Interview: 'The Defenders' Showrunners Doug Petrie & Marco Ramirez On Getting The Team Together

We first spoke with Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez by phone when they wrote and produced the second season of Daredevil. They are big fans of /Film, especially Ramirez, so when I met them in person at a Marvel Television cocktail party for the Television Critics Association, it was fun to geek out together in person.

Ramirez and Petrie went from showrunning Daredevil to showrunning the long-anticipated Marvel TV series The Defenders. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist will meet in the fifth Marvel TV series on Netflix in 2017. Here is what Petrie and Ramirez were able to say about the upcoming show at this point. 

How big of an adjustment was it going from Daredevil to The Defenders?

Petrie: Oh wow, what a great question. It was a very natural adjustment. I'm such a big fan of the other shows that it's been really exciting to take Matt Murdock, who's so singular in his focus, and spread him out into this other world.

Does television allow you to spend more time exploring the part where the Defenders don't get along at first?

Petrie: You have time over the many episodes, exactly, to spread out the characters, let them breathe, let them expand and let them get to know each other, so they don't have to love each other right away, but we'll love them by the end.

Ramirez: I think yes. Somebody asked earlier about whether or not The Defenders is going to feature more spectacle, more explosions, basically, was the question.

Why would it?

Ramirez: I don't know. I really think what the focus of these shows and what makes a show like Daredevil and a show like [Jessica Jones] and I've seen Luke [Cage], it's fantastic, is that they're really sophisticated character stories. So I think the thing that excites us the most going into The Defenders and writing these scripts is just to tell character stories and interaction between them, watch them bump up against each other.

That was the most fun part of The Avengers when they didn't get along for the first half of the movie.

Petrie: Of course. It's fun because it's just like any other family. They have to fight.

Ramirez: What's been fun is we have a lot of time to tell his story. It's not a two-hour movie. We'll have eight or however many episodes so really everybody gets to interact with everybody. It's been one of the great joys of watching something like The Avengers or The Dirty Dozen, any movie like that. Any of those stories feels like people are going to watch people grow, bump heads, fight along the same side. We want to watch all that.

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If people think it's TV's The Avengers, is The Defenders very different from The Avengers?

Ramirez: I think it's easy to just sell it as TV's The Avengers but I really think it's different. I was trying to think about it the other day. There aren't many projects in TV that have ever done something like this. You often feel like people sometimes splinter off a show and do a spinoff, but you never kind of have them spin in. You never kind of have four different properties overlap and come into each other.

Are you able to design episodes where it's only one Defender, or they pair off?

Petrie: We'll be doing a lot of mixing and matching absolutely, but I think the fun of it is to see the team.

In the writers room, which pairings have you discovered are really great?

Ramirez: We have four stunningly talented actors. The world knows Mike [Colter] because the world saw JJ. So we have four great actors. There's no version of me answering that question without somehow spoiling something or somehow disappointing an actor.

Petrie: They're all great. Any two you put together makes sense because if you have Matt and Jessica, you get two very smart hard tripping New Yorkers. If you've got Danny and Luke, you've got what fans recognize as heroes for hire, but we're not there yet. If you've got Jessica and Danny, you've got the hard cynic and the wide-eyed innocent. So there's really no pairing that doesn't work.

When there is action, and there will be some...

Ramirez: Yeah, you can't have these four together and not have some.

Is designing the action different, figuring out how four people with abilities work together?

Petrie: Oh my gosh, yes. The fight scenes are exponentially more complicated, but also there's an opportunity too that's much more fun.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to having to service so many characters in each sequence?

Ramirez: If anything it's been a great challenge because it makes you feel like I have to stay true to who these characters are. Luke has to be Luke. JJ has to be JJ and Danny has to be Danny. Same with Matt. If anything, it's been a real exercise almost in restraint. These people are all so strong headed, so I've taken it as a learning experience. They're all so strong willed and so smart and so capable that sometimes, this was something I experienced writing for Frank [Castle, a.k.a. Punisher] last season, sometimes the page screams back. It's like, "No, no, this is what I'm doing. I don't care what your plans are."

The Defenders showrunners interview

Was introducing the Punisher and Elektra in Daredevil good practice for balancing three characters?

Petrie: Yes, absolutely. Great question. Marco and I have gotten used to juggling a lot of plates, so Marvel just added more great plates.

Ramirez: I think in a weird way, Daredevil season two almost felt like perfect preparation for what we're doing now because we got to put on our storytelling hats and also our geek for the material hats and be like what is it I want to see? So really now on Defenders, we're exercising those same muscles which feels like we have these four incredible, iconic, awesome characters to work with. What do we most want to see them do? Let's find stuff that is exciting and also will ideally be very unexpected for the audience as well. So how do we surprise them and give them what they're expecting but not the way they're expecting?

Are you thinking of one monolithic villain or multiple villains for The Defenders?

Petrie: Interesting. We never really think of them as antagonists, first of all. We always think of everyone having their own agenda.

Ramirez: Without giving any spoilers or anything, I can say it's been a challenge because now that they're all four together, it feels like they're so powerful. How cool is this? We get to use all four of these people but I think we've found something that feels great.

You found one massive threat or a combination of threats?

Ramirez: Can't say. Again, the focus at least right now as we write these scripts, the focus is on telling the greatest "Matt meets JJ meets Danny meets Luke" story and focusing on them.

Can you begin to think of Daredevil season three?

Petrie: Oh gosh, we've got our hands full with The Defenders right now. I'm so thrilled that they announced it. I'm so thrilled that we're doing it. We'll figure it out like we always do.

Does showrunning The Defenders leave you in a better place to set Matt Murdock up for his season three?

Petrie: Oh sure. We will be returning all of our characters to interesting new places where their respective show runners can pick up the threads.

So they say, but you're the Daredevil showrunners. You have an advantage.

Petrie: We do. We don't have to get our own approval.

And you have to know where Luke Cage and Iron Fist leave off, don't you?

Petrie: We do. We do. Marvel has been really great at blending all the information and all the showrunners and sharing and contributing. It's been fun.

Marvel's Jessica Jones

Is there room for Matt's lawyering during The Defenders?

Petrie: Always. Always. Always. It's what he is. Is there room for Catholicism? Is there room for angst? Is there room for heartbreak? Is there room for violence? Yes, all these things.

So you don't need to put it on the back burner?

Petrie: Nothing's going on the back burner. They're all bringing all their A games to The Defenders I'm happy to say.

Did you already know you had The Defenders when you were breaking Daredevil?

Petrie: Towards the end we had a pretty good sense of it.

Ramirez: The decision I want to say happened I want to say toward the end of this season so we had to keep stuff secret which was fun. To be on set, we'd often get questions, people like, "Do you know who's doing The Defenders?" and had to be like oh man, don't know. I have no idea, who knows? Once it was announced I was really happy.

Did you design the end of Daredevil to leave Matt, Frank and Elektra in a place that would work for The Defenders?

Petrie: No, we just told the story that we wanted to tell and we knew we'd be able to pick him up afterwards. At the end of Daredevil season two, the biggest event is that he tells Karen Page who he really is. So of course we have to follow up on that in The Defenders and all four characters need to follow up on where they were left off by their independent shows.

Could Defenders be Daredevil season 2.5?

Ramirez: In a way, it kind of has to be everybody's next season. In a way it has to be JJ season 1.5 and Luke season 1.5 and Iron Fist 1.5. In a way, we owed it to all the characters to make it the next step in their progression so we could tell this massive story and then they can ideally, as JJ season 2 has already been picked up, go back in and stay very true to who they are in their own stories when they go back into their own.

Would you hope be to have Frank and Elektra back for the third season?

Petrie: I hope we get everybody but I don't control that.

Ramirez: I can't talk to that at all. Right now, honestly, my focus is entirely on The Defenders. Right now the only Daredevil story I'm worried about is what he does on The Defenders. It's hopefully going to be really fun.

Would you look on their own shows as a proud parent?

Petrie: Oh, I'm a fan of all the shows, absolutely.

Are you saving anything for Daredevil season 3?

Ramirez: It's always been my instinct to not save anything. Just come up with new shit later. No, if we have the idea today and the camera's ready to roll, we're shooting it today.

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