One of the great bonuses of Netflix‘s “Jessica Jones” series is the way it delivered something more than a simple tease of what’s ahead for the next series starring Marvel‘s street-level superheroes. Rather than a mere cameo debut, viewers were presented with a fully-realized incarnation of Luke Cage, who just so happens to be next in line to star in his own series.
And the comics fans in the audience appeared to be united in their appreciation for actor Mike Colter‘s portrayal of the character. Colter’s Cage fit smoothly into Jessica’s world, viewers were left eager to see how he’ll will play out when he fonds himself at the center of his own storyline. Colter connected with CBR News to offer a look at how he found his way into the role, providing some key clues as to how the potential hero for hire will evolve when he returns.
CBR News: Was there an unexpected pleasure of being part of “Jessica Jones” and landing the role of Luke Cage?
Mike Colter: I guess what was unexpected for me was that people got Luke Cage, or they at least, I felt, got the part of Luke Cage that was presented to them in “Jessica Jones.” In a show that’s predominantly telling the story of Jessica’s journey, and that Luke plays a part in it because for whatever reason, there’s a link connecting them, it’s hard to tell one story without the other, I wasn’t sure that they would get who Luke Cage was as a character, or at least in the way that I thought they should get him. I was surprised by that. I felt like [the audience] kind of dialed in and was able to tell a lot about him, although he, in this series, was a man of few words and a lot of subtext. He keeps things to himself. I felt like people, they actually kind of got it.
That’s a bit surprising, because it’s just takes observation that I guess I didn’t give the audience enough credit [for having], but they did get it. He didn’t play the way I thought people would see him, and that was refreshing because we were going for this character in a way that said little but spoke volumes because of their past history together. I felt people got the subtleties.
Krysten Ritter mentioned how you two have been in this together — you started out at the same time, and will go through this whole experience with the interlocking series. Tell me about forming that bond with her, working with her and developing that great chemistry. What was special about that for you?
It’s already overwhelming and daunting doing this kind of character. I can only imagine what Charlie [Cox] must have felt because he started the flagship [“Daredevil”]. There were four of us, and he was the first. And then here we come, [and] we had each other to lean on. We started together. We auditioned together. We did the chemistry reads together. It’s already overwhelming, because it’s kind of a life-changing occurrence and it’s a big platform, and there’s a fan base that’s very strong, like no other fan base in the world.
I was reluctant, because I didn’t know a lot about the Luke Cage story. I was doing a lot of trusting of Marvel to give me something as an actor to enjoy playing. When I saw the sides that Melissa Rosenberg put together for the first episode, I was very intrigued. I was very excited. I wanted to believe that this would continue, and this would be a role that I would feel like playing on a daily basis, and that all came to be true. Krysten was very excited to play this character, and I thought she did a great job. Just us being together, that gave us perspective in the sense that, hey, we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but it felt a little strange and a little bit odd. We’d talk to each other, or text or call and say, hey, what’s going on? How’re things going? It’s a very bonding experience, to say the least.
What did you respond to about Luke Cage from the comics? Were there things you were hoping to capture in your performance?
Well, Luke is — they described him as enigmatic. He’s this guy who has a dark past and has this thing that he’s hiding. They described him as a guy who was a ladies man, who also got around but didn’t make much effort. It came easily to him. All these things were describing him and giving me descriptions of him so that I could see how I could start to form the character. Because when I talked to Jeph Loeb, he put it simply that Luke doesn’t have to try hard at anything. It just happens. And I thought, well, that’s his thing; things just come to him.
That’s very different for me, in life. I think I’ve worked very hard for pretty much everything I’ve gotten, and to not have to try hard was a very unique — not try hard for anything. Wow, that’s scary, to have things happen easily for him. Wow. How does that work? So you approach it from that. Trying to get the point of view. And then, eventually, once you get that combination, with the great writing, it starts to work. All of a sudden, you have this fully-formed character.
It took time. I experimented here and there, seeing how scenes would be played. Ultimately, with Melissa Rosenberg on set for the first few episodes, and S.J. Clarkson who directed the first two episodes, we formed the character and got me on the right track. I think it helped me a lot, and from there it was into the groove.
I know there’s only so much you can say about your own show, the “Luke Cage” series that’s coming up, but what can you put out there as far as taking the character into his own realm?
“Luke Cage” happens over some time after the “Jessica Jones” series. He is reeling from the experience that happens in “Jessica,” and he’s trying to get himself back on track. His bar was blown up, and now, he has to start over again. He’s just got to figure out where he is now, and what he’s doing with his life because he wants to define himself as a man, define himself in society and try to deal with his own demons. Just like Jessica had to deal with her demons, he has to deal with his demons, and that’s where he starts. I can’t tell you much more, but it will be interesting! It will be interesting and very unique.
For you, personally, what’s this experience been like? To be announced as this character, and to have instant fans and instant interest in your work and have your own show and be part of the bigger tapestry of the Netflix series — how’s that been?
It’s been overwhelming. I’ve never been one to seek out a lot of exposure. I’ve enjoyed the work that I have done over the years, and I’ve enjoyed the journey as an actor. I’m also [ready] for the next big character that I could get my hands on. This so happened to be a superhero of some notoriety, but I feel really lucky to be chosen to play this character. I feel like when I saw the guy, I really felt like it was meant for me to play him.
But at the same time, you can never control what happens in life. And so it happens, it was all a bit of luck. But here we are now, and I’m shooting the “Luke Cage” series, and I don’t look at it like — I mean, it’s another role for me. It’s a role that I will have notoriety for, but I’m thinking about the work. I’m just thinking about the work as an actor. I think about the bringing the best delivery, delivering the best character I can. I’m not trying to think about overall big picture, because I’m doing it one moment at a time, one scene at a time, one episode at a time. I’m just having fun as an actor.
Other than that, the big picture, we’ll see. But it’s really fun. I mean, it is overwhelming. First, you do “Jessica,” and then you do “Luke,” and then “The Defenders,” and then, who knows? But I’m going to enjoy this ride and try not to let it overwhelm me.
Are you looking forward to having some fun with those ’70s-era Luke Cage archetypal things? The yellow shirt, the “Sweet Christmases” —
I can’t get into details about what we’re going to do for “Luke Cage.” But if you remember in “Jessica,” he uttered the phrase “Sweet Christmas” a couple of times. He does give the fans that. I think Marvel cognizant of the fact that the fans know of the ’70s, and they are true fans who want to see something that they can relate to. We will do the best we can to not let them down, but I can’t promise you anything!