If you’re like us, you hadn’t seen actor Mike Colter until he turned up as prison escapee-turned-bulletproof superhero Luke Cage in the fantastic Netflix series Jessica Jones last year. Or at least, you didn’t think you’d seen him. But with a little online research, you’d realize you’ve actually seen him a lot—you just didn’t know it.

A native of South Carolina (and a graduate of the University of South Carolina, as well as an MFA grad from Rutgers), Colter played boxer Big Willie Little in Million Dollar Baby opposite Clint Eastwood back in 2004. He then acted on a ton of TV shows, including The Good Wife, The Following and no fewer than three different Law & Order series. He also had smaller parts in films like Salt, Zero Dark Thirty and Men in Black 3.

But Luke Cage is his breakout character—and now thanks to the magic of Marvel Studios and its legions of loyal fans, he has his own spinoff show, Luke Cage, which arrives on Netflix on Friday (and judging by the awesome trailer, you might finish the whole damn thing this weekend).

The role is a huge undertaking for Colter, but as you’ll see below in this exclusive and comprehensive interview, he seems up to the task. Check out what Colter has to say about adding weight, breaking racial stereotypes, being a gentleman in 2016 and filming sex scenes with friends’ wives.

“As much as people would like to see Luke Cage as a positive thing who can undo some of the racial stereotypes, he’s really somewhere in the middle of good and bad.”

What is Luke Cage dealing with as the series begins?
He’s a fugitive. This war that he’s involved in now, he didn’t want to be involved in. But because he stuck his nose in it, he has to deal with the ramifications. He could have gotten out of Harlem, but that’s not how you deal with problems, by running away from them. He needs to deal with his past and also the people trying to chase him. He’s looking for companionship. His wife, Riva, was taken from him. She was his best friend and now he has no one to confide in. I look at him as a hopeless romantic. If he falls, he falls hard.

Is he different than he was in Jessica Jones?
He is the same guy he was in Jessica, but he’s around different people and connects with them differently. He wouldn’t talk with Jessica about sports like he does with the guys now.

Is there more pressure on you now that you’re starring in your own show?
No. If you can follow, you can lead. The difference is I come to work every day as opposed to three days out of five. The workload increases, but the character’s the same. We’re shooting more in Harlem. The sets have changed a bit and some other characters are coming in. But we have the same cinematographer. A lot of things are the same.

What does it mean to be a black superhero and role model, especially in this racial climate?
It’s timely for sure. Talking about injustice is always timely, and diversity, what some people have to deal with and others don’t. For me, it’s a conversation starter but it doesn’t end the conversation. It’s nice to think that if you watch Luke Cage, you could learn something from it and change your perspective. But as much as people would like to see Luke Cage as a positive thing who can undo some of the stereotypes, he’s really somewhere in the middle of good and bad.

We need more examples of what’s good and what’s right. It’s important that we have positive images. We’re just trying to tell a unique story. And I think we’ve done so. We have no agenda. But I’m proud that people do think he’s a good superhero. And I hope that the black community can feel good about him as well.

A lot of attention comes with playing a superhero.
It changes your life a little bit. When I’m in an airport or grocery store or going to dinner, that attention is not something I’d necessarily want. But this is the role of a lifetime. Even though this character was well known, he’d never been brought to life onscreen. There was no predecessor, so I didn’t have to figure out a way to make it different from someone who played him earlier. I had a blank slate.

I felt like we were creating him from scratch and making him fresh, new and relevant today. I knew there were good people involved and couldn’t ignore that. You want the best possible project and people, and this was a great role and I wanted the chance to play it.

What got you into acting in the first place?
I had a great imagination as most kids do. I played by myself a lot, in my room, imagining alternate worlds and universes. It was that, in combination with my love of TV and film. I watched everything. I was passionate about moviemaking and really curious. I thought I could follow that passion and become an actor through studying and training. I was probably eight years old. I knew really early.

Would you want Luke’s powers?
Yeah. It’s not bad. You look normal. Your skin’s unbreakable. You can run for a long period of time and lift heavy things. I could open a moving company or something like that. I could load everything myself in a couple hours—a pretty good hustle.

How much will Luke use his powers?
Less is more. We know he has the power. You don’t want to see it used all the time because in the beginning he doesn’t want people to know he has the power, and he doesn’t want to be looked at like a freak. He wants to be a normal guy. He doesn’t want someone to shoot him because he doesn’t want the attention. He wants to avoid moments when he has to use his power.

How was shooting on location in Harlem?
It was like going home again. I lived in Harlem for five years when I lived in New York. Harlem has changed so much in the last 10 years. The Harlem we’re projecting in the series is like the Harlem I lived in 10 years ago—not quite as gentrified, no Whole Foods there. It has a little more edge. The club, Harlem Paradise, is fictitious but harkens back to clubs like the Apollo and the Cotton Club. We wanted some of that nostalgia, the unique culture that Harlem gives you. Every time we were in Harlem, we felt the love. The sidewalks and boulevards are so large, it’s the perfect place to shoot—lots of room to walk.

Were you into comic book superheroes as a kid?
I definitely loved comics growing up—Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina and got them from my cousin up north.

“There’s so much violence going on in the world today, and people who have no desire to solve anything with discussion are cowards.”

How did you prepare physically for the role?
I put 30-something pounds on. I had to look like a guy that could do what I needed to be doing. When I got into the business, I never wanted to play characters that required physical attributes to get the role. I avoided sports for the most part. I loved theater, I loved acting. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life and saw sports as a distraction. I wanted to study and get my craft down. But I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book when I was a kid. I was a student of fitness and had to revisit those times. I worked out, increased my portions. Whenever I had a two-hour break, I’d get a workout in.

What’s more challenging, the action scenes or sex scenes?
A fight scene is more logistically complicated, but a sex scene adds a bit more difficulty because you have to do them over and over. You have a lot of crew in there and it’s a bit awkward. If you’ve done it before it helps a little bit, but it’s never casual. Ideally, you’d get to know a person beforehand so you feel more comfortable, but most of the time they’re too soon—you meet and you’re jumping into bed. It’s very weird.

You do the best you can, crack a few jokes—or not depending how the other person is feeling. You have to be professional about it and make it look good, and if you do you won’t have to do it as many times. Luckily, all the women have been easy to work with so I didn’t have to try too hard. I had never met Simone Missick, who plays Misty, but I’ve known her husband for years. She’s married to Dorian Missick. He and I worked on a play together years ago and stayed in contact. Having a sex scene with her was a little weird. But I took it in stride.

Iron Fist is the next in the Marvel superhero series, followed by The Defenders. What can you tell us?
I’m interested to see how they develop and introduce our characters. I can’t wait to cross paths with Daredevil and Iron Fist and Jessica under those circumstances. In the comics, Luke and Iron Fist are very close, so it’ll be interesting to see how that relationship develops. Who are they fighting? Who’s the enemy here? How do they come to the conclusion that they need to join forces? I’m pretty excited about it. It’s an ensemble, so I won’t be front and center all the time.

Finally, what does it mean to be a gentleman in 2016?
Keeping your cool and trying to solve problems without your fists. There’s so much violence going on in the world today, and people who have no desire to solve anything with discussion are cowards. It’s not all about violence.