people working with you, and they bring you to this building that’s next to the Brooklyn Bridge — a penthouse apartment. It’s like, “oh my god, this is the perfect location! So let’s do it here!” You figure it out, you work with everybody, you get the crane up there — the horse, you know, was a little tricky.

I liked seeing her in a dress, seeing a more vulnerable side to Jessica. I was excited to have that. What I really liked overall about that scene was that you got inside and you got to see them together in a way you hadn’t seen before — but also because you get the contrast. Jessica being very vulnerable, with some really graphic violence — again, the physical evidence of what Kilgrave is capable of — he goes to cut off her ear, and he could totally slice it. He could do any of that. You know it, because you’ve been in that apartment, you’ve seen [Kilgrave making] somebody stab someone to death. What I like about that scene the most was that it represented the opposite, the innocence, the vulnerability — it was a counterpoint to the graphic violent nature of the other scenes.

TMS: It also seems, from watching, like the graphic violence is closer to the reality of it. Obviously Kilgrave is romanticizing it in his perspective, but the violent aspects are closer to how his powers feel for other people.

Rodriguez: Absolutely. There was a moment with Krysten [Ritter] — who I absolutely love, by the way, she’s one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with. She’s so damn smart. She is so smart. She’s such a good actor. She’s a very powerful person. Anyway, there was one moment that I thought was key — she sort of, you know, you can think maybe from his perspective that she was being taken in by his charm or whatever. But then there’s a moment when he goes back into the house, and he leaves her on the roof for a moment, before she steps up. She sort of turns her head, and — I wanted to see that other side, where you made sure that she was in control, that she was not under his spell, that his perception was wrong. That his perception is not how it happened. It’s just in that little moment when she turns her head and looks back at him, with this look on her face, that you knew that he was delusional and completely psychotic. I love that little look — do you know what I’m talking about?

TMS: I do! She’s really great at emoting during those scenes. I mean, the show relies so much on people emoting certain things even while they’re under Kilgrave’s control. You have all of these scenes where people have to be doing things that they don’t want to do, and they have to indicate that on their face. The complexity of having to direct that — you say that it’s fun. Was it fun? Challenging? Both?

Rodriguez: It’s both, I guess. Ultimately for me, because I’m a director — that’s my heart, my life, that’s what I live for, that’s what I think about 24 hours a day. So for me, that’s just fun. What it comes down to at any given moment, no matter what show it is, what you get are little moments — you get a great shot, you get a great performance. The two things line up, and it goes really quickly, and it’s like — God knows how many hours go into trying to capture that moment so you can reach people and communicate something to them. When all of that lines up, in that few seconds that it happen — I live for that. So, that’s fun.

TMS: That’s good. You’ve clearly found your calling! This is also one of the only episodes where we get a little more insight into Kilgrave’s perspective on his actions. [He insists, right after killing his mother and trying to kill his father, that he is “not the bad guy,” and he reminds us that he sees his mother as a “cold-blooded monster who performed barbaric experiments on her own son.”] How did you strike that balance between humanizing Kilgrave, while also making it clear that he isn’t sympathetic?

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Rodriguez: So, I’m curious — I know what moment you’re talking about, when he’s in the car, talking about it — did you feel a little sympathetic towards him?

TMS: I mean, I don’t — I think he’s deplorable.

Rodriguez: But you understand him better.

TMS: Right, that’s true. I understand him better.

Rodriguez: Because that scene in particular — I think it’s, again, fun. I think it’s fun to try to push something as far as you can. To push the emotions as far as you can. No matter what’s going on, or who that person is, I never judge those characters. I never — I always see the humanity in whatever character. Because ultimately, it’s all in us. It’s a part of us in varying degrees — whether it’s a verbal assassination that we can put to somebody else, or someone that’s really got a chemical imbalance, or whatever. We all have dark and light sides.

David [Tennant] and I talked about it a lot. That scene. I did think that maybe, it would be most interesting if you actually — if there was a vulnerability to him, where you would actually feel a bit of compassion for him. That that would be complicated for an audience member to have to experience, right? It’s not black and white. You can’t just hate the guy because he’s a psycho. I really wanted to go there. I don’t know — we were under a lot of pressure in that moment. We were fighting daylight — literally fighting daylight, that was towards the end of the day. I don’t know whether I was able to communicate that fully to him. But we did talk about it a lot. He felt that he was so angry at his parents, that that was sort of what came through more. I think what we got — even after we shot it, we kept talking about it, because it’s such a complex moment and it was hard for us to know whether we nailed it or let it go. Obviously we had to let it go. But it was complicated, so I’m glad you’re bringing that moment up.

I felt like it possibly could be a little more — I don’t want to use the word sympathetic. But I mean, feel something uncomfortable towards Kilgrave. I think that you get a glimpse of it, but I don’t think that it went as far as it might have gone. I think at the end of the day, what happens between anyone — between DP, director, actor — this is my belief. What ends up there, on film, in the show, is what’s supposed to be in the show. At the end of the day, maybe it would’ve been too much, to try to feel more of his vulnerability. He’s never going to be that. Maybe he’s gone too far. So then what came across was correct.

Those are the kind of moments that are really fun for me as a director, with an actor who is an astounding actor, like David Tennant, to be able to keep exploring that and talking about it. It’s amazing. I love that.

And Carrie-Anne Moss — she’s just incredible. It also involves another actor all the time. When you’re going to explore moments, there’s another actor that the camera may not even be on, to keep playing with that moment. And, of course, she was amazing. Her and Robin Weigert. The amount of physicality in that apartment, going through, getting the cuts — Carrie was amazing. They were amazing. No complaints, no nothing. Just a trooper, just going for it.

TMS: Yeah. They had to do some really complicated scenes. And another complicated scene that we haven’t talked about yet is the scene where Hope kills herself — which is another really tricky scene to set up. Do you have any reflections on that?

Rodriguez: Yes. Erin [Moriarty] and I had a lot of conversations — also we had worked on Red Widow together. Will Traval was also on Red Widow. So we had all worked together before. Erin and I had a certain comfortability, and we were also talking a lot about her vulnerability versus her strength, and that this was an episode where her strength was going to kick in, where she was going to make decisions, and she was going to — you would see a side, a deeper side to her that was very strong. We talked a lot about that.

That scene, again, we found a great location — the restaurant was established already, but as far as the bar and where I could put them, and how it would sort of torture Jessica to be in between? That all worked out really well. In the previous episode, they had been in the back room — I didn’t want them to be in the back room, even though that’s his place to bring people. If you were in the back room of the restaurant, it would not have connected to the bar so well, so then Jessica would’ve not been able to be torn, like “Where do I go? What do I do?”

It’s a little tricky, because it’s also close enough so that Hope’s gotta go fast. The timing of it, and trying to make it seem believable, was tricky. The tone of it was not so tricky, because again we have conversations about it, and we make a decision about what we’re going to do with the actors. And then we do it. Again, it’s having a great DP, having a great stunt coordinator, everyone coming together, and doing what we talk about and what we rehearse.

TMS: Of course. I do know that this is an episode that a lot of viewers were sad about, because so many people died —

Rodriguez: I know.

TMS: I think there was a sense of, “Why did Hope have to die, why did Detective Clemens have to die, why did Wendy have to die” — and in directing it, did you think about how you were going to make it feel like a real gut-punch every single time? In reading the script you must have been like, “Oh, wow, this is a bloodbath!”

Rodriguez: But I liked it! It got me really excited! I think it’s great for drama to have to take risks. To have writers, like Melissa, and Scott Reynolds was one of the other writers who was around a lot — and Dana and Micah. These people are willing to take risks. They planned this stuff out.

I get excited about that stuff. Sometimes I’ve been on other shows where a main character will die and it’s not so good because it’s just — I don’t know. Sometimes characters die for funny reasons in TV. Sometimes they die because in reality there’s some problem with the actor. And once that death happens, when I get that script, it’s really uncomfortable because there’s a lot of politics involved. And that’s when I don’t like it. But if it serves the story — I mean, look. You have to start showing the carnage of Kilgrave. You can’t keep talking about it and not have in-your-face stuff. It has to start happening. So I was really happy that by episode 10, this shit is hitting the fan in a big way. I was like, “Yes!” I was excited.

TMS: That’s a good attitude to have. I mean, this is one of the big climax episodes right before the show wraps up. You have to have some big moments. And you were the one who had to direct what I think is one of the harder episodes, one of the darker episodes.

Rodriguez: I know! I’m so lucky, right??

TMS: I think it’s great that you’re completely sold on the fact that you got to direct the grisliest episode.

Rodriguez: Oh my god, I am. Yet I’m a girl! And I want to do the darkest things I possibly can! Because people have ideas about us and what we’re supposed to be like.

TMS: All those ideas are wrong.

Rodriguez: Of course it’s wrong! The first feature I made was really, really dark. It’s called Acts of Worship, and I made that movie. Then I can’t even tell you how — people would literally be asking me about romantic comedies, and trying to direct romantic comedies. Like, how does that even — did you even see my movie? I remember this agent — I was trying to switch agents, and this agent said to me, “Well, if you’re just going to make dark and gritty movies, then no, I can’t help you.” Okay. That’s fine. But would you say that to a guy? I don’t think so.

TMS: I’m glad that you’ve ended up with a career where you get to direct dark things, then. The Good Wife isn’t always dark, but it’s a drama, it’s serious —

Rodriguez: The Good Wife — there’s some vicious things that happen on that show. If you’re talking about politics in the legal world. Again, that’s what I mean. We can eviscerate people with words, and we think that’s okay. But physically? You can’t go that far! But it always scars, right?

TMS: Of course. Emotional manipulation is very dark as well. And Jessica Jones has both, and sometimes The Good Wife has both. I get why you might find it fun to direct such complicated scenes. Is there anything else you wish you could talk about that I didn’t ask you about?

Rodriguez: Well, I hope there’s a season two. And I just want to tell you, I think it’s really exciting that a show that embraces this — it is about a female character who is not necessarily the most likable. The other thing that I hear a lot, over the years, about female leads in scripts that I have, or when we’re talking about pitching a series, is that they have to be likable. That’s a thing that I’ve heard over and over and over. You’ve probably heard it.

TMS: Of course! It’s very annoying.

Rodriguez: But it’s out in the world, this idea! It’s kind of like that idea about a director not being a director in TV. It’s like, no, we’re actually directing. And female leads don’t have to be likable and perfect. I think that is the thing that I connect to the most with this character, and I think it’s amazing to have it embraced by so many people — by critics and fans. I think that’s really exciting. To me, that feels like it could be opening a door to more complicated female characters. It’s awesome, and that completely excites me.

As well as there’s a side to Jessica Jones that I absolutely love, and I also relate to, which is just the idea that she has this — she’s very very strong, and has this super-human strength, but she is a strong woman. She’s strong physically, and inside she’s strong. Yet she’s also very scarred. She’s gone through some very dark things. She drinks a lot. She’s trying to navigate — she’s trying to heal. At the end of the day, her strength is what’s going to get her through, but it’s not black and white with her. And I find that fascinating to also have that embraced by so many people.

I’ve been through things in my life that are so dark, and that’s why I made my first movie, Act of Worship. Because I’ve gone through things and come out the other side. And quite honestly, even having this conversation with you, is something that I never dreamed would ever happen. I was just opening the window and the curtains in the office, and I was like, “I can’t even believe I get to make a living as a director.” That’s insane! I was almost dead, and I should have died. I’ve had two lives, and the second life has been amazing. So, I feel so many things in Jessica Jones that I connected with, and that’s what makes — that’s what people feel. Everybody brings their best, and it translates, and people feel it. And it’s art.

TMS: That’s a beautiful way of looking at it. I’m so glad that I’ve gotten to talk to you, too!

Rodriguez: I will talk about directing any time you want!

(image via Rosemary Rodriguez)

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