Generally, when an actor or actress shows up more than once in the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s because they’re playing the same character (Stan Lee being the notable exception). However, this is not the case with Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe/Image Award/Emmy-winning actress Alfre Woodard who, in 2016 alone, has a small but catalytic role in this spring’s Captain America: Civil War (as the grieving parent who sparks Tony Stark to action), as well as this fall’s Netflix series Luke Cage in the much higher profile role of Mariah Dillard, flawed councilwoman and dangerous foil to the title character.
In a recent conversation with DirectConversations.com Woodard expressed her thoughts on superhero stories that, while often heavy on the effects, are nothing without a compelling story to engage the audience
You can have all the special effects in the world and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into them, but so many times people walk out of these films and say, ‘Of all the execs involved, didn’t anybody read the script? No matter how much technology we have, it comes down to the stories and storytellers.
Woodard credits the story and the vibrant Harlem setting for the critical acclaim now being heaped upon the Luke Cage series, and credits the show’s creator and showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker for crafting that setting so skillfully.
Cheo’s an amazing man. He understands, appreciates and revels in the culture and the history of Harlem. He’s also a hip-hop aficionado. He’s the first journalist to realize that hip-hop was not just a passing phase and would be a successful world culture for generations. He brings all that creative intelligence to telling the stories to Luke Cage. That’s why I signed on, and I have not been disappointed any step of the way.
Woodard was drawn to the character of Mariah Dillard as the series allowed the actress to develop the character over a longer period of time than being only a part of a 2-hour movie. The episodic nature of the series allows her to show that Mariah has more complexity that just being slapped with the label “corrupt government official” and highlight the aspects of her personality that got Mariah to the point she currently is.
It’s not just politicians who are like this. The role is not about how much we are willing to sink (to get things done), but how much we’re willing to wager to do what we think is right or helpful. I love Mariah because I think she is very complex, as we all are, and I love being able to play somebody that we all run into in real life. She has all the cuts and bruises, yet she has a sunny side.
As an actor, I love that. I feel like she’s a real human being. In this case, people may feel like, ‘I can identify with them’ until the character’s life takes a dramatic turn and then go, ‘Oh, my God. I couldn’t go all the way there.’ But that’s why we tell stories: to entertain, yes, but also to have audiences reflect and imagine themselves in these situations.
All 13 episodes of Luke Cage are currently streaming on Netflix.