Usually when a TV character gets his or her own spin-off, it’s after years on another show — like Frasier orJoey. Marvel strongman Luke Cage got his own show after only one season on Netflix hit series Jessica Jones, but Cage already had his own comic books that intermingled with Jessica’s. The plan was always to give him his own series.
Marvel’s Luke Cage premieres September 30 on Netflix with all 13 episodes available to binge-watch. We spoke with showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker and stars Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Alfre Woodard,Mahershala Ali, and Theo Rossi before their panel for the Television Critics Association this summer. Here are 13 things we learned about Luke Cage from them.
1. THE LANGUAGE IS HARSH, BUT REAL
Comic books have specific imprints for mature content, and they can technically say anything they want on Netflix, but so far the Marvel Cinematic Universe is firmly in PG-13 territory. It might be shocking, for instance, to hear the N-word in a Marvel show. The gangster kingpin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Ali) says it in the comfort of his nightclub Harlem’s Paradise, and Coker had good reasons for putting that word in his mouth.
“Well, it was a conversation, but I said, ‘Look, I’m doing it,’” Coker said. “Not from the standpoint of wanting to get anybody in trouble or say anything like that. It’s just I felt that to not use these words within these situations softened it. So for example, when Cottonmouth uses that word in Harlem’s Paradise, Mariah immediately reacts to it. She doesn’t like the use of that word. But then somebody else in his criminal organization also uses the word later on. I want people to artistically struggle with it. I want people to acknowledge the fact that the word exists.”
2. LUKE IS DIFFERENT, BUT RECOGNIZABLE
We already got to meet Colter as Cage on Jessica Jones. But if you think you already know Cage, you’ve really only seen one side of him, and it was through Jessica’s perspective. Colter related how he changed since he grew up in small town Columbia, South Carolina, and how that parallels Cage’s changes when he moves to Harlem.
“There’s a certain way that people talk where I’m from,” Colter said. “When I moved away 20 years ago, went off to college and went on to grad school, I had no qualms about trying to lose all that. Didn’t care, didn’t want to hold onto it, because I didn’t see that serving me moving forward. I wanted to find a different person. I wanted to develop myself in a different way. So yeah, when I go home, sometimes I feel the need to speak a different way to some people, because it helps them connect with me. At times I don’t bother.
“There are times when I see my college friends. Again, that was a different me too,” he continued. “College was different. I have different friends, and sometimes I’m different around different people. Sometimes you have different humor with different people. So I think Luke Cage in this story — we talked about him going to Harlem. It’s like he’s the same guy he was in Jessica. He’s just around different people.”
3. MISTY MUST EVENTUALLY ACCEPT LUKE’S HELP
Simone Missick plays Misty Knight, a Harlem detective who wants to do things by the book. Even though Luke Cage is indestructible and has super strength, she doesn’t want him butting into police business. At least this is how she feels when she thinks she’s dealing with a routine homicide case. Eventually she’ll realize she has to team up with a superhero.
“I think the thing with Misty is that she is so focused on doing things the right way,” Missick said. “She became a detective in order to help her community. She went back home essentially in order to be part of the solution. For so long, as these episodes progress, it’s difficult for her to know if Luke is a part of the problem or if he’s a part of the solution. He’s very secretive about his abilities, his intentions. He doesn’t really want to help her because he doesn’t really want to be involved. So it creates this clash between the two of them which is essentially the crux of their relationship for so much of the season. It does get pretty bad before she eventually has to say, ‘OK, I cannot do this by myself.’”
4. ALFRE WOODARD ACCEPTED A DEMOTION
Woodard plays Harlem councilwoman Mariah Dillard. Last year, Woodard got to play the president of the United States on NBC’s State of Affairs. Even though she was not actually elected to either office, Woodard joked that she took it personally, at least until Coker told her what was in store for Dillard.
“Cheo just liked me,” Woodard said. “He just wanted me to be in it, but I was thinking, City councilwoman? I was the president for the last year. But then he said, ‘The city councilwoman of Harlem.’ I know how much he loves Harlem, the history. He grew up knowing the culture and the history and the importance of Harlem so you can smell and taste and hear. If you haven’t been, you’re going to want to go to Harlem and find that Harlem after you see this thing. So Harlem did it.”
Fans of the comics might already know what Dillard becomes, but we won’t spoil it for people discovering her for the first time. Let’s just say — get ready for episode seven!
“I was like, ‘Oh God, I gotta be nice,’” Woodard lamented. “He goes, ‘No you don’t. She’s very complex.’ So when he said ‘complex,’ I was fine. Then after I was already in, he goes, ‘You’ve got this relationship with your cousin and all this. Then this is going to happen.’”
5. COTTONMOUTH IS BAD FOR GOOD REASONS
While Mariah is on the Machiavellian political path, her cousin Cornell is running the criminal underbelly of Harlem from out of the nightclub Harlem’s Paradise. They face off about who has the better path to changing things in Harlem, but even Cornell sees himself as a champion of the greater good.
“His bad is good bad,” Ali said. “So there’s some range and a lot of play in there, but it all is grounded in him thinking and believing that he is doing the right thing. He is doing what is necessary to keep order. Keeping order is really important because that is connected to his survival, survival of the family. Survival of the legacy of the family and what that means, that sense of pride, that sense of ownership that is fairly unique in Harlem.
“Harlem is a mecca for black culture,” the actor continued. “So to have a stake in that, to have a place that is a symbol of success, in carrying along the family name, running the family business — there’s a lot that is wrapped up in him feeling the pressure that he feels to keep the order, to grow the business. [You’ll see] how that relates to the pressure that Mariah puts on him along with the vision that she has to legitimize the business in a way that will give it a different degree of sustainability.” keep reading