Mike Colter talks the power of Netflix's Luke Cage, becoming Harlem's hero and The Defenders

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Sep 16, 2016

Mike Colter is feeling the power.

Anticipation for Marvel’s Luke Cage keeps building with each buzzy trailer that sends the Internet into a frenzy. The latest street-level superhero Netflix series has something else going for it besides the Marvel pedigree, however. 

Luke Cage also carries with it a powerful amount of currency and relevance based on the fact that it’s a predominantly black show at a time when race relations in America are in a delicate state. And its main hero is a black man who's bulletproof.

Colter, who debuted as Cage in Jessica Jones, now steps up to the lead in his own series. Blastr was able to screen the first seven episodes of Luke Cage in advance, and while we’re not going to get spoilery today, we can say that the show is intense and funky and as cool as any fan of the original Hero For Hire could hope for. We’ll have in-depth reviews of the entire first season closer to the release of the series.

But first, we had the opportunity to talk with Colter ahead of the show’s September 30th premiere. We asked him about capturing the attitude of Luke Cage, the mood that Harlem provides the show, and what, if anything, he could reveal about The Defenders.

From the first time we see Luke, in the barber shop, you are oozing swagger. And that’s a big part of the character, going all the way back to his early days in the 1970s, when he was the coolest guy in the Marvel Universe. How did you master the art of the Luke Cage Swag?

Confidence is the key to Luke.

It’s like an MMA fighter walking into a bar. He knows he can kick anyone’s butt. He has it [confidence]. And that’s appealing to women. It’s also why he has that nonchalant, not-trying-too-hard attitude. He’ knows the strongest guy in the room, the baddest guy, and it fuels his confidence.

I know you bulked up for the role quite a bit. Did the extra weight and muscles help you capture the presence that Luke brings when he walks into a room?

For me, for sure, I needed to bulk up. I was Hollywood slim, so I needed to pump up. I looked good, but I wasn’t Luke Cage (laughs). I was 205 [lbs.] or so. 

Around 220 lbs., I started to feel different. As I walked, I felt different, I started to feel different. It gave me a good idea of what Luke feels like going around town. But it’s also other things, like the clothes, the shades…it all helps me capture who Luke is.

We won’t get too specific here because it gets into Spoiler-ish territory, but for all his confidence, Luke is very much a reluctant hero at first. Then, something happens.

Yeah, that’s true. He just wants to be left alone. But then …he realizes he can’t stay on the sidelines anymore.


On Jessica Jones, Luke wanted to keep to himself. That obviously didn’t happen. And now he’s no longer trying too hard to hide his powers from the bad guys in Harlem. Why do these criminals keep challenging Luke? Why don’t these guys communicate and tell each other, ‘Hey, there’s a dude with bulletproof skin. Whatever you do, don’t take a swing at him!”

These criminals [in Harlem] don’t really use the Internet (laughs). Nobody really gets the memo. ‘I guess you haven’t heard of me.’ You would think there would be some underground telegraph or something. This guy has been shot and nothing happens. Clothing is the toughest thing for Luke.

Also, there are certain factions in Harlem on our show doing their own thing in their own space. In that regard, that may be why there’s a communication problem. And a denial problem. “What did you say you saw? What did this guy do??” Who’s going to tell their boss that one guy took out their entire operation?

What I find interesting about the show is that Luke’s adversaries aren’t your standard comic book bad guys. For one, there are several — Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard and Shades — but they each have their own agendas.

Exactly. They’re opportunists. Which is what makes the show so interesting.

We know Luke and Cottonmouth are going to have words, but what can you tell us about the relationship between Luke and Shades? What’s the history there?

There is history there. Um … episode four goes into it. That will answer a lot of the questions you have about Luke and Shades’ relationship. The past is a big part of this first season. We’re going into who and what Luke is and we’ll learn more information and get a clearer understanding of the person he is, and what makes him tick. And we’ll definitely revisit Seagate and what happened to Luke there.

How will Luke Cage continue to connect the dots leading up to The Defenders

It’s all happening in Manhattan. You’ll start to see the stories connect here. Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, it’s all connected. It’s all part of the same island. You can take the A or 2 and 3 trains between both of them. This is a world where it makes sense for these characters to come together and we’ll start putting the dots together really soon for The Defenders.

Harlem is a major part of the fabric of the show. and much like Hell’s Kitchen in Daredevil, it’s kind of in its own unique place and time. In many ways, it has the vibe and mood of Harlem in the 1970s, doesn’t it?

I think Cheo [showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker] has his finger on that flavor about what Harlem represents and [the show] blends a lot of the past with the current day. Cheo dropped a lot of very old-school references into it. Like in one episode, someone mentions Chico and the Man

But the show also feels very relevant, because of the current climate in our society. It also is very much a window into the black community. How much did you and the writers and producers discuss the issue of race while shooting the first season?

[The writers] are using a platform, Marvel and its characters, to tell a story. It’s about a culture and its about what it’s like to be a bulletproof black man and that story is being informed by our modern society.

We shot this months ago when other things were going on, like the Eric Garner situation in New York City. Months later, here we are and things have gone in different directions. And the show will be affected by people’s interpretations of those events.

But let me say this. I think, hopefully people will respond well to this new and I think improved version of Luke Cage and the ideas he represents in today’s environment and the things we’re facing.

Marvel’s Luke Cage debuts on Netflix on September 30th.

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