From executive producer/showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, Marvel’s Jessica Jones is back for Season 2 (which is available to stream at Netflix), forcing the reluctant superhero to confront who she really is while digging deeper into her past to explore the reasons why. Being known throughout the city as a super-powered killer is torture for Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), who just wants to be left alone with her anger and a stiff drink, rather than being drawn into other people’s problems or forced to confront her own. But in order to survive an immediate and deadly threat, Jessica must step out of the shadows and look into the secrets of her past, in order to move forward.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Janet McTeer (whose mysterious role makes quite an impact on both Jessica, herself, and the new season) talked about why she was told the arc for her character ahead of time, the fun of being sworn to secrecy about her role, why she responded so strongly to the addictive series, the experience of having a female run set, what she enjoyed about getting to work with Krysten Ritter, and making sure to pace yourself during such an intense shoot. She also talked about why she signed on for Season 2 of the Netflix original series Ozark and the fun of working with that cast, along with what she takes into consideration when looking for her next project.
Collider: Since anything Marvel is always shrouded in mystery and secrecy, how was this role pitched to you? What were you told about who this woman was?
JANET McTEER: They’re so secretive! That’s part of the thing. It adds to the fun of it all. I was told the whole story and I read scripts, but I had to sign away my life. I knew what I was getting into and where I was going, and all of that. They don’t let you play in the dark, but you are absolutely sworn to secrecy. That’s part of the game!
Are you good with keeping secrets like that?
McTEER: You can either decide that it’s annoying or you can decide that it’s fun, and I decided that it’s part of the fun.
When you were given the initial pitch, was that enough to sell you on it, or did you have some questions first?
McTEER: I needed to have a really good idea of what the story was. I wanted to do something interesting and fun, and worth my time and effort. They got me a couple of scripts and told me where the character would be going and it sounded like such a good idea. And it was great to work with super cool women. They, themselves, were a good reason to want to do this.
Had you been familiar with the first season, or did you have to take a crash course?
McTEER: Yeah, I did. I watched the whole season in about two days, before I spoke to them. It’s very, very addictive. I wasn’t sure how I would fit in, but then I watched and realized that it was embracing the darker side of everything, and I found it really fascinating and interesting. I liked where it was going with that. It wasn’t cartoonish. If you are in a universe where people have superpowers, but can also have super problems, that’s just more dramatic. It just gives more room for drama.
In the first season, David Tennant made such an incredible impression that carries over into this season, even when he’s not there. After having watched the first season, prior to shooting Season 2, did you ever feel any pressure or get nervous about filling that hole?
McTEER: No, I didn’t, actually, because it’s such a completely different story to that, in a different direction. It’s different, so people will either like it or they won’t. I think it’s interesting, in a completely different way, so there was no competition.
How did you find the experience of joining this show, with a female showrunner, female directors for every episode this season, and a very involved female lead actress, with a variety of strong women in the cast?
McTEER: It was like heaven on a stick. It was just great! And you had women across generations, which was completely delightful. I really, really enjoyed almost every minute of it. Sometimes it was exhausting because there was lots of running and my knees aren’t young anymore. No, I jest. I just really enjoyed collaborating with everybody. It was a very tight group of people. Everyone got along very well, including the men. Working with strong women who were spearheading the project was just an incredible bonus, not being shy and retiring myself.
When I spoke to Krysten Ritter about Season 2, she said that it was heaven, having you added to the show, and that she absolutely worships you. What did you most enjoy about working with her?
McTEER: It’s a very different world from the world I grew up in. One of the things that drives me, and I’m sure many other people, up the frickin’ wall is actors who turn up that aren’t prepared, they’re on their cell phones, in between every take, because they think it will create a certain kind of spontaneity, if they don’t know their lines. I’ve worked with a couple actors like that, and it’s extremely annoying and so unprofessional and they won’t last. Krysten is really well-prepared. She knows her work, she works incredibly hard, she’s relentless in her pursuit of why she’s doing what she’s doing, and she will stand her ground and fight, if she thinks what she’s doing is wrong. I applaud that. She works incredibly hard. She brings her talent, but that level of hard work, when you’re spearheading the show and playing Jessica Jones on a series called Jessica Jones, sets the tone for everyone else. It was just a delightful group of people, and she’s great. We had lots of fabulous conversations, both on and off set.
Digging into her own past, however reluctantly she does so, leads Jessica straight into the path of your character, and the thing I love about your character is that, every time you think you might understand what’s up with her, it goes another direction. What drives your character, over the course of this season?
McTEER: She’s driven by fear and a desire to set things right. Whether she does that in a correct manner or not is up for grabs.
Were there things that you got to do with this character that you haven’t gotten to do with another character before?
McTEER: Yeah, a lot of stuff. That was one of the reasons why I was excited to do it. When you’ve been around as long as I have, anytime you get asked to do something you’ve never done before, it’s exciting. In certain ways, I have never played a character like this before, ever, so that was super cool.
When you play a character that’s so intense, do you have to find a way to pace yourself, during the shoot?
McTEER: You absolutely have to! The actual shooting schedule is pretty brutal. It’s a lot of work. Once it gets going, especially if you’re trying to fly back and forth because you have a family life, as well, that’s even more work. You don’t have much time to lie on your bed and watch Netflix. In general, you try to eat really healthy, get enough sleep, don’t drink alcohol, try not to drink too much coffee, have a good laugh, and try to spend as much time as you possibly can on the rest of your life.
Along with Season 2 of Jessica Jones, you’ve also joined Season 2 of Ozark. What most appealed to you about that series and the character that you’re playing?
McTEER: I just really, really, really like the series. It seemed like a nice follow-up to Jessica Jones, and I just really liked the first season. I really, really liked the writing and I think all of the actors are fantastic. It just seemed like a great gig to join.
When you’re playing a character that’s essentially a threat to the family at the center of this story, it must make for some interesting moments on the show. Was it fun to play that off of actors like Jason Bateman and Laura Linney?
McTEER: Yes, and it’s a very delightful set. It’s a very, very friendly set. It’s a completely different type of intensity than Jessica Jones, with a different style of shooting. It’s much more character-driven and dialogue-driven, and it’s shot in a different way that’s much more gritty. It’s a whole different ball game.