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As Luke Cage, Mike Colter’s most notable superpower is his impenetrable, bulletproof skin. As Mike Colter, it may just be his impenetrable, bullet-proof equanimity. Which doesn’t sound nearly as cool, but it’s likely to be just as useful as he prepares to be the most insanely popular new star in the Marvel universe. Colter first donned the crime-fighting mantle in 2015 as the co-star/love interest in Netflix’s Jessica Jones; in September, he took on his own solo series, Luke Cage. It means Colter also takes on worldwide recognition, hype and, given Netflix’s binge-inducing full season releases, an insane schedule.
Colter once told Heed magazine, “You go about your business and try to do whatever you were doing before, because as quickly as you have been appreciated and recognized, you can’t allow that influence who you are.”
Colter’s cool in the face of it all is more impressive when you consider the series arrives with an extra helping of subtext. Luke Cage is Marvel’s first African-American lead in a title series or movie since the company rejiggered its Hollywood playbook in 2008. The character first appeared in printed comics as a jive-talking, open-shirt-wearing, Harlem-defending crime fighter in 1972, so any new translation is bound to be fraught. The fact that he enters 2016 in a hoodie – and bulletproof, when so many young black men aren’t – carries a whole other layer of significance.
Wisely, Colter keeps the pressure in perspective. Also to Heed: “It is not like you have a great year and then all of sudden you have arrived. You are as good as the last project. To me, staying in the business is the definition of success. You can’t control the roller coaster.” So where does he come by the cool head? Maybe it was the years of struggle and patience it took to build his career. Or maybe being a powerfully built 6’3” Rutgers acting MFA whose breakout came as a boxer in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby just makes you harder to ruffle in the first place. Actually, Colter admits that breakout froze him for a while. Reluctant to be typecast, he turned down the athlete roles that started coming in, not sure what to do. But he drew confidence from the memory of transforming himself into a blues singer overnight to audition for a production of A Soldier’s Play (he was the only contender who didn’t know how to play the guitar). He got the role of CJ Memphis, and has said the play’s success made him realize he could do more than what people assume from his surface.
And so he has, in films like Salt, Men In Black 3 and Zero Dark Thirty. He’s also built up an impressive 14-year television CV on shows like Ringer, American Horror Story, and most notably as Lemond Bishop in The Good Wife. It would’ve been easy for him to play a powerful, threatening drug kingpin almost by just standing there. Instead, he chose to show us Bishop in more subtle, fuller dimension – take away the heroin, and he’s just a single dad and businessman with an interest in politics.
To say he’s calm is not to say he’s unmotivated. He uses every memory of being told he couldn’t do something as motivation to prove he can. After all, Colter was voted “Most Ambitious” as a high school senior. It’s just that his aspirations don’t run to superstardom. He is not looking for bigger parts, but characters “with a certain amount of intelligence and mental acuity,” and quality projects with people he wants to work with.
So whatever the Marvel universe has in store for his career, he’s ready. And despite the social implications, Colter reminds people Luke Cage is also just a great action yarn. Yes, with an imperfect crime fighter whose biggest struggle is to be a better person. Proof that any heroes among us are just as likely to be wearing a hoodie as a pair of yellow boots.