Franchise Fred Interview: Luke Cage Show Runner Cheo Coker
Marvel’s Netflix franchise continues with Luke Cage. Now that Luke Cage has launched, expect fans to spend this entire weekend watching all 13 episodes of the first season. The third of Marvel’s Netflix series has been eagerly anticipated ever since they announced they were doing four street level heroes, to eventually team up as The Defenders.
Luke Cage picks up with Luke Cage in Harlem, working at a barbershop, trying to keep a low profile. Of course, Harlem’s crime bosses soon become a big enough problem that Luke can’t stay quiet. We spoke with Luke Cage show runner Cheo Coker after Netflix’s Luke Cage panel for the Television Critics Association this summer.
Do you have to run everything you want to do on Luke Cage by Marvel?
Once you get closer, once the rubber meets the road, Marvel is there every single step of the way. If you get to a point where they might not realize something is cool in this way, then you can say, “Hey, I’d like to try this. I’d like to try that.” I’m lucky that Jeph [Loeb] in particular, Jeph and Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley were extremely openminded and at the same time loved the energy of the writing. Not just in terms of my scripts but also the excellent scripts that came out of our writers’ room. We tried different stuff. The fact that they were willing to experiment and see things was amazing. Plus, we were blessed to have the best possible Luke Cage ever. He’s really the perfect partner because anything you throw at him dramatically, whether it’s humor, whether it’s superhero stuff where he has to stand a certain way and have swagger even as all these squibs are going off. Or it’s emotional depth, he can do everything. That’s the thing. When you have Andrew Luck running your offense, as long as he doesn’t get injured, the possibilities are endless.
Of course you can use any language you want on Netflix, but was there discussion about using the N word?
Much the same way that if you were watching Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese goes deep into the culture of what’s happening in different scenarios in Goodfellas and Mean Streets, the characters talk as if no one else is in the room. I wanted to do the same thing within context with these characters. Luke doesn’t use the word, with the exception of episode two when he flips it over out of frustration after everything that he’s gone through. He basically gives the kid this whole history lesson of how dare you use this word in front of this building named after one of our greatest heroes? By the end of the speech, after everything that he failed to do and then he’s frustrated, he says, “Go ahead and do it. Pull the trigger.” You see him wrestling with all this stuff. So that was my whole thing about that word and just about everything else. At the same time, if people are so immune to it when they watch Django Unchained which is one of my favorite movies, then maybe the fact that it’s jarring in Luke Cage even though we use it about 200 times less than Quentin used it, it’s good that it’s unsettling. It’s good that it makes you think about it. Then from that standpoint it allows us to really make this feel like a world that is palpable and not just fictional.
Luke Cage also has his share of love scenes. How far did you want to take those?
Even in terms of what we did with Luke in episode one, in terms of his love scene in that, Paul McGuigan when he shot it, he did it very naturalistically. It wasn’t like it was very choreographed. He said, “Let’s start at the door then start here and let’s see what happens when you get to the bed.” He shot it that way and watching it, I literally got on the phone and called Ali Shaheed Muhammad and said, “I need for you to start composing something for this right now.” So he said, “What are you looking for?” I said, “Okay, imagine either Al Green’s Simply Beautiful or Raekwon and Ghostface The Wisdom Body.” And he said, “Okay.” He listened to them. I said, “When you see the footage, you’re going to see what I mean.” He came back with the beat. The beat was like oh my God. We actually played the beat with the footage and it was like, “This is perfect.” It makes it so sensual. The reason I’m being so vague is I’m hoping for fans to be surprised by that but it’s such a cool scene.
Is Mama Mabel a reference to Moms Mabley?
No, it was more it was the fact that there were legendary Harlem gangsters, like Stephanie St. Clair in addition to Bumpy Johnson or Nicky Barnes or Frank Lucas. Harlem has such a rich political history. It has a rich criminal history. It has a rich musical history so we were able to have homages to all three within this comic book universe. That’s what it was really. Although Moms Mabley is of course cool.
What makes Luke Cage different on Luke Cage and then from how he’s going to be on The Defenders?
They very easily could’ve just had The Defenders be first and then have these separate series. But I think the way that they built it up is so brilliant because then you appreciate each character. Even though some people might like Jessica more than they might Luke, some people are going to be die hard Daredevil through and through. When Iron Fist comes out, some people are going to be Danny Rand all day. When they come together, you’re going to have your favorites but at the same time, you’re going to appreciate the nuance and the levels of each of them. Then if you see something you like, you might say, “Hey, well, I didn’t have a chance to watch Jessica Jones so now I’m going to watch that. I didn’t have a chance to watch Luke Cage so now I’m going to watch that.” It’s fun.