The first season of Luke Cage was praised for its treatment of black women and the increased diversity amongst them. Luke Cage Season 2 has added a new addition to the cast in the form of a character named Tilda Johnson aka Nightshade. Chatting with Den of Geek, Gabrielle Dennis, the actress who brings Tilda to life, shares with us what Tilda brings to this table full of strong black female characters.
Den of Geek: How does it feel to be a part of the Marvel Universe?
Gabrielle Dennis: Amazing. It’s kind of an actor’s dream to be a part of this universe that encompasses so many elements. This show in particular, well it’s so black and empowering to be a part of that. I mean, you know the way that entertainment and Netflix are in particular and Marvel, being able to be a part of this movement that is really embracing diversity in entertainment right now.
Even with strong women in the show you can’t get any stronger than Mariah Dillard. It’s amazing to be a part of the Marvel Universe and the exciting part of the show in particular. I’ve watched all the Marvel series on Netflix and having been a fan of all of the series, now to be a part of it it’s just kind of like one day you’re watching a show like that and then the next day I’m on a block in the middle of New York. Wow, this is my new world.
Was there anything in particular that drew you into Tilda’s character?
I think what I love most about Tilda is we don’t know a lot about her at the beginning. The first shock is ‘oh my gosh, she’s related to Mariah Dillard.’ And it’s like wait, what? No one was expecting that.
And really just trying to figure out why is she back in Harlem like where has she been? What has she been up to? It’s exciting to me to find this woman in a new place, this new journey, and find out what she’s been up to. It’s kind of peeling back the layers and discovering her while she’s discovering who she is. I think as an audience member it’s exciting.
And I think just that and the family dynamic to me has always been appealing in any type of show be it a comedy, be it a drama, or you know this amazing superhero series. When you add a family element to a series all of a sudden it just brings it home it just makes it more relatable. And I love family dynamics and family drama in a show, all the time.
How do you think she fits among the other women on the show?
I think Tilda on the surface is a softer version of a strong woman, if that makes any sense. She’s strong in her own right. You’ve got Misty Knight who’s strong in strength and how she speaks to people, also strong in her position in life, especially with what she does as a career. Then you have Mariah Dillard who is strong in her power. You know she’s got power, her voice, her name rings through the streets. She also has powers surrounding her and she knows how to use them. She’s the ultimate hustler, she knows how to move through life, or slither through life, if you will. And then you have Tilda who is this soft spoken strength that I think a lot of women will be able to relate to.
Strength comes in many forms. She’s the type of person who gives back to her community. She’s educated, she’s her own woman, she’s a business owner, and there are a lot of things that make her this powerful character.
But because Tilda is this soft-spoken person on the surface, you may not immediately feel that force of her when she walks into the room. It’s until you push her buttons, we all have a tipping point. Sometimes the quiet person is the one you need to pay the most attention to, as we learn in the series. But yeah, she definitely has the strength and I feel like she kind of goes from this meek personality and has to finding herself because she understands that she can’t survive in this world being meek and soft spoken, because that can get you killed. It’s kind of like survival of the fittest. And I think her strength is also learning how to adapt to the environment that she’s in.
Do you think Tilda would say towards the end of the series she’s a little bit closer to her mom than she may have admitted in the beginning?
For sure. I think it’s one of those things where you accept what your lineage is, you accept the DNA that it comes from. For some people it provides a sense of pride and for some people it’s embarrassing. They don’t like their history and the people that they come from and the things that they’ve done.
I think Tilda kind of finds herself in that space, being ultimately disgusted with a lot of the things from her family’s past that are related to crime and have poisoned the community. But then it got to the point where she’s like damn it, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You have to accept that sometimes evil is needed to get rid of evil. There’s no Martin Luther King quotes going on in the Marvel universe. You have to match hate with love, and nah, Tilda wasn’t on that this season. She tried to love, and she wasn’t being met with that when it came to her mother so yeah, I think she kind of accepts it. She knows that she is a lot more like her mother in certain ways than she wants to accept.
What’s up with Tilda and Bushmaster?
Well, girl, he’s scary first of all. And then he’s got those eyes, and they’re kind of mystical and mysterious. Tilda is just, I think, drawn to both Luke and Bushmaster’s abilities. She’s this mind that works in the world of concoction, healing powers and dealing with people’s ailments.
What Bushmaster is able to do with Nightshade is so intriguing to her. I think a part of that appeal and a part of that chemistry is less to do about the man and more about what he is able to do. Anyone who deals in science and medicine, that ultimately is always going to be their first appeal and their first intrigue. I think with Bushmaster, that chemistry is that. You know behind the man what is this amazing concoction you’ve been able to come up with that has given you this ability. I think Tilda finds that so intriguing and fascinating. I think Bushmaster is obviously this force and I’m interested to see how and if Bushmaster and Tilda will be able to move forward in season 3.
I’m very interested in if he’ll come back. I’m begging for a vacation in Jamaica, like let’s go get some more nightshade. Because you know we’ll all get a free trip to Jamaica. But I’m very interested to see what that would be with Bushmaster and Tilda. I think that would be very interesting for sure.
How was it playing a woman who is a doctor but leaves for the more holistic approach to medicine? She’s a little different from Claire in sense, she’s into the holistic side of things, do you see the representation there for young girls and women?
Oh absolutely, I feel like any time there is a woman with a career, that’s always great to serve as an inspiration to young girls who may or may not know what direction they want to go into. Young girls and young women sometimes don’t really know what specific career path they may or may not want to be in. They may want to go into something that’s wide and vague or laser in on something that has a specific focus. So, I’m sure there is going to be a lot of young women who are interested in science, interested in medicine, and all of those things but may have not figured out necessarily just yet what the focus will be.
I feel like what’s great about the holistic side of things is you don’t necessarily see or hear about it as much or often as you do traditional medicine. I think because it is out there and there are a lot of people that are you know very into the holistic medicine and into the holistic lifestyle, I think that it’s great that it opens up this world and this character to audiences to kind of appeal to and get excited about the things Tilda gets excited about. I think it’s great for young girls and women anytime you can see someone that looks like you are doing something that’s beyond the norm of ‘I want to grow up and be a singer or actor or basketball player,’ whatever those things are.
The world needs a little bit more. I tell people all the time if they want to be an actor, if there is something else you love doing, do that. This business is extremely hard and not only that, the world doesn’t need another actor, we need more of the science, more of the healers and the helpers in the world. I think that’s great that we have this character in this world that’s giving and caring of others in that way. It’s kind of that silver lining of that glimmer of hope of humanity. At the end of the day there’s always someone in the midst of all the chaos there are people out there that are willing to help others. And I think that very special and important.
If Tilda had a playlist, what would be three songs she’d have on it?
Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA,” because when I’m talking about her history of family and their past and listening to that DNA. The DNA can be good, or it could be that your DNA can be tied to some bad. I think that song because it’s hip-hop, it makes it very Luke Cage-sque.
If we had to stay on the path of hip-hop I would say maybe Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” I would love to sit down and say “Dear Mariah” and lay all of the cards on the table. Get off my chest the things I would like to say to her because she’s such a controlling force. Tilda pretty much never had a chance to ultimately stand up to her and you know have that moment. I think a lot of children can relate to where they wished there were things they could say to their parents and I feel like that’s not a dear john letter but kind of that dear mama letter I would have loved to have written to her.
And then Public Enemy “Can’t Trust It.” I just feel like that’s just such a Luke Cage kind of a vibe and that old school hip-hop. Ultimately, no one can trust anyone on the show.
Luke Cage is now streaming on Netflix.