Ahead of the release of Iron Fist, Den of Geek got the chance to sit in on round table interviews with some of the show’s stars. First up, we spoke to Finn Jones (Danny Rand/Iron Fist) and Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing) about preparing for their roles and their take on the critical reception…
How did you prepare for the battle scenes?
J: Besides the obvious – just training and learning it – I did weightlifting, changed my diet, it’s a complete transformation physically. A lot of people point to Game Of Thrones, which I had fight scenes in, but this is on another level. We both really changed our lives – the way we ate, the way we slept, I changed the way I bathed! Every night I had to have a hot bath with Epsom salts because it was the only way to get my body to unwind. If I didn’t do it the next day when I woke up I couldn’t move!
Did you know you’d have to make that commitment going in?
F: No, it was really intense. I moved to New York in March 2016 and had three weeks of prep, in the dojo doing martial arts and weight training every day, doing my best to reach the physical peak needed for the role. But then once the show started, the shooting schedule was insane – 12 to 14 hours every day, working 5-6 days a week. Body clock all over the place. The physical aspect became impossible to work on, so all my days off I’d just go to the gym and give it everything I’d go, but I’d be back filming again on Monday.
I barely had time to rehearse the fights in advance, it’s kind of amazing when you see the show – I was learning 15 minutes before filming them. From that perspective I’m really proud of the work everyone’s put in. I don’t think people really understand how quickly this show was made. I’ve been doing this for a year now and it’s interesting how my body has started approaching the material – we just did a massive fight for the Defenders and I was learning that on the day, but I just pick it up now.
Does doing the martial arts on top of your regular acting help you inhabit the character?
F: I think if I had the time to really immerse myself I’d really respond to it, but with this show there just wasn’t time to do that as I would’ve liked to. So I was just going along with it day to day and hoping that the show would support me – that the stunt doubles would do the work, and the camera would do the work, and the acting would just wash it all over. It’s been a real baptism of fire, learning on the job.
Jessica, how do you feel about playing colleen? Maybe 20 years ago she’d not have been in a show in this manner…
J: She’s a product of the times, she’s so modern compared to most of the roles I get offered. She feels like a person right now, the type of person who would’ve gone to the Women’s March the other day. So I don’t think she’d have existed 20 years ago, not as a woman and certainly not as an Asian woman. The representation just wasn’t there. We’ve made such big strides.
Even now she’s a rare character, I think there’s this interesting gender swap in Iron Fist. As a female actress, I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager, I often got approached with the ingénu roles, naive and wide-eyed and childlike. I image as the guy, [Finn] often gets roles like Colleen is you know, jaded…
F: Yeah, women are meant to be vulnerable, whereas in this show, Danny Rand is the vulnerable one and Colleen is the strong one. It’s a complete swap.
J: Saying that, they do cooperate, there’s a journey. In the second half you take on some of my characteristics and I take on some of yours.
F: Yeah, we learn to get the best from each other.
Do you think the entertainment industry is ahead of real life in that regard?
J: In some ways, it’s ahead, in other ways it’s behind.
F: In this day and age where there’s so much noise, and so much untruth, stories have to play a role in trying to progress society. I think Netflix understand that very well, which is why we see roles like Jessica’s, and others in our show. Especially in America, stories need to be true and represent what we see in real life. Netflix and Marvel television know that and I’m very proud to work with them on the show because of that.
Danny does seem very naive compared to the other marvel heroes. Was it a challenge to play an unusual hero like that?
F: I just allowed myself to be as open as possible. That meant bringing a lot of my own vulnerabilities to the role as well. I had to be very honest with myself. It’s interesting, there are so many different pillars to the character – on one hand he’s this Buddhist warrior whose trained his whole life. On the other hand, he’s a rich billionaire, but also a child who’s wrought with trauma. He’s just come back to New York and he’s seeking an identity and family, and also he’s got this enormous responsibility – the Iron Fist – which he has no idea what to do with. So he’s a mess and throughout the series he’s slowly but chaotically piecing himself together.
His naiveté and optimism get him in a lot of trouble. He realises that in this world, people who see someone vulnerable with power, they’ll do anything they can to take advantage of him.
Some people are upset he doesn’t wear the costume…
F: Yes, he’s naked throughout! No, no, this is the thing about Danny, he has to earn the right to wear that costume. When we first see him he’s a lost soul who needs to go on a journey of self-discovery and harness his responsibility before he’s entitled to wear that suit. I think what you’ll see from the beginning of Iron Fist to the end of Defenders is that by the last episode of Defenders, Danny has become the Iron Fist. And it’s great to go on that journey with him.
As with all of these adaptations there are expectations from fans about what they expect to see – did you go to the source material at all, or work purely from the scripts?
J: They told me not to look at the comics, but of course I did. There’s so much material to draw upon and cherry pick, that’s a really nice aspect. It’s hard because certainly with Marvel, there are so many alternate takes – stories where Colleen’s alive, stories where she’s dead, some where she’s good, some where she’s on the evil side – so it’s kind of changing all the time.
F: It’s the same with Danny, there have been so many different versions. When I was reading them I obviously enjoyed them, but I was like “oh my god, what am I meant to do!? They’re all so different!” and so I was just like… it’s what’s inside Danny that matters. The core of the character, the thing that’s consistent over all the versions, is his vulnerability and naive optimism. What’s the quote? “I hold back the storm when nothing else can”. No matter how bad things get, he’ll fight for the just cause. That was the most important thing for the character and the rest of it is aesthetic, it’s not for me to decide. I’m an actor and I have to find what’s at the core of the character and bring that forward. Everything else, I don’t have a say over.
Do you think comics are coming back into fashion?
F: Did they ever go away? If so, I hope they come back! I’m a big fan of Akira, and I think comics are a great place to tell intelligent, fantastical stories. You can say stuff that you wouldn’t be able to in other mediums.
J: Going back to what you were saying earlier about whether Colleen would exist 20 years ago, well, she did, in the comics. They’ve been one of the most forward-looking entertainment mediums.
F: Look at Power Man And Iron Fist, when that came out that was incredibly progressive, to have a black and white team, a boy from white privilege and a black guy from Harlem… people don’t necessarily understand how progressive that was. Comics have always been on the right side of telling stories and I think they still are. If anything, it’s the perception that has finally changed.
Can you tell us how your first auditions went?
F: We actually auditioned together. We did our own self-tapes, and then I found myself in LA doing a series of meetings with Netflix and Marvel, etc. After an intense two weeks I got the role.
J: I sent in a self-tape before he’d been cast, and then I found out he’d been cast, celebrated with him – I was with our mutual friend at a convention and we went to go buy an original issue of Iron Fist to give to Finn.
F: And then it was literally like a week later you texted me and said “Finn, I’m coming to LA this week to audition to play your love interest” – I was like “whaaat!”
J: It’s insane, do you know how many actors there are in the world? Of all people it’s my friend I end up with.
F: That actually brought stuff to the role, because when you’re working that closely with another actor you have to get the chemistry right, and the fact that we’d been friends before meant we already had that chemistry. It just showed. There was no bullshit, we knew what was or wasn’t working. There was no worrying about hurt feelings…
J: We could be brutally honest with each other, which is what you need when you’re on such a tight schedule. It’s not like we’re doing theatre and we have four months of rehearsal. It’s like “we’ve got four minutes, I don’t wanna say this, what do you think? Do you want me to look at you or not there?”
F: Yeah, it was very blunt, but in the best possible way.
J: It’s like a sibling relationship, we can say whatever we want because at the end of the day we know we love each other.
You’ve presumably seen the reviews by now. How do you think it’ll be received by the audience?
F: I think essentially it’s a show for the fans. When people watch it and see it with their own eyes they’re going to be pleasantly surprised. I think it represents characters and stories in an intelligent way and I’m really proud of it. We don’t make the show for the critics. People who go in wanting to enjoy it will enjoy it. I truly believe that.
Finn Jones & Jessica Henwick, thank you very much!
Iron Fist premieres on Netflix today.