With Marvel’s superhero team-up The Defenders now streaming on Netflix, we took the time to sit down with series showrunner Marco Ramirez and find out the answers to our biggest questions about how the series came to be.
“Shoot – gimme all your questions and I can probably only answer one of them,” Ramirez told us – and after quickly probing him for some background on whether new fans could enjoy this backstory-heavy series, we did just that.
So, Marco – how much was The Defenders based on the Marvel movie model, with the Avengers?
“I mean just in framework, and in terms of expectation, and how they realised the expectation is gonna be big, the same way it was around Avengers.
Daredevil season 1 planted a flag the way Iron Man 1 planted a flag. And said this is the tone of these movies. This is what we’re doing. It’s Marvel with…it’s Jon Favreau, right? That’s the tone, and that’s it.
Similarly Daredevil season one, kind of plants a flag and says these are grounded, these are in the back alleys, these are dark, these are gritty. People die in these. This isn’t your grandma’s comic-book TV show.
And all ultimately leading to this big thing, this culmination, this superbowl of sorts. But yeah, those are just in the broadest strokes, that’s how they’re really similar.”
Did you look to how they did it for inspiration, or did it go in that direction later?
“I mean it’s really, there are similarities, but they’re really different characters. And they’re really different budgets, in different art forms.
We didn’t look to those films for inspiration I think as much as….we looked to them for framework in terms of ‘OK that’s how that works, and when we talk about it with other people, we can call it an Avengers approach. But we also, I think in the writers’ room, I specifically referenced lots of other different kinds of media, and different kinds of stories.
I remember talking about Seven Samurai, and I remember talking about the Dirty Dozen, and I remember talking about Breakfast Club, as much as any of the Marvel movies.”
How would you say The Defenders is like The Breakfast Club?
“Well those movies are about people who are reluctantly, in one way or another reluctantly brought together and have to do a thing.
There are Breakfast Club-ish moments in The Defenders. There are real scenes that just feel like they’re about people interacting. Not at all the superhero stuff – take all the powers out of it, take all the CGI and explosions out of it for a minute – they’re just people talking to each other.”
From a writing perspective were there challenges bringing these shows together, given their slightly different tones?
“They’re not slightly different, I think they’re drastically different. But, uh, it was really daunting at the beginning – it felt like ‘How the hell are we gonna get JJ and Danny at the same table, having a conversation. How’s that ever gonna fuckin’ work?’
But I think it was a moment of clarity for me, when I realised – that’s not the problem, that’s the SHOW. The show is Jessica looking at Danny saying, ‘Your fist makes no sense.” The show is Matt looking at Luke and saying….sensing at Luke? And saying ‘What do you mean you’re bulletproof?’ That’s kind of the fun of it, is the problem of it.
So the premise of it, which is really hard to swallow, is actually what the show is. The show is about how it’s really hard to swallow for all these other people. Danny and Matt might be the ones who are on the forefront of saying ‘We can work together, we can do this,’ Jessica Jones is walking out the door.
That’s the fun of it. Yeah, she’s not gonna sit at that table while they all make super-plans to go do super-things. She’s outta there. She’s on the subway.”
We don’t see all four together until episode three – how much did you want to delay the gratification of them coming together?
“I wanted to delay it a lot. We’ve spent too much time with each of these characters individually, and we know too much about the way their heads work to buy that they’re all just gonna be sitting together even by the end of episode one, working together.
It’s been a year and a half since Jones came out, so people wanna know what JJ’s doing just being JJ, before you even get her in a scene with the other people. Like, there’s a lot of fun just watching, ‘Oh shit it’s just Jessica Jones in a scene again, just by herself.’
And so, it was part of my pitch really early on was ‘we’re taking our time, we’re gonna be really organic – this is not gonna feel like a corporate project, or that we’re rushing to it – we’re just rushing to the fun of it. Really the quote-unquote ‘Defenders’ scenes don’t start happening until way later.”
When I spoke to him earlier, Charlie Cox said you were binge-watching Iron Fist while you were writing this series– was there any shepherding of other series so things were in place for Defenders? Or were you just reacting?
“Not on my part – Marvel maybe? Maybe Marvel said ‘No no this needs to go because that’s where Defenders is going.’ But seasons 1 and 2 of Daredevil and Jessica Jones had come out when we started. I think Luke Cage had JUST come out. Or maybe it was about to come out when we started. It’s hard to remember the timelines exactly. But we didn’t see Finn [Jones] or Jessica Henwick who plays Colleen – we didn’t see them until we had three episodes maybe of the Defenders written.
Finn Jones as Danny Rand in Iron Fist
Marvel literally came into our offices and said, ‘Here are the audition tapes. This is Finn Jones, he’s playing Danny Rand who you’ve been writing for for months.’ So we then kind of had to go back and adjust – OK cool, that’s who this is. Same with Colleen – ‘Oh cool that’s who she is, we’re gonna kinda tailor-make it for her.’
But it was kind of interesting – I’ve never done that, and I imagine I probably won’t ever do that again in my life, write a character, write even several episodes before I even know who the heck it is. Or what they sound like, or what they look like.”
How much did you collaborate with the other Marvel Netflix showrunners when it came to incorporating their characters? Did they have any input on where you’d leave them?
“It felt like we were leasing cars, and we had to turn them back in without a scratch. Um, luckily they I think, at the time I think the only showrunners we knew were Cheo Coker and Mel Rosenberg, who are Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.
And when they realised how much I loved the characters, and how much the writers’ room loved the characters, they were like ‘Oh cool, you guys aren’t gonna fuck this up. Cool!’ So that was nice.”
Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist as played by Mike Colter, Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter and Finn Jones
Have you tried to include more up-to-date references to the Marvel movies, in the way that Daredevil refers the “The Incident” from the Avengers in its first series?
“I’ll say there was no pressure to do it, or to not do it. It was just really organically about whatever felt cool. The cooler thing to me at least, felt like referencing other shows within the world of it.
So, if we could give a nod to another one of those shows it felt like of a piece. So the way that Jeri Hogarth shows up at the end of Daredevil season two, helps wrap it all in the same cellophane, if that makes any sense.”
Did you try to sneak in fun Easter eggs for any comic-book characters we haven’t seen yet?
“Yeah – they’re all over the place. They’re all over the place! And at this point what’s really fun about it is, they’re not just being pitched by me, or by Marvel – or even by the other showrunners. At this point they’re being pitched by the art department, costumes, props. Because those people have also worked on a lot of the other shows.
I think Defenders might have as many if not more than any of the individual shows yet. Because there’s just so much to draw from – there was like a library of shit.”
And finally – do you have ideas for future series?
“In the Marvel world? Yeah, we have some….some of them are even running jokes. ‘Oh, remember when we wanted to do that in Daredevil season 1?’
There’s a bunch of scenes, there’s a bunch of stories that we wanted to do that just end up falling by the wayside. I’m sure every one of those rooms has those, all over.”
Marvel’s The Defenders is streaming on Netflix now