Mike Colter made his debut as Luke Cage last year in the acclaimed Marvel-Netflix collabora­tion Jessica Jones. Cage, a wrong­fully imprisoned ex-con with superstrength and impenetrable skin, was a supporting character who appeared in seven of the 13 epi­sodes. Colter left a lasting impres­sion on viewers by giving Cage depth and fusing his emotional vulnerability with his proclivity to kick all forms of ass when provoked.

As a 6’3″ bald dude with a bulky physique, the South Carolinian had enough cred for the role. But to own it, Colter packed on 30 pounds, beefing up to 235. “I was careful about what I put in my body,” Colter says of his weight-gain diet, which centered on whole foods such as fruit, oatmeal, nuts, sweet potatoes, avocados, chicken breasts, and steamed vegetables.

He kept the supplement routine simple: a pre-workout, branched-chain amino acids, and two daily plant-based vegan protein shakes. Two-a-days at the gym were also common. “I’d do heavy lifting first, and later in the day go back and do a lighter workout,” Colter says. “I felt I had to put on as much muscle as possible in a healthy way.”

To avoid stagnation, he switched training protocols often. “Every month or two you should be changing your routine,” Colter says. “Other­wise, you’re going to get bored and your body is not going to get the same positive results.”

Luke Cage picks up in New York City a few months after the season finale of Jessica Jones. He has moved to Harlem from Hell’s Kitchen in hopes of settling down and making ends meet without being forced to beat down goons and villains. Judging by the teasers and trailers that show Cage kicking down doors, calmly walking into a hail of gunfire, and beating down the aforemen­tioned goons and villains, he’s going to need a contingency plan.

“I did a lot of my own stunts,” Colter says. “Being in shape helps you get through it because you can still get hurt, even if it’s fake fighting.”

Colter Million Dollar Baby Boxer

Pre–Luke Cage, Colter was best known for his 2004 portrayal of boxer Big Willie Little in Million Dollar Baby. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Despite a moving performance in an Oscar-winning flick, Colter’s career was filled predominantly with one-off TV appearances in sitcoms, movies, and procedurals. But he also had plenty of prep to play a badass: He was a special–ops soldier in Zero Dark Thirty (2012), a ruthless drug lord in CBS’ The Good Wife (2010–15), and a no-nonsense FBI agent in Seasons 1 and 3 of Fox’s The Following (2013-15).

By casting Colter, Netflix is again poised to deliver exactly what Marvel Cinematic Universe’s TV series have become known for: showcasing the complex existence of street-level superheroes and their struggles. Cage’s world is grittier and features more sex, booze, and violence than the superheroes in Marvel’s movies. But Luke Cage also serves as an evolution for the genre as a whole. Just as Cage was one of Marvel Comics’ first African-American superheroes, the 40-year-old Colter will be the first black lead in a Marvel TV series.

Show runners emphasized neigh­borhood diversity and went heavy on hip-hop for the soundtrack to create a realistic environment. Each episode is named for a Gang Starr song—which makes us eager to see what episodes “Code of the Streets,” and “Suckas Need Bodyguards” are all about.

Binge on Cage

All 13 episodes of Luke Cage begin streaming Sept. 30 on Netflix.