Marvel’s Netflix shows have received an abundance of praise, and rightfully so, for their complex renditions of villainess characters. With Vincent D’Onfrio’s Wilson Fisk and David Tennant’s Kilgrave being particular standouts, the pressure is on for Luke Cage to produce an equally compelling antagonist. Mahershala Ali, best known for his portrayal of conflicted lobbyist, Remy Danton, in Netflix’s House of Cards, is most interested in finding the human element behind the villain.
With these villain characters, it’s about trying to make them human, because often they’re written in a way that is so slanted. And honestly, this really wasn’t the case with me on Luke Cage. Cottonmouth on Luke Cage—he’s really not a quote-unquote “bad guy”. It’s just being able to work against how those characters are often thought of, and sometimes written, to make them human; and therefore, making a character that the audience feels conflicted about. You can do a lot with those roles—you really can. I don’t want to only do that, by any stretch, but I definitely see the value in doing that, because it is such a challenge, and there’s a lot of runway in those characters for an actor.
Now, the Cottonmouth from the comics is not a very layered character, but Ali and the show’s creators are most definitely going to try and reinterpret him into a more fleshed out person. This makes for a much more engaging and substantial viewing experience for the audience. While comics and their adaptations have been criticised for their villain’s one-note characterization and bland plots to destroy urban landscapes, something even Marvel Studios has proven susceptible to this pitfall, the Netflix shows have shown that you can give the bad guys depth and pathos.