Marvel’s Luke Cage made its debut on Netflix a few weeks ago, and like all the other Defenders shows, it was a huge hit among fans. Simone Missick’s Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight was definitely a highlight of the series, leaving an impression on viewers with her persistence and intransigence when it came to solving crimes.
In an interview with Marvel Entertainment, Missick talked about the process of bringing her character to life, as well as the overall tone of the show and her fellow cast members.
Marvel: To begin, how did you prepare for the role? Did you read the comics?
Missick: I did not read the comics. I read some back story on Misty Knight to find out where she was from and what people identify her as. Online, on Marvel.com and on a bunch of different websites they have a history on that. But I approached Misty the same way I do any character, whether it be for a play or a short film. You just create this backstory out of your imagination so I used the little bits that I could find on her as the points in creating the constellations almost. And to me, it’s more fun that way. It’s great that there are details about her that are identifiable. She’s from Harlem, she’s a cop, she becomes a detective. And then she eventually owns her own private investigations firm, but that is in the future and nothing that I really had to worry about. When you have those basic ideas like “Ok, she’s bad ass and she’s a detective and she’s a woman and she grew up in Harlem,” then you can create everything else around that like what were her parents like? Was she an only child? All those things. It kinda played into it and it was pretty cool because the writers on the show — their scripts definitely seem to line up with what I had created so it was very serendipitous in that way.
Marvel: How much is Harlem either a protagonist or antagonist in the storyline?
Missick: I would say not necessarily as a protagonist or as an antagonist as much as it just is, you know? It helps Luke and Misty and all of these people in some ways and then it hurts them in some ways. But Harlem is this living, breathing city, town…borough. I grew up knowing about the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin and all these very important artists and activists and musicians and writers that created Harlem, and that history is very much still there. That pride is very much still there and is present in our show. But then the things that affect a lot of cities across the country [are there as well]–poverty, drugs, gun violence, gentrification. The show deals with that as well and I guess it’s as much a protagonist as it is an antagonist. It’s a living, breathing thing that if you love her, she’ll suck you in and if you don’t, she’ll spit you out.
Marvel: Music also plays a major part in the story. Speak a little about that.
Missick: I love the music element of our show. I think it’s what gives it its heart. I think it’s what will distinguish it from ‘Marvel’s Daredevil‘ and ‘Marvel’s Jessica Jones.’ And music is very much a part of the culture of Harlem. It’s very much a part of the culture of African Americans and Latin Americans and as Americans, really. But on our show we definitely sprinkle in hip-hop, we sprinkle in jazz, we sprinkle in famous DJs and performers that are hot right now…although my character is not around for a lot of that [laughs], because I’m usually working in the precinct. But you know there were those days where you’re like, “Oh my God, this person’s on set, and I had their CD when I was 12.” It’s a great element to the show and it gives it a mood that’s completely different. It gives it a tone, it gives it like a funk that you could find yourself watching the show and then also bobbing your head or singing along with the rap lyrics that you know that are from your favorite Wu-Tang song. It just creates such an excitement to the show, having the music element to it and then having those cameos where you go “Oh my God, I can’t believe such-and-such is on the show.” It makes it not only just a superhero Marvel show, but it also gives it this really cool, old-school New York undercover throwback to when you had musical guests on TV shows.
Marvel: Have you been watching the shows prior to casting or did you have to binge everything after you got the role?
Missick: You know, it’s so funny. When Marvel’s Daredevil came up, my husband—we have very different schedules. I think I was doing a play at the time. He wasn’t. We didn’t have the same schedule so I would come home at like 11:00, midnight, and he’s like, “Alright, I’m about to watch Marvel’s Daredevil. It’s the best thing on television. This is like ‘The Wire’ meets superheroes, like, this is amazing. I can’t believe they’re doing this on Netflix.” And I was like, “Ok, ok.” And he would turn it on and I would fall right to sleep [laughs] because I was exhausted. So I missed his entire binge of the show, but then I ended up watching a couple of episodes before we started our show just so I could get a feel for the world. But in the same way, I didn’t want to approach Marvel’s Luke Cage with this sense of what I thought it should be based on what I had seen before. Then I did binge watch Jessica [Jones] when it came out just because you have to support the Netflix family and your Marvel family. I absolutely love the show and we were already in the process of ours so it didn’t really affect me the same way that I had worried that watching Marvel’s Daredevil would.
Marvel: What’s it like working with so many people like Alfre, Sonia, Mike and all the rest?
Missick: Oh, we have the best cast…ever. It literally is like a family from the cast to the crew. And having Mike lead the show is awesome because he’s a very easygoing, gregarious, nice person, so he wants everyone to have a good time on set. He wants everyone to feel comfortable and he doesn’t approach it with ego. So if you have the number one on the call sheet behaving that way, it all trickles down so there’s no co-star or guest star that comes on that thinks, “Oh, I really shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t talk to the lead actors,” because everybody just treats everyone like they’re a family. And Alfre is the greatest gift that ever could be when it comes to studying at the feet of someone who’s been doing this for 30-plus years. And Rosario the same. All of these actors are so generous and so lovely just as people that when you work with them, everybody comes to play. Nobody comes unprepared. And I have the gracious gift of working with Frank Whaley for quite a few months on the show and here’s another guy who’s been in dozens and dozens of films and he treats every day like it’s new and he asks the same questions. Because he asks those questions and I ask those questions, you have two people who are ready to play so there’s so much of our relationship, it just came out of improv. It just came out of us coming up with stuff on the fly like, “Oh, this will be funny,” and we both love to insert humor into it so you can watch procedural shows where it’s like, “Well, what happened? Well, who did it? Well, where did they go?…Ok, let’s walk off.” And Frank and I are like “It’s not about the crime.” You know, the crime is important, but it’s about these two people and it’s about their relationship.