We all fell in love with Mike Colter as Harlem’s own bulletproof, hoodie-wearing, unapologetically black superhero in Netflix’s first black superhero show, Luke Cage. And if you’ve ever wondered how he perfectly executed his role in the Marvel series, he may have had some help from his big brother Eddie, who’s been a real-life superhero for every leader of the free world since George Bush Sr. as a United States Secret Service Agent. (Yes, that includes our favorite president, Barack Obama.)
The South Carolina native has made it his mission to take on roles that are not only entertaining, but impactful. His latest film Breakthrough, produced by DeVon Franklin and executive produced by Stephen Curry, is based on the incredible true story of one mother’s abiding faith and unwavering love in the face of impossible odds.
While Luke Cage may be canceled, Colter still wears his superhero cape in his new film, starring This Is Us‘ Chrissy Metz, as he’s saving lives. When Joyce Smith’s (Metz) adopted son falls through an icy Missouri lake, Tommy Shine, a first responder played by Colter, miraculously finds him underwater after hearing a mysterious voice telling him to “go back” and continue searching for him. The teenager, who had been trapped under water for 15 minutes and without a pulse for an hour, came back to life after his mother began praying over him over his hospital bed.
Colter’s character doesn’t believe in God, yet he’s forced to question his beliefs when he receives divine assistance after this miraculous rescue. God becomes the only explanation to what Tommy and everyone else sees as the unexplainable.Breakthrough is a film that will leave the whole family inspired and thinking about their faith and commitment to love.
ESSENCE caught up with Colter just ahead of the film’s release Wednesday, and he shared how a much needed breakthrough saved his acting career, the depth of his own mother’s unwavering love, and how his prayers became his saving grace.
ESSENCE: Who is Mike Colter?
Mike Colter: I got into acting because I like being other people. Mike Colter is boring. I enjoy being an actor. I enjoy my family, traveling and connecting with people. I try to inspire people to do whatever it is that they want to do in their life.
As an actor, rejection comes with the territory. When Luke Cage was cancelled, you posted how grateful you were and that you had “a lot of great memories,” but it was “time to make more. Always forward, forward always.” Would you say that you are a man of faith?
I’m a man of spirituality and positivity, and a person that believes when you put your energy into things that are positive and you have a formula for which you lead your life by, great things happen. And I think faith gives that to people. I grew up in a Baptist household in the south, but I think sometimes faith becomes divisive because everybody has their own doctrine, and if you adopt a doctrine and try to pose it on other people, it becomes problematic. Faith has to be about love.
Your new movie Breakthrough is centered around faith. How was it working on this film?
I want to do movies that my mom would want to go see. I want to do movies that the whole family can go see, something that is respectable and will have people walking out of the theatre feeling positive. Breakthrough is that. It’s about something that can unite people and also start a healthy debate. It’s about a miracle, and what does that mean, and what’s life after that.
When you’re at that rock bottom and you’re hanging off a cliff by one hand…that becomes a moment when you realize, hey, I can’t do it alone.
Do you think that at some point everyone is in need of a breakthrough?
I think everybody is always on the precipice of trying to accomplish and achieve something. When you’re working very hard to achieve your goals, there’s a certain amount of struggle that we all go through, some more than others. People never see that part of the journey because all they see is the finished product. But when you’re almost ready to quit, you’re out of energy, feeling like it’s no point, and nothing is going to happen, and deep down you feel drained, that’s when you’re in need of a breakthrough. You’re in need of something that is going to tell you that you’re on the right path or at least give you a sign to keep going.
When in your life were you most in need of a breakthrough?
For me, it’s odd because it happened at a weird time where I had literally just finished an audition. It went fine, but then I had some problems with my representation at the time and I began thinking, I got to change my path in life, I’ve got to do something else in my life, because I wasn’t doing this at the level in which I felt like I could. So, at some point I said, I might need to reevaluate things.
And at that moment, somebody came out of the room that I had just come out of and gave me an opportunity that I didn’t expect. They told me about someone that I didn’t expect to be introduced to, and that started to change the direction of my career. I always think about that moment. I was literally waiting for the elevator and looking down at the ground, pondering deep down about what my next move was going to be and how I was going to change things. And then this person comes out and is like a lifeline. And it came from the person I least expected it to come from.
Growing up, was there anyone in your life with the type of faith and love displayed by John Smith’s mother?
Listen, I had a praying mother. As a teenager, you do stupid stuff. There was a time my mother said, ‘You might leave here, son.’ That’s how bad it had gotten for me because I was hanging around people doing stupid stuff. I’m not sure that you can get through life if you don’t call on someone. Thank God she was a praying mother.
I know people who don’t believe in a lot of things. But let me tell you, when you’re at that rock bottom and you’re hanging off a cliff by one hand, whether you believe or not, you’re going to say some things. And I think that sometimes when you hit those moments in life, that becomes a moment when you realize, hey, I can’t do it alone. I do know when you see your life flash before your eyes you will say, ‘God.’ It’s almost a human instinct.
Family is a prominent theme in Breakthrough. How important is family to you?
I’m very big when it’s my immediate family. There’s my core group—my sisters, my brother, my mother, and my father, who passed away in 2003. I was lucky enough to have a family that did not have any black sheep. Basically, if there’s a black sheep, I’m the black sheep. I’m the youngest of five; the accident baby. But I can say that we’ve always stuck together and supported each other—always and I’m grateful for that.