‘Cinematic pockets’ of Hell’s Kitchen give grit to ‘Jessica Jones’

Location shoots in the actual neighborhood and elsewhere are used to convey a gritty Hell’s Kitchen reflective of the title character’s tough exterior. Seen here, from the second season, Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones. | Photo by David Giesbrecht, courtesy of Netflix

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Whether it’s a blended scotch or bourbon, former superhero turned private eye Jessica Jones is never far from a bottle.

So where does the protagonist procure the hard stuff? From Sonny’s Grocery, of course, a longtime Hell’s Kitchen bodega that was turned into a liquor store for the second season of “Jessica Jones” — returning to Netflix on March 8 with 13 episodes.

Sonel “Sonny” Ramirez, 72, owner of the store for more than 40 years, said the production staff came in, stashed his selection of food in the back, and stocked the shelves with more a 1,000 bottles.

“People thought I gave up the groceries and turned it into a liquor store,” he said by phone.

Filming at the store at 767 10th Ave. (btw. W. 51st & 52nd Sts.) took about a day and a half, and, once completed, everything was put back into place. Ramirez said he got about $13,000 for the shoot.

Sonny’s Grocery on 10th Ave. sells beer every day of the year — but regulars thought the store’s business model had changed, when the “Jessica Jones” crew turned the whole place into a liquor store during a location shoot for the current season. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

Although the series has traveled elsewhere for its exteriors of Hell’s Kitchen, several other locations in the actual neighborhood show up during this new batch of shows, including the Salvation Army at 536 W. 46th St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.) and the recently shuttered Hartley House at 413 W. 46th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), according to Rocco Nisivoccia, the location manager for the second season.

Sonel “Sonny” Ramirez also owns Sonny’s 10th Ave. Meat Market (located across the street, it’s visible from his perch behind the counter of Sonny’s Grocery). | Photo by Scott Stiffler

Nisivoccia said the show specifically scouted Hell’s Kitchen locations for its authentic fire escapes and facades. The neighborhood matched the look and the feel of the show, which he called “dark and grim.”

“It’s an edgy type of show and we’re trying to stay on the edge for it,” he said by phone. Hell’s Kitchen was “a place that was tough — that resembles Jessica Jones well.”

The show filmed in the neighborhood quite often, doing a lot of street work there, according to Nisivoccia.

Jessica Jones’ apartment/office in the show (identified as 485 W. 46th St. during the first season) is a fictitious address, and is actually a building on the Upper West Side, he said.

Frank Covino, who was the location manager for the first six episodes of season one, said in an email, “It was clear from the beginning we wanted to find the grittiness and texture that was prominent in Hell’s Kitchen when the neighborhood was mostly working class.”

For the first season, the show shot under the High Line, filmed on Eighth Ave., and also used Chelsea’s London Terrace as an establishing shot for one of the show’s reoccurring locations, according to Covino.

Covino called the once-notorious Midtown neighborhood “the perfect backdrop for our superhero. Cool, gritty exteriors from the comic book era drove our scouting. If you look hard enough there are cinematic pockets in Hell’s Kitchen that still exist and lend itself to the Marvel Universe.”

In her first season on Netflix, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) discovered she was covertly photographed and exited the Bryant Park subway station while retracing her steps. Jones’ work has also taken her to the Meatpacking District, Tribeca, Union Square Park and, of course, Hell’s Kitchen. | Photo by Myles Aronowitz, courtesy of Netflix

The first comic Jessica Jones appeared in was “Alias,” Max Burbank, 55, told Chelsea Now by phone. (Full disclosure: Burbank also writes a political satire column for this publication.)

Burbank has been reading comics and steeping himself in their history since the 1960s, and also works at Harrison’s Comics and Pop Culture in Salem, MA.

Jessica Jones’ comic came out under a Marvel imprint called Marvel Max, which was intended for a more mature audience with its language, sex, and violence, Burbank explained.

“For a comic, it’s incredibly graphic,” he said.

That series ran from 2001 to 2004, and then Jessica Jones was featured in a Marvel series called The Pulse from 2004 to 2006 — though the language is cleaned up, according to Burbank. To capitalize on the show, which debuted on Netflix in late 2015, there was a comic called “Jessica Jones” that came out briefly and ran for a year, he noted.

About the show, Burbank said, “I loved it. I thought it was great. It did a really great job adapting the comic.”

During season one, Jessica Jones battles Kilgrave — a villain who can control minds and who, at one point, controlled her.

David Tennant portrayed Kilgrave, with Burbank saying he brought depth to the character. Jessica Jones and Kilgrave’s “dynamic is one of an abusive relationship,” he said.

Indeed, before the current #MeToo movement and a reckoning with sexual assault, consent, and sex, Jessica Jones bluntly calls what happens to her, rape.

She is not the typical superhero, Burbank noted. She is an active alcoholic, sleeps around, and has a foul mouth.

“The character is so damaged, and, in some ways, unlikeable,” he said. “She’s really an anti-hero.”

Burbank said he loves “the nastiness” that Krysten Ritter, who plays Jones, brings to the character. (Representatives for Netflix, Marvel, and Ritter declined multiple requests for a phone or email interview with the actress.)

“I love her in that character yet she’s really unpleasant. I would want to hang out with that person but I would hate them,” Burbank said.

Jessica Jones’ Netflix season one nemesis Kilgrave is known as the “Purple Man” in the comic book. | Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

There are some differences between the comic and the show, he explained, as the show does not explore the main character’s failed attempt to be a superhero, and Kilgrave is called the Purple Man in the comic due to his purple skin.

Another difference is in the comic, he said, Jessica Jones’ best friend is Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), not Trish Walker, played by Rachael Taylor in the show.

Trish and Jessica’s friendship was a core element of season one and continues to be with the new season — kicking off with the detective doing what private eyes do: taking photos of someone’s extracurricular activities. This time, the mark is a pizza delivery man who is having too much fun on his route (much to the chagrin of his girlfriend).

Ideas and themes that were hinted at in season one come to the forefront of season two, such as how did Jessica Jones get her power, what and who is behind IGH, and can she defeat a villain who is stronger than she is? But, perhaps, the most daunting task ahead for Jessica Jones will be facing something none of us can escape: the past.

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