With The Royale and Daredevil on Tap, Marco Ramirez Toasts the Best Days of His Life
The playwright and Netflix coshowrunner celebrates two major premieres within a single week.
For writer Marco Ramirez, March 2016 is going to reach a "tell the grandchildren" level of unforgettable. On March 7, he makes his off-Broadway debut with the Lincoln Center Theater opening of his new drama, The Royale. A day later, at its gala premiere just across the street, Ramirez will celebrate the second season of the Netflix series Daredevil, for which he serves as coshowrunner.
The Royale, directed by Rachel Chavkin at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, dramatizes (and fictionalizes) the early life of the boxer Jack Johnson — taking the unique tack of not including a boxing match. Daredevil, based on the Marvel Comics franchise, tells the story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer by day who uses his heightened senses to fight crime on the streets of Manhattan by night.
For Ramirez, the events couldn't come at a better time. He's already calling them the "two best days of my life."
How much of The Royale is actually based on the Jack Johnson story?
I didn't want to tell an exact version of the Jack Johnson story. It is very loosely inspired by [his] early struggles and breaking a huge color barrier when boxing was an incredibly popular sport. The Jack Johnson story is well-trodden territory, particularly in The Great White Hope. I wanted [this] to be its own thing. I took many, many liberties with it. I'm very aware that some people come to the play already knowing the history, because its one of the most important narratives in American sports. I'm always very clear, even in the play, to make sure [the fictional character's] name is said enough times that we remind the audience this is not Jack Johnson.
What was it about the subject matter that interested you?
I knew I wanted to write a play about boxing. I wanted to use this stream-of-consciousness technique [where] the characters are talking their way through the fight as opposed to actually seeing the fight. I could tell a contemporary story, I could tell a story that takes place in the seventies, I thought about the Mike Tyson story. I wanted to do this barebones aesthetic, much like the sport of boxing. It made sense to make it an early boxing narrative as opposed to a glitzy, glamorous, later one.
What did you discover about Jack Johnson along the way?
The Jack Johnson story itself is about the beginning of the African-American swagger. It felt like Jack Johnson was one of the earliest champions of swagger. Even writing it, hearing his voice, I was hearing as much Jack Johnson as Jay-Z. It was Denzel Washington's character in Glory. There's Kanye West in the story, there was Miles Davis, LeBron James. It was interesting in seeing that the narrative had been repeated in American culture so many times, very similar stories. It wasn't just Jack Johnson. To me, it's the story of all these other important figures.
As a writer, how do you contend with the memories of great boxing works like Rocky and Golden Boy?
I know all of the boxing narratives; I've seen them all and love them. I wanted to make sure this felt uniquely like a piece of theater and not a boxing movie. We've seen the best boxing matches in the world [on-screen], the ones in Creed and Rocky and The Fighter. But what I didn't want to do was approximate something that we'd all seen the best versions of. I had to point it in another direction. I feel like I borrowed as much from boxing narratives written by Jack London, not just the dramatic interpretations.
It's just about a week from the second season premiere of Daredevil, the Marvel-based Netflix series, for which you're now serving as coshowrunner. What's going through your mind before it starts?
I'm incredibly excited about it. I was granted a huge opportunity from last season to this season. The reviews have been very positive and the actors are great. We wrote it a year ago now. In a way, I feel like it's been cooking and percolating for so long. I just can't wait for people to see it, so I can talk to my friends about it.
How different (or similar) is working on a Netflix series like Daredevil to writing a play?
I approach it the same way I approach a play: How can I fill that time with as much story as possible? Because [Netflix has] the liberty to release all the episodes at once, you can tell the story a little slower and not feel the need to rush to act breaks.
There's a boxing component to Daredevil, too. Why do you think that sport is such a popular subject on both stage and screen?
It's such a barebones sport. For someone who doesn't know baseball or football, it might be a little confusing to understand what the rules are. [But] it's a very simple, primal event to witness. And it is drama. Depending on who you choose, you have a protagonist and an antagonist. Whoever you are rooting for will either win or lose. It's that simple. Drama borrows as much from boxing as boxing borrows from drama.