We are less than a month away from the release of Netflix's latest Marvel show, Iron Fist, the fourth piece in The Defenders square. Finn Jones plays the titular character Danny Rand, a.k.a. your most embarrassing college hookup, who returns to NYC after a mysterious 15 year absence (during which he was presumed dead) to reclaim his family's company, and maybe punch a few people with his golden fists.
You can learn more background about the comic book origins of the characters here, but based on the first couple episodes of the series, Iron Fist fits comfortably into the dark-but-realistic milieu of the other three Marvel Netflix shows. At the same time, Rand as a character is much more youthful and optimistic than any of those three shows' protagonists (he's very much a little brother-type), and the world of the show spends as much time with corporate culture and intrigue as it does with ninja street fights.
We got a chance to catch up with the five main cast members at a recent Netflix event—that includes Finn Jones (Danny Rand/Iron Fist), Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing), Jessica Stroud (Joy Meachum), Tom Pelphrey (Ward Meachum) and David Wenham (Harold Meachum). Check out some highlights from those conversations below.
Jones on Danny Rand at the start of the show: "Danny Rand isn't a superhero. Not yet, anyway. I think Danny Rand has a long way to go before he can earn the right to call himself the Iron Fist. He has a lot of things to really learn about himself and overcome before he can have the right to be called that...He's still a kid and he doesn't know what to do with [the power]. He's got this huge responsibility, he's got so many inner issues and inner torment that he has to deal with first before he can actually be responsible."
Wenham on playing Harold Meachum: "His motivation is interesting. He's obviously driven by power. He's obviously inherently a very powerful man. But for me what was fascinating is to explore individuals who do own multi-billion dollar companies and what actually drives them. Why do they want more power? What do they actually want to use it for? So for me that was, objectively speaking, a really fascinating little element. Aside from the power drive for my character, what is probably equally as important is the family dynamic, which is obviously slightly dysfunctional. He would like to see himself in Ward, but he doesn't, unfortunately, which is hugely disappointing."
Stroud on playing Joy Meachum: "In a way, it's self-discovery for her. She's led her life dealing with a lot of loss. She lost her best friend Danny Rand when they were I think 12 or 13. And she's pushed herself. She's been driven. She's got the trust and love of her older brother that she's grateful for. So, for herself she's just kind of felt a bit lonely—to be at the top, to be running this huge corporation, to not have a lot of people that understand what your life has been and again to have dealt with so much loss that at this point she's doing the best she can. Yet, what she's learned is now just going to be flipped on its head—that there are possibly ways in which she has just gone with the status quo and not actually challenged the company or herself to do better. And I think at this point in her life is now she's being challenged with that, and she's learning the person that she is and the person that she can be. So there's a lot of conflict, but resolve, in her soul."
Pelphrey on playing Ward Meachum: "One of the interesting things for me to think about was: what does it mean to inherit all of these things? You inherit a billion dollar company, you are born into millions of dollars and a lifestyle that most people don't know about, and all the pressures that come with that. But also, because it was given to you, what did you do to earn it and do you understand how to make the thing work? And what's that growing process like? And what does that do for your self-confidence or self-esteem? Does that cause doubt or anxiety or fear in trying to live up to what your father has done or created? My favorite part of Ward, for me, is how much he loves his sister Joy. Regardless of what was going on or what the character was going through, I always found that to be ultimately a very redeeming quality of him. Because we can all relate to that right? No matter what you've been through, there's somebody that you love unconditionally."
Henwick on joining the Marvel Universe in a non-superhero role: "For me, I really liked the idea of playing a non-superhero on a superhero show. Because in a world where there are people who can break things and throw things with their minds...and have glowing fists and backflip everywhere, in a world where there are superpowers and super villains, to be mortal and still be like, 'I'm going to put myself on the frontline,' takes so much courage...From the comic books, I definitely wanted to pull out that very dry humor that she has, that no-bullshit New Yorker demeanor, we keep that. And of course, as the clip shows that was released shows [see below], we also have her signature white jumpsuit look. Not quite as superhero-y as the comics—it's not spandex—but we give a lot of nods to the comic book series.
On the NYC attitude embedded within the show:
Henwick: "Well we, did a lot of research. I live in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint, which is a largely Polish community, but also a no-bullshit community, I'd say."
Jones: "I think if you live and work here, you can't not feel how awesome the flavor of this city is, especially living in Brooklyn. How diverse it is, how just authentic it feels. Just living here for even a month or two, and working with people and socializing with people—
Henwick: It changes you.
Jones: You just feel it, and you really feel it in the show as well. I fucking love this city. It’s got so much to offer.
Jones and Henwick on the show's feminist underpinning:
Jones: "I was thinking earlier today in the shower—my shower thought of the day—was that this is actually a feminist television show. The female characters are incredibly strong, incredibly unique, and they really hold the men in the world up to account. You've got characters like Colleen, Claire Temple played by Rosario Dawson, you've got Madam Gao, you've also got Jess Stroup playing Joy Meachum. And they're all really strong female roles in the show, and they're the ones who hold the men up in our show. All the men in our show, man they're falling apart, they need these women to hold them up. And I don't think that actually gets touched on enough, and it's a really interesting perspective on this show, how many great female role models there are on this show."
Henwick: "I will certainly say that working with Rosario and creating the Colleen/Claire dynamic has been one of my favorite experiences working with any actor or actress. Being able to show audiences these two women who support each other, there's no competition, I'm her teacher, but I'm also like a sister to her. And she's older than me so it's just this weird..."
Jones: "And that's the dynamic between the three of us. The dynamic behind Iron Fist. Or not even behind Iron Fist—on Iron Fist's side are these two diverse, wonderful, strong women. And I think that's such a fucking great story to tell the world right now. Because we need more stuff like that. And God bless Netflix and Marvel for making those characters and making this statement on the show."
Henwick on how the show deals with the Asian stereotypes in the source material: "When they approached me about Colleen, I was a bit like, 'Hmm, do I want to play an Asian woman who does martial arts who's a love interest?' Do I want to do those three things, because I've always shied away from it. In fact, I've shied away from playing Asian characters. If you look back on Game of Thrones, I'm playing a character that has no relevance to my ethnicity.
"But I reached the stage last year where I said I wanted to start telling Asian stories, I want a young Asian girl to go, 'Oh my God, that reminds me of my relationship with my mom.' So I had some concerns, and Jeph Loeb rang me and he said, 'We're going to take the stereotype, and we're not going to avoid it. We're going to inspect it.' And so for example...she is a martial artist. She fights in cage-fights. We've seen that before. But what happens when you become addicted to that? What happens when you can only talk with your fists and you struggle to communicate on any other level and you become addicted to fighting? So we've taken the stereotype and we've said OK, well, what is the actual realism in it."
Jones on how the show relates to the Trump era: "With the storyline, we look at the one percent of the one percent and corporate corruption and corporate responsibility in that world. And we know with our overlord Donald Trump, that's very prevalent in a society—how much corporations have an impact on a society. What we actually look at on the show is the heroin epidemic of the city, and how corporations maybe fund the heroin epidemic and what that means to society. So we do address very real issues with the show, as well as it being a superhero show. Also we address issues like: where the hell are 25-year-olds in their lives? They just left childhood. They're about to enter adulthood. They have no idea what they're doing on this planet. There is so much existential crisis going on there, and Danny Rand really kind of emulates that, as well as having the responsibility to the Iron Fist. So he's a complete livewire, complete chaotic dude that's in the middle of youth and adulthood."
Joy Meachum (Jessica Stroud) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey) stand beside Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones) (Netflix)
Stroud, Pelphrey and Wenham on parallels between the Meachums and the Trumps:
Wenham: "I will say, we were filming it prior to what has happened. So I think the whole world is viewing a lot of things at the moment through that very prism, regardless of whether there was any intent or not. However, I think it's actually fascinating considering the thematic concerns of this particular show, to be watching it through that particular prism."
Stroud: "I know that there was definitely a conversation about my character, not being influenced by or based on, but having a certain twinge of Ivanka. Maybe even down to the hairstyle. But there was not necessarily a purposeful thing—I mean if people want to see that, they're going to see that."
Pelphrey: "Yeah I mean, for better or for worse, Ward's rockin' the fucking Don Jr. slickback. So whether that sinks or swims remains to be seen. It's like WHOA, who does that remind you of?"
Jones on Danny Rand's privilege: "Danny is full of polar opposites, and that for me is what makes Danny so interesting. On the one hand, he is trying to be this disciplined spiritual warrior with this awesome responsibility. On the other hand, he is a kid that is suffering from immense trauma, suffering from a kind of form of PTSD, because he lost his parents when he was 10 years old. He's been away from home in a place which is alien to him, growing up. He comes back to New York and he's meant to be this billionaire head of a company, but whilst also having this responsibility, whilst also trying to claim back his identity and trying to find out what it means to be a man. So he's constantly in the middle of these huge, massive conflicts.
"And it's in those elements, and it's in that struggle that the character is really enjoyable to play and is very nuanced. I think throughout the series you find that Danny realizes that the world isn't just black and white. It's gray. And it's being okay with that grayness. It's being okay with being a billionaire titan of industry and also being a Buddhist and a spiritual warrior. You can be both things. The world isn't black and white. Danny's journey is finding out about the grayness of it."
Pelphrey on the decision to change Ward's character from his comic book origins (Ward is Joy's uncle in the comics, and her brother in the TV show): "To me it seems like a great advantage...I have a younger brother, I don't have a sister, but I certainly know the elevated feelings of having a sibling. That kind of love is insane. There's nothing I wouldn't do for my brother. So, I think it gives you a lot of leeway in terms of the audience being able to relate—you can forgive a character a lot when you see what they love and then maybe also understand because of what they love, possibly, why they're doing what they're doing. And in that sense, writers did a fantastic job of setting up a world in which there's a lot of grey area. You can't really throw anyone in an easy category. And also it was a lot of fun to play."
Jones on whether we'll see Rand suit up in his traditional Iron Fist costume: "What we see in the first season is: Danny isn't a superhero yet. He hasn't earned the right to attain that title. He has a lot of individual things that he has to deal with before he can claim that identity. So in terms of costume, the first couple of episodes you see Danny kind of awkwardly fitting into suits, like he's not used to this. You know he's in a suit and you're like, what the?! But then he's in regular clothes and it still doesn't feel right. He's trying to find his identity through clothes and I think eventually throughout the series, he kind of claims some sort of identity through his clothes. Really we've got a couple more seasons to go before we get to that point."