‘Luke Cage’ star Simone Missick on being Black and unapologetic

Although Marvel’s Luke Cage focuses on a male superhero, it’s really the women of the comic book series who drive the plot. Take for example Det. Misty Knight, who is played by Simone Missick. Both she and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) have the same motivation of keeping Harlem safe in taking on Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) but go about it differently at times. Yet, Misty is Luke’s greatest ally; he can use brawn when an investigation stalls, while she has the long arm of the law on her side.

But, there’s more to Misty than applying “foot to a#$. And match[ing] lead for lead.” She is afforded the space to be truly pissed off, thanks to showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker. Yet she’s not a bitter woman with a bad attitude, which is often the case with Black women characters. There are real and deep reasons behind her anger.

Ahead of the release of Luke Cage on Netflix last month, I spoke with Missick about why Misty has unapologetic feelings of rage and anger; what went into shooting the scenes with Misty’s bionic arm; where Luke and Misty stand now; and how the introduction of Det. Nandi Tyler (Antonique Smith) highlights Misty’s conflict with women.

Simone Missick
Simone Missick Courtesy of Netflix

Annika Harris (AH): How was it coming back for season two of Luke Cage?

Simone Missick (SM): This cast is like a family … Alfre [Woodard] related it to being a theater troupe that had to go away from each other for a while and now we’re back doing a season of theater. It was great to be able to work alongside, you know, Mike [Colter] and Theo [Rossi] and Alfre and Karen Pittman.

But it was great also to have the additions we had to the cast with Antonique [Smith], Mustafa [Shakir], Kevin Mambo … and Gabrielle [Dennis]. It was just such a wonderful cast to work with and to be able to expand season two outside of Harlem and going to Brooklyn, and then going to Jamaica. It was just awesome.

I know that going into it, we were all aware of the “mistakes” — although I don’t think there are any such things as a mistake; it’s a learning experience — some of the things that our first season fell hard on. And so knowing that we all came back with our game faces on.

[We were] all interested in making it a better season than the first. And to have all of the artists, the writers led by Cheo in that room, every actor, every stunt person, every crew member, every musician [who] graced the set [was] looking to exceed what they had done before. And so I think that we accomplished that and I’m really excited for everyone to see this season.

AH: Were you aware that was the arc your character would have before you took on the role?

SM: I knew from the source material that she had a bionic arm. You see the pics of Misty and you know what that’s going to be. I didn’t know how it would come to pass. I didn’t know how they were going to make it happen. I think the way that it came together is the best for our universe. I’m really, really happy with what we did, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds on the screen.

AH: The women of Harlem aren’t taking a backseat to the men in this series. Do you think it’s important to have female protagonists and villains in this particular genre, and why?

SM: Absolutely. I think representation matters. We’re definitely in a time where we’re talking about the importance of uplifting women characters in the same way that we uplift male characters. Allowing women to explore the same human emotions that men get to explore on-screen.

I think that the woman, especially the Black woman, is an experience that is so universal. We have such a rich tapestry of cultural, emotional, and just human vulnerability, power, and emotions that need to be explored as our White female counterparts and our male counterparts.

I had someone ask me, “What does it feel like to be able to portray Misty with the kind of rage and anger that is usually only reserved for White superheroes?” And I thought that was such a powerful question because it’s true.

When you see Black women being angry, you assume that she is crazy, she’s got an attitude problem — something’s wrong with her. But if it’s a White male, then you really listen to what…has got him so uptight. So, it was beautiful to be able to explore why Misty has these feelings of anger and rage, and then to not have to apologize for it. You know, for her to just be a person [who] is hurting and be able to show that.

AH: How does that nuance play out in the other characters?

When you have characters like Alfre Woodard’s and we see her [character] Black Mariah just evolve, and to find out the why of that. How many women do we know who have been abused, who have been sexually molested and had sexual violence exacted against them simply because they’re a woman, specifically because they’re a Black woman? And, how often is that trauma not addressed, not seen, not spoken out within our communities, within our families, our churches, our schools? And, to have that storyline be the backstory of why Mariah is a villain, why she is who she is, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

I love that Cheo and the writers of this show are not afraid to push the envelope, to put women in positions of power — as captains of police departments — and put them in positions of political power, law enforcement power, and physical and emotional power. I think it’s great to have women at the forefront of these stories.

(l-r) Simone Missick as Det. Misty Knight, and Mike Colter as Luke Cage. Courtesy of Netflix

AH: How does Misty feel about Luke having another love interest this season?

SM: You know, I think she feels the same way she felt in season one when they started to develop this romance. (Laughs.) Misty supports anybody finding a relationship because she’s not trying to be with Luke. Luke done “had coffee” all over Harlem, and she ain’t trying to go back for a second cup.

They have developed a true friendship — one that is interesting to see because you so often see men and women have a sexual relationship and people think a friendship could never be possible. Yet these two people have found that.

But, I think it’s her feeling that she intimately knows Luke, that she can see the direction and the path that he’s heading on, and that is in direct conflict with his relationship with Claire [Temple].

So Misty is there to say, “Hey, brother, don’t mess this up because you need a special kind of woman to deal with a man like you.” She’s rooting for them in a way you don’t often see on-screen.

You know, you always see women jockeying for the attention and affection of a man, especially if they’ve been intimate before, but you rarely see a woman saying, “Listen, it was moment. We experienced it. I’ve moved on. And I would really love for you all to work this out.” Misty is the ultimate woman of 2018, evolved sexually and emotionally in ways that lots of women aren’t.

AH: You mentioned Antonique Smith a little earlier. What can you say about Misty’s relationship with her character Det. Nandi Tyler?

SM: Whoo, I think if you notice in this show, season one and season two, Misty has issues with women, and especially women in power, which is something hopefully we’ll get to explore in season three.

But, Nandi is not an exception to that rule. She represents everything that Misty visually once was: a woman in power, a woman of color from her neighborhood, and she is literally sitting where Misty once sat, and so that’s a difficult visual.

That’s something that’s hard to come back to after having a trauma and losing a piece of yourself, losing a major piece of your identity when you’re trying to put your life back together to have someone there who is a constant reminder of what you’ve lost is hard.

But, what I love is that we get to the real reason that Misty does not like Nandi, and why she doesn’t trust her. It’s something greater than “I don’t like you and I don’t like the way your glasses look.”

It’s some real deep-seated and long history of character that Misty sees in Nandi. So, I can’t wait for the fans to see how that unfolds because on the surface, it most certainly looks like she is just jealous. But when you find out why she really doesn’t trust this woman, it’s a great thing to see.