Marvel’s First Lesbian Tells All: Carrie-Anne Moss on Leaving ‘The Matrix’ with ‘Jessica Jones’
The star of modern-day classics ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Memento’ opens up about her groundbreaking character in the fantastic Netflix series ‘Jessica Jones.’
The wonders of a series like Marvel and Netflix’s Jessica Jones seemingly never cease. Over 13 episodes, the nuanced, noir-ish adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’s Alias comic book series introduces a world of firsts to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: first rough, hot, bed-breaking sex scene. First abortion. And it’s the first Marvel property driven almost entirely by female protagonists, where most men are either pawns, love interests, or living embodiments of entitlement and misogyny.
The complicated trio at its center are Jessica (Krysten Ritter), a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed private eye—and Marvel’s first female superhero to headline her own property; Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), Jessica’s best friend and a budding hero in her own right; and then there’s bad bitch Jeri Hogarth, Jessica’s sometimes-employer and Marvel’s first lesbian character. Jeri is a rich, ruthless, ferociously talented lawyer guided by murky morals—the anti-Matt Murdock, written as male in the comics but brought to life onscreen with an alluring haughtiness by Matrix star Carrie-Anne Moss.
Jeri’s story in Jessica Jones feels at once familiar yet fresh: a type-A, no-nonsense personality falls for the hot young secretary at work, abandons the long-suffering spouse, and is dragged through a mortifyingly messy divorce. (Her ex won’t sign divorce papers and her new fiancée won’t put out until they’re married, so an exasperated Jeri resorts to hiring Jessica to dig up dirt on her ex-wife, an upstanding doctor who works in low-income clinics).
As June Thomas observed in Slate, Jeri’s story is “a tale as old as capitalism,” with one simple change: this time, everyone in the love triangle is a woman.
“[Jeri’s] doing the things you see men doing all the time in TV and movies,” Moss tells The Daily Beast of her character’s philandering, power-hungry ways. (Indeed, Jeri was originally “Jeryn,” a male version of the character who debuted in Iron Fist #6 in 1976.)
And true, Jeri’s arrogant, self-serving personality is never softened onscreen because she’s a woman. “She’s incredibly shrewd. She didn’t get to where she is in the business by being, like, a humanitarian,” Moss says. “She’s completely looking out for herself and her future. Her ego is huge—there wouldn’t be room for another ego in the room. She doesn’t even have to try. She just is.”
That Moss, 48, is forever linked to her role as Trinity, one of the early aughts’ most iconic action heroines, makes the sight of her sparring onscreen with Jessica Jones a special pleasure in itself. It’s not a handing of the torch, per se, but an unexpected, uneasy dream team-up.
Jeri and Jessica’s thorny relationship helped seal Moss’s commitment to the show, nearly two years after she first met with Marvel Studios. “Maybe one day,” she remembers walking away thinking, long before Jessica Jones entered the pipeline.
“When this came around, they called me and told me about it and gave me an idea of who the character was,” Moss says. “And then I read a script.”
Led by showrunner and outspoken feminist Melissa Rosenberg (who served as head writer during the first four glorious seasons of Dexter), Jessica Jones crafts a wintry version of Hell’s Kitchen haunted by past traumas, from abusive moms and serial rapists to the aftermath of the alien invasion that devastated New York at the end of The Avengers. Anchored in all that darkness are Jessica and Jeri, reluctant partners in crime and, sometimes, heroics.
“I’ve said this probably too many times, but every [Jessica Jones] script that I read, there were moments, or more than one moment, where I gasped,” Moss says. “I was so incredibly surprised. I hadn’t seen relationships like the one Jessica has with [Jeri], or the one she has with the Trish character, especially in something that you think of as ‘superhero.’”
“[Jessica and Jeri] are both very spiritually strong women who clash completely, and yet who need each other,” she continues. “And the fact that they need each other isn’t something that either of them appreciates. My character is amused by her and intrigued by her, but she’s also a total pain the ass…But they kind of enjoy each other, too. It’s complicated, it’s evolving.”
Off-camera, Moss raves about Ritter’s “truthful” portrayal and “effortless” transition into PTSD-stricken Jessica. “When I saw her, the very first time I met her, we were doing hair and makeup, lights, camera test and whatever, and she walked out in her outfit,” Moss says, trailing off breathlessly. “That was it. I was like, ‘There she is.’” She has equally effusive words for Rosenberg, whose writing she calls “incredible.”
Laying claim to a few MCU firsts, including playing the mega-franchise’s first lesbian character, came as the cherry on top for Moss. “I think it’s great that we’re living in a time when everyone is being represented on TV and film,” she says. “I think it’s a great time to be a woman in the industry just because there are so many great roles for women of all ages, all races, all sexual orientations.”
Still, she allows that Hollywood has a long way to go before it achieves gender equality—especially when the EEOC is moved to investigate the industry’s reluctance to hire female filmmakers, and actresses both young and old are speaking out for equal pay and decrying double standards.
“Not for one second do I not, like, pinch myself that I’ve had a successful acting career for 24 years. I am so grateful,” Moss says. “But it’s unfortunate that we live in a society that really puts a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way and to age a certain way. I think that sucks.”
“When I was younger and I was getting older, I remember thinking that if I couldn’t do it gracefully, then I would have to quit,” she continues. “You know, looking at yourself aging onscreen, it can bring up stuff. It’s one thing to be aging in a job where your looks don’t matter, but as an actress, it’s so much part of your image.”
The only way to combat the gendered pressures of Hollywood, she says, is to “not buy into it” and to “be an example of a healthy person and healthy mind, body and soul.”
“I’m not gonna say there aren’t moments of it being hard,” she says, “but I appreciate so much how grounded I feel in the process. If I wasn’t able to feel that way, I wouldn’t want to do it anymore. If I felt like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to be skinny!’…If I had to look different than I am, I just couldn’t do it.”
“You’ll have a guy and they’re aging however they’re aging and nobody really cares,” Moss laughs. “If you’re a woman, it’s different. I kind of just want to be an example, I guess…to live for myself and stay in my own integrity.”
As for Jessica Jones—which has not yet been renewed for a second season, despite fan and critical acclaim—Moss stands with Rosenberg in holding out hope for a second run.
Rosenberg explained the scheduling delay to the Hollywood Reporter as a matter of “logistics”: “Defenders [Marvel’s upcoming team-up between Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Iron Fist] has to shoot by a certain time, contractually,” Rosenberg said before adding, “Actually, I’m not sure; I’m not at all involved in those conversations, much to my dismay.”
“If we go for a second season, I hope to get a lot more to do,” Moss says, diplomatically.
We hope she does too. Are you listening, Netflix?