Actor Justin Swain has a tendency to play, as he says, “salt of the earth characters.” You’ve probably seen him play a cop or similar official at some point, perhaps on LAW & ORDER or THE BLACKLIST. But Justin Swain, who also appeared on BOARDWALK EMPIRE is arguably most well-known for his role as Detective Mark Bailey on the Marvel and Netflix show, LUKE CAGE.

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In season one, Justin Swain and his character worked mostly behind the scenes, solving mysteries, putting puzzle pieces together, and ultimately putting himself in the middle of a situation he may not have been prepared for. But in the upcoming second season, he’s a little bit more experienced, and he’s ready to be a little more hands-on in the fight for Harlem.

Justin Swain took the time to talk to ComicsVerse about Bailey’s character arc, as well as his personal start in acting and his approach to this role. He also tells a little behind-the-scenes story about the set of LUKE CAGE and gives us an idea of what to expect in season two.

Justin Swain
Photo by Jason Setiawan

Read our interview with Justin Swain below:

ComicsVerse: Hello Justin! First of all, let me say thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. I very much appreciate it.

Justin Swain: Hi! It’s exciting and thank you for having me.

CV: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a little about how you got into acting. What was the first part you ever played, and what did you learn from it?

JS: Ha! That’s a great question. It’s been a long time since I thought about the first part I played. It was actually Michael in PETER PAN. I was 8 years old and there was a senior production but they needed a little kid to play the youngest sibling in PETER PAN. I auditioned and got the part and that was it, I was hooked. It just felt like it was a place where I could be free and connect with interesting people. And I know it’s crazy and I was really young but I learned was to not hold back, just let fly and see what you discover playing the character.

CV: You’ve played a couple cops/detectives so far in your career. What attracts you to these kinds of roles?

JS: I like the salt of the earth characters. They are guys that come in and do their job. And it’s really fun. Every kid plays cops and robbers. Now I’ve gotten to do that few times in a big way, with all the bells and whistles. It’s just really fun and cherish every chance I get to play those kinds of parts and hopefully bring a little soul to them as well.

CV: What’s something you’ve never done in a role that you’d really like to tackle at some point?

JS: I’d like to play in a supernatural or fantasy epic. I read they are making LORD OF THE RINGS into a series. I’d love to do something like that, go in train with combat and do a sweeping epic. That would be a dream.

CV: As for Bailey and LUKE CAGE,  how did you get involved in the project? 

JS: It was pretty straightforward. I was called in by Julie Schubert — who is an amazing casting director and read for Bailey. The interesting thing about it was that everything was top secret and done under code names so I had no idea what the show was except for the concept. It was really incredible getting call and finding out what exactly the project was. It was like the being surprised by a gift on Christmas. I couldn’t believe it and I’m so grateful for the opportunity and for being called in. Lots of gratitude there.

Justin Swain
Photo by Jason Setiawan

CV: Your character does not come from the comics. Did you see this as a challenge, or was it an opportunity? How did it affect your development of the character? Can you walk me through your process?

JS: I saw it as a big opportunity, you can start something from scratch and build on it. And that’s really the way things went. I followed what the amazing writers were giving me and added little details every time there was an opportunity. And really the coolest thing about building it was the support of the cast and crew. It is a very special group and they always made me feel welcome. That really translated into a safe environment to try things and fail until you find the right fit and then let it fly!

CV: How has Bailey changed from last season to this one? How has his relationship with Misty developed?

JS: Bailey, like all the characters, has had some big life changes since THE DEFENDERS. He’s gotten a promotion. He has new found status within the department. How he deals with this with new status and power without losing himself and damage his relationships within the department are his challenges for the season. I believe that at the core he is trying to maintain his relationship with Misty ( played by Simone Missick) but circumstances testing how much they trust each other. But as always, Bailey is trying to do his best to save Misty from herself and what he sees, right or wrong, as career-killing decisions.

CV: Your character was a little behind the scenes last time, and then worked up to the action. Does he continue that journey this season?  Has his part in the story changed or evolved?

JS: It seems like Bailey steps out a little bit more in this season. He is interacting with all kinds of characters. The lingering unfinished business from the Candice murder from the first season still eats at him. He really wants to show up and do play his part keeping Harlem safe.

Looking Back on Luke Cage Season 1

CV: What did you get really excited about in this season? (That you can tell us about, of course. Let’s not get anyone in trouble.) 

JS: Ha! This season is gritty and full of action. The villains this season are intense! Alfre Woodard is back, she is incredible. Mustafa Shakir joined us. Theo Rossi is still as killer as ever. So watching them do their thing and Mike (Colter) stepping up and taking them on is what I’m looking forward to. Then there is Simone’s journey as Misty. She has some serious challenges at the beginning of the season. We also have other amazing additions to the cast like Antonique Smith, she is killing it as well. So getting to step back and watch those amazing actors do their thing and binge it is what I’m looking forward to. Plus Cheo and the writers nailed it this season and can’t wait to see all the episodes put together.

CV: If Bailey could have any superpower, what would it be? Would he use an alias or his real name like Luke does?

JS: I think Bailey would like to see into people’s minds. Just pictures. That way he can get more evidence. I think Bailey is obsessed with the evidence and the more puzzle pieces he gets the happier he is.  I think he would keep the power itself secret. So everyone would still see him as Bailey and then it would later be revealed he found he has this power. Then we do the spin-off HA!

LUKE CAGE and The Importance of Community

CV: Give us a little peek behind the curtain. Could you talk about one funny, weird, or interesting moment that happened on set?

JS: We were doing a scene and it was pretty intense and really late at night. People were being interrogated. I had stepped back and was working with one of the witnesses. It was late and I was getting punchy and everyone was tired. So as I was hanging out with one of the “witnesses”, I started drawing sketches of the “the man she saw.”

I dabble in drawing cartoons and have an art background so for fun I started drawing cartoon dogs and cats and asking her if they resembled the person she saw at the crime scene. We were cracking up in the background. Then finally it devolved into me drawing the Grinch and asking her if “this was the man you saw stealing Christmas”. It helped us get through the night. Ha.

Catch Justin Swain as Detective Mark Bailey on Season 2 of Netflix’s LUKE CAGE on Friday, June 22nd.

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