Finlay Mackay for EW; Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic
January 13, 2017 at 05:43 AM EST

For more on Marvel’s The Defenders, including exclusive photographs and interviews, pick up Entertainment Weekly on stands, or buy it here now. And don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

When Marvel TV tapped Daredevil season 2 showrunners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez to helm their small-screen mash-up series The Defenders, the pair faced what seemed an impossible task: They had to work with four entirely different heroes who come from four entirely different worlds. Strip away their superhero exteriors, and Daredevil is an ultraviolent law drama, Jessica Jones a heady noir, Luke Cage a hip-hop-infused character study, and Iron Fist a martial arts extravaganza. “On paper, it seems like such a crazy challenge, because they’re all so different,” Ramirez admits. “How do you put Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist in the same room and give them the same goal?”

To make the balancing even more difficult, when Ramirez and Petrie began working on The Defenders, neither Luke Cage nor Iron Fist had aired, but they had to draft the shows’ arcs in advance. Plus, they had to make sure their familiarity with Daredevil didn’t mean his story would overshadow the others’. And finally, by the time The Defenders was set to start shooting at the end of October, Petrie had exited as co-showrunner. “We got to a point where the scripts were done, and we wanted Marco to continue, and Doug pursued other avenues,” Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb says.

But Ramirez wasn’t worried. “We’ve all been working on this for a very long time, so we’re good,” he explains. “Daredevil season 2 was an interesting audition, in a way, because we dealt with three major characters,” he says, citing the additions of Elektra and the Punisher. “I’d gone through the motions of figuring out how to cross those streams and mix the tones of each of those worlds.”

Ramirez spoke to EW about putting together The Defenders, the unique way the show has tackled working with other writers’ rooms, and what to expect when the series finally airs. Below is a condensed version of two separate interviews.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s go all the way back to the beginning of this series. How did you land the role as a showrunner? Was there an audition process or something like that among all the showrunners?
MARCO RAMIREZ: There wasn’t an audition process or anything. Marvel turned to me and Doug and said, “You know, you guys did some cool work on Daredevil season 2,” so now I’m here. Daredevil season 2 was an interesting audition for The Defenders in a way, in retrospect, because we dealt with three major characters [Daredevil, Elektra, and the Punisher]. I’d gone through the motions of figuring out how to cross those streams and mix the tones of each of those worlds.

How did you go about breaking the story? What pieces did you already have when you started writing?
The very bare-bones structure of it, I think Jeph Loeb has had since day one. He always knew what he wanted The Defenders to be in the end, he always had a broad sense. So when we initially took the job and when we initially started breaking the story down with the other writers, we knew the very broad strokes of what Marvel wanted to do, and it was our job to make that into eight cool episodes of TV.

Some things change along the way as the shows individually get made. Jessica Jones was such a massive success, Luke Cage was such a massive success, and with Iron Fist coming up, it’s never what you think the first thing is going to be. They’re changing on the fly, who these characters end up being. Even to a certain degree, what Charlie [Cox, who plays Daredevil] brought to Daredevil was different from what anyone had anticipated, and that’s so great. It helps us define who Daredevil was on this, so I do think there was a lot of recreating the initial plan.

We didn’t even know how many episodes we were going to do in the beginning. We were just like, “What do we want? How much do we need?” We finally found, with the writers, a shape that we felt was right for these four characters who are all individually really strong and independent and have really strong fan bases. We wanted no one to feel left out, so it was a fun challenge. We didn’t want to shortchange anyone.

What did you talk about at that first meeting with Jeph, with you and Doug being brought on board?
We were talking about where we would even begin with it, how to make this feel as organic as possible and not like, you know, a corporate mandate or something that we were just doing just because we had this project that we had to fulfill in any kind of way. It was like, “How can we make this feel earned and real and grounded the way that all these shows feel earned and real and grounded, and also topical and important, the way that Luke Cage and Jessica Jones did? If we tell this story, what is this story?”

How did you begin exploring each of the other characters, then? Like you said, it sounds kind of insane to put them together, but how did you learn about them? Did you meet with the other showrunners, visit the other writers’ rooms, or watch every show and take notes?
It was a lot of watching every show and taking notes and reading all of the scripts. For Luke Cage, for example, that hadn’t aired yet when we started writing, so we were just reading all the scripts and then watching everything from the initial auditions. Even before they had people cast, before they had any episodes shot, we needed to know, you know, what is Misty [Knight, played by Simone Missick] going to feel like? What is Luke going to sound like?

I remember when Jessica Henwick was cast as Colleen [in Iron Fist], Marvel representatives ran up to our offices, and they were like, “This is Colleen, just so you know!” And we were like, “Oh, cool! Now we know what she looks like!” It felt like we were making dessert while someone else was cooking dinner, and we were all in the same kitchen at the same time. The chicken isn’t even ready yet, and we’re already making the chocolate cake. [Laughs] That’s a bad metaphor.

So did you feel like you were sort of running multiple shows then?
It didn’t feel like we were running any of the other shows, because obviously Cheo [Hodari Coker, showrunner of Luke Cage] and Scott Buck [on Iron Fist] and Melissa [Rosenberg, on Jessica Jones] with season 2 of Jessica Jones have their own plans and their own stories to tell, but it felt like we were leasing other people’s cars. They were like, “Please drive this gorgeous, fast Ferrari. These are the specs on it. This is what it can do. Please just don’t break it.” [Laughs] You know? By breaking it, I mean, “Please don’t go against what the character is meant to do.” All I wanted to do was honor the hard work they’d already done, so yeah, we were always in conversation with Cheo and Scott and Melissa, and they would read our scripts.

How do you communicate with all of them? Do you have an email chain or something?
Well luckily, Marvel has a compound [laughs] so we’re all in the same building. Like, and this happened very early on, if I wanted to go over and ask Cheo questions, I would just go over and ask Cheo questions about Luke Cage’s world. I’m not sure [Marvel] would like the word “compound,” but it’s certainly one big building. It feels like a dorm. I say that because I sleep here. [Laughs.]

A massive Marvel sleepover sounds fun, but then, how do you guys work out the continuity of all the characters’ arcs? Are you running around all the time, or do you have a giant board with index cards set up tracing where all the stories are going?
[Laughs] Yeah, my office looks like Claire Danes’ office in Homeland. It’s just a bunch of arrows and color-coded things. It’s a lot of timelines, a lot to remember. But even beyond the timeline stuff, what’s really important to all of the writers on this was we were basically telling a version of Daredevil season 2.5, a Luke Cage season 1.5, a Jessica Jones 1.5, and Iron Fist 1.5, so it felt like we had to tell the story that came after their immediate seasons and before their next ones.

So, you know, what was important was emotionally, we were picking people up exactly where they were and telling a story that would get them to where they needed to be. It was really about tracking emotions and motivations more than it was about tracking events or dates. That goes for everyone, all the protagonists and the [supporting] members of our cast.

Does that mean that the story you and the writers were crafting had to be reactive to everyone else’s endpoints? Like, you had to wait for a show to reach a conclusion they’d film before you could move forward?
I wouldn’t say it’s reactive. I would say there’s a give and take, even to the story point. This is where the Marvel executives are really good. If we have a story that’s somewhat similar to what someone else is going to do on any of the individual shows, we would get flagged. It’s just a big, massive conversation. It’s weirdly like there’s a massive writers’ room with all of these shows existing as little organisms.

What’s an example of a story point that had to be changed become another show was already doing it?
I mean, for major story arcs and emotional arcs, we never really risk repeating those, thankfully, because we’re always so aware. It would come down to the logistics of a fight scene or a car chase or something, or a beat or even a character that feels similar to what someone else was going to establish. I can’t get too specific, but suffice to say if we came up with a cool car chase with three motorcycles, they’d be like, “Oh, we’re doing a three-car chase on this other show, so let’s not make the same thing.”

So Doug left as a co-showrunner at the end of October. Does that change anything at all? I know the scripts were finished by then.
It didn’t really [change anything]. I mean, we’ve all been working on this for a very long time, so we’re good.

NEXT: “It was almost like a checklist, like, ‘Where’s our great Luke and Jessica scene? Where’s our Danny and Matt scene?'”

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