Exclusive: Luke Cage's Antagonists Talk MCU Connections & Power

Mahershala Ali Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi in Luke Cage

It has been less than a week since Netflix's Luke Cage series premiered, and even though it's a good bet many a Marvel fan (or not) has already binged the season in its entirety, there's still plenty about the series to discuss. Several characters were introduced throughout its 13-episode run, and while a good many of them were on the same side of justice as the show's titular hero, there were those who chose to operate on the other side of the law. As is often said about comic book characters: "A hero is only as good as their villains" and with a lineup that included Mahershala Ali as Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, and Sons of Anarchy alum Theo Rossi as the ambitious Shades, Cage was certainly determined to give its hero every advantage it could in the villain department.

For a new series about a Marvel character who may not be as big a name as, say, Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Captain America, to draw the sort of talent that Luke Cage has bodes well for its dramatic bona fides. And as was evidenced on more than one occasion, the series was certainly made more compelling when Ali and Woodard shared the screen – with and without series star Mike Colter. Obviously, with the Netflix Marvel series being more interested in telling street-level crime stories, that provided a different kind of opportunity for performers in terms of having their character draw from real life, but it also presents a unique challenge in that their performance must find balance with the fact that these street-level criminals live in a world with bulletproof men, alien invasions, and maniacal robots dropping whole countries from the sky.

Screen Rant had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Ali, Woodard, and Rossi about their characters and what they thought were the biggest takeaways from the first season of Luke Cage. The stars also talked about how Cottonmouth, Mariah, and Shades fit in with the rest of the MCU and what the term power really means in this kind of series. You can check out the entire interview above.

Mahershala Ali Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi in Luke Cage

The way the actors describe the trio of villains is possibly best summed up in Rossi's statement that villainy is "in the eye of the beholder." Although the phrase is certainly common to hear when it comes to fictional baddies who simply cannot conceive of themselves as anything but the hero of their own story, it certainly is applicable in the case of Luke Cage. The characters' perception of themselves also plays into Woodard's explanation of their lust for power – which she feels is better described as "striving". Woodard goes on to describe Striver's Row in Harlem and how that real-world location feeds into the desires and motivations of Mariah Dillard, Cottonmouth, and even Shades, characters who are products of their community and are, in some sense, doing bad but with an eye on doing some good in the long run.

Of course, this wouldn't be a discussion of Marvel characters without asking where these individuals fit in the much larger context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Again, Rossi has some insight into where Luke Cage and his supporting cast fit, describing how superpowers are just "part of the world they live in", suggesting everyone in places like Harlem and Hell's Kitchen have, like true New Yorkers, already adjusted to the change super-powered individuals have brought (and continue to bring) to their world. That sort of casualness to things like a man with unbreakable skin helps explain these characters' response to Harlem's hero, and how even the thought of going up against an adversary like Cage doesn't stop these villains from striving for more.


Luke Cage season 1 is available in its entirety on Netflix.

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