‘Luke Cage’ actress Simone Missick on blazing trails for ‘Black Panther’ and getting that metal arm
Season two of Marvel’s Luke Cage hits Netflix on Friday, with 13 new episodes chronicling the bulletproof hero’s quest to rid Harlem of police corruption and gang violence. The reluctant but good-hearted Cage remains as compelling as ever, but it’s his supporting cast that gives the series real dramatic depth. Case in point is Misty Knight (Simone Missick), the ferocious, no-nonsense NYPD officer whose idealistic outlook on justice finds her often siding with Luke — a vigilante — over the corrupt system that employs her.
That loyalty isn’t without risk. During The Defenders, a 2017 series that united heroes from all four of Netflix’s Marvel shows — Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Iron Fist — Misty found herself on the wrong end of a sword, which a senior member of a villainous secret organization, The Hand, used to lop her right arm off at the bicep. The tragedy of her sacrifice was brief. Those familiar with the comic books from which Misty originates know the loss brings her closer to getting her famous bionic arm — and to finally becoming the superhero she was born to be.
Netflix viewers get to witness this iconic transformation in season two. In a phone interview Tuesday, Missick discussed bringing that moment to the small screen, how Misty fits into Luke Cage’s larger themes around race and justice and what it’s like being one of the only women of color in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
(Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Mic: Hi, Simone. This is perfect timing. I finished watching season two literally less than five minutes before you called.
Simone Missick: Wow, you’ll have to tell me what happens.
You haven’t seen it?
SM: No, I have seen no episodes. That’s a ritual of mine. I don’t watch until the fans do. I want to be able to experience it when the fans experience it.
Take me back to when you started filming the second season of Luke Cage. In The Defenders, Misty lost her arm and is dealing with the fallout ... at the beginning of Luke Cage season two, so I’m wondering how you were thinking about where she was emotionally during that time and how you were going to portray that.
SM: There have been a lot of discussions with [Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker] and I about where Misty is emotionally at the start of the season. That was a lot to think about and to prepare for as an actor, and I got the chance to do a good amount of research on people who lost their limbs and what that feels like — not just the physical things like phantom limb syndrome and the pain people experience, but also mentally. The mental journey one takes.
So, going into season two with that being the way the season starts was exciting, and knowing that eventually the [bionic] arm was going to come was great.
You mentioned doing research into people who lost their limbs. What did you look at?
SM: I’m really big on documentaries, and I got to watch a couple different ones on the [2013 bombing at the] Boston Marathon, and the stories of those survivors are the ones that spoke to me the most. Those are people who are athletes at the top of their game or just regular citizens who want to push themselves physically — much like Misty, she’s an athlete – to go from doing that to losing a limb or multiple limbs, what is that like?
I think about, as a cop, as a person in the military, you go into work every day knowing you could lose your life — you expect that — but I don’t think people prepare themselves mentally for losing a limb. You don’t think about being disabled in that way.
On a lighter note, your character eventually gets a super-powered bionic arm, which is one of the more comic book-y and fantastical elements that these grounded Marvel shows on Netflix have incorporated. What was it like being the vector for something that wacky and straight out of the pages of the comics?
SM: I love it. Everybody can’t have bulletproof skin, everybody can’t have superhuman strength, so to have that prosthetic arm is a lot of fun. And to see what they do with it this season — there’s one point where Misty and Luke are fighting, and Misty punches a guy and he flies back a couple feet. And she’s just as surprised by it as he is and as Luke is. That is fun. That is what comic books are all about. It was great, as you said, to be the vector for that.
Yeah, and before you even get to that, you have a fun fight scene with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) in a bar, when you still just have the one arm. Can you talk to me about what it was like choreographing a fight scene like that?
SM: I spent a couple weeks with our stunt team, really working on that fight and exploring how to move with one arm. So, I have hours and hours of recordings on my phone of me fighting with my arm literally tied behind my back. It was a lot of hard work, especially for me, since I’m right-handed. You naturally want to punch [with your right arm] — and there’s that moment in the show where Misty is trying to throw a punch and the arm isn’t there. It’s that instinct of a fighter and an athlete to just go with what you know, and it’s not there.
That scene was so much fun to film. Our stunt team is outstanding and getting to fight side-by-side with Jessica was such a gift. That’s probably my favorite fight in the series.
I also want to talk a bit about Misty’s psyche as the season progresses, because she starts off in season one as this beacon of idealism, going by the books and really believing in the police force she works for. But by season two, once she’s discovered her late partner Scarfe was a dirty cop, she questions her faith in the system more and more. Can you talk about that particular story line and how you think it fits into the larger themes of the show?
SM: I think that for someone like Misty who believes so much in what she does, in keeping justice in Harlem, the journey she takes in being disillusioned by Scarfe and the police force and feeling as though justice is not always served even if you know people are guilty — it was a tough and jarring thing for her to come to terms with. I had a lot of fun exploring that gray area. I think for me, Simone, as a human being, I can see the gray area. But Misty is not like Simone, so to be able to play around with thoughts and emotions that were more similar to my own — it’s funny, I got the gift of playing opposite my husband [Dorian Missick for that storyline.] He’s the character Dontrell “Cockroach” Johnson, ripped straight from the comics.
But to see Misty really think, “Maybe, if you can’t find justice, you have to put it into action on your own,” and to see Misty really struggle with that, to be willing to break the law to put somebody behind bars, it’s a rich thing to be able to play as an actor.
Whether or not it’s entirely intentional, there’s this political poignance to seeing a bulletproof black man in a time where there’s this attention on anti-black violence at the hands of police, which is something that was discussed around the time of the first season. But it’s also interesting that many of the protagonists of the show are members of the police themselves, and we see them grappling with, “When is it OK to break the rules and when is it not?” That’s not really a question, I guess.
SM: No, it isn’t. [Laughs] I’m misquoting somebody, but the very existence of black people in America is political. You can’t make a show about a black superhero, a black family, a black woman, without it being political, without it pointing to the things these men and women have to go through every single day in order to survive and thrive.
For Luke Cage, his existence, his wearing a hoodie, points to that image that’s associated with violence and criminal activity. And he gets to embody it in a way that is hopeful. The same is true when we look at what our characters are looking at when it comes to justice. Is justice universal? Will we see justice happen in Harlem the way we see justice happen in [other parts of] Manhattan?
Candace Miller (Deborah Ayorinde) was a witness that got killed in season one. If she had been a young, white girl, would her death have been avenged more quickly by the justice system? Probably, but because this is Harlem, you just don’t see justice happen in the same way, and that’s what makes Misty question whether she should take matters in her own hands — it’s that she’s helpless that a system she works within isn’t working for her.
It’s no secret that the Marvel universe as a whole is overwhelmingly male and white, so I’m wondering how you feel about having the opportunity to be one of the only women of color in the role of a protagonist in the Marvel Universe. What does that mean to you?
SM: To be able to play this character and to play her truthfully and honestly is important, but I think that we as a community, as a global community, have been hungry for these types of stories. We have been wanting to see women in positions of power. Representation matters. Not just in terms of gender, but also color.
To be able to be out there as a superhero, fighting alongside and leading, is exciting. I think the success of our show and the love that people have for Misty’s character has spurred other shows and other movies. Luke Cage breaking Netflix is what inspired Marvel to go ahead and get on the Black Panther train. That inspired people to create shows like Black Lightning [on the CW]. To be a part of that, to be able to be one of the first — you know, Misty Knight was created 40 years ago. She was [one of the first] female, African-American superheroes ever created.
For it to take 40 years for that to happen shows that there was this misguided idea that nobody wanted to see her brought to life. And I think fans of all colors and all ages and generations have shown that to not be true. So, I definitely feel blessed to be in this position, and I hope that the work I’m doing and the work my fellow actors — and actresses, specifically – of color are doing will continue to see shows like this created and [their] movies be successful.