Season 2 of Luke Cage premieres on Netflix this Friday (June 22), and fans are ready to see the titular, bulletproof hero (Mike Colter) back on the screen again alongside the likes of badass detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), the menacing Shades (Theo Rossi), new additions Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) and Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis), and, of course, Harlem’s queen, Mariah Dillard, impeccably portrayed by the incomparable Alfre Woodard.

In this new season, Woodard carries the weight of the season on her shoulders, delivering standout performances time and time again. At Netflix’s FYsee in Los Angeles, we got to chat with the veteran actress about season 2 of the popular Marvel Netflix series.

If the first season only scratched the surface, season 2 shows the character of Mariah Dillard gets closer to her comic book canon more than ever.

On Mariah’s turn to the dark side, Woodard told us, “I think Mariah has always been tortured. She’s always had demons. It depends on what circumstances a person lands, what parts of them start to show and where the cracks come into play. In the second season, we see her having to struggle more between that line of legality and illegality, power for good, using power for sustaining legacy — she’s got a lot of ethical questions that I think we all have day to day. I think people will really relate to her.”

Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Chaz Lamar Shepherd in 'Luke Cage' | Photo: Netflix
Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Chaz Lamar Shepherd in ‘Luke Cage’ | Photo: Netflix

The first half of season 1 depicted Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth as the primary villain, only to be killed by his cousin, Mariah. From that moment, another villain, Erik LaRay Harvey’s Diamondback, emerged, but Mariah always remained burning in the background in her quest to become Harlem’s queen — for better or worse.

Woodard says she was intrigued by the role when she found out there was more to Mariah.

“When they first said she’s a New York City councilwoman, I was like…ho-hum (laughs).  I’d just played the president for a season on State of Affairs. But Cheo Hodari Coker said to me, She’s not what it seems.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I am game. I’m all the way into that.”

As she noted numerous times during our conversation, Woodard is quick to say she doesn’t consider Mariah a “villain.”

“I still don’t know of Mariah as a villain. If you are like some put together thing that morphed up out of a lab..maybe you are a villain,” she said. “But what people call villains like Mariah…they’re just people that see things differently. That’s when dramatic conflict arises. She’s a person that’s trying to honor her family legacy. Most of us don’t do that.”

I concurred with her and said that most people probably know someone in their families like Mariah, and she took that a step further. “But also, most of us don’t have the balls to really stand up and protect the family legacy. We start to act on our individual needs. I think that is something heroic about her.”

Season 2 introduces the character Tilda Johnson, who is based upon the Marvel comic book character villainess Nightshade. The television series has retconned Tilda to be the daughter of Mariah, and in season 2, they have a complicated relationship, to say the least. On the Mariah/Tilda dynamic, Woodard says, “We’re all not meant to be Instagramming and cuddly and all that. Motherhood is expressed in a lot of different ways. And the way Mariah expresses herself may be unusual to people who do not have a lot of drive and strength.”

Alfre Woodard and Gabrielle Dennis in 'Luke Cage' | Photo: Netflix
Alfre Woodard and Gabrielle Dennis in ‘Luke Cage’ | Photo: Netflix

Lastly, with so much conversation and dialogue surrounding the portrayals of black people in television and film, Woodard spoke about stereotypes.

“As an African-American actor, I feel if your final portrayal is a stereotype, you haven’t done your work. It may be written in a vein that is familiar, but it is up to that actor to find that individual,” Woodard said. “Stereotypes are there for a reason. It’s gathered or perceived information over time by someone. But the problem was that someone was just one point of view. Now there are more voices…more stories, and those stories are being shared widely. And what I love about Netflix is these stories are shared around the world. No one has the same fingerprints. My job as an actor is to find something so specific about a person that flushes them out. Because you can say, ‘oh she’s middle-aged, she’s brown-skinned, she’s educated, she likes mojitos,’ — but you are still talking about millions of black people in America. So what makes her different? That’s the actor’s job to find that out,” she added.

Season 2 of Luke Cage is streaming on Netflix now.