Detroit native is a hit in ‘Luke Cage’

Renaissance grad Simone Missick plays detective-with-a-bionic arm Misty Knight in the new Netflix series

Mekeisha Madden Toby
Special to The Detroit News

Actress Simone Missick exudes the confidence and candor of a native Detroiter. She speaks from the heart and doesn’t suffer fools.

So when fans and critics rave about the former eastsider’s bewitching turn as Misty Knight on Netflix’s hit series “Luke Cage,” they’re probably picking up on the self-assuredness and swagger a lot people possess in the “D.”

The 13-episode Marvel drama premiered nearly a month ago to 3.5 million viewers, making it the streaming service’s fifth-highest rated original program. More importantly for Missick, “Luke Cage” is turning her into a bonafide star, even though she wanted to play the part for more modest reasons.

“As soon as I read the description, I was drawn to this character because this is unlike any role I’ve ever auditioned for or read,” Missick, 36, said during a recent phone interview. “Misty is so smart and strong and sexy and funny, but she’s also a little vulnerable. I thought it would be an amazing opportunity, but I had no idea she could become this cult figure or even a superhero. I still can’t believe the response.”

It’s a response that includes fans on Twitter changing their handles to Misty Knight and “Misty’s Twist Out” — in honor or Missick’s luxurious and legendary mane. One fan wrote a love poem in Misty’s honor and others tweeted that they are planning to dress up as the character for Halloween.

This, of course, is due in large part to the captivating way Missick plays Misty, a Harlem police detective who works hard to take down bad guys. The scene-stealing portrayal is a prequel to the Misty found in the “Luke Cage” comic books. Missick will continue playing the role in the new Netflix series “The Defenders” and “Iron Fist.”

Detroiter Arvell Jones and Mike Isabella created the Misty character in 1975, three years after the debut of “Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.” The latter was the brainchild of creators Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr. and George Tuska.

But Missick’s turn as Misty has taken the character to all new heights and introduced her to a whole new legion of noncomic book fans and the under 18 set.

“I’ve been on Twitter and I am amazed,” the Renaissance High School and Howard University graduate said. “Twitter can be brutal and brutally honest about actors and artists. I know what I put into this character and this show and I am so happy that the fans like it and they love Misty.

“This character has been around longer than I have been alive. So there were a lot of high expectations, not just for black women, who relate to her and love and understand her hair, but nerds and comic book lovers of all races and ages who love Misty,” Missick said. “The fact that Misty is resonating all over the world is a testament that we got it right.”

Missick said getting Misty’s hair right mattered on a personal level.

“African-American women’s opinions matter very much to me and if anyone on Twitter had said my hair was dry, I would’ve died,” Missick said jokingly. “That’s why I moisturize it everyday. So it feels good to hear and see that people like it.”

Because hair is as important to Misty’s persona as her bionic arm, producers, including series creator Cheo Hodari Coker, wanted to pay homage to her look in the final moments of the season-one finale. So they brought in celebrity stylist Giselle Modeste to make sure Missick/Misty looked flawless.

“It was one of the most important moments on the show for my character,” said Missick, who performed in every episode. “She’s wearing a red dress and her hair is in a huge Afro because we wanted to capture Misty Knight’s iconic look and give something to the comic book fans to show that we didn’t forget about them. That was so much fun. It lasted 15 seconds onscreen, but it took weeks of planning.”

Missick, who is married to actor Dorian Missick (“Animal Kingdom” and “Zoe Ever After”), planned on warning her mother, father and other family members about her character’s steamy love scene with Luke Cage (star Mike Colter) and her partial nudity. Ultimately, she decided to stay mum.

“I went to the premiere in New York with my husband, mother, father and best friend — all the people who matter most to me in the world — and during the love scene, my dad leaned over to my best friend and said, ‘Did you know this was coming?’ ” Missick recalled with an awkward chuckle. “I didn’t prepare anybody. My family in Detroit had a big party and they watched like six episodes in a row and when the love scene came up, my little cousins covered their eyes and left the room.”

Family is incredibly important to the youngest of three, nee Cook. It’s one of the reasons her parents moved out to Los Angeles, where she now lives. Missick wanted to become an actress because her older sister acted as a teenager and inspired her to do the same.

Now Missick says she hopes she inspires a whole new generation, too.

“I looked for those heroes and she-roes when I was growing up, but there weren’t a lot of actresses and actors of color from Detroit that were on the path I wanted to follow,” Missick said. “It feels great to be able to offer some kind of example to people who look like me.”

Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and entertainment reporter.

‘Luke Cage’

Streaming on Netflix