Mustafa Shakir: I never imagined I could be Superman

From the screen, he scares the viewer with his very look. In reality, he is the epitome of the English phrase “easy going” and a comic book geek. I talk to Mustafa Shakir, star of the series “Luke Cage,” about the difficult art of playing a villain, growing up in Harlem, and his few uniquely original interests.

The actor playing the Bushmaster knows how to make a good entrance. Mustafa Shakir walks into a room full of journalists with a confident stride, wearing a T-shirt with Muhammad Ali’s likeness and the words “I know where I’m going and I know the truth. I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I have the freedom to be who I want to be.”

He sits down in the only vacant chair, puts his foot on his leg and announces: “I look forward to the questions.” The astonishment of those holding recorders in their hands lasts only a moment, as Shakir himself emerges from the role with a disarming smile. This smile does not disappear from his face throughout the interview.

Michał Ostasz, How did you get to the cast of “Luke Cage” series?

Mustafa ShakirI dreamt about the role of a superhero. I was literally on the verge of playing the main character in the Black Lightning series, but it didn’t work out. There even came a little depression, especially since I’m totally hooked on comics and even imagined myself as the new Blade.

– A little bit out of the blue, the opportunity to audition for the first season of “Luke Cage” came up. There was even a chance that I would be Cottonmouth (the opponent of the main character from the first series – ed.), but in the end the engagement was given to the excellent Mahershala Ali. Then I fought for the role of M’Baku in “Black Panther”. – You were in the cinema and you know how it ended. (laughs)

– Castings are very difficult and it’s easy to give up. In the end, you give it your all and at the same time you’re aware that nothing may come of it. Often it drags on for months and you inevitably have to develop a tough skin. But the people at Netflix liked me enough to give me another chance.

And how did you react to the news that you would finally appear in a series “with powers”?

– I don’t think it came to me at first. (laughs) I was focused on doing my job well. It took me a while to realize that I was fulfilling my dreams! It’s a great feeling.

In the second season of “Luke Cage” you play the main character’s villain and nemesis. Black characters from Marvel movies until recently were considered poorly written characters. What did you do to make Bushmaster not count among them?

– No matter how I tried – with a poor script it would still be in vain. (Laughs) Fortunately, Bushmaster is very well written. He is more than just an angry villain, he is pure evil. In the series we see his human side. I tried to show the reasons why he is on the path of darkness. A good villain is one that the viewer subconsciously hates, but at the same time can understand.

What about physical preparation?

– It’s good that you asked about that. I tried to do most of the stunts. What you see in the fight scenes are also stunts done by me and Mike Colter (who plays the lead role – ed.). I grew up in Harlem, so I had to learn how to fight, which has come in handy now. On the set I couldn’t just do flips.

Black heroes, thanks to “Black Panther” and “Luke Cage”, are on a roll right now. Is it a permanent change or just a temporary trend?

– It’s definitely a change that will stay with us. Movies are finally starting to reflect the social reality created by representatives of all races. Their proper representation – if only in the world of fiction – is very important, especially for the little ones.

– I loved the character of Superman myself, but I never thought I could become him. A black boy superhero? After all, it was unthinkable. Now kids with skin color other than white have role models. Plus, the financial success of “Black Panther” proves that it simply pays off. It was no different with our series!

The creative side is probably the same. In fact, each episode had a different director. The first episode was directed by Lucy Liu!

– I had a great time working with her! Lucy is very emotional and whenever a scene came out she couldn’t help but laugh and shout out loud like “That was great!”. I am extremely happy that a variety of artists are being allowed to speak. Each of them has different roots and experiences. This makes what we do even more interesting and broadens our horizons.

One of the main characters of “Luke Cage” is Harlem – a district of New York, the informal protector of which is the title hero. In our real world you are its inhabitant. What do you feel when you watch her on screen in this tweaked, superhero version?

– I feel proud! After all, you see your own home on the TV screen. (Laughs) The filming itself is a great feeling too. I’m not as recognizable as Mike, with whom people high-five during breaks from shooting, but I think now I’ll have a problem to do my shopping in peace. (laughs) Our series is something very important to the people of Harlem. And you can feel it while filming.

You mentioned the importance of the script. I know that you also write. I’m guessing it’s all about superheroes.

– Absolutely not! My favorite genre is romantic comedies. I would even like to star in one, but they only give me the roles of the bad guys. Tell me yourself – is it a matter of how I look? (laughs)

I’ll pretend I don’t know, but I’d love to know what your favorite movies in this genre are.

– “It’s just love”, “All right” and probably a hundred more.

But do you watch superhero movies too?

– Of course I do! I am a big fan of them. “Black Panther” was excellent, but my favorite still remains the first “Thor”. Every time I watch it, I feel like I’ve moved to Asgard. No other movie has that effect on me.

What else does a super villain do after hours?

– He raps, dances and does astrology. My love for the latter has lasted 26 years.

Interviewee Michał Ostasz

You can watch the second season of the ‘Luke Cage’ series on Netflix starting June 22nd.

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