Jessica Jones arrived on Netflix last month, and with it, Marvel’s greatest onscreen villain, TV’s first super-antihero, and her brooding hunk of a love interest, Luke Cage. The character, played by Mike Colter, was liberally featured in the show’s arsenal of unprecedented sex scenes, though largely cut off from the kind of complex arcs we saw with other secondary figures in the Jessica Jones universe. Luckily, we’ll get plenty more Luke in his upcoming solo Netflix series, Marvel’s Luke Cage. Colter recently took a quick break from his hectic filming schedule to talk to Vulture about how he got to know his character, navigating the politics of his indestructibility, and figuring out what’s next.
How were you first introduced to the character of Luke Cage?
I was introduced to Luke Cage through the internet, like most people, because there was buzz about bringing this character to the screen. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but friends and family started asking me, “Have you seen this character? You look like you’d be good to play him.” I couldn’t figure out why. All I could surmise from it was that he was a large, strong guy who was bald.
What made you want to play him?
At first there was so much competition, I didn’t really think I was necessarily a good fit to play him. I’m always looking for a character where I can bring something to the table that only I can give. I didn’t know yet how I could do that for Luke Cage. I didn’t see anything about him that I should play him, other than the bald head, but other people have bald heads, you know, what else is there?
So you had a bald head, but you needed something else.
I realized there was something about this character that was underplayed. He is so grounded and real, he’s a believable character that I realized I could relate to. That’s true for all the characters in Jessica Jones. They just seem like regular people. For Luke, especially, the fact that he’s a superhero is a secondary thing. That’s what stood out to me when I read it. I didn’t see the superhero aspect of it. I saw a guy who was trying to get through, to make his way in life and find a way to be happy with himself as an individual.
He’s certainly not your typical superhero.
Yeah, I think of him as a human first and a superhero second. Those powers were thrust on him and Jessica. Usually, the idea of superhero has a sort of boldness, but I don’t think of Luke as someone who wants to save the day.
How do you think about the way Luke handles his powers in comparison to the way Jessica handles hers?
Unlike Luke, Jessica is fighting a lot of demons head-on. Part of her healing process is giving back. On some level, she hopes that by opening the investigation firm, she will be able to help herself by helping others. Meanwhile, Luke is trying to avoid his demons altogether. Most of us didn’t even know what they were until the end of the season. I will say I think there’s more to come and much more to find out about him. He is a very complex character, being told through a very subtle lens.
I wish we had learned more about him, actually. Were any of your scenes cut from Jessica Jones?
That I know of, entire scenes weren’t cut out, but maybe certain parts were trimmed. Although I would have to look back at the series again. We shot this in February of last year, and I was shooting other stuff at the same time. So it’s hard to know what they left out because it feels like forever ago we shot this thing.
Since we don’t learn much about Luke till later in the season and probably still have quite a bit to learn with your solo series, can you talk a bit about how you played him while so much of his character had yet to be revealed?
I learned a lot about him from poking the minds of producers and people from Marvel who knew a lot more about where the story was going. I also did some reading to figure out where he came from. This allowed me to kind of dial in to who he was, his point of view, and why he is the way he is. It’s an exercise in restraint when you know a lot about a character and you’re not able to play that. That said, I really enjoyed getting to know the character through the way he interacts with Jessica, then taking him from the world of Jessica Jones to the world of Luke Cage.
A lot of that includes quite a number of impressively sex-positive scenes. How did those evolve? Was everything scripted?
A lot of it came out of the way we as actors and people connect to each other. You know, we weren’t in love before we shot those scenes. We had barely seen each other before. But we did what we had to do, and we allowed the scenes to play out naturally. It became a true moment, and something we kind of let happen. If you’re trying to force something, then it can get a little awkward.
So far, what else have you discovered about the character in the new setting of Luke Cage?
It’s hard to get into it because we’re still shooting and we’re not ready to talk about details. I can say that it does pick up from the place where we left off. You’ll learn more about him and where he came from. It’s not a total departure from where we were with the Jessica Jones series, but it is more about him as a person. He’s growing into himself and trying to figure out who he is as a superhero. Once he learns who he is, he will be able to use his powers and give back.
The concept of an indestructible black man who may well be a fugitive at the beginning of Luke Cage is especially compelling given the events of the past year. Do you see Luke Cage at all as a political character?
I don’t think Luke Cage looks at the community or the world in that sense. He’s kind of dealing with his own problems. The fact that he’s black, has indestructible skin, and is living in New York City is just a random occurrence. Still, I hope that people see things in Luke Cage that will inspire them, things that will make them feel like it is something worth watching. Luke Cage really is someone who is trying to find himself as an individual, trying to better himself as a man.The growing pains that he’s going through in the series, I think, will resonate with a lot of people. Ultimately, I hope he can make people feel like we’re on the upswing. As far as how he fits into this image for the community, I think there is a lot about him that is relatable, and I hope that people find him to be someone they can cheer on.