Awkward encounter on The Defenders set
IT'S surprising how real it looked. For a moment I almost forgot I was standing on a soundstage in the middle of a warehouse in Brooklyn.
It was about four degrees outside and threatening rain, but when I looked out the "windows" of Colleen Wing's dojo, as long as I didn't go right up to it, it could have been spring, foliage in bloom.
If I said I wasn't excited about being on the set of The Defenders, I would be lying.
The Marvel and Netflix superhero mash-up of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist was still six months away at that point (this set visit was in February) and we hadn't seen anything of it yet - no production stills, no trailers. The Defenders was announced in late 2013 so this was more than three years in the making.
Back then, the Iron Fist release was still a month away but having seen screeners of the early episodes, I recognised Colleen's dojo instantly. It wasn't being used today so it was our home for the day - myself and a pack of reporters from countries including Singapore, Philippines, Mexico and Brazil.
A semicircle of folding chairs had been arranged for us on the foam jigsaw mats that lined the floors, in between the surprisingly solid wooden posts that seemed to hold the ceiling up, at least on camera.
The dojo, a sparse set, was dressed with thoughtful details even though much of it wouldn't be discernible on screen. There were odes to Colleen's Japanese heritage including a small shrine, Haruki Murakami books and, of course, weapons.
A class schedule was printed on a prop calendar in the hallway outside the dojo's door - the holiday party was pencilled in for December 13 though, one suspected, given how the story of Iron Fist unfolded, it probably didn't go ahead.
There was a deliberately worn-down character to the set - the paint chipped away in places, the kitchen cabinets were mismatched shades of caramel and an old Whirlpool fridge sat in the corner. The level of detail is mind-blowing.
A publicist announced the first of our interviewees is a few minutes away and we all take a seat. One after another, stars from The Defenders and The Punisher, which was being shot simultaneously, rolled through the room, all facing us for their 30-minute grilling.
We met three out of the four Defenders superheroes - Charlie Cox (Daredevil), Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and Finn Jones (Iron Fist).
Cox had the air of a seasoned professional who spoke eloquently about the acting process, and made sure everyone got to ask their question. Jones, the only one still in his twenties, had a youthful energy that hadn't yet been blunted by the storm of negative critique that was about to hit Iron Fist. Colter talked really fast.
Krysten Ritter was the only Defender that remained elusive - she was busy launching a knitting kit that day. Ritter's affinity for knitting is all over her Instagram - how very un-Jessica Jones.
Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Karen Page but is best known to audiences for her work on True Blood, was pulling double duty shooting both The Defenders and The Punisher.
At the end of Woll's interview, the publicists rolled in a cake, followed by her boyfriend and dog. It was her birthday. She had come in on her day off, on her birthday no less, to promote the show. What a trooper.
It must have been so awkward, to have a group of strangers sing you an off-key "Happy birthday" and then eat cake together. Woll had only met us 25 minutes earlier and was unlikely to ever see us again. But if she found it odd, she didn't let on - she was sweet about it. The cake, though, was too sweet.
Late in the afternoon, everyone was desperate to go see the filming a few stages over. Partly because we were told there was coffee there and jet lag was starting to catch up on half the room, the half from Asia with its 16-hour time difference. Of course, it's American coffee so I wasn't sure if there was anything to get excited about.
When we arrived on the cavernous stage, there was a buzz of activity around two monitors displaying what was happening inside the wooden panels that made up the set where Colter and Scott Glenn (who plays Stick) were shooting a scene.
We were given headphones to listen in. Luke and Stick exchanged words before Luke collapsed on his side. The director was trying to get the perfect shot of Luke's head hitting the ground.
Every time they had to reset the scene, the panels were rolled back to clear the smoke. Colter milled around, joking with the crew. At 1.91cm, he towered over everyone, well, everyone except his stunt double.
I didn't have any of the swill-looking coffee but I can vouch for the chocolate fudge cookies. Delicious.
In between takes, the unit publicist, an Aussie expat, took us through the adjacent set of Daredevil's apartment. The set wasn't lit so we quickly took in what we could - the braille labels on the jars in the kitchen for the blind character and the gyprock "stone" walls.
On our way back out, the publicist pointed to an area of the warehouse that was Iron Fist's office.
Marvel's street-level superhero shows are endlessly filming, one after another. Jessica Jones season two was to film directly after The Defenders and there is still the second season of Luke Cage and the third season of Daredevil to come. Iron Fist was recently renewed for a second season too.
The publicist tells us that the Netflix Marvel series have grown so much they've expanded to three sets in Brooklyn with more sets still in Long Island. Any sets not currently in use are packed away until they're needed.
The area of Brooklyn in which The Defenders was shot is a popular spot for film crews. The Good Fight, Blue Bloods and Master of None were just around the corner.
I wondered about braving the blistering cold and taking a walk around the block. I really wanted to run into Aziz Ansari.
The Defenders premieres on Netflix this Friday, August 18 from 5pm AEST.
Check back on Thursday for what Charlie Cox, Mike Colter and Finn Jones have to say about Marvel's ambitious TV miniseries.
Continue the conversation on Twitter with @wenleima.
Wenlei Ma travelled to New York as a guest of Netflix.