As any David Tennant fan knows after years of watching him promote Doctor Who and Broadchurch, no one evades questions more delightfully. Hoping some of the mind control capabilities of his latest character, the villainous Kilgrave in Marvel’s Jessica Jones (now streaming on Netflix), had rubbed off on us, we invited him in to Yahoo Studios, handed him a card filled with questions, and asked him to answer them. See the charming results in the video above (and the outtake below).
Of course, Tennant wouldn’t want to reveal too much about Jessica Jones, which the critics are loving, including Yahoo TV’s own Ken Tucker, who calls Krysten Ritter’s titular private eye — who once again finds herself the object of Kilgrave’s twisted affection — “the best Marvel superhero on TV.”
“It’s character-driven in the way that Marvel’s stuff always so successfully is, but it does inhabit a darker corner of that universe,” Tennant says. “It’s a more grownup story, a more adult world. You probably wouldn’t show Jessica Jones to your 10-year-old, unless you want to give them nightmares.”
People keep asking him what research he did to play Kilgrave. “It’s a quite alarming question, as he’s a sort of psychopathic, murdering lunatic. I wouldn’t know where to look for researching people who have superpowers who have dark histories with ex-superheroes. So it wasn’t months of research, no, but I did feel my lifetime obsession with comic books prepared me quite well,” Tennant says, laughing. “The comic books [Alias] are obviously a great source material, that’s a good place to start. And the way the character is drawn out over the 13 hours is continuing surprising and tantalizing. For anything, the script has got to be your first port of call.”
When Tennant was approached for the role, producers had the first two episodes written. “Kilgrave doesn’t really show up in them, so it was a slightly unusual conversation where Melissa Rosenberg, our showrunner, and Jeph Loeb, our executive producer, were pitching this character to me but there was nothing to actually read. It was all, ‘It’s going to be this.’ You kinda thought, ‘I sort of know what this character is, because he exists in the comic book world. Of course he’s going to be slightly different in this world. I can read two scripts that are clearly brilliant pieces of writing…’ But you could just tell it was going to work — the world that they were beginning to draw in those initial scripts and the ideas that were already formed for where the story would go. It was something of a step into the known, but one I’m very glad I took.”
There does come a time (around episode 7, when Tennant starts to see much more screen time), when Kilgrave insists he knows about romantic love because he watches TV. What shows is Kilgrave watching off-screen? “I don’t know what shows they are… Perhaps not very well-written ones, I think, if that’s how he’s constructed his emotional life,” Tennant says, laughing again. “I suppose the problem for Kilgrave is, if you exist in a bubble of acquiescence, if everyone around you does everything you want at every given moment, it’s very difficult to build a sense of who you are. We all understand how the world perceives us, with varying degrees of success, based on what’s reflected back to us. If you’re robbed of the nuance of that, because everyone simply reflects what you want them to reflect at all times, it’s going to damage your psychological profile, just a little. So it’s hard to really know what emotional precedence Kilgrave is drawing on. But he clearly seems to believe that he understands love. He understands his version of love.”
Since the character is, at his core, a lonely outcast, it helped that Tennant felt some distance from the cast. “Because the character is teased, really, for the first four episodes before he really gets going, it was an unusual experience in that by the time I was on set every day, everyone else had already bonded. There was all the in jokes and the nicknames, and I’d kinda missed all of that because I spent the first couple of months visiting, being a shadow and being a voice on the phone. That was quite good from a character point of view. I always felt slightly other, slightly alienated from the collegial world, which I think is very much Kilgrave’s lot in life.”
Did he finally get a nickname on set? There’s that laugh again. “I’m going to draw a veil over that one,” he says.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones is now streaming on Netflix.