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.