Now that Luke Cage is out of prison, he's proving he can work and play well with others -- namely, the other four superheroic leads of the Netflix-Marvel series now united in "Marvel's The Defenders." And actor Mike Colter's happy to be a team player, too: after a years-long build-up, he's taking his place in the ensemble and adding Cage's bulletproof muscle to the group.
While Cage initially has no direct connection to the villainous ninja death cult The Hand which the heroes band together from their various New York City boroughs to battle, the backdrop is still particularly provocative for him: Luke suddenly finds his past and current paramours -- Jessica Jones, Misty Knight, and Claire Temple, respectively -- regularly crossing paths. And, as Colter tells Moviefone, while those awkward ex encounters may not be as violent as the ninja battles, they still leave a mark.
Moviefone: With all the build up to "The Defenders" and all the anticipation, what was it like when you finally got in the room with everybody to shoot some scenes, and what were the surprises that you didn't anticipate about the whole thing?
Mike Colter: From the outside, it always seems like actors, when they're on a screen together, aren't familiar with one another. So it's like a weird thing: for everybody else, it seems like it's brand new, but for us, we palled around because we've seen each other at junkets, we've seen each other at press, we've done press together.
Finn [Jones] I'd met a few times, but briefly because he's coming from the UK, or he was actually not around. I've known Krysten [Ritter] for a while now. I've come into contact with Charlie [Cox]. We've crossed paths quite a few times. It wasn't as if we were completely unfamiliar with each other, and I think it just felt normal. It didn't feel like it was unusual in the least, really. But we are characters so I think on screen, it felt like it was for the first time.
What did you enjoy about the way the characters' dynamics played out once they started butting up against each other? Was there some fun friction and chemistry that you saw in the new guys you were playing with, like Finn and Charlie?
I think the best part about it is that we basically have, whether we want to admit it or not, there are four alphas -- I wouldn't say alpha male, but alpha personalities. Even Krysten's character, everybody has their own thing. Nobody's eager to be friends. So it's not an alpha male thing, but it is an alpha ego thing, and I think everybody has their own agenda, and no one's eager to be friends.
No one's looking for a team up. No one's looking for a buddy or a sidekick. So they're kind of reluctant to do their thing, but I think that's the best part about it, trying to ease into the situation where we're going to fight together one way or the other, and trying to see how that's going to play itself out.
In terms of revisiting Luke, what were the fun new sides of him that you were able to explore? What was a new challenge that they threw at you?
I think Luke is now at a stage where he's not running from the law anymore. He's aware that there are things out there that he can't do as a "man of the people," as the hero of Harlem, or whatever he wants to kind of call himself. But ultimately, he sort of has freedom now to explore.
It changes his personality, I think. He's more open. He's more jovial. He's more relaxed. He doesn't feel like he has to hide things. He's not an open book, but he does have a lot less to hide now. Everyone knows his power. Everyone knows what his real name is. Probably everybody knows what his old name was. They know that he was in prison. They know that he had a wife. There's really not that many secrets now.
So now he's just enjoying himself and trying to figure out how to function in this world openly as a hero that people are aware of. It's just a different kind of thing. It's fun because now you get to see Luke function with a more human side. Him dealing with his own powers out in the public and openly.
Luke has a colorful romantic history, and some of these women are in the same room together with him here. That must have been fun to figure out how to play the sort of romantic tensions that are in his life right now.
Yeah, I think for most of the audience, I think people are always eager to see how this is going to play out. But I'll give Marvel and the writers and Netflix and everybody all credit: I'd say maybe 20 years ago if we were doing this, there would be scenes where girls are dressed a little skimpy, and it'd be a little weird. I think they're pulling back on this whole thing of, well, he slept with multiple girls, and now these girls are going to have a little catfight over him. It's not that. They're all adults here. Things happen.
Needless to say, the history is there, but I think for the audience, it adds a different color to it, adds a level to the interaction between everyone. Every time they see Misty talking to Claire, they're thinking about that. There's that added thing. Every time they see Misty come into contact with Jessica Jones for the first time, it's like, "Oh, what's going to happen here?" Or Jessica coming into contact with Claire.
All this underneath it all, the audience is sort of intrigued to see and to wonder, "Is there something there? Is there something that's going to come up?" Just makes it more interesting. But I don't think we're going to stoop to like, girls have to fight about Luke openly, because ultimately, they're all adults. They make decisions and things happen. That's just kind of how it is.
As good as the writers, directors and producers are, and as deeply they do know all these characters, did you feel a little bit like you were Luke's custodian, in making sure that he always came off the way that you and Cheo [Hodari Coker] have envisioned him?
Yeah, that, too, but also this being another direction: when he gets out of prison, he does change his path a bit. It's a new chapter in his life. So this is something that [showrunner] Marco [Ramirez] was going to be a steward in writing and starting to get him on his journey in that direction. Cheo was involved, I think, Melissa [Rosenberg] -- all the writers sort of chimed in, I think, to give their opinions about drafts to make sure that it felt right.
And yes, for sure, I definitely played the custodian of Luke because I wanted to make sure that if something didn't feel right or if something didn't make sense, we didn't spin him in the wrong way. Dialogue, any little thing that sort of didn't rub right, I felt like I could come to Marco and he would be open to suggestion.
I think that they things we didn't want to touch on now and be left to our own show, they left those things alone. There was this thing about making sure every character, made sure everybody knew what they were doing, and if it didn't feel right, we could talk to Marco, and he was pretty open about helping us.
Did you and Finn spend a little extra time making sure that the heroes for hire had a dynamic that a lot of fans familiar with the long "Power Man & Iron Fist" partnership are looking forward to seeing, so that it would play just the right way? Did you give a little extra time to the Luke and Danny relationship?
I don't think we had to. I think either you have this ability or you don't. I think as far as working in this business, you have a chemistry that you have in life. Sometimes those things don't actually line up. You can be with someone you can't stand, honestly, and that doesn't mean that it won't come off on screen well.
There are so many ways to look at it, even when you have a love affair on screen, you have a romantic relationship on screen, you have a friendship, and it doesn't mean you actually have it in life. It's just sometimes things work in a weird way. I think for us, we banter a bit. We have a great rapport. We sort of are alike, but very different, and I think that's from visualization. We're very different, same way Jessica and I are different. So our personalities aren't that far apart, but there's a lot of things we have in common, and a lot of things that we're completely off on.
But we embrace those. The differences sort of make it humorous sometimes. The differences between our characters and between us as people sort of helps to play out this relationship, and we embrace that, because that's the humor of sort of opposites trying to fit together, trying to work together, and trying to become a "dynamic duo" of sorts. We're not alike, but that's part of what makes it work.
Now that you've had this swing again at Luke, and you'll going to carry what happened to him in "Defenders" over to another season of "Luke Cage," what's got you excited about perpetuating the character, staying in him and moving him forward from here?
The most exciting part about moving him forward from here is trying to figure out really how to actually live a life now. He's lived a life in secrecy, on the run. Now it's about living a life with this "impediment." Because being a superhero as they say, being a person with abilities, it's not necessarily a good thing. It is an impediment. It does sort of keep you from doing things the way you would like to do them, and there's a lot of expectation, a lot of responsibility. You have to figure out what you're going to do for a living -- there's a lot of pressure to figure out what's the next move for him.
So what I want to explore, and what's going to be really interesting for the second season, is seeing how he handles these newfound freedoms. What does it open up for him? How does his life change from now on moving forward? And what is it like to sort of be a person that when you walk down the street, everybody knows who he is?
It's a different level. We started to touch on it maybe halfway through the season, of last first season, but there was a lot of other things going on. We're going to see some other exploration for the character. It's really great what we're doing so far, and I'm really happy about the writing. I can't wait to continue to shoot some more and see where we are by the end of the season, but I'm really happy about the direction so far.