If you grew up during the 1980s and '90s, you probably watched a helluva lot of TV during that time and since. But I bet you've never come across another character like Luke Cage's Misty Knight on the small screen. She's a Black woman who has been afforded the space to be angry, concerned, brave, authentic, and unf*ckwithable. These characteristics are brought out through the comic book source material, but they are also a collaboration between Simone Missick, the actor who plays Misty, and showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker. It's not often we come across Black female characters whose strength isn't reduced to anger or bitterness. From her conflicts with other women, to her ability to resist another "cup of coffee" with Luke, to forming the Daughters of the Dragon, to seeing the potential between Luke and Claire Temple, Misty is a well-rounded character, one we're fortunate to welcome into our lives.
Ahead of today's release of season 2 of Luke Cage, I chatted with Missick about Misty's bionic arm and all that went into shooting those scenes, why Misty has unapologetic feelings of rage and anger, where Misty and Luke stand now, and what the arrival of new character Det. Nandi Tyler means for Misty.
How was it coming back for season 2 of Luke Cage?
Simone Missick: This cast is like a family … Alfre [Woodard] related it to being a theater troupe that had to go away from each other for awhile 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 2 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 thing 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 [Hodari Coker] 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.
There was a bit of foreshadowing in season 1 of Luke Cage of Misty losing her arm and comic book fans knew what was in store for her. How did you feel about it happening on The Defenders series?
You know, I felt a kind of way about it. When you’re with your team, your family — Cheo is a member of my family, as are the writers, and you know those people, you trust those people, you know that they have Misty’s best interest at hand and in mind — and with this, this was a different writers room, it was a different show, and this was not the Luke Cage and Misty Knight show; it was The Defenders. So there was a bit of hesitancy on my part with them being the ones to handle it. But at the end of the day, it happened. And I think that the way it happened allowed for the relationship between Misty Knight and Colleen Wing to start to develop. It’s something that you see in season 2 of Luke Cage, and it’s something that I explore further in season 2 of Iron Fist. We get to see the Daughters of the Dragon come together … and in order for that to happen the fighting incident had to happen on The Defenders.
How was it working with the prosthetic? How long did you spend in makeup?
I had to spend a lot of time in the massage parlor. (Laughs.) That was the most painful part about shooting this season. I think we went through maybe 10 generations of the prosthetic, fitting it, and that’s an hour-long process of putting the plaster on, fitting the arm, letting it dry, pulling it off. So I think we did that about 10 times because the arm didn’t fit, it was too big, it was too tight, so it was physically taxing. And then the day to day of putting it on, I had to have two people from our props department there to help me get into my arm. But at the beginning of the season, it was at a place where I could barely bend it, but by the end of the season, I’m kicking ass and taking names with it.
Was it heavy?
Yesss! Yeah, it’s pretty heavy. I would say all three pieces together are about three pounds but because it’s fitted onto my arm. All that pressure, the tightness of the latex, the other hard plastic and metal pieces, it’s heavy.
How was it doing the stunts with it?
Oh my goodness, I tried to do a lot of my own stunts this season, which was really exciting because it was the first show that I’ve gotten to do that on. You don’t train, you don’t fight with the arm; you fight with your regular arm, and then you go to set and they put the arm on you. So when you thought you could throw a punch like this, now you have to throw a punch ten-times harder so that it looks like you’re moving in regular motion, as opposed to slow motion, which is what it feels like. So fighting with it was interesting. I have an amazing stunt double, a friend of mine by the name of Jénel Stevens. Jénel was one of the Dora [Milaje] in Black Panther. Amazing stunt woman! But on the last episode of Iron Fist, it took about 30 minutes to get her arm out of the prosthetic. It had swollen up so much she couldn’t move it … The fighting certainly isn’t easier with the prosthetic.
Were you aware that was the arc your character would have before you took on the role?
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.
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?
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 is that 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. Then when you have characters like Alfre Woodard’s and we see her 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 so 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.
So 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.
How does Misty feel about Luke having another love interest this season?
You know, I think she feels the same way she felt in season 1, 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.
You mentioned Antonique Smith a little earlier, what can you say about Misty’s relationship with Det. Nandi Tyler?
Whoo, I think if you notice in this show, season 1 and season 2, Misty has issues with women, and especially women in power, which is something hopefully we’ll get to explore in season 3. 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 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.
This was likely intentional, but the press materials on Nandi and Misty’s relationship is very vague, almost like they’re just frenemies, but I was thinking there has to be more to that relationship.
Cheo and I really had a chance to really go into that because when I was first watching the relationship develop and I was reading the script, I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just that, you know, two Black women in power who just refuse to get along. So he and I had a chance to really sit down with the script and come up with the origin of their relationship in a way that felt authentic and real and coming from a real place, as opposed to just a surface place. So I credit Cheo for being open to my suggestions and open to my observations as a woman, a Black woman, and as an actor. I think that’s what makes him such an excellent show runner. He is not trying to sit at the top and rule with an iron fist —hahahahaha, no pun intended. He is actually just about making this show the best show he can possibly make it. So when we went into figuring out the Nandi and Misty's relationship, it took some massaging, but I think we got to a place that feels authentic and real.