Mike Colter is the star of Netflix‘s new Marvel series, Luke Cage. The 40-year-old, South Carolina native plays the title character, a man with impenetrable skin and super strength. He played a significant role in Jessica Jones, where he fell in love with Krysten Ritter’s titular character and saw his Hell’s Kitchen bar blow up. The new series picks up after his move to Harlem.
Colter stands 6-feet, 3 inches tall and is married to Iva Colter. Here’s a look at his life, career and the character he plays.
1. Colter Decided He Wanted to be an Actor When He Was 8 Years Old & Saw ‘A Soldier’s Story’
When Colter was 8-years-old, he saw A Soldier’s Story (1984), an Oscar-nominated movie about an African-American soldier investigating a murder during World War II. At that moment, he decided to become an actor.
“I just like playing different characters, not having to be myself,” Colter told the times & Democrat in July 2012. “I’ve always been in my own world and stayed to myself. For me, acting is just what it is. If you’ve never acted before, you have to go back to being a kid and tap into that freedom that you don’t have anymore. I always wanted to cultivate and stay in that world. It’s not practical, but if you must do it and you can’t do anything else, then follow your dream.”
Colter then took acting classes while at Calhoun County, South Carolina High School. He then went to Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina first, then earned a bachelor’s degree in theater at University of South Carolina. He went on to earn a master’s degree at Rutgers. After that, he first tried out being an actor in Los Angeles. A year later, he moved to New York and started landing television roles.
Colter first appeared in episodes of ER and The Parkers in 2002. Clint Eastwood cast him in Million Dollar Baby (2004) and the roles began to pile up. He earned parts in Law & Order: SVU, Blue Bloods, Zero Dark Thirty, Royal Pains and Salt.
“I could have probably walked away or given up on jobs, or not have been able to stay focused enough to stay in it,” Colter said in 2012 of the support he gets from his wife, Iva. “You need some support. I have doubt sometimes, and so she has always been more than supportive. Many times, she’s said to me, ‘If you weren’t any good, I would have been the person to stop it.’ She gives me the blunt, honest truth, and you oftentimes don’t have that kind of truth. It’s nice to have a good pair of eyes.”
2. Colter Played Drug Dealer Lemond Bishop in ‘The Good Wife’
Colter’s first big role on television was Lemond Bishop on CBS’ The Good Wife. He played the Chicago drug dealer in 21 episodes from 2010 to 2015.
“I think he understands that people who fear him will stay in line,” Colter said of the character in a 2014 Vulture interview. “It’s like with a child — you can either be a buddy, or you can be a parent. What are you going to get more out of: being a disciplinarian, or being a buddy? Bishop can’t be both, because he has to come across a certain way to get things done.”
In that same interview, Colter said that the actor he enjoyed working with the most was Julianna Margulies, who played Alicia Florrick on the series.
Between appearances as Lemond Bishop, Colter played Nick Donovan on Kevin Bacon’s The Following and appeared in an episode of Criminal Minds. He also appeared in the short-lived Sarah Michelle Gellar series Ringer during the 2011-2012 TV season.
3. Colter & Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker Both Love ’90s Hip-Hop & Is Friends With Co-Composer Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Colter and creator/showrunner Ceo Hodari Coker both share a love of Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and other ’90s hip-hop groups. As Time Magazine notes, Colter has been friends with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who was hired to co-write the music with Adrian Younge.
“Music is really such an important part of the African-American experience. Rather than show hip-hop, I wanted the show to be hip-hop,” Coker said in an interview with TVGuide about the show’s music.
“It comes from the elements or [the music] answers to something,” he continued. “Old soul as well as blues, gospel and then funk — it was as much about making the fabric of the show come from the entire fabric of black music, but then again having these hip-hop moments of well… I wanted to prove that there was also a complexity in the stories in the feel of hip-hop in addition to the comic books. If you combine both, you have something that is interesting and in some ways profound.”
Coker also said that the show wasn’t made “as if only black people can enjoy this.” It’s a “hip-hop show, but it’s not done at the expense of alienating anyone who didn’t sign up for this experience.”
4. Colter’s Luke Cage Wears a Hoodie as a Reference to Trayvon Martin
Luke Cage isn’t afraid to touch on reality and the hoodie Luke wears is meant to be a reference to Trayvon Martin. His costume is very different from the gold-and-black outfit he wore in the comics in the 1970s.
Although Colter told Business Insider that the show doesn’t have an “agenda,” he did admit that the hoodie was a “symbolic thing.”
Coker also explained to KPCC that he “wanted to show that heroes could wear hoodies, too,” adding that, “I don’t care what your socioeconomic status is, if you’re a black man in a hoodie, you can be misinterpreted.”
5. Colter’s Luke Cage Is Not Based on the ’70s Blaxploitation Version of the Character
When Luke Cage debuted in Hero For Hire in the early 1970s, he was Marvel’s attempt to cash-in on the Blaxsploitation craze in the movies. The character wore yellow and black and had “Sweet Christmas!” as a catchphrase. But the version of Luke that Colter is playing comes from the Alias: Jessica Jones books written by Brian Michael Bendis.
“[That version of the character] was sparsely written, but what the writers were able to do for me as an actor was to round him and find a very thoughtful, nuanced individual that seemed to have a great depth of concern for the people around him and at the same time knew when to fall back and take a back seat when he wasn’t needed,” Colter said in a Washington Post interview. “He doesn’t have an ego that demands that he is the center of attention. He didn’t seem to put up with a bunch of nonsense and that was something that I can identify with.”
Colter also said that he’s aware of how important Luke Cage is to fans and others who have been waiting for a major black superhero from Marvel. “While I wasn’t close to the material in the beginning, I think I’ve arrived to the point where I understand how important this character is,” Colter said.