There are instances where you're in a space with someone who has been extraordinarily successful, and they don't necessarily connect with you as another person. You can be a prop for them to deliver their stuff, and you're just another element in the scene.
There are so many women who contributed in a very real way in pushing for the space program during the time in which there was a lot of competition to get into space first, and to know that there were African-American women who were integral in that success is pretty phenomenal.
I started traveling by myself as early as 5 to see my dad. I'd go to Toronto or Los Angeles, depending on what show he was doing, but most often New York, and we would hang out, and he'd take me to museums and Broadway plays. The ones that had the biggest impact on me were the George C. Wolfe productions.
There's this Method Man album called 'Tical.' It's his first album. I would just listen to that every day, because the album feels like, if it were a film, it would be black and white. It feels like there's a war percolating throughout the album itself. It's dark, and it has a nice forward pace to it.
I wanted to get that Division I scholarship and play ball and go to school for free, and I was always about getting to that next step... I was always ahead of myself in some way, shape or form, and trying to envision how to get further along and closer to fulfilling that dream of being free and having creative agency, so to speak.
'Luke Cage' is about a reluctant superhero who lives in the shadows in Harlem. He has to decide if he's going to step up and fight for the heart of the city and defend the people against Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes, my character, who kinda wants to keep everything in order and intact. I'm the criminal element in the story.
It's important for people of colour to have the opportunities to play characters that are as nuanced - as three-dimensional, as human - as the characters who we traditionally see getting to play the protagonist. The good guys and the bad guys. The reason that is important is because it's a better reflection of the reality of the world we live in.
My friends in college, several of whom are still my closest companions, would tell you that I was almost obsessed with becoming - fixated on creating - the future that I envisioned for myself: one of expanding to know my fullest self, which I have in no way achieved.
I grew up on a wide range of stuff. OutKast, they been around for over 20 years, and some of the L.A. cats like Defari, Dilated Peoples and Likwit Crew. I was always going to these shows and catching the KRS-One tennis ball, as he would throw those out, EPMD. I could go on and on.
Now, being one who lived in the era of Obama, there are so many markers of improvement made. It's hard to be mindful of that, in the same way you're going, 'Oh everything's cool now!' and it isn't. But I try to be mindful of how much of an improvement there has been because that gives hope. You need hope. I need hope!
At a earlier age, I was kind of into a pretty large scope or range of music from Hieroglyphics and the Hobo Junction guys and all that to like a lot of stuff that was in New York like Diamond D, Nas, Brand Nubian, of course Biggie, OC, Organized Confusion, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Digable Planets, who I just saw recently, and they killed it.
I had two jobs coming out of school: I did a play, 'The Great White Hope.' I played the boxer Jack Johnson. And I was the lead in this indie film. Then I moved to Los Angeles because New York was cold and it was really too quiet for me at that time. I was out of school; I was hungry. The auditions were trickling in, and I was antsy and ready to go.
In thinking about it, the villains often have a little bit more range because their morality is different. You can have just a really good time as an actor, and there is just more there that you can explore on that side of the story.
Cottonmouth is the result of having to react to his circumstances. He had to, in some ways, take control of the situation and own his circumstances. But as a result of that, he became a person he didn't intend to become.
I'd always wanted to do a Marvel project, and I'd always imagined getting to play one of the superheroes because it's such a hard thing to get. It's the parts that only go to a few people. The flip side of that is the antagonists are pretty awesome.
Basketball wasn't going particularly well, but in my senior year, I did a play and got a wonderful card from a professor that said, 'I don't know what your plans are after school or if acting is a part of it, but you have something special.' Hearing that from someone who I had so much respect for pointed me in that direction.
It's still amazing, but when I was growing up, Harlem was the Mecca of black culture. I was so inspired by it, the aspirational feeling you'd get spending time there. Experiences that were really specific to that place.
I don't want to say I took myself too seriously, but I put a lot of pressure on myself coming out of school. I saw so many people leave the business behind, certain opportunities disappear for folks who had to go into other professions. That kind of terrified me. As a result, I wanted things to happen really quickly.