Bold, relevant and entertaining are just some of the adjectives used to describe the new Netflix original series, ‘Luke Cage’.
Fans of the Marvel universe already know know that “Luke Cage” follows the story of Carl Lucas (Mike Colter); a former convict with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin who now fights crime. It’s the perfect complement to other acclaimed Marvel themed Netflix shows like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”.
Actor Justin Swain plays Bailey in “Luke Cage”; an NYPD police officer who plays a pivotal role in tracking down the criminal mastermind responsible for the most recent crime outbreak. The series also stars Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Bailey’s NYPD colleague.
Already an accomplished actor and playwright, Swain has also written for film and television and is currently producing his first feature film, “Penance”.
I recently spoke with Swain about his role in “Luke Cage”, his career and more in the exclusive interview.
How did you become involved in “Luke Cage”?
It was pretty funny because Marvel is so secretive about everything they do that I didn’t even know I was auditioning for Luke Cage because the sides weren’t labeled. It was right before Labor Day weekend and I was heading out of town to visit my family when I got a call from my agent saying I booked it. I still didn’t know it was Luke Cage until I got an email later welcoming me the Marvel Cinematic Universe! I showed it to my wife and she was like “wait, what?!” [laughs]. Then I realized it was for Luke Cage. I was super excited because I’m a big fan of all the Marvel shows as well as the films. I was grateful to be a part of it.
What was it about the script that attracted you to the project?
When I went in for the audition I remember thinking, “these pages seem like a procedural cop show, but these lines have kind of an edge to them.” I think the writers did a great job of blending the Marvel Universe with a slick, edgy, grounded tone. Not only is it entertaining but I also think Cheo Hodari Coker [series creator], Marvel and Netflix have created a piece of art so relevant and necessary to today’s cultural conversation.
What can you tell me about your character, Bailey?
Getting the chance to play Bailey was so cool. The role grew as the season progressed and each time I was sent my pages it was an exciting surprise to see where the writers were taking it. He’s an analytical guy and I think that is a good balance and challenge for Misty who tends to go with her gut. I think he also wants to protect Misty; in little subtle ways Bailey is trying to make sure she doesn’t self destruct before they they are able to understand what is really going on with the whole Luke Cage situation.
One funny detail was his glasses. Early on I got some pages that said he wore glasses, so I quickly grabbed my wife’s glasses as I left the house. When we started shooting the scene, I was wearing the glasses and looking at the computer screen. It was my wife’s prescription so as I stared at the computer screen I started to feel sick. I couldn’t wear the glasses for too long so I had to take them off during the scene and it started to become a little Bailey character thing [laughs].
What was it like working on a Marvel production?
Just getting a chance to work with talented actors like Simone Missick, Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson and Karen Pittman was a gift. It was also awesome to work with the showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker and the whole writing staff Jason Horwitch and Aida Marshaka Croal. They were so gracious and accessible during filming and are just incredibly creative and talented people. Then they brought on amazing directors like Paul McGuigan to do the pilot, Steven Sujik, and then Clark Johnson directed the finale. Just a really great group of people to work with.
What was it like getting to work with Simone Missick?
She’s an amazing actor. I thought she did a fantastic job stepping into an iconic character and making it her own. She was really fun to work with, always accessible, a really kind person. She was very giving as a scene partner. Working with her made my job very easy!
Did you always know that you wanted a career in entertainment? Was it something you always aspired to do?
I acted in plays when I was kid and pursued it into high school as well. I think for me, it was a way to connect to people and, coming from such a small town, I really cherished that. When it came time to pick a college I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to go to school for acting or visual arts, because I had also grown up painting as well. I think that’s when I made the choice. I said, “I want to go for acting.” That was it.
What are some of the differences between doing a series like Luke Cage as opposed to doing theater or a feature film?
Shooting a series like Luke Cage seemed to me to be more like shooting a film. The set was loose and sometimes you could throw in some ad-libs and — if you were able to come up with something good– they would keep it. Theater is a completely different animal; it’s more athletic in a way. You have to be on for it every night. To use a racing analogy, I’d say doing film/TV work is like sprinting — you have to go hard, fast and be precise. Theater is more like endurance work — you have to buckle in and maintain the character straight through for two hours every night.
Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?
I’m currently looking into working on a virtual reality project. I’m also finishing up the development of a new series about a group of fishermen in Massachusetts who are over regulated by the government so they turn to smuggling to survive. There are lots of opportunities on the horizon!
What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?
Luke Cage was a great experience and I have no idea what the rest of the series is going to look like. They are doing The Defenders now and Luke Cage is part of that gigantic Marvel world. It’s also all intertwined with Jessica Jones and Daredevil. Marvel has big plan for the whole Marvel Universe so I’m excited to see where it’s going and what is happening next!