From showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, Season 2 of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Luke Cage sees the man himself (Mike Colter) learning to adjust to having become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem. While kids love the bulletproof superhero, Luke Cage is feeling the heat, with an increased pressure to protect the community from formidable adversaries that are both familiar, like Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi), and new, like the mysterious Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), that will cause him to evaluate just where the line between being a hero ends and being a villain begins.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Theo Rossi (who turned in a truly stand-out performance in the second season, as the calculated and emotionally contained Shades) talked about this show being very personal to him, that Luke Cage is a 13-hour story, why there’s nothing else like it on TV, what he most enjoyed about the journey of Season 2, the challenge of playing such an emotionally contained character, the Shades-Comanche dynamic, why he won’t wear sunglasses in his own life anymore, and the hustle of a working actor. Be aware that major spoilers are discussed.
THEO ROSSI: I knew. (Showrunner) Cheo [Hodari Coker] and I have a really specific relationship, probably closer than anybody I’ve ever really worked with, in this space. He wrote a movie that I did, called Lowriders. We have very similar interests. We’re cut from the same cloth. So, when I signed on for Season 1, I always really knew it would be about Season 2.
I made sure to watch the entire season, before I talked to Cheo, because he’s thought so deeply about every detail on that I feel like it’s almost disrespectful to not like at least do my part.
ROSSI: Cheo is the smartest person, in every room you go into. This show is very personal to us because we know what we’re doing. We understand what this means to us and what we’re trying to do, in this space, and why it’s so different and so important. At the same time, when you’re dealing with social media, people will watch one or two episodes and make a comment on the entire show. It’s like listening to an album. It’s a 13-hour story. You can’t make your assessment on something, two hours in. You have to watch the whole thing, and then discuss it. Cheo is very protective of that because he writes in story form, not in episode form. When the show drops, everyone starts watching it and you can almost, in real time, see people’s reactions, as they’re going through the episodes. They’re like, “Oh, my god, Shades and Mariah look so uncomfortable together,” or “Oh, my god, it looks so weird with them together,” or “They feel like they have no connection.” And then, you realize why they have no connection, but you have to watch Episode 6, 7 and 8 to understand what’s going on. But the world we live in, everyone jumps the gun because they’re literally tweeting while they’re watching. It’s interesting.
It’s cool that this is a Marvel show and it’s Luke Cage, but there is so much more going on, on this show, that is so interesting.
ROSSI: I couldn’t agree with you more. I honestly would argue with anyone – and I actually enjoy debating – that there’s nothing like this on television. There are a lot of dramas on television, there are a lot of superhero shows, and there are even music shows and shows that deal with music, but there’s nothing that dealing with culture, history, music, live acts and these veteran incredible actors. Everyone is so seasoned and so good. And then, there’s the writing style, the style of the show, in general, New York City, and the flavor. There’s just nothing like it, and I find that so interesting. I don’t think anyone could ever tell me different.
One of the things that I really loved about Season 2 is just how conflicted these characters all are, and how they leave the audience feeling really conflicted about them. We get to see that Luke Cage isn’t always the hero that people expect him to be, and these villains all have real reasons for their actions and sometimes seem more justified than he does. What did you most enjoy about the journey you had this season?
ROSSI: I’ve been saying this since I’ve been reading comics and drawing them, but a hero is only as good as his villains. The best heroes have the best villains. In comic book history, if you look at the heroes that don’t work that well, it’s because their villains were never that good. What we do so different is that we have multiple villains and the trouble comes from every angle. What we also do that no one else does is, are they really villains? If you really break it down, is Bushmaster really wrong? He mother got burned alive in front of him. He watched these horrific things happen to him and he is seeking justice. Maybe he’s not doing it in the proper fashion, but what’s really wrong with him for doing it? He’s also going after another person who’s quite nefarious and who’s not necessarily the best person (with Mariah Stokes), so I don’t really see him as a villain. And then, what we do so well and what Cheo really better than anyone, is that he layers these characters in a way where you actually feel for them. You come out rooting for Shades. You kinda want Mariah to win. That’s only done by really passionate, layered and deep writing. That’s why the Marvel Netflix shows can go deep, and I really believe Cheo is the captain of that. I think that maybe could also be why some people don’t necessarily get turned on by it. We live in a world where, if The Godfather came out right now, people might not review it as well because it might be boring to them. It’s very hard to just watch two people speak, in real life and on screen, because of how fast we’re all moving. What Cheo does is that he mixes it all up. You’ve got the action and you’ve got the superhero stuff, but then, at the same time, you have the incredible characters. I love that.