To get to play someone who was in some capacity the King of Harlem, that meant something to me. Deep within my bones. I was inspired by the energy that I knew to be a real thing.

Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali

Profession: Actor
Nationality: American

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I do believe in the potential of like-minded people coming together.

I've been working almost 20 years, and I think I've worked with maybe one black director of photography in that time. Maybe two women directors or DPs. Maybe. And I've done a lot of TV. That's a lot of people I've worked with.

I loved going to superhero films growing up - you come home, and you pretend to be those people, and it ends up informing much of what you aspire to be. And that's what I will say is important about the genre.

People will burn through a show in two or three days, and then you're left feeling empty for 51 weeks.

I thought, 'I've been doing this for 16 years professionally. I have a window where I want to play leading parts.'

Coming off 'House of Cards,' playing someone so straight-laced, I was getting offered a lot of F.B.I. agents.

If you convert to Islam after a couple of decades of being a black man in the U.S., the discrimination you receive as a Muslim doesn't feel like a shock.

At graduate school in 1999, I finally had the chance to examine why I believe what I believe. I realised that I'd had no period in my life where I'd consciously tried to develop my own theology.

When I was growing up, I was told you could be anything you want to be, but I didn't really believe that because you couldn't be president. Like, I knew that; we never had a black president.

If you're throwing someone off a roof, you're throwing them off the roof. It's there. You don't have to do anything extra with that. The audience is obviously going to react to that because it's such a heightened thing to do. But in the other moments, you really look for ways to craft those, because they're more important, honestly.

'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.

As young people, you want to see people who in some way look like you to some degree, because it makes it a little easier for you to aspire to take on the qualities of those people.

People are really paying attention to the comic-book genre, and there's a lot of time and attention being invested in these projects with a wonderful sense of quality control.

I really enjoyed working with Mariah, Alfre Woodward's character, because she's a wonderful actor, and I felt we had a natural chemistry that was reflective of real family members.