Marvel’s Jessica Jones, available to view at Netflix, takes viewers inside the dark, gritty world of former superhero Jessica Jones (played to perfection by Krysten Ritter), a young woman desperate to destroy the man who once controlled her every move (chillingly portrayed by David Tennant). By melding psychological themes, suspense and street-level action with moments of levity, it explores dark territory previously unseen in Marvel’s television landscape, in a way that is very exciting for its storytelling future.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Mike Colter, who plays Luke Cage, a reluctant superhero known for his impenetrable skin as much as his tragic past, talked about getting to know his character through the eyes of Jessica Jones, examining this character through a different set of circumstances on his own series, Luke Cage (currently filming and due at Netflix in 2016), what makes Luke Cage identifiable, how daunting it is to weave this street-level world together, what makes his title series different from Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and the challenge of getting Luke Cage and Jessica Jones to overcome what they’ve been through.
MIKE COLTER: Yeah, it’s been quite a surprise. We had hoped it would be well received, but it’s surpassed expectations, and that’s a good thing. We’re happy that people are drinking the Kool-Aid and enjoying the story that we’re trying to tell with these characters.
You’ve previously been on TV shows where people had to wait week-to-week for the next new episode, but the entire season of Jessica Jones is delivered at once on Netflix, which changes the conversations people have on social media. Have you gone on, at all, to check out what the fans have been saying about the show?
COLTER: I’ve heard a few things. I don’t have social media, on any platform. Most of my co-stars are social media people and they’ve give me some information. I don’t check it out because I don’t really have the time. I’m actually filming all the time, and I don’t have much time to do anything. I’ve always been that way. I’ve never really been into doing a lot of social media, but it’s a great way for people to talk amongst themselves on a large platform and to have a large conversation with people who also enjoy the same thing. I think people just want to share and get it out. You want to see what other people are saying and bounce things off, and go back and forth, and it’s a great outlet for that. It seems to be a really hot topic on social media, so I’m really happy about that.
This is a character that a lot of actors have talked about wanting to play, over the years. Did you know who Luke Cage was when you first heard about this role, and did you know how much people have been wanting to see this character?
COLTER: I learned it slowly. A year or two before this happened, family members and friends of mine started to chit-chat about this character. They would say, “Have you heard about this character? I think they’re going to bring it to the screen. People are talking about it, and you’d be great for this role.” I was like, “What are you talking about? I don’t even know who the character is.” So, I looked him up. I was like, “He’s supposed to be a big guy, so I better start working out.” I really didn’t do a lot of detailed research because what I could find on him was all based off of blaxploitation stuff, so it just generally seemed like something that was stereotypical. I wasn’t sure how he was going to be developed. First of all, just because they’re bringing something to the screen, it doesn’t mean that you, an actor, are going to get a shot at playing him. Everybody wants to play him. He’s a big deal. I never thought I had a shot at this job ‘cause I didn’t even know who he was and I just felt like it was something I wasn’t on the radar for. I had no real understanding of the character, what it would take to play him, and what they were going to do, as far as the narrative and writing. And after seeing some of the material, before going in for this, it wasn’t even called Luke. It was another character, and they didn’t even tell me what it was. I kind of knew. I saw Marvel on it and I was like, “Okay, this has gotta be something to do with this guy.” And when I read it, the material was something I could connect to, and that got me excited. It felt like this was going to be the kind of character that would be act-able and something that I could really put my hands around. That was something that got me excited. It wasn’t the idea of being a superhero. I didn’t care about that. That’s just an idea. As an actor, I need to get excited about something that I can actually relate to. So, I did get excited towards the end, but I’m a very un-excitable person. I always take things with a grain of salt, I’m always very even-keeled, and I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But so far, so good. I’ve been very pleased with what’s going on.
This is a very unusual circumstance, where you get introduced on one show, go on to your own show, and know that eventually there will be a team-up series. What’s that like for you, as the actor trying to figure out who this version of the character is, to get to know him in that way, through his connection to another character, and then through his own story?
COLTER: It’s unique and daunting. I knew there wouldn’t me a lot of material written for me. The first show was written for her and from her point of view, so it was something that I was concerned about because, at the time, we didn’t have a showrunner for Cage and we didn’t know what his storyline was going to be. I didn’t want to have a complete reboot of the story. I didn’t want to start in one place, and then come in and be like, “Is this the same person?” But then, I realized that luckily the showrunner (Cheo Hodari Coker) had seen some of the footage of Jessica during the process and he could get a feel for where Cage was and, from there, start the writing. Ultimately he wrote it in a way that felt right. It felt like it was just expanding on who he was already. Also, when you change the location because, as you know, Cage will be in another part of New York, in Uptown, it’s a different backdrop and feel than it was in Mid-town. It’s all very similar, but at the same time, so very different. I think it’s very smart and it will be very refreshing to see the same character examined with a different set of circumstances. The characters are all different, and that makes it very unique. I’m very excited about that. I really enjoyed being on Jessica, but I really like this new world that he’s a part of.
One of the things that’s great about Jessica Jones is the way that it pushes the boundaries of what Marvel TV shows have done, in the past. How did you feel about just how far the content pushed things? Were you ever surprised at what the show got away with?
COLTER: It’s on Netflix, so I knew that it would have the latitude to do things with more flexibility, as far as what they’re able to do. The thing was, how much are they going to do? Ultimately, this is Marvel and it’s a Marvel show, which is owned and run by Disney. When I look at this stories, and I look at Daredevil, I’m not thinking about Disney. I’m not thinking about a family show. I’m just thinking about it as a cool drama that’s being shot in this noir, dark world. That’s what I liked about it, and that’s what’s exciting about it. I didn’t see any remnants of Disney. I wasn’t thinking about The Avengers. I was thinking about a world of New York City with this cool character who’s trying to live her life and get by, day-to-day, and be who she is. Obviously, in the first couple of episodes, we got into the romance, and that was something that definitely felt real. We’re definitely not doing what people are expecting us to do. This is Marvel. Usually you don’t see the characters do anything, besides maybe kissing or talking about kissing, but that’s not who we are. It wouldn’t be fair to try to water it down. You let people know that this is the world that they’re in, and I hope they enjoy that.
Staring with Daredevil, there was a very different feel. And then, Jessica Jones really pushed things even further. How would you say Luke Cage is dealing with adult themes and subject matter? Will it feel like the next step?
COLTER: What’s great about all of these series is that they are all different and unique. They’re not really comparable. I feel like they all have their own story and their own thing that they’re doing, and they’re not going to be compared to one another, except for the fact that they are in the same genre. Jessica’s storyline is so different from Daredevil’s storyline. Daredevil’s storyline is so different from mine. There’s a social aspect involved with Luke Cage, there is a criminal element involved, and there is a procedural element involvement. We focus on a variety of different things. I think it will be a surprise. I don’t know if we’ll be taking things to the next level because Jessica did such a great job. I don’t know what to expect, as far as the response, but I know it’s going to be different.
Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are both such damaged people who have also really damaged each other in the short time that they’ve known each other. What do you think it will take for them to get passed what they’ve been through and get back on the same page again?
COLTER: That is something that I think is going to be the fun of it all. We all know the end story for them, as it were. How they get there is something that we don’t know, but that’s really what I’m looking forward to and I think the fans are looking forward to. Ultimately, it’s like life. It will be very realistic. It’s something that we, as adults, have experienced on some level. We’ve all been through relationships that were not great relationships, or they were troubled and not very healthy, and for whatever reason, you got out of them. Sometimes you return to those relationship, and sometimes you never got out of them, but you went to therapy. Maybe they’ll go to couples therapy. It’s possible. But in some way, shape or form, they end up together. We all know people like that. We all know people where you’re like, “Why are they together? How have they made it all these years? Oh, my god, they had a kid and they seem so happy.” Who knows how they get there, but ultimately, they can’t seem to resist each other. How they get from where they ended in Jessica Jones to where we think they’re gonna go will be really fun. There’s a lot of story in between there. It’s not going to be easy. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Each of these characters have their own fighting style and their own way of approaching fighting, developed out of what their abilities are. Is it fun to do the fight scenes?
COLTER: Yeah, it is. He doesn’t like to beat people down, but he’s good at it. He knows he’s good at it, he’s equipped to do it, and sometimes something calls for an ass-kicking. For me, it’s as interesting to do those scenes as it is to do the other stuff. You’ll see both. It won’t be one-sided. You’ll get a chance to see all of that. I look forward to it. It’s going to be different because he’s a bruiser. He doesn’t have a martial arts background. He doesn’t have to be very specific. He doesn’t feel pain like everybody else does. Things usually have a hole in them when he gets finished. He’s just trying to figure out how to get through life without hurting people. When he hits someone, he can kill them. That’s a unique quality about him. What I love about Jessica is that she’s a girl, but she can throw people around and toss them through a window. What’s cool is that you don’t see it coming, and that’s what allows her to stay under the radar. You don’t see her walking down the street and go, “Oh, my god, she’s a beast. Look at how big she is.” It’s more like, “There’s this chick coming and she’s going to talk smack to me, so I’m going to rough her up,” but then you get roughed up. That’s cool.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones is now available at Netflix, and Marvel’s Luke Cage will be available in 2016.