Bulletproof: An Interview with Mike Colter, Netflix’s ‘Luke Cage’ Star

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Marvel has so dominated the film and television landscape that every single one of their movies or new shows is an event. The Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones have set the bar high, and once Netflix premieres Luke Cage and Iron Fist, all four characters will team up in The Defenders next year, providing even more material for viewers to binge on.

Comic book fans have been waiting to see Luke Cage on screen since the ‘70s. Even when Marvel movies took off in 2000 with X-Men, or perhaps 1998 with Blade, it’s taken a decade and a half to introduce Cage to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We first met Mike Colter as Luke Cage in Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, a man who ran the bar across the street and had the same super-strength and indestructibility as Jessica.

Now with his own dedicated series, we find Cage living in Harlem, sweeping floors at a barber shop. He’d like to keep a low profile, but criminals keep popping up whom he can’t ignore.

Ahead of the Luke Cage season one premiere Friday, September 30, Cinema Thread caught up with Colter at a Television Critics Association event and got Colter’s thoughts on preparing for the role, its cultural impact, and his character’s complicated morality.  

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CINEMA THREAD: Did you feel any pressure coming front and center in this show?

Mike Colter: No, I’m very good at deflecting. People say stuff about shows and expectations. In life I’m not a cup-is-half-empty kind of guy. I’m always trying to balance things out. I think for me, going into Jessica, some people might go, “Oh, I’m going to have my own show. I can’t wait to have my own show and I want to get this Jessica Jones part out so I can have my own show.” Which makes it more focused on Luke Cage. I think you have to be an equal follower. If you can follow, you can lead.

 

CT: How did introducing Luke Cage in Jessica Jones help prepare you for your own series?

MC: In playing the supporting cast of Jessica, I was able to explore parts of Luke Cage that were not necessarily explored in the Luke Cage series because he was playing a support to someone he felt very passionate about, someone who he thought he had a spark with and still feels like he could have a spark with her. The problem is they have so many secrets and it’s so layered, it’s so complex, yet they seem like compatible souls. So when I look at Luke Cage taking on that series, basically all I do is say to myself, “I’m just coming to work pretty much every day now as opposed to maybe three days out of five.” The workload increases, we’re going to Harlem, we’re probably shooting more days uptown. The sets have changed a bit. There are some other characters that are coming in. We have the same crew, the same cinematographer, the same a lot of things. I look at things that way. That way it’s a lot easier for me.

Mike Colter as Luke Cage | Netflix
Mike Colter as Luke Cage | Netflix

CT: Does Luke oppose the villains on a moral level as well as physically trying to stop them?

MC: I think any time you’re taking advantage of people who are weaker than you are, and imposing your will on them for your own gain, I think he looks at that as being cowardly and he looks at that as being weak. Any time you’re taking advantage of people for your own gain, that’s something he opposes. Ultimately, I don’t think he was judging anybody but with the event that happened in episode two, that was someone that was close to him. For him, that was it. You set him off. Now he has to get involved. That sprung him into action and the actions that he did. Now he’s involved so this war that he’s involved in now is something that he didn’t want to be involved in, but because he stuck his nose in it, now he’s got to deal with the ramifications.

Listen, there are times when he quite frankly could’ve said, “I’m going to just leave.” He could’ve run. He could’ve run and tried to leave and go somewhere else, just get out of Harlem. But that’s not how you deal with problems, not men.

You can’t deal with problems by running away from them. So he needed to deal with his past and he also needed to deal with the people that are trying to chase him and trying to deal with that as well.

 

CT: It’s fun to do things like lifting the washing machine, but it’s probably complicated to set up so you can’t do it too often, can you?

MC: It’s complicated to set up but you can do it more often. It’s not a big deal. I think the main thing is that less is more sometimes. When you know he has the power and you establish that, you don’t want to see it all the time because, remember, first of all in the beginning, he doesn’t want people to know he has the power. So there are only one or two people who know about his abilities. So there’s that and then there’s also the fact that he doesn’t want to be looked at as a freak. He’s not walking around doing carnival tricks and stuff like that. He wants to be just a normal guy and stuff like that. He doesn’t want people to shoot him because if you shoot him, then obviously he gets a hole in his clothing and also people are looking at him going, “Oh my God, did you see that?” He doesn’t want the attention so he’s trying to avoid these little moments where he has to display his powers.

Mike Colter as Luke Cage - Cinema Thread
Mike Colter as Luke Cage | Netflix

CT: What do you hope the cultural impact of an African-American superhero will be right now?

MC: It’d be nice to think that if you sat down and watched Luke Cage you could learn something from it and basically change your perspective in life, but it’s not that easyI think as much as people would like to think about Luke Cage as being a positive thing, there were comparisons made by my showrunner about The Wire being an influential thing. The Wire has also probably made more people afraid of black criminals as they’ve made people feel positive. So there’s that. The perception of television is strong. So if they watch this and we can undo some of those negative stereotypes by putting a hood on a hero, that helps. But by that token, we have to have more examples of what’s good and what’s right because ultimately it’s perception.

The fear that people have for other people is the unknown, and that’s all in our heads.

There’s not much basis in it. Everyone thinks that people are such and such or they have a perception of them until they actually shake their hands and find out that they have a family and they have a name and they have kids. They have a dog and they eat and they get hungry and they like sushi like they do. It’s a pretty common world we’re in. We’re not that different. So I think we have to get past that and Luke Cage can kind of just open a conversation.

 

CT: Do you feel good with the physical regimen you’ve had to take on to embody Luke Cage?

MC: I feel good. It’s odd because the results are great, but this schedule that I’m on, I don’t have time to do what most people have to do. When my free time comes along, I have to get a workout in. It’s a full-time job. So when I’ve done all the press and I’ve done all the stuff and I’m working on other projects, oh, I gotta go to the gym. It’s two hours I can’t spend doing something I’d really like to do.

 

CT: How excited are you for The Defenders?

MC: It’ll be cool for me because I’m really interested in seeing how they develop and how they introduce our characters. I’ve got a feeling that it’ll be really interesting also because I can’t wait to cross paths with Daredevil and to cross paths with Jessica under those circumstances and Iron Fist. In the comics, Iron Fist and Luke are very close and stuff like that and it’s going to be interesting to see how that relationship develops, how they come together. Is this going to be the infancy stages of the “Hero for Hire” thing? Is this where this is going? Who are they all fighting? What’s the enemy here? How do they come to the conclusion that they need to join forces and why? So I’m as interested as anyone else is and I’m pretty excited about it. Also, I won’t be front and center all the time so it’s a little more ensemble.

 

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