Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix finds billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning to New York City after he’s been missing for years, and trying to reconnect with his past and family legacy. And as one of Marvel’s street-level heroes and the star of the fourth of four epic live-action adventure series, Danny also finds himself having to fight against the criminals corrupting New York City with his kung fu mastery and ability to summon the awesome power of the fiery Iron Fist.
So, with Marvel’s Iron Fist premiering on Netflix on 17 March 2017, what better time for us to take you behind the scenes and characters to see what went into the making of Netflix’s latest super-powered TV show?!
Game of Thrones star Finn Jones approached this character and all that Danny represents from a perspective very firmly grounded in reality. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s much in here that is fantasy. I believe that people have chi energy and I believe that there are different dimensions. This is one of the reasons why this project really spoke to me from the first time I read the script. We’re taking this stuff seriously. It’s not just some hokey-pokey fantasy land. We approach it from a place of, if this was real, how would it apply to the modern day?”
“I grounded it in reality so that when I play this character, it’s not something that is so far outside of me. I believe that anyone can go deep within themselves and find their higher voice. It’s in our nature, but we’ve forgotten it because we live in a culture which is completely bombarded by images and consumerism and I think we have forgotten about our true essence. Danny has spent all of this time in K’un-Lun where they haven’t forgotten where they came from, and the people there can connect to that.”
Jessica Henwick had wanted a role in the Superhero world for some time. “I’d been researching whether there were any Asian American Superheroes and I came across Colleen Wing. Then I read a Hollywood Reporter article saying that this show had been commissioned by Netflix and Marvel, so I sent an email to my agent saying this will probably come under a codename, but these are the character traits to look out for. And lo and behold in comes this project with another title and the character was called Christine and I just knew it was her.”
Henwick and Finn Jones both starred in Game of Thrones, and though they never shared screen time on that show, they became friends through various events promoting the series. “Finn went through the casting process and I was on the phone with him when he found out that he’d gotten the role, so that was amazing,” recalls Henwick. “One week later, they called me and said that they wanted me to screen test. Finn suggested that I come over to his place before the audition to run lines so that when we went to the audition they would think that we had such instant chemistry, when really we’d been working on it for two hours! The fact that out of all of the actors in the world we would end up working together, it’s been surreal.
Australian actor David Wenham who plays Harold Meachum, Wendell Rand’s business partner and a father figure to Danny, approached playing this complicated character from the point of view of a hero rather than a villain, as that’s how he felt that Harold would view himself: “From Harold’s perspective, he would see himself as a wonderful family man and father figure. He’d see himself as a great leader and innovator and a great thinker. A great contemporary man. However, if you looked at Harold objectively, you’d see someone who’s actually quite deluded. He’s probably a sociopath, possibly even a psychopath, a dangerous individual, but one who is quite captivating.”
New York City is arguably one of the lead characters in the show and each of the Marvel series on Netflix has claimed a neighborhood as their own. In Marvel’s Iron Fist, we see more of New York’s vibrant Chinatown, as well as some of the more affluent neighborhoods such as Gramercy Park and Wall Street. According to executive producer Jeph Loeb, “Marvel’s Iron Fist really is about a side of New York that we haven’t really concentrated on and that is Park Avenue and the world of Wall Street and everything you associate with a high end, billionaire’s lifestyle.” Showrunner Scott Buck adds, “Danny’s a happy guy who loves life, loves the world around him and loves New York and I think that gives the show a much lighter feel than the other shows. It also allows us to see a very different side of New York than we’ve seen before. We’re not in Hell’s Kitchen, we’re not in Harlem, we’re in beautiful elite neighborhoods in Manhattan. It shows us a different kind of superhero and a different kind of New York.”
Stunt coordinator Brett Chan brought to the series 37 years of martial arts experience and 20 years in the business, spanning the disciplines of kung fu, muay thai, kali and krav maga. Chan spent many hours training Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick and choreographing the show’s action set-pieces. Buck found the complex fight sequences to be one of the most complicated aspects of making the show. And adding to the challenge of creating such ambitious sequences, was the fact that none of the cast had ever significantly trained in martial arts before signing on for the series.
Witnessing the actors became skilled martial artists in their own right was incredibly rewarding for Chan. “They had this affinity for it and they had a passion for it and you can see how hard they worked.” Finn Jones found it an enjoyable, if demanding experience. “I was working maybe 15-hour days and that was just shooting hours and then I’d have to fit in learning to do the fights on top of that, and then rehearsing the fights, and performing the fights. It just seemed like there were not enough hours in the day to do what we needed to do, and so it was very difficult to try and squeeze it all in. But, we did it! We made it happen. It was like learning a dance. We would rehearse it a few times with the other actors, and then once we were on set, they’d break it down into different angles to make it more manageable.”
Each character in Marvel’s Iron Fist utilizes a different style based on their specific back story. Chan explains, “Depending on what the character arc was in the story and also thinking about the basis established in the comics, I’d give them a list of different martial arts that we could start building from. For Danny Rand, we began combining certain martial arts to give Danny a look that would be a little bit different from everyone else. As a child, Danny was brought into this Asian world of Chinese martial arts and trained with monks so he uses a lot of wing chun and kung fu which are the animal styles. Any kind of martial art you can think of in the Chinese world is something that Danny has had access to because that is what he has been learning for the last 15 years. Primarily, we stuck with the ones that are the most noticeable when you see them, like the dragon style, with some tiger and crane.”
For the character of Colleen Wing, the focus was on the Japanese styles of martial arts. “It was about utilizing akido, judo, kenjutsu and karate. All of her movements are more linear and straightforward as she executes everything, whereas Danny has smaller movements and is a little fancier. The Chinese style is very beautiful in the sense of its movement because it’s very big in movement. When you do wushu, it’s about big flower movements. The Japanese style is beautiful in its stillness before they execute, which is then done very fast,” explains Chan.
IRON FIST SYMBOL
As in the comics, Danny has a recognizable image on his chest: the symbol of the Iron Fist. Josh Turi, the show’s SFX Make-up Artist, explains what that iconic dragon image means: “There have been multiple Iron Fists over time and each one has this symbol. It’s not technically a tattoo, it’s actually embedded into him, so from a design perspective, that’s where we started.”
Turi says that there were 21 iterations of the design before they landed on what viewers see on screen: a two-dimensional symbol with scarring around the edges to give it more depth and is applied by a transfer process. “This was something especially fun for me because I’ve been with the Marvel shows since the beginning, but this was the first time I’ve had the chance to do what I call the superhero suit, because the symbol really is his suit in this season. When they told me that I’d get to work on the Iron Fist logo, I became 12 years old again and I was so excited. I do tattoos all the time, but this was something different and really thrilling for me.”
Marvel’s Iron Fist launches globally on Netflix on 17 March 2017.