Exclusive Interview with Luke Cage’s Justin Swain

unspecified-1Marvel’s Luke Cage is the latest of the Marvel stories to be produced by and shown on Netflix.  Filmed using the same high production values that they brought to Marvel’s Daredevil and Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Netflix has another hit on their hands.

Justin Swain plays Bailey who is a police officer in Harlem who is a tech expert and is instrumental in helping his department track down the criminal mastermind responsible for the most recent crime outbreak in that area of the city.  Justin may look familiar to you; he has had roles in Boardwalk Empire, Law and Order and Law and Order: SVU.  In addition, Justin has also written, directed and/or produced several short films – Altered States of Plaine, The Darkline and The Sublet.

Talk Nerdy With Us was fortunate to be able to sit down with Justin and talk to him about his experience on the set of Luke Cage.  Justin was open to our questions and very funny.  Please read on and get to know Justin Swain a little bit better.


Did you know the Luke Cage backstory before your audition? How did you go about preparing?

It was pretty funny; since Marvel is so secretive about everything they do, I didn’t even know I was auditioning for Luke Cage. The sides weren’t labeled. I had another audition earlier that day. Julie Schubert was the doing the casting and when I went in I was already relaxed because I have been in for Julie a few times and she is a really great casting director. I had a great time reading with her that day and when I left I just had a good feeling. It was right before Labor Day weekend, and I was heading out of town to visit my family when I got a call from my agent saying I booked it.

I still didn’t know it was Luke Cage until I got an email welcoming me the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I showed it to my wife, and she was like “Wait, what?!” and then I realized it was for Luke Cage. I was super excited because I am a big fan of all the Marvel shows as well as the films. As the part grew as the season went on I was just really grateful to be a part of it. 

Did you have an interest in comics prior to taking this role?  If not, do you think you’ll be checking out other stories?

I wasn’t into the comics as much as I was into the films and the Marvel Studios shows. My father in law actually really loves comics and has collected them over the years. He knew everything about Luke Cage from the comics, and he actually bought me a really great Luke Cage comic for Christmas. One interesting thing he told me when we were talking about the show is that when Luke Cage the series came out, Luke Cage the comic book sold out! He said in his years of collecting comics he had never heard of that happening. 

With television outlets like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu now producing original series, we’re seeing a trend of shorter seasons (or series).  Ten to thirteen episodes, while not mainstream on the bigger networks, seem to the baseline for these platforms.  What are your thoughts on these shorter projects?   Do you think that there’s any chance that this type of programming could ‘bleed’ over into the larger, more mainstream networks?

That’s a really cool question. I think episodic series are a huge opportunity for storytellers. Really great writers and artists are using it in multiple ways. You mention the 13 episode arc, but we are also seeing 8 episode mini-series like HBO’s “The Night Of.” I read somewhere that “The Defenders” series might be 8 episodes long. And look at “Stranger Things” as well. The trend seems to be toward whatever tells the best story. People have an appetite for it. It’s almost like watching an extended 13 hour or 8-hour film, and it works for the bingeing crowd as well. Also, it helps with the quality of each episode; there is more attention to detail and character building. 

I’ve also read that network shows are paying attention to the cable and online shows and trying to integrate some of the same qualities into their content. 

Netflix has done some great work within the Marvel Universe using New York City as a background.  The ‘shoulder rubbing’ relationship between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and their upcoming projects is particularly fun for hardcore Marvel fans to see.  Have you seen any of the other series?

I watched them all! I was a big fan before getting cast on Luke Cage. Jessica Jones was released while we were filming Cage. I would have my laptop with me and be watching Jessica Jones in between filming. It was cool because even though each show has its own unique feel, watching Jessica Jones would help me stay in the mind frame of the MCU between shots. So I’d watch Jessica Jones and then leave my dressing room and step into Luke Cage. It was fun! 

Netflix has been generous with their overlap of the various Marvel shows.  There are a small number of instances where the characters of the various series cross paths.  Were the ‘Easter eggs’ which showed up in Luke Cage, pointed out to you as you were filming?

No, not to me. Marvel keeps all the stuff they are doing top secret. I would actually only get my portions of the script so sometimes before I did a day of filming I’d ask Simone (Misty Knight) what was going on in the rest of world of the show. She would give me a little debriefing on what was happening in Harlem. It was like checking in as a cop in the morning like “Okay, what’s our case load today? What are the updates on Cage?” 

That’s pretty cool, almost like putting you into that ‘cop’ frame of mind as you walked onto the set.  Was there anything special that you did to help yourself get into Bailey’s headspace?

Getting the chance to play Bailey was so cool. The role grew as the season progressed and each time I was sent my pages it was an exciting surprise to see where the writers were taking it. He’s an analytical guy, and I think that is a good balance and challenge for Misty who tends to go with her gut. I think he also wants to protect Misty; in subtle little ways, Bailey is trying to make sure she doesn’t self-destruct before they are able to understand what is really going on with the whole Luke Cage situation.

One funny detail was his glasses. Early on I got some pages that said he wore glasses, so I quickly grabbed my wife’s glasses as I left the house. When we started shooting the scene, I was wearing the glasses and looking at the computer screen. It was my wife’s prescription so as I stared at the computer screen I started to feel sick. I couldn’t wear the glasses for too long, so I had to take them off during the scene, and it started to become a little Bailey character thing. Ha!

How do you think our 2016 populace would deal with a world now inhabited by people with special, enhanced abilities?

I think what Netflix, Marvel, and the whole team do really well is ground each of these show in a very believable reality. You get the feeling they are working from the character out. Since they create such fully fleshed out characters, it seems like they have done a great job of representing what it might actually be like to have a superhero in Harlem. So I’d have to say I think if someone showed up with enhanced abilities it may be pretty close to how it’s portrayed on the show.

You’ve held multiple jobs through your career – producer, director, writer and actor.  If you had a chance to choose a project that you could write, direct, produce and maybe even act in (although that’s a lot of hats at one time), what do you think it would be?  (Even if you’d got nothing specific in mind, is there a genre you would prefer?)

My pilot project “A Good and Decent Man” is currently being shopped around. I really am excited about this project I wrote with my writing partner Kevin. It’s inspired by the true story of the first ever wrongful death case brought and won against a police department in the United States in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1970s. The case set a civil right precedent. I really want to see this one get made. The show portrays a multi-generational family of lawyers. There are some really awesome characters. It is really hard to get something made and play a role in the show as well, but if the stars aligned and it served the project I’d love to play one of the sons on this show.

Also a while ago I auditioned for “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” on Broadway. Just a fantastic show. I love playing Irish guys. I think I was in for the fourth call back which was also the final call back. I woke up that morning I was so sick. I went to the final call back, and I could barely stand. I was so out of it. That was the one that got away. I would love to do that play or make it into a movie. Maybe have Peter Jackson direct it act opposite Daniel Craig… that would be awesome. 

We’ll keep an eye out for those projects!  Now, we call ourselves Talk Nerdy With Us, and we are all nerds of the first degree!  Is there anything that you ‘nerd out’ about?  Will you share?

Ha! Absolutely! I’m a total nerd about “The Lord of the Rings.” I’ve watched the first trilogy more times than I can count. I actually wrote Peter Jackson a personal letter trying to get an audition for “The Hobbit” when they were casting it. I don’t think the letter got through to Peter Jackson, but I also wrote a letter to their casting department, and I did end up getting an audition for the movie!



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