In the world of Luke Cage, we are getting to see more classic Marvel Comic villains come to life, with Mahershala Ali portraying Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and Alfre Woodard bringing to life “Black Mariah” Dillard. As with all of the previous MCU characters, the live action versions will give a new perspective of their background, motive, and depth. IGN caught up with Ali and Woodard, to discuss the complicated relationship that leads to their roles as the villains in Luke Cage.
IGN: There’s another layer there. Did you enjoy playing that and how they are somewhat business partners and criminal partners, in a sense, but they also have this family connection beneath that?
Woodard: Yes. Yes, because there isn’t a villain that wakes up in the morning and does villainous things and says— Everybody is just trying to make order of life around them, and you have partnerships, and so, and especially if you have family, everybody is going to be in it. Some of every kind of person. But by the time you discover all your differences and your different ways of approaching things, you’ve already been weaned together, played together, you already have relationships. And so that’s how we learn how to be in the world, is by learning how to be with family. We learn how to love and how to fight in families. And how to create together, and so I think it paints a very realistic picture that a politician on the up and up has in their family a successful businessman who steps in and out of the gray areas. But you don’t divorce them. What are you going to do? It’s like, none of us would have relations, even with our friends, if we were only doing business or having relationships with people that were…
Ali: On the straight and narrow.
Woodard: …What we would call morally centered. And what is morally centered? That depends on the person that’s looking.
The relationship between Mariah and Cornell is important for giving the female villain the classic name, one that might have made sense in the comics, but would be unbelievably crass in modern culture. By having the characters be related, it makes it more believable that he would call her by such a name.
IGN: Ali, the first time we hear “Black Mariah” said as a name, you say it, and it’s almost like something from the past you can pull out and say in a way to get her. Did you guys think about what that history would have been, growing up together as cousins?
Ali: It’s not something we necessarily talked about, but that moment we talked about. And that gets into some stuff that is really personal to black culture. I mean, you get into skin tone, when you get to insulting. And we kind of had to make that moment our own, and what that meant to us, and why that was an insult, why she would get upset about that. But again, that gets us back into – with family, that’s what it is. Otherwise, if we weren’t related, she would be a politician that I, for some reason, had a relationship with, when I ran this club, and we both have an agenda, and we’re trying to achieve that end. But because we’re family, and you can’t divorce family, it complicates that relationship. And she has to deal with me, as I have to tolerate her, in a certain way. And I think I’m probably more of a problem for her than she is for me, in all honesty, because she is trying to legitimize the family, kind of for her sake, as well, because you can’t have this shady cousin running around there. Like, she may have, and I don’t know, we haven’t talked about this, but the city council could really be a stepping-stone to mayor or something for her. So this needs to get worked out.
Woodard: But also, this was something that we did have to work out because of the character in the original Luke Cage [comics] in ’72. There was a Black Mariah, who was very different from what we’re doing. Some of our characters, like Misty, like Luke, some of our characters and others come straight out of the comic. Others are inspired by them. But Cheo [Coker] wanted to give recognition and homage to Black Mariah, but I started saying, “Well, it depends on who calls me Black Mariah.” And he says, “I want you to go after him!” And that’s when we see, “Oh Lord, she’s not a mild mannered city councilwoman.” And it helped that they’re cousins, and it helped that I wasn’t dark skinned, so you knew it was about something else, so what else? So we talked about those things that would set it off, and it was, it is old schoolyard poop between cousins.
Having seen the first two episodes, I can say that the dynamic between the two characters is amazing, as they team up to work behind the scenes of Harlem for their own personal end-goals. The pair worked together just like relatives that couldn’t give each other up, in a community that treats neighbors like family. But like family, there is sure to be tension on the streets of Harlem, and we all get to watch it tomorrow, when Luke Cage premieres with all thirteen episodes available at once, on Netflix.