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The thing about superheroes is that beneath the capes and tights and high-tech crime-fighting gear, they’re mostly just people dealing with problems. Sure, the problems are writ large and usually involve imminent explosions or threats to the planet, but their most interesting struggles are always internal, and usually stemming from their own personal backstories. It’s likely the real reason we’ve identified with superheroes since Action Comics introduced us to Superman in 1938.
Krysten Ritter, who last year landed the lead as Marvel’s mysterious Jessica Jones in the eponymous Netflix series, actually had a pretty happy childhood until her parents’ divorce and a subsequent move to “the sticks” darkened the story. A sense of isolation and “falling through the cracks of her own family” set in, as did the physical traits that mark one as a super-human species from a mile away. Tall, rail thin and gawky, Ritter attended an Elite mall model scout at her mother’s insistence and found a tribe of sorts. Though she refused to participate in the cattle call, an agent sought her out, and modeling set her on a trajectory that eventually led to acting.
Luckily, Ritter discovered two of her superpowers early on: perseverance and patience. Though not as flashy as, say, leaping tall buildings, they’re powerful weapons against the chaos of life in the real world, and particularly in the Holly-world. Coming up, she decided that by working hard, studying hard (immersing herself in Stanislavsky and Meisner) and looking at each “no” as once step closer “yes,” she’d succeed. “I knew I could always work harder and be better and show I’m more prepared.”
And the jobs started coming in. But still…where to fit in? Mostly as a sidekick, to start. Was she funny? Caustic? Bubbly? Goth? Well, yes. She played a revolving cast of “friends of” in TV shows like Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, and Veronica Mars, and films such as 27 Dresses, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and What Happens in Vegas. In 2008 two more of Ritter’s powers—X-ray future vision and the ability to withstand large leaps of faith—revealed themselves. She’d been offered a part on CBS’ successful Julia Louis-Dreyfuss sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine when the chance for a part of undetermined duration on the still-unproven Breaking Bad came along. Unable to resist the lure of playing tattoo artist/recovering drug addict Jane Margolis, she opted in.
Though the part perhaps cemented the perception of Ritter as a darker, edgier actress, it brought her to the attention of a lot more fans and people in the biz. For Jessica Jones creator Melissa Rosenberg, it was that role, coupled with Ritter’s comic turn on the short-lived Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 that convinced her Ritter was right for Jones. “Drama is easier to come by in actors,” Rosenberg told Rolling Stone. “But the ability to shift from drama to comedy—sometimes on a dime in any given scene—that’s much harder to come by. We needed someone who had those edgy comedic skills, could deliver a dry line and give you a sense of what this character has gone through. That’s a rare talent.” Viewers and reviewers seem to agree. The show’s been renewed for a second season and Ritter will extend the role in the upcoming The Defenders.
So Ritter’s story seemingly comes full circle, but any adventure tale worth its salt promises more tantalizing plot twists ahead. The creative streak unleashed by the loneliness and boredom of her rural teenage years also included music and writing; she’s penned several scripts and sold a pilot. All of which leads us to believe—and certainly hope—that when she gets a break from saving the world, we might see even more of her talents unmasked.