We're all excited for the gritty TV adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis' Alias, which follows fallen superhero Jessica Jones after she's brutally violated and manipulated by the Purple Man. How will this ultra-dark, profane comic translate to network television? We asked the creator of the TV show, Twilight: Breaking Dawn writer Melissa Rosenberg.
She gave us an update on the TV show's progress, and explained why Luke Cage's background will be different. She also told us why the Purple Man might not actually be purple. She also shared a ton of insights about working on Breaking Dawn, and her other TV series Afterthought.
I noticed you guys cut the "Why am I covered with feathers line" from the book (although there was a reference to the line itself.) Why was that?
Melissa Rosenberg: The significant difference between the book and a movie is that you don't have to say things, you see them. That is always the objective for me, as a screenwriter — to convey as much as possibly cinematically, visually. I think people often think of screenwriting as just putting the dialogue in. And actually I tried as hard as possible to create the scene and let the actors tell the story. To set up a situation where they're conveying it, where the camera is conveying it. Because it is a visual medium. So it wasn't necessary, the line, because you see her covered with feathers, we see her react to that.
What was the most important thing you fought to keep in the movie for the hardcore fans of Twilight?
I didn't have to fight for much, because we were all on the same page. We all understood that there's three essential things that we have to deliver or the fans would come after us with tar and feathers. And that was the wedding, the honeymoon and the birth. This is what Breaking Dawn: Part 1 is about, you have to deliver those. But obviously we didn't have to fight for those, we were already on board.
What was the most difficult part for you to translate for the film?
It was really that section between when she finds out she's pregnant, and when she gives birth. That third quarter of the movie. She's very actively trying to stay alive, but what that looks like is someone lying around dying. How do you keep the tension up, how do you make that interesting, how do you make it not stagnant?
So how do you do that?
You take the Jacob story, and you weave it in and out — if one considers that we did that successfully. That's what I did, you have this Jacob story which is all about him leaving the pack and the tension with the wolves, the wolves want to come after him and the baby. And you have all of this stuff that is a bit more downplayed in the book. We just brought it to the front and kept it going, kept that alive.
You're very attracted to strong female leads, so let me ask you what attracted you to the lead women in Earthseed, Jessica Jones and Afterthought? And how are they different? Actually, is there a female lead in Afterthought? I just assumed there was, because it's a Tall Girl Production?
There is! You know because if it's Tall Girl production, there's a female lead in it [laughs]. Yeah they are all very, very different characters.
Earthseed is about a young woman, turning 18. [She] is searching for her place is in the Universe, what she has to contribute, and [she] becomes a leader. She becomes pretty kick ass. She's a very strong character.
Jessica Jones is also kick ass. She's this incredibly damaged, flawed superhero with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and she too is trying to find her place in that universe. Is she superhero, is she a human? Her powers are kind of B-level, so she can't quite cut it in the superhero world. It's just a really delicious character.
Our lead in Afterthought heads this team that has developed a process of being able to access the dying brain of a murder victim, to go in and solve the mystery of that person's death. And she's a team leader, [but] she is also very complex shades of grey as well. She's a tough character. They're all very different, but they all have a similar element. I'm not interested in doing women that are sort of noble and good, because those aren't real women. There are some noble women, but we, like everyone else, have flaws and shades of grey. And that's much more interesting to me.
I know that Jessica Jones is based out of the Alias comic [by Brian Michael Bendis] so how big of an influence is the Purple Man going to have in this series? This is an exceedingly dark storyline how are you going to tell audiences what happened to Jessica? [Edit Note: The Purple Man keeps Jessica under his mind control for a long time. He forces her to undress, makes her watch him force himself on other women, forces Jessica to beg him for sex over and over, only to reject her. And eventually he makes her attack the Avengers, who almost kill her until she breaks free of his powers]
He's very much a part of it. He may, or may not, have that name. But he's very much a part of it. Because he is, he is… she's really suffering of the trauma of having been violated by this guy. So that plays a huge part of the plot of the first season, and probably in her series arc.
Are you going to keep him purple?
I doubt it. It may become too cartoony for the tone of it. But who knows? I mean, we have to get in there, we have to get a greenlight for the script first and get in there and design it. But, you know, I'm open to interpretations of him. The tone of this is very gritty and very real, and I'm not sure if purple skin will do it. Maybe he'll put on a purple suit…
It makes sense, it's the storyline that gets you it rips you apart when you find out what happened to her. Jessica is really special because she's afflicted with PTSD — are any other superheroes on this show struggling with any types of disorders, because of their strange day jobs?
My father-in-law is a psychiatrist and he even said, I can't believe all superheroes don't suffer from PTSD given what they go through. I'm only interested in characters who are wrestling with inner demons. It's much more interesting to me than external bad guys. Although, there certainly will be plenty of those. But we have Luke Cage, whom we're really glad to have. You can't do the series without Luke Cage. And Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel. So, each one of them will have… Luke Cage has a backstory. We may be introducing something that might complicate his backstory a little bit.
Are you guys going to break canon with Luke Cage?
Maybe a little bit — you have to stay true. Luke Cage is a Marvel Universe character, you really have to stay true to who he was, but there are some… yeah. There are some things that might surprise you. So the answer to that is, Yes and no. I've learned from Twilight that there's only so much canon-breaking you can do.
I read that this is taking place in the Marvel Universe, but that there are some characters you can work with and others you can't, I know Ant-Man has a lot to do with Jessica Jones, I know there's a big Captain America side story, are we going to see these characters?
I love Ant-Man by the way — what a crazy superpower. Different characters are owned by different studios, The Avengers are owned by one studio, the X-Men are owned by another. There are a lot of toes out there that you have to avoid stepping on. We'll use any character that they'll let us.
You're obviously introducing Jessica and Luke to the Marvel Universe, so would Marvel let you introduce a new Avenger like Ant-Man through the show?
I don't know if Ant-Man is going to be available to us. The trick is if they have their own movie coming out, then probably not. But I don't know that Ant-Man has his own movie, so I'm hoping he's going to be available to us. But there's thousands of characters, there's really no limit to what we can't use in terms of finding someone with similar powers. There's also various different characters that they reinvent every couple of decades.
Jessica Jones eventually becomes a mother and introducing a baby to a series is already so complicated and I know you dealt with this on Dexter already. What have you learned, and how are you going to handle a baby in this series?
Talk to me when we've had four seasons. It is very hard — Dexter is difficult too, because he's not a hero, he's a serial killer (although he has shades of hero in him). But if he ends up being a bad dad, it's no surprise. When you have a lead who is actually a superhero, the trick is, how do you make her look not like a bad mom? Anytime she puts herself in the line of danger, she's being a bad mom because she's potentially orphaning her child. That's always on the table, I would never ever take that off the table. So God willing, if it gets picked up and stays on the air for many, many seasons, our final season there will be a baby. Maybe it will be the last shot of the series.
And on your new murder mystery series, what do the memories of the dead look like?
Evan Daugherty [Snow White and the Huntsman] is writing all that, and he's developing that as we speak. Our visual references are Inception and The Cell, I think those are the two strongest references. There aren't a lot of limitations on that front, and of course, a director will [have his or her own ideas.]
So the detectives had to build some sort of machine gain access to these memories?
She's a neuroscientist. It's along the lines of the Inception [device], there's an intravenous connection. That won't necessarily be what we use, but it will be akin to that. There's actually a physical, medical device. Which hopefully will disappear, because the storytelling isn't about the device. You want that to just be like a laptop at the coroner['s office], it draws that much attention. But you have to explain it. That's the thing about doing science fiction or fantasy, the laws have to be rock solid.