When will a show like Luke Cage not be topical?
It’s the kind of question the series doesn’t have the privilege of bypassing. Yes, the show has all that Marvel heroic pizazz to keep us entertained—bulletproof dudes, badass women, over-the-top villains. But Luke Cage is still a black man without a cape. His image is the mirror of the “everyman” without the initiative to rock colourful fabrics (we’ll ignore his Gold Dancer days). He’s a hero, he’s a man, but he’s still a man with racial dilemmas.
When I spoke with Mike Colter, who can identify with Luke Cage in both look and form, he held nothing back in addressing that dichotomy. “We’ve all spoken about Trayvon and Eric Garner who were also very large black men that were violently attacked by several officers,” he says during a phone call. “Luke isn’t invulnerable to that.”
Whereas season one mostly dealt with a bulletproof ex-convict coming to grips with his new abilities, season two heads into a more personal direction about what that power means to a man of his appearance. His issues now demand a different approach.
Of course I went on to speak with the easy going Mike Colter about it all, and why as an actor, he’s a bit frustrated that Luke Cage remains so current next to the racial issues of America.
VICE: Before this interview, I saw images of you at Wonder World on Twitter. You’re obviously a fan of the superhero universe beyond being Luke Cage. Since you made it here, how damn good is it to be Luke again?
Mike Colter: It's fun man. It just inspires me because you really begin to take for granted all this superhero stuff compared to when you were younger. It was sort of a dream back then, where you pretend to be this superhero, you pretend to do all these things you couldn’t do. You jump off things, pretend to fly, put towels on your neck and do all these silly things. Being able to be a fully grown man in all that, doing it at this high level is just great. And it helps when you got all these people who are all really into this make believe world that we’re doing right now. Everyone’s just trying to suspend their beliefs at the moment and it’s kinda trippy man. When I talk to fans, it just hits me at a greater level because they keep you grounded to what I took for granted. I appreciate them all for just reminding me how cool it is to have this gig.
You’ve gotta be tired of wearing all those bullet-holed hoodies by now.
(Laughs) Absolutely. But hey, we’re now heading away from that into a strange direction where things are beginning to change a bit. So far less hoodies this time around. It’ll always be something we may have to go back to but I think we’re going to have more options to deal with it.
It’s gotta be a great time in general though. Especially since we’ve just had Black Panther and and Black Lightning making their in-roads. It seems like once again we’re here with a character that feels topical.
The first time around, it was like wait a minute, and you thought to yourself, well, when the hell is it not timely. Every time we dropped it, it was once again appropriate because once again, it feels like we need somebody like that in the forefront. I wish we weren’t timely, to be honest. I just wish this was normal, and I wish the things we represented wouldn’t hit so damn home for fans because we have to live in these issues and deal with them.
In 2018, it’s sorta surreal. It feels like we should be way farther along right now. And we should be more socially accepted where we can all be on the same page. There’s no reason to be boxed anymore, and everybody has the right to live a filled and free life, so you just end up feeling like we aren’t doing that in America anymore. I’m not shocked by it though, it’s just the way that it is. I can at least hope some folks can find a break and strength in watching Luke Cage. A break from the stress.
Luke Cage is a hero first and foremost of course, but he’s undeniably a black man with problems separate from his responsibilities. Season two goes into that dichotomy somewhat. So how would you say he’s dealing with his image?
It’s a very heavy burden to bare to be always on point and always in the method of doing what’s right morally. Morally righteous or morally correct, ultimately, as people in general we’re flawed so you always have to try to figure out, well if that were not true how far could we actually go with a character under that premise. Naturally, all of us as people will start to have issues and that’s something that people can relate to. It’s the reason why we all relate so well to villains because they have free reign. Our inclination as humans is to gravitate towards that. So while we’d love to be positive and good at all times, we have moments when we’re just going to do what’s right for us. Luke isn’t unique in feeling that and it comes in heavy in the second season.
I also love the dynamic between you and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) in dealing with those issues. She’s helping him to face some deep resentment. There’s even a moment when he let’s off the N-word which is a general no-no for Luke. Break a moment like that down.
I can’t remember the specific moment you’re talking about, but in general, it’s one of those things. In the first season, he was talking to a guy who had stunted on him on the word. That all came from the frustration of ignorance and people who just didn’t get it. It’s sorta been a cycle of people constantly doing the same things that don’t push us forward. At least, that’s how the character Luke Cage felt which is an opinion he feels the world should share. Whenever he says the N-word, it’s a moment of frustration, and letting go because he feels like he’s not being heard. A lot of times you’ll say things that just resonate, you do what you gotta do to be heard.
At the same time he's changing a bit and sometimes it comes down to the company that you keep. And he’s been around a hard environment or a while and it’s becoming hard for him to stick to the same regime he’s had since before while still remaining the same person. That stuff like all with all environments in life begin to weigh on you, and that’s something that’s a real thing in life that mirrors what’s happening to Luke Cage.
And now we got a new villain called Bushmaster who might have your boy Luke Cage beat in terms of general intimidation and coolness. Tell me about that relationship.
I mean anytime you’re dealing with a nemesis you gotta have one that makes you question the protagonist’s abilities you once believed in, and whether his motives and goals were right to begin with. You should be able to relate to him on a similar level. Bushmaster embodies that character. Mustafa Shakir (The Deuce) played him as this character whose relatable and in the cut. He comes from that subculture within the black community that’s very prevalent and familiar. Everybody knows someone from the Islands. Everyone knows someone from that area and it’s great to be explore that side a bit. We really needed someone who could feel like he was a real threat and I hope people can just get into his world, because it’s a huge well. I just love the fact that he’s intimidating, has some swagger and we need that for fans that’ll invest.
I want to go back to what Luke represents. We’re getting stories of men being seen as intimidating without much effort. Some are being killed for it. You have Luke Cage over here who comments about using that as a weapon, because he can’t he harmed. Was that commentary calculated?
This thing has been going on for decades now. So the moment when we were shooting that it wasn’t nearly as hotbed as a subject. We’d already gone through a lot of obviously though. We’ve all spoken about Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner who were also very large black men that were violently attacked by several officers. Luke isn’t invulnerable to that. The scenes that spoke on those subjects were shot in six months though. Then we wrapped up in December so at that point it was months before the current crop of incidents. So once again, we found ourselves ahead of the situation, a situation we’re now dealing with. Maybe the writers felt it was timely, but it’s sad that you can’t really go wrong with this subject matter in a way that won’t hold true today. It’s why scenes like this resonate.
In the case of Luke, yeah, he’s a strong intimidating black man and sometimes he tries to run away from that instead of harnessing that power. He’s gotta be careful of course, because with his rage vs ours, he can destroy people. It’s not just an average black man dealing with these issues here. He’s dealing with it while having super powers on top of it all. That’s a lot to suppress and contain. To deal with what you see and how you process it all, while having the power to be judge, jury and executioner. How do you even wield that?
Check out Luke Cage season 2 on Netflix when it drops this Friday.
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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