‘Luke Cage’ Star Mahershala Ali on Interesting, Complicated Villains

By October 1, 2016

Luke Cage may be the most buzzed-about television show this weekend – at least until HBO’s Westworld premieres Sunday night – and there’s a good reason for that.

Once again, Marvel and Netflix have knocked it out of the park with a nuanced, multi-layered portrayal of superheroes that don’t wear colorful costumes and wage war against powerful being from another dimension.

Indeed, the primary adversary in Luke Cage is Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, a Harlem businessman whose lack of superpowers doesn’t make him any less dangerous. The role is played with great relish by Mahershala Ali, who recently chatted with IGN about how the Netflix model has allowed Marvel’s storytelling to evolve in new ways:

“I would say that the audience has grown more and more savvy, and I think that the heroes themselves have pretty much stayed within a certain framework. It’s the villains that have gotten more interesting. They’ve had to get rounded out. And you’ve got to understand what triggers people, what drives them. And then so, along with that, the worlds themselves have gotten a little bit more complicated, and somewhat of a better reflection of how we all live real life.

And I’m thinking they all have grown aware that people can handle it. Because look, kids have cell phones and computers, and besides certain families who do maybe an extraordinary job monitoring their children, keeping them from certain things and away from maybe what could be considered harmful content, they’ve all seen it. They all go to school. They see stuff, they hear stuff. So to me, at this point, it’s about trying to make these projects gritty and have elements in them that reflect urban life in some way, shape or form that resonate as truthful. Because people can handle it.”

There’s no denying that Marvel’s partnership with Netflix has afforded them the opportunity to offer a more mature take on some of their superhero properties, and this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is certainly darker than the cinematic stories. But as Ali himself points out, this is exactly what some people are looking for:

“That Marvel audience has matured and grown older, and there’s people who are 65 and who are Marvel fans who still want to watch content, and it has to be rooted in something that is truthful for that person who is older as well. So it has scope … And I think it’s a positive thing, because you give yourself an opportunity to capture people who are not necessarily that invested in these types of stories, who go,’Oh, this is actually good. I’ve never really been really attracted to these kind of stories, but besides the guy being able to fly, or jump around, and move things, or he’s bulletproof, this is great.’ You know what I mean? Them being able to accept and embrace something in the superhero world as a drama. I think that’s important.”

The first season of Marvel’s Luke Cage is currently streaming on Netflix.

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Brent Hankins

Brent Hankins

Contributing Writer at GeekNation
Brent Hankins is a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle and co-host of the Drinks and Discourse podcast. He's also the proud owner of an Italian Greyhound named Sullivan. He's adorable (the dog, not the author).