Simone Missick wears her love for hip-hop on her chest, literally. The 35-year-old actress, who is set to appear in the upcoming Marvel series The Defenders premiering on August 18, is wearing a black tank top that highlights some of the most celebrated women in hip-hop. Emcees like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Eve are all prominently listed in white font.
It’s not too surprising though as Missick made her debut as badass detective, Misty Knight, in Marvel’s Luke Cage. Along with showcasing a bulletproof black man defending Harlem from criminal overlords, the 2016 series was also known for its reverence for hip-hop with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad serving as its music supervisor, a cameo from Method Man, and several classic hip-hop tracks laced throughout the soundtrack.
But as a Detroit native, Missick’s experience with the hip-hop scene was a bit different. Although she had love for the West and East Coast (as well as a little group from Atlanta called OutKast), the golden era of hip-hop in the D was filled with underground house music by “DJ such and such.” But, similar to almost every other hip-hop artist, their songs were “very misogynistic” and it rarely stopped a good time. “We danced our asses off to it and we were like, ‘Yeaaaaahhhh. Bend what? Over where? Yessss’,” says Missick, who admits to doing footwork in the club since she was 13.
But now, 22 years later—and over 600 miles away from her hometown—Missick is ready to eat. Fresh off of an ethereal photoshoot, Missick still has two braids going down each side of her face while the rest of her fro is pushed up into a pineapple up-do accentuated with an orange headwrap. Her aforementioned black tank top is paired with a jealousy-inducing rhinestone embedded leather jacket, dark blue jeans, and all-white classic Adidas sneakers. Missick appears like a down-to-Earth rockstar—and that’s just who she is.
Inside a chic hotel lounge in Midtown Manhattan, Missick sits on a couch next to the tall windows, with plenty of sunlight coming through as the day reaches into the late afternoon. She orders a plate of meatballs and a Tuna Maki Roll (“just in case one isn’t good.”) When the waiter comes with her order a few minutes later, she makes sure to ask for his name to thank him with it. (It’s Jerry.)
This small gesture is no doubt influenced by her parents, Duane and Cassandra Cook. Missick’s mom worked as a social worker and her dad was a high school math and government teacher as well as an adult education teacher—three jobs that move to serve their community. “They were always there to make sure that we were just good people,” says Missick, who also laments about her father’s disapproval of her and her two siblings improperly conjugating verbs. Although Missick is the baby of the family (she has one brother and one sister), she often feels like the middle child as she mediates situations between her siblings -- that is when they’re not playing the dozens. “That was always fun...getting together for the holidays where you just sit around and laugh at each other as you crack jokes,” said Missick.
It turned out to be a good practice as Missick would later pick up several hobbies where judgement and teamwork are the norm. She was a part of national orchestras as a violinist, played several sports including basketball, track, and tennis and of course, fell into acting. After attending Howard University in the late ‘90s to early ‘00s, she jet setted to Oxford’s British American Drama Academy where she learned from the late Alan Rickman alongside her classmate, the late Nelsan Ellis, the True Blood actor who passed earlier this year. “There was just all of these great young artists that were there ready to take on the world,” she says. Outside of class, Missick just remembers “a lot of drinking” and doing all of the touristy things like the obligatory photo in front of Buckingham Palace with the Queen’s guards. Although, she and Ellis had one peculiar instance of getting attacked by swans while canoeing on the Thames River. “They are not the nicest birds,” she recalls before imitating the swans’ aggressive squawks that the two were met with while trying to feed bread to the birds.
As for Rickman, Missick remembers learning about emotions. “Nobody cares what you think about, you just better get that emotion out there,” she says, quoting one of Rickman’s lessons. Missick took that message with her as she moved forward in her career whether it was in one of her slew of one-off roles in major shows like Ray Donovan, Scandal, and Wayward Pines or in her most notable role to date as Detective Misty Knight, a character with little-to-no backstory in the comic book universe. Despite Knight debuting in the comic book world over 40 years ago in Marvel Premiere #21, Missick is the first person to portray the character in a live series. With Luke Cage, this is also the first time that fans are seeing a backstory for Knight prior to losing her arm and gaining a bionic one from Tony Stark aka Iron Man.
"I've had people say, ‘I love your character so much but I've never wanted a person to lose an appendage as much as I want you to lose yours’ and I'm like, ‘Yeah, baby, me too’"
“With [the character of Misty Knight], it was almost like a skeleton,” says Missick, who’s now about halfway through her sushi roll. “You knew that she loses her arm but everything else was really created by [Showrunner] Cheo [Hodari Coker] and our writing team and then the other little paintbrushes and details I got to throw in there myself which is great.” One of those details include the fact that Knight played basketball—a real skill for Missick who was captain of her varsity basketball team. Although her best sports memory isn’t on the court, but when she went to a basketball camp on in Michigan’s Oakland University when she was eight. “I just remember feeling like I'm so grown right now and I can't wait to go to college,” said Missick.
While Knight has never had a solo series, she does team up with another Marvel hero, Japanese-American martial artist Colleen Wing. After becoming close friends, the two decide to open up a private investigating firm and are later dubbed Daughters of the Dragon in 1977’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32. As fighting partners and best friends, the two form a sister-like bond that’s made them a favorite for comic book fans. Since Jessica Henwick made her appearance as Wing in Marvel’s Iron Fist, fans are now yearning for the two to get on screen together. “You have these two characters who were established in their own separate series and yet to see them form a bond and partnership could be really cool to see on the screen,” said Missick. And it seems like Netflix might oblige as the characters were shown meeting each other in a promotional trailer for The Defenders released earlier this week and it was just announced that Missick will be joining Iron Fist’s season two. Missick also shared that she’s been brushing up on Thai boxing. (“[It’s] so my jam ‘cause I like to punch things and I also like to kick things.”) But Missick explains that it’ll take more gusto from fans to really capture Marvel’s attention. “It's about the fans and if they're hungry to see it then I don't see Netflix and Marvel saying ‘eh, we'll pass.’ It just really has to do with the tweets and the Instagram and Comic Con and the costumes and the cosplay,” she says. Missick isn’t too far off—Twitter did get that Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o film off the ground with Ava DuVernay set to direct.
But while Daughters of the Dragon becoming a reality is still up in the air, Missick still has quite a few projects within the comic book universe. For Luke, she makes a hefty promise to make up for the tragically premature death of Cottonmouth (played by the Oscar Award-winning Mahershala Ali.) “People were so disappointed when he got killed off. I think that our villain this season will give people everything that they missed and more." It seems that another villain, Black Mariah (played by Alfre Woodard), will be up to her old tricks as well. “Alfre Woodard is the kind of woman that you want to sit down and get your toenails painted with. I love her so but then when she becomes Mariah, you're like ‘I want to rip your face off. You evil, evil person.’”
The same could be said about how many reviewers felt about Iron Fist, which suffered from poor reviews when its first season premiered earlier this year. Some blamed the casting of Finn Jones, others faulted the showrunner, Scott Buck. Now, it seems that Marvel is trying to rectify one of these by bringing on a new showrunner, Raven Metzner, for season two.
“He's very passionate about the comic book world and I think that something season two will benefit from is having somebody who loves the idea of the show, loves Iron Fist, loves comic books, and is happy to go in there and rock out season two,” Missick says of Metzner.
When it comes to Marvel’s secrecy, it’s always a careful dance for actors to remember what details are known by whom and whether or not they’re supposed to know it. So fans should probably stop asking Missick when she’s going to get her arm blown off. One). It’s weird. Two). She’s not going to tell you. But don’t get it twisted. Missick is looking forward to that day too. “I've had people say, ‘I love your character so much but I've never wanted a person to lose an appendage as much as I want you to lose yours’ and I'm like, ‘Yeah, baby, me too’,” says Missick as she reaches for another tuna roll with her chopsticks. But she does admit that “where Misty ends up in this series [The Defenders] will make the fans' heads explode.”
The Defenders, which is often described as the local version of The Avengers, pulls together Matthew Murdock (Daredevil), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand (Iron Fist), to fend off a secret Illuminati-like organization called The Hand. “I like to think of Misty as the sixth Defender,” says Missick. “When The Defenders starts you see Luke getting out of jail and you see Misty saying, ‘I know you're here and I need your help. You have powers that I don't have. Not just as Power Man but also because you are from the community and people idolize you,’ she explained. But Luke (and the other three defenders of New York aren’t the only ones who’ll be in for a wild ride this season. Missick shared that Misty will also be taken “on a journey that she’s [Misty] maybe not hundred percent prepared to go on.” As a detective, Misty often finds herself at the crossroads between the law, the vigilantes working outside of the law and trying to do the right thing. “It's like how do you balance having the law on your side but then you're trying to help people who are acting completely outside of that,” she said. “So it's this really nice pull and this really nice struggle for Misty through this season.”
Outside of the Marvel Universe, things are not as intense. While shooting The Defenders, Missick “snuck away” to star in an upcoming film, Jinn, alongside her husband, Dorian Missick, that’s currently being scored at Sundance Labs. In the film, she plays Jade, a mother who converts to Islam. Missick also found time to join the hilarious Viola Davis-produced ABC series, American Koko, where she portrays Grace, the angry black woman support group leader. The series follows a group of individuals who run the “Everybody’s A Little Racist Agency” which helps people get out of sticky racial situations. In the pilot, they supply an Asian mom with products to take care of her adopted black daughter’s naturally coily hair. And then there’s the HBO comedy short, The Big Chop, where Missick plays a woman who goes through the ritual of cutting off her permed hair to be left with a teeny weeny afro—a real life situation that Missick can relate to as she cut off her damaged ends and went full blown natural in 2010. This was also around the same time she met her future husband and fellow actor, Dorian, who saw her go from a long straight weave to a “short ‘ol bowl cut” that was more of an awkward look than a Halle Berry one. Luckily (for him), he was in for the long haul no matter what. “He is the best. He's always supported my hair.”
Her fans appreciate her hair too. “They're like thank you so much for wearing your hair natural because it makes me feel good about wearing my hair natural,” she says. “I'm like, ‘Thank you,’ because the struggle is real.”
Misty Knight is known for her righteous afro akin to the blaxploitation era of film (she did make her debut in the ‘70s after all), and this was something Missick felt would be important to portray on the screen as well. “I don't always wear my hair natural,” she says. “I just think that Misty's so important for American culture not just ‘the culture’ but she's so important because I think that that idea is universal that women and men need to accept themselves as they are whether it's how the hair grows out of their heads to not covering up their accent or their ethnicity.”
Missick, who relocated to Brooklyn from Los Angeles to shoot Luke Cage’s season two now and likely Iron Fist later this year, is juggling a lot for the Marvel franchise. Between international red carpet premieres for The Defenders, touring Comic Cons across the country, filming, and making time on Sunday for her favorite lineup, Game of Thrones, Insecure and Ballers, it could have been a whirlwind of stress for her. But instead, she’s chosen to embrace the madness and wield it to her liking. When castmates and friends who are veterans of the Comic Con scene told her that the San Diego event would be overwhelming, she told them “No, it's gonna be epic and awesome!” She was more than right.
“I literally had the time of my life,” she says of the experience of meeting fans and seeing people dressed up as her character. But while Missick is on the rise, she makes sure to never forget where she came from to appreciate where she is. “I know what it's like to be an extra. I know what it's like to be considered a ‘human prop.’ I think that they help our shows be what they are. They make the world real,” she says. “I think that just living graciously and being grateful for everything just really helps to not take anything for granted and not take anything too seriously.”
It’s been a long time coming for Simone Missick and Misty Knight to get the recognition they deserve. And now that we’re seeing their come-up, it was definitely worth the wait. “I've been having so much fun doing just everything that goes into being a superhero and it is challenging,” says Missick. “But it is everything that I've waited for ever since I was a kid.” Us too.
Fashion Stylist: Robyn Victoria Fernandes, Jacket: Johna Stone, Top: Maki Oh at Oxosi.com, Skirt: Loza Maléombho at Oxosi.com, Headwrap: XULY.Bët, Shoes: Topshop, Earrings: Marimekko, Bangals: Ben-Amin by Isaac Manevitz