“As I’ve watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe bloom and grow and take root over recent years, I’ve wondered if there might be some way I [could] show up in there,” Tennant continued. “So it was very exciting to get the call.”
That call offered Tennant the chance to join the MCU in Marvel’s newest Netflix show, “Jessica Jones,” as an especially sinister character: the villainous Kilgrave.
“I hadn’t cast myself in any particular role,” Tennant said of the show landing Friday, “but to get asked to play a nice, juicy villain is, I think, almost just as good as being asked to play one of the heroes.”
Tennant describes Kilgrave as a character who has an “extraordinary facility for compelling people to do whatever he likes.”
“What I liked about [Kilgrave was], he wasn’t a villain who was trying to take over the world,” Tennant said. “His goals are much more selfish. He’s just interested in himself.
“There’s something wonderfully kind of fascinating about the idea of a human being who gets his ability and [we examine] how he would handle it and whether anyone could remain a moral individual in those circumstances.”
Despite his Marvel-reading fandom as a child, Tennant was not very familiar with what the character Kilgrave will be up against in Netflix’s newest binge-fest. Yet once he dove into the comics from which “Jessica Jones” is inspired, he became convinced that Marvel and the producers at Netflix had chosen their next street-level antihero wisely.
“When I started getting into [the Marvel Max Jessica Jones comics] and realized that was the story we were telling, I was thrilled to be a part of the Marvel universe at all,” Tennant told Comic Riffs. “But then to realize that we were going to be in this new, rather dark corner of it, was very exciting.”
Tennant believes that Kilgrave should make for an intriguing character study. “Jessica Jones” will dive into the villain’s ability to dictate everything around him by merely the power of suggestion. He exercises this mind control in the dark, gritty, urban world of Jessica Jones’s Hell’s Kitchen, which is just coming to terms with the fact that there’s a guy in a red devil suit fighting crime on rooftops.
“It makes us all start to imagine how we would cope [with such power],” Tennant said. “If every person you met gave you everything you wanted unthinkingly, without any conflict, who is to say we wouldn’t all become a Kilgrave? There’s no argument to do anything else. And if you can’t …it’s almost really impossible to blame him for what he does — but perhaps I’m biased.”
As “Jessica Jones” aims to at least match the success of its Marvel/Netflix predecessor, “Daredevil,” Tennant believes in the nerd brains behind the show. He thinks the keys to Marvel/Netflix’s success in their live-action collaboration is having producers with genuine comics backgrounds who provide knowing authenticity for die-hard fans.
“Marvel [television shows] are rather brilliantly run by the people who used to make comic books,” Tennant said. “Jeph Loeb is a comic-book writer. Joe Quesada is a comic-book artist and an editor. I think that’s the genius of what Marvel has done: The people in charge — they know how to make TV shows, and they know how to make movies, but they also know that they have a real connection to those characters and properties. And they get what makes a good story, and they also understand how to take the fans with them.
“Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe is reaching out into a whole new mass audience, it’s being done with a real respect and a love for the source material,” Tennant continued. “Which I think is part of the key to the master success that they’ve had.”
One aspect of the “source material” that didn’t make it to Tennant’s role as Kilgrave is purple skin. In the comics, Kilgrave is referred to as “The Purple Man,” but with Marvel’s Netflix series swimming in suggested realistic reality, purple skin wasn’t going to make the cut.
“It was explained to me very early on that I was not going to be painted purple,” Tennant joked. “I think it was decided before I came on board that painting someone purple would perhaps be on the fantastical end of things, which is not the kind of world they’re trying to create in ‘Jessica Jones.’ ”
Having dodged extra time in the makeup chair, Tennant mentioned that his Kilgrave “look” would still consist of lots of purple clothes.
“I’m not referred to as the ‘Purple Man’ in the show, but purple is certainly his signature color,” said Tennant, noting that Kilgrave’s purple wardrobe was intended to be a wink to fans of Kilgrave’s comic-book origins.
What really makes Kilgrave tick, though, is a singular obsession. A man who can have anything he wants is someone who can get bored pretty quickly. So if you’re someone who everyone always says yes to, what’s the one thing you have a chance of being obsessed with? The one person that got far enough away to say no.
Enter Jessica Jones.
“The one thing that he hasn’t been able to tame into his world, of course, is the one thing that he ultimately wants,” Tennant said. “[Kilgrave] is a man who has no weaknesses and he ends up creating one himself.”
As a past Doctor Who who has plenty of experience getting cheers from a fan base, Tennant said that being on the evil side of things has advantages in terms of the type of performance he can give.
“There’s always something very tempting about the villains because they have the liberty of immorality,” Tennant said. “They get to go to all the places that the hero can never go to. And there’s something rather appealing about that. And you get to go to places that, as human beings we, hopefully, don’t allow ourselves to go.
“If you get to indulge in that make-believe world, it’s quite nice to have the liberty to have that freedom that villains are afforded.”
So no hard feelings about not being cast as the next great Marvel hero?
“I’m not sure which is more fun to play,” Tennant said. “I’m certainly very happy to get to be the villain this time around.”