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Luke Cage

Wingman Wednesday

Antonique Smith

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Antonique Smith joined the cast of “Luke Cage” in Season 2 as Nandi Tyler, a detective who has a complicated past with fellow officer Misty Knight, played by Simone Missick. As the layers of their relationship are peeled away, more and more of Nandi’s true intentions are revealed, creating a fascinating dynamic in an already fascinating series.

A Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and accomplished actress who kicked off her career on Broadway as Mimi Marquez in “Rent,” the New Jersey native is ecstatic to have joined the Marvel Universe, and although Nandi isn’t part of the original comic book world, there is an interesting future for the character should viewers get to see more of her in Season 3 and beyond.

We recently sat down with Smith to discuss prophetic journal entries, the joys of playing a real badass, and why her career took various left turns instead of a single predetermined right.

TrunkSpace: All of the “Luke Cage” Season 2 episodes are now out there and being absorbed by fans all over the world. What has the experience been like for you thus far?
Smith: It’s been amazing. Back to back, within like 10 days, the show is up and everybody is going crazy over that, and then the next thing, the “Strong Black Lead” campaign dropped Sunday and it’s just been a beautiful week. Lots of love. It’s been really wonderful.

TrunkSpace: What’s the overall Marvel ride been like for you, from finding out you’re becoming a part of the universe to where you are today?
Smith: I’m a big Marvel fan. I think Marvel does it the best. I didn’t grow up really knowing most of their superheroes. I knew Spider-Man, but a lot of the other ones I didn’t know growing up, so for them to be able to come in the last 10 years, and not only introduce new superheroes, but billion dollar franchises… the quality of how they consistently make everything, from the movies to also the TV shows, is incredible. And so, I have just had goosebumps this whole time since I found out. It’s incredible. And then for us to come right on the heels of “Black Panther” is… it’s just had such meaning and is just beautiful.

I honestly wrote in my journal early last year, like in January. You know how you do kind of your New Year’s resolutions and you go through the year, and two of the things that I wrote down were, “I want to join the Marvel family” and “I want to join the Netflix family.” And I wrote it on two separate lines. So months later, I guess about six months later, I had joined the Marvel and the Netflix family at the same time, which is crazy.

TrunkSpace: They merged into one line!
Smith: Yeah. So people. write it down! Write it down, ’cause stuff comes true.

TrunkSpace: What’s is so interesting about Marvel as a company and why they have such success across the board is because they treat each project as its own thing. Each one has a unique feel and tone, and certainly “Luke Cage” falls into that game plan because it doesn’t feel like any of the other shows.
Smith: It does not. It has its own unique feel and I love it. I was a fan of the first season. I honestly think as amazing as the first season was, I think this season is even better. I think the characters and the storyline… everybody just brought their A-games and it was just so amazing.

TrunkSpace: And your character Nandi didn’t exist in the comic books. Did that give you freedom to make her your own?
Smith: It did actually. It did. It gave me freedom to play around and decide more how I wanted her to be and less necessarily having to stick to what the fans were gonna already expect based on her having been in the comic books already. So, it was fun. I got to kind of be creative with it.

TrunkSpace: There’s always that intense pressure when someone is cast as a well-known character, where immediately people are second-guessing the decision. “Is she right? Can she pull it off?”
Smith: Right. Well, I had to deal with that when I played Faith Evans in “Notorious.” The whole world knew who she was. So, there was definitely that pressure of nailing it and trying to be as authentic as possible so that the fans would be happy, because as you can see, when people don’t like what you did or they don’t feel you nailed it, they will go at you so hard and it’s like, “Oh my God!” (Laughter) So, I actually have already experienced that and, thankfully, that went well too. Everybody loved it. But, yeah, I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that this time, although I look forward to that challenge in the future. If playing somebody or something comes up… I don’t mind that challenge. But it was cool not to have to do it.

TrunkSpace: And on the opposite side of that coin, what must be interesting is because fans don’t know who Nandi is or where her future ends up, they’re probably more curious of where her storyline is going to take her.
Smith: Right. That is very true. Everybody who has seen this season and seen what happens with my character, they’re still like, “If there’s a Season 3, I wonder what’s gonna happen with you in Season 3.” They’re already speculating about my future.

TrunkSpace: Well, if you do come back, things have been set up in a way that you’re going to return making a serious statement!
Smith: (Laughter) Yes! Yes! I look forward to that, coming back strong.

Smith with Justin Swain in “Luke Cage”

TrunkSpace: We know that you also come from the world of music, and with “Luke Cage” dropping all at once, is it a bit like putting an album out?
Smith: Yeah. It’s all there. Everybody can consume it at their leisure and enjoy it in whatever way. Some people want to stick to that watch-an-episode-a-week type thing, and then other people watch the whole thing in one day. So, it’s kind of like you put it out there, you give it your all, and then people just discover it and love it. And that’s been what’s happening the last few days. It’s crazy how many people have seen the whole thing already.

TrunkSpace: It’s always a surprise when you’re sitting down to get started watching something brand new, and tons of people have already finished the entire thing.
Smith: Right! It came out, like, Friday night… well, Friday morning in the middle of the night, and by Friday evening, a lot of people had already seen it.

TrunkSpace: Which is a testament to the show and the cast. “Luke Cage” is engaging people and capturing their attention.
Smith: Very true. Very true.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was it about inhabiting Nandi that you enjoyed most?
Smith: Well, let me just say, she’s badass, but there’s a lot about Nandi that is not like me. Honestly, based on everything I’ve done, you get to see a whole different side of me. The interactions and some of the stuff that I get into is stuff that none of my fans have ever seen me do before. And my family. Everybody was like, “Oh my God!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And Nandi comes in strong, too. Who she is and what she is all about is sort of established almost immediately.
Smith: Very, very strong. That’s one of the things that was really fun about playing her. She’s such a badass. She’s very confident and she clearly holds a grudge. Misty has been riding high on Season 1, with her “Misty Vision,” and then she’s weak and vulnerable and so Nandi takes that moment to come on in and move her right out of the way.

Netflix/Strong Black Lead Campaign

TrunkSpace: You’ve had so many great moments over the course of your career. Are they moments that you can rank and compare, or, because you’ve come from so many different aspects of the industry, is it more like apples and oranges?
Smith: Yeah, it is a little bit like apples and oranges… kinda, sorta. The thread that kind of combines all of the stuff that I do is my passion and using my emotions. With this I, obviously acting is all about using your emotions, but so is singing. Maybe not for all singers, ’cause not all singers are singing about stuff that requires… it depends on the genre, depends on the kind of singing. But I come from that kind of big voice, diva, rooted in church place. And that’s all about passion and emotion and when I sing, I’m looking in people’s eyes and I’m trying to really touch them.

And that’s what we’re doing with TV and film. We’re really trying to touch you in some way, whether it’s making you laugh or making you cry or making you think. My music is the same. That’s the goal of both is to make you feel things.

I really just am spending my life trying to make people feel and hoping that maybe it heals them, or it gives them an escape from the, “Oh my God!” craziness we’re all living in. It’s so crazy. I think what we’re doing, with things like “Luke Cage” and the arts in general, is so necessary, because people need a way out of their current reality for at least a few minutes.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Antonique, if you could sit down with your younger self, the girl who was dreaming of the industry from afar, would she be surprised by how your career has played out?
Smith: Yeah, she would be surprised, because she would have had her own plan of how it was supposed to go – how little Antonique thought it was supposed to go. I was supposed to be a big singer first, and then acting would come second, so the fact that the pathway kind of made its own deviations from little Antonique’s plans, that would have been the surprise. I wouldn’t have been surprised at just being successful, in general, because I always believed that this was what I was supposed to do and that I was supposed to really touch the world with the different gifts that I felt I had been blessed with. So, that part wouldn’t have been a surprise to little Antonique, but definitely how it’s all happening.

TrunkSpace: So, it’s not the fact that you’ve gotten here, it’s that you took a left instead of a right?
Smith: Exactly. A lot of lefts. A lot of lefts instead of rights, for sure.

Season 2 of “Luke Cage” is available now on Netflix.

 

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Wingman Wednesday

Justin Swain

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Photo By: Jason Setiawan

As the title character from the Netflix series “Luke Cage,” Mike Colter brings a charismatic swagger to every scene he inhabits, but it is the supporting cast of characters who surround the hero with the unbreakable skin that helps to create such a unique and engaging world. With Season 2 recently dropping, fans of the Marvel Universe are getting an extended look at many of those characters, including Detective Bailey, played to likable perfection by Justin Swain.

We recently sat down with Swain to discuss finding his place in the Marvel Universe, understanding the complexity of its continuity, and why as an actor he’s always trying to be the best blue possible.

TrunkSpace: When a full season of a series that you’re starring in drops all on one day, is that a different experience than being a part of a show that releases a new episode week after week?
Swain: Yeah, it’s like having a gigantic movie explode over a weekend… all at once. It’s pretty crazy. It’s quite an event.

TrunkSpace: Because it’s within the Marvel Universe and part of a world where fans are so involved in every aspect of the storytelling, they must also always be looking for small details that even you might not expect them to be looking for?
Swain: Yeah. The response so far has been just incredible. People have been reaching out, on Instagram and everything, just picking up, like you said, on the little details along the way, showing how much they like it, and also at the same time, asking questions about the plot. I’m like, “You’ve got to keep watching. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at the end. I’m not going to tell you what’s going on with Nandi, or what’s going to happen over the year with Misty. You’ve got to keep watching.” (Laughter) But it’s cool, the interaction on social media as people get into it over the weekend, has been really neat to watch.

TrunkSpace: When you step back and let it sink in, is it still sort of a pinch me moment to be able to say that you’re a part of the Marvel Universe?
Swain: Yeah. The whole thing, the whole ride of this, it has been extraordinary. Becoming a part of it, not knowing in the beginning what I was auditioning for, not knowing what I was getting into, seeing it grow, and then being able to work with such incredible people, it’s a real special experience. The way the people receive “Luke Cage” particularly, is flattering, and you also feel like you’re part of something really unique. That’s kind of what this whole weekend was about. We did the big launch premiere party on Thursday night. We got to watch an episode, and all the artists who performed at Harlem’s Paradise were performing at the premiere party, and there was the red carpet and everything… it was just overwhelming, and a pretty unique and fascinating experience.

TrunkSpace: What’s really cool, especially on the TV side of what Marvel’s doing, is that each project has its own feel and tone. Although they all go together, they all feel separate. Not to take anything away from the other shows, but “Luke Cage” really has a unique vibe to it, something that is entirely its own.
Swain: Yeah, not taking anything away from the other shows, but you’re right, I think they each have their own personality, and “Luke Cage” has a swagger, man. I think they use that word a few times when you’re watching it, and I think you can feel that swagger watching the show in the way that it’s put together, and the way you watch it. It almost has this kind of really cool retro feel to it – a little bit of a ‘70s vibe. If you watch closely, through the whole season, there’s a few different homages to a lot of those great ‘70s films and other filmmakers. If you really pay attention you can see specific shots. There’s something that happens at the end of the season that’s a direct homage to a great, great film, and a very specific moment. I think they use it so well. Props to the director, and to Cheo (Hodari Coker), and everybody putting that together.

TrunkSpace: You’re a writer as well. Can you appreciate just how much continuity the Marvel creators have to juggle, not only with the “Luke Cage” world, but for the overall Marvel Universe?
Swain: Yeah, as a writer, like you said, you look at everything you have to balance out, and so many different elements that you have to look at, make sure are represented, and maintain. You’re also balancing against a larger Marvel Universe. The amount of work and effort and planning that goes into that, and then to have it all coordinated from the top down by Jeph Loeb – he is the top of the pyramid – in the television world, to be able to do what they do, at the level they do it, it’s not easy. They make it look easy, and that’s what’s really cool about what they’re able to do.

TrunkSpace: And so when you first signed on, you didn’t know that Detective Bailey would be involved in the larger, longer overall story?
Swain: That’s right, it was like “The Princess Bride.” You’d go and you’d shoot an episode and, “Good night, Westley, sleep well. I may have to kill you in the morning.” (Laughter) That’s what it was like going to work, and luckily they kept bringing Bailey back. They were digging what I was putting on screen I guess, and also just the interaction with the rest of the cast. Every time they brought me back, I was like, “This is a privilege to be here.” And then to be able to take it into the second season, and to have Bailey change as much as he did, that was just the coolest gift, as well. I loved how they changed him, I loved what they did with him.

Photo By: Jason Setiawan

TrunkSpace: So knowing then what you know now, would you still have approached your performance of Bailey in the early going the same way?
Swain: I think that with more and more information, it’s good to be able to put that together, but Bailey himself as a character is learning about the world of this superhero almost in real time. It’s the same thing. That was an origin story, so Bailey was learning about it as it went. Again, it’s a testament to the writers, the natural evolution is for him to do what he does in the second season. You always want those little details that change up your performance. You can always look back, “Oh, if I only knew then what I know now,” but I think that’s in life, also. I like where they took it. What’s cool is, I think it’s a back and forth. I think it’s a dialog, whether you know you’re having it or not, with the writers’ room in some way, where I’m doing something one day on set, and maybe they see something they can build on or maybe they don’t, but hopefully they do and then they build on it and it comes out of the kernel of the character that you brought anyway. I think it’s a testament to them that they picked up on that, and they built it, and I followed their lead.

TrunkSpace: Does acting on a successful show like “Luke Cage” equate to more opportunities in your career as a writer and producer? Do the two help each other out?
Swain: I think that those worlds are quite separate in the entertainment industry. I think the biggest success that comes out of that is, each art form informs each art form. It’s like you’re looking at things as an actor and you say, “Okay, I know I’m playing my role here, and I know this is the approach to the character.” Well that informs how you’re writing multiple characters if you do get the opportunity to write something for a different program or a different show. The way you interact as an actor, you can transfer that when you’re writing characters. You’re playing those characters as you write them, and then vice versa, where it’s like you know when you’re writing something how everything fits, and it plays its own part in that gigantic puzzle piece. That helps me think as an actor, look at it and say, “Okay, what’s my puzzle piece in this particular project?”

It’s like painting, right? You mix together all these colors, you make something beautiful. When you’re an actor it’s like you’re going to be the best color blue you possibly can be, because that’s the part you play in the gigantic portrait. In that case you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to be the best color blue in this particular painting.” So I think the art forms inform and help each other, and helps you learn and grow as an overall artist.

Season 2 of “Luke Cage” is available now on Netflix.

Follow and interact with Swain on Instagram here.

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Trunk Gaming

Marvel Strike Force

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Game: Marvel Strike Force

Initial Release Date: March 2018

Publsher: FoxNext

Genre: RPG

Platforms: Android and IOS

Why We’re Playing It: MARVEL! Need we say more? We’ve been impatiently waiting for this one to hit the app stores ever since we saw the first trailer of Wolverine thrashing some bad guys. This is an RPG style game, so it works well on mobile devices, but it looks like an action-packed fighting game once you give your character the attack command. The app is free, but it will cost you something… ALL of your free time. This is addictive and fun, especially if you’re into RPGs. Nuff said!

What It’s All About: To keep this synopsis spoiler free, we’ll just say that you start by playing as Spider-Man, working for Nick Fury. Kingpin has captured other heroes in orbs throughout the city, and it’s up to you save and recruit them for your team. As you play more into the game, you unlock abilities and powers for your superheroes to use in their fight against evil.

That’s Worth A Power-Up!: One of the best aspects of this game is getting to see some of your favorite heroes team up for combo attacks. For example, you can “taunt” with Luke Cage, then on your next attack, he will team up with one of the other characters, like Spidey, for a devastating combo… and it just looks so cool!

Bonus Level: Lately, there have been more obscure comic book characters finding their way to mainstream moviegoers and gamers. Long-time comic book fans knew who the characters were before, but remember when you’re mom or grandma did not know who Star Lord was? Well, Strike Force delivers on this front as well. Sure, you get to play as some of the classic Marvel heroes, but they also have some lesser known characters thrown into the mix, and it’s a nice bit of diversity.

And that’s why this game is a certified quarter muncher!

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