Luke Cage's Colter Built Himself Into a Hero For Today's World

You may have seen Mike Colter’s Luke Cage, but – Sweet Christmas! – you haven’t seen him like this.

After introducing Marvel Comics' iconic Hero For Hire in Netflix's “Jessica Jones” as a complicated, brooding but noble, and decidedly dashing, Colter’s take on on the bulletproof ex-con-turned-Avenger (or in this case, future Defender) gets the center stage treatment in “Marvel’s Luke Cage,” a stylish, compelling and utterly distinctive new entry in the Marvel/Netflix oeuvre.

CBR caught up with Colter at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, where he revealed his thoughts on putting the spotlight squarely on Cage during a moment of intense racial discourse in America, bulking up his build to suit the part and looking forward to the street-hero team-up – and probably smackdowns – ahead.

CBR: Given that culturally we’re having these really serious discussions about race and justice these days, what does it mean to you at this stage of the game to be able to embody Luke Cage, one of Marvel’s premiere black superheroes?

Mike Colter: I mean, it’s timely for sure. We started this process -- it’s always been timely, in a sense, when you talk about injustices and ethnical diversity and what people have to deal with and other people don’t have to deal with in our country. For me, it’s a conversation starter, but it doesn’t end the conversation. 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 easy.

I think as much as people would like to think about “Luke Cage” being a positive thing -- there were comparisons about my show “The Wire” being an influential thing. “The Wire” is 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 in 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, you know? 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 have kids, and 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.

We have to get past that, and if “Luke Cage” can kind of just open the conversation, change – because he’s not on the left side or the right side, he’s somewhere in the middle there. He’s a fugitive, he’s done some wrong, he’s been in prison. He says at some point, “I’ve done some good things and I’ve done some bad things, and sometimes you do some bad things and nothing happens. And then sometimes you get caught doing something, and you didn’t do it, but you’re going to pay the price for it.” Is that karma, or is that something coming back what you got away with? What’s right, what’s wrong, what’s fair?

Did you grow up with the comic?

No, I didn’t know much about him. I’d heard about him. Didn’t know much about him.

Were you aware or into any other superheroes?

Oh yeah. Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, the X-Men. I grew up reading some comics that I got from my cousins from up north, because I grew up in a small town in South Carolina. I definitely loved comics growing up. I didn’t get a chance to get Luke Cage, but I’d heard about him, and several people had mentioned him to me because they knew he was trying to get a series, and they thought that I was right for the role – and I didn’t understand why and I couldn’t figure it out.

In what ways did you have to amp up your physical regimen to embody Cage? How intense did it have to get?

You do as much as you can. I put 30-something pounds on. I figured, you’ve got to try and increase the weight, make sure your frame looks like a guy who could do what you’re needing to be done. I’m the last person... It’s so odd, because when I got into this business, I never wanted to play characters that rely on their physical attributes to have the role, because I avoided that.

I avoided sports for the most part. I never chose to play sports on a high level. I loved theater, I loved acting. I wanted to do this with the rest of my life. I was like, that’s a distraction. I wanted to study, I wanted to get my craft down, and I wanted to hone my skills. I really didn’t want to embark on this journey of playing sports to try to get where I wanted to get in life.

So I studied. I was always in the theater. I was a big fan, though, of the bodybuilders that started in the business. I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book when I was a kid. I read Frank Zane’s book. I watched Corinna Everson. When I was growing up, I watched everything. You talk about movies and films? I watched television. There’s nothing that I missed. I didn’t miss anything.

So I was a student of fitness. I remember watching, reading nutrition stuff. I basically had to revisit those times, and I started reading more. I started going out, trying supplements – legal supplements – that I could take that would change me physically and try to do it the right way, increasing my portions.

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. When I’ve done all the press, and I’ve done all the stuff and I’m working on other projects -- “Oh, I’ve got to go to the gym.” It’s two hours, and I can’t spend these two hours doing something I would really like to do.

Do they at least tell you in advance when you have a shirtless scene coming up?

You read it, yeah, but I don’t stop dropping water and pills and stuff like that and fasting. [Laughs] I just try to stay -- I’m like, “Look, I’ve got to eat. Yeah, I’ve got to eat something.” So you do the best you can.

How excited are you for that first scene where you get to play with all the other actors as the Defenders?

It’ll be cool for me, because I’m really interested in seeing how they develop, how they introduce our characters. I’ve got a feeling that it’ll be really interesting. Honestly, I can’t wait to cross paths with Daredevil, and to cross paths with Jessica in those circumstances – and Iron Fist.

In the comics, Iron Fist and Luke are very close. 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 interested as anyone else is, and I’m pretty excited about it. Also, I won’t be front and center all the time – it’s a little more ensemble.

I’ll probably have to fight along at some point. Yeah, exactly, exactly. A little fight between the two of us. But nothing too serious. Just over, “Who’s milk this is in the refrigerator,” or something like that. “Who drank my milk?”

Marvel's Luke Cage is available no on Netflix streaming.

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