Carrie-Anne Moss knows a thing or two about badass female characters. As Trinity in the Matrix series of films, she made us all say “woah” like Keanu. As Aria in the Mass Effect franchise, she embodied a powerful warrior race of only women. Now, her power will be a bit more grounded, with a character in Jessica Jones named Jeryn Hogarth. In the Marvel Comics the series is based on, Hogarth is a male. Choosing to make the character, a business and law maven, female, turns the “mid life crisis” motif a bit on its head.
Mike Colter, meanwhile, looks like he was born to play Luke Cage. The 6’3” muscular man is built like a tank, and an imposing figure. Then he laughs, and smiles, and brings you into a conversation, and you’re entirely disarmed.
Sitting with the pair at an interview at New York Comic Con in support of the series, launching on Netflix in November, it was easy to get struck by their acting histories and instantly recognizable looks, but it was even easier to get struck by their excitement and love of the work. Moss talked extensively about building her character and getting to play in a world that takes itself seriously. Colter, meanwhile, talked about building up a serious role and carrying it through not one, not two, but three different series. He also said “Sweet Christmas” at my prompting, and talked about some of the more ridiculous parts of Luke’s history. There's also some talk about sex, and later, some more talk about sex.
Here is the interview in full, including questions from ComicBook.com and other outlets.
How was the casting experience for you?
Carrie-Anne Moss: Well, I had met with Marvel a year before, just in a general sense. Then (Marvel TV head) Jeph Loeb called me, pitched the idea of the character and the show, and then I talked to Melissa Rosenberg on the phone. Then I read the first two episodes, I want to say, and I was sold.
It’s fun. I love being part of a team, a group in something for a long time where you get to establish the character and relationships with other characters, but also just making something that you’re all working hard to do. It feels so good today. We worked really hard, especially Krysten who worked really physically hard. It’s just sort of a celebration of all that hard work.
What was the process of getting to originate a character, but who also exists already in Marvel Comics, and also making it exist in this larger Marvel Universe?
Mike Colter: I look at it like, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you start reading the comics and try to figure out how to build the character from just that. Ultimately, the fanbase, fan’s ideas or perceptions of the character won’t serve you, as an actor, trying to figure this character out. Ultimately, they cast you for a reason, so you have to look at it from that standpoint: what is it about you, what have they seen, what is the essence of the character and how can you anchor yourself in that?
What I love about it is, this is a great platform. We got Marvel, we got Netflix. I saw Daredevil, and what they were trying to do. What I really liked about it is that this was going to be grounded no matter what. We weren’t going to do something that was going to be ‘wow, I can’t believe this.’ It’s not Lost where it’s a real fantasy situation and you can’t believe what you’re seeing. There are superpowers, but for the most part I think less is more, and it seems like you’re dealing with people who are trying to be low key. I really like the idea that I’m not wearing a costume. I’m a street-level hero and I’m trying to work on saving the community. That’s what it is. It’s really grounded, and I’m really happy about that.
So I approached it like I’d approach any other character, try to find out how he ticks and how he thinks about stuff. The feel and the point of view, you figure that out and the rest will come to you. Then their ideas, Marvel has people like Jeph Loeb, and Jim Corey, and Melissa Rosenberg, the show runner, they build the character and write the stuff, and hopefully they write something you connect with. Then from there, it’ll sail. They’re definitely doing a great job writing something that’s a character that people aren’t expecting what we’re bringing to them. They’ll like it, but won’t expect. We’re focusing our energy on the character study, what’s going on in this world. But then we’ll give you some of the things that you’re looking for, some of the quotes from the comics and the stunts, stuff like that. That’ll keep them entertained as well, but what makes them come back is their connection to the story and what’s going on between these characters, how they develop and they’re intersecting.
That being said, Luke Cage is one of Marvel’s ultimate badass characters…
Colter: Yeah, and I didn’t know much about Luke Cage. I knew there were some other actors up for it and stuff like that. For me, it was like, if they cast one of those other actors, that’s the way they’re going. It wasn’t like, “oh Luke Cage has gotta be me.” I was hesitant, I didn’t know what they were writing for Luke Cage.
Then you googled and saw the tiara?
Colter: (laughs) Oh, the tiara, all the 1970s blacksploitation thing, I was like “oh my god…” And they assured me, no that’s not what we’re doing with it, we’re doing a different version of it.
I love that that’s your production code, though, Tiara.
Colter: Yeah, codename Tiara. It’s hilarious. Trust me, we’re gonna give them what they want, we’re giving everything they want, there’ll be surprises.
And of course you’re now in production on your own show.
Colter: Yeah, we’re already shooting. I can tell you what they’ve allowed me to, which is basically, Luke Cage will take place a few months after Jessica Jones. So in real time, if you watch Jessica Jones, you’ll find [at the end] Luke Cage uptown in Harlem, working, trying to make ends meet. Luke Cage really hasn’t figured out what he’s doing. He’s tending bar, he’s bouncing around. And for good reason, he’s a fugitive, he has some skeletons in his closet. He’s trying to basically stay off the radar. The people he hangs around with, though, are in need. Ultimately, he’d rather be alone, but with the way he’s equipped he does step up. That’s what it’s about, it’s about finding that inner feeling to make you want to take action. Sometimes we just sit around, and sit on our hands and don’t do anything because it’s like “hey, that’s not my problem.” You can’t do that when you’re a superhero. You have these gifts, now use them.
So I can say you’ll find him uptown in Harlem, and in a completely different world from Hell’s Kitchen.
Carrie-Anne, with your experience did you find yourself mentoring any of the cast at all?
Moss: (laughs) No, if anything I think Krysten Ritter was a mentor for me! She’s so smart, she could direct in a minute, she really knows her stuff. If anything, maybe lifewise a little bit, because I’m just like that. Like he’s (Colter) having a baby, and so I talk to him in the car about that, that kind of stuff.
Colter: Yeah, I was in panic mode when I met her and David Tennant, and they were talking about their babies and their kids all grown up, or having a small one and an older one, and I’m panicking, going “how can I do this job with a baby?” That was my concern. When I got cast, I was like “I can’t take this job right now, I got a baby coming!” But things happen and work out for the best.
You mentioned really enjoying the ensemble and becoming a family of sorts. Can you expand on that a little bit? Krysten was saying the production schedule was very long, how did that dynamic build, and how quickly?
Moss: Well, I worked a few days every episode, and she was there every day. I flew back and forth, so it was a little bit different. But you really do get to know people and really like the crew. You get to support each other through big days. It’s a very amazing group of actors and crew.
And building a character over that extended period of time, how did that differ for you from doing it in films?
Moss: Well, for a movie you know who she is. You read it, you get a feel, you dig in, you go deep, and it’s a beginning, middle, and an end. With a TV show, I had no idea who she was beyond the first couple episodes. I didn’t know what the ending would be like, what she was going to do, who she was going to be. So that can be challenging, but I kinda like that. I believe in understanding who your character is, but in the end being in the moment when you’re acting. So that helps me stay on my toes a bit that way.
I can’t be playing what’s happening in episode 8 or 9 anyway because you don’t do that in real life. It works, but it can be challenging, to not really understand – “Oh, I didn’t know she was like that!” You know what I mean? Like I would’ve done that differently if I’d known that. But that’s how real life is, too. Looking back and saying, “oh, I wouldn’t have done that.” I try not to make it too heady a process, just keep it open and intuitive.
And we also have Melissa, who’s a really great writer and a group of writers writing it.
How would you describe your character?
Moss: She’s fierce, she’s strong, she’s powerful, and she likes that power. She is slightly superficial, but I think there’s a depth in there, under all of that. She goes after what she wants; she is kind of playing that male role, the mid-life kind of finding herself a little bit, making some decisions that are impacting her life based on greed, and status, and sex.
Colter: Don’t forget sex. (laughs)
Moss: Yeah. She’s getting her needs met. That’s who she is, and that’s how she lives, she goes through everything that way. She’s not looking to compare with other people.
Real quick, using two words, one of which would describe sugar and one of which is a winter holiday, how would you describe Luke?
Colter: (laughs) Oh man… Sweet Christmas.
I had to get that out of you. I had to.
Colter: You’ll get it later! It fits - actually, I was afraid of that phrase, but it actually fits so well, I don't know why, I don't know why it fits so well into Luke's mouth when he says it. It's appropriate, always apropos.
Can you tell us a specific note or something that the Marvel people on set steered you in a different direction with?
Colter: I remember for me they said, “Luke doesn’t try too hard at anything.” He doesn’t have to try to work for anything. Women, he doesn’t have to work for, just let it come to you. He’s not trying hard. He gets what he gets, and doesn’t have to work hard for anything.
Moss: That is a really good note for you. Because that’s a very different person. Mike’s the kind of guy who likes to hustle, and a guy that everything just comes to – you definitely got that.
Colter: Yeah, and it’s scary. Like women, it was “do nothing” then “do less than nothing” then “less, less.” Really? Okay.
Moss: I love that. Less is always better. Except when more is better. (laughs)
Colter: Right, well then everybody else around you has to do more, we can’t all be doing nothing!
With the love scenes you need more…
Colter: That’s when you need more, now you’re talking!
What’s the squeamishness of that kind of scene, how do you deal with that?
Colter: For me, my thing is, I look at it like, let’s just get it in and get it over with… (Everyone at the table including Moss laughs hysterically) Oh, sorry, you know what I mean. Guys, Guys! I mean let’s just get in and get it over with. Because ultimately, four or five takes in, you’re gonna be old hat, you’re not even thinking about it anymore.
Moss: You were great. It was real, it wasn’t glossy, it was raw.