Spoilers for "Jessica Jones" lie ahead.
So much of the first seven episodes of "Jessica Jones" is spent waiting for the series' villain, Kilgrave (David Tennant) to pop off. Sure, the star of the series is the excellent Krysten Ritter, and we love watching her work... but since the show eschews the case-of-the-week format in favor of a long narrative arc between Jessica and Kilgrave, it's natural to sit in eager anticipation for the dynamic duo's inevitable first showdown.
And boy, does the moment deliver. Unlike the first big hero v. villain showdown in most comic book properties, which tend to feature a whole lot of kicking and punching, "Jessica Jones" relied on nothing but the scary-good chemistry between Ritter and Tennant to make the moment work. Something that, according to Tennant -- who stopped by MTV News to discuss how Kilgrave should make us all shake in our proverbial boots -- was all thanks to the incredible, menacing dialogue found in the script.
"If the writing’s good, you’re just trying to match it," the Scotsman said with a laugh. "You can always ruin a good bit of writing, but you can’t make a bad bit of writing much better. So if one is good, you just think, 'Wow I’ve gotta service this, I can’t be the one that breaks this, because it’s starting with such potential.'"
For those who have either A, forgotten what they just watched because their minds are blown or B, haven't watched yet but love reading spoilers, know that the scene features Kilgrave mind-controlling a dozen-ish police officers into a murderous standoff. He forces all of them to stand still, with their guns pointed straight at each others' temple, just so he can remind Jessica just how little control she has over anything that happens to herself and the people around her. Everybody lives (just this once!), but still -- the scene is remarkably disturbing.
"I remember that day as being quite intense," Tennant continued. "That was actually in our production office, that got redressed as the police precinct. It was a space that everyone was familiar with, but in a very different set of circumstances... Everyone had a headache by the end of the day."
It's totally understandable how playing someone who is definitely-maybe about to die due to brainwashing, for hours on end, would give an actor a headache. But it had to have been even more intense for Tennant, who was saying and doing things so revolting -- treating people like playthings, basically -- that MTV News had to pause the scene and take multiple deep breaths just to process all of the various forms of torture that were playing out onscreen.
All of this is especially impressive given that it was one of Ritter and Tennant's first scenes together, as they filmed the series pretty much in order. But when MTV News asked Tennant how they nailed the horror of Tennant telling Jones that he loved her in front of all of those lambs to the slaughter, he said that it's not really the sort of thing you can prepare for.
"You just have to try and make it happen in the moment," he said. "You can kill something if it’s a jagged, raw moment like that is -- you sort of want to make it jagged and raw. You want to surprise each other, and you want that moment to live... if you can just get it once, then that’s what you’re chasing; that one lucid moment where something sparks and makes sense."
Though of course, Tennant had already had weeks of prep playing Kilgrave in other scenes, sans Jessica Jones, before the police station standoff. So he'd already found a way to nail the portrayal of a man who has never heard "no" -- using some (sadly unnamed) celebrities as quasi-inspiration.
"If you’re royalty, maybe, or if you’re a particular type of megastar, [you are] surrounded by people who will do anything for you to the most ludicrous degree... You know, 'Fetch me 700 blue M&Ms,' and they appear; whatever ludicrous demand it might be," Tennant explained. "You kind of intuit a little of what that can turn people into, and you try to extrapolate that out... within that world, people are unaware of the devastation they’re causing. Whether it’s the discarded packets of M&Ms where all the blue ones have been taken out, or the real human cost of something like that. Especially if, as is the case of Kilgrave, one is slightly psychopath.
"But the psychopath doesn’t see themselves as someone to be worried about," Tennant concluded. "They see themselves as the center of the universe -- their universe, which is the only universe, and that’s quite key to understanding to where Kilgrave is coming from."
"Jessica Jones" is streaming on Netflix now.