Luke Cage: Gabrielle Dennis talks Nightshade’s family ties and more

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 01: Actress Gabrielle Dennis attends Universal Pictures' Special Screening Of "Breaking In" - Arrivals at ArcLight Cinemas on May 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 01: Actress Gabrielle Dennis attends Universal Pictures' Special Screening Of "Breaking In" - Arrivals at ArcLight Cinemas on May 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images) /

We recently spoke with Gabrielle Dennis about Luke Cage season 2, Nightshade, and her relationship with Mariah Dillard which strays from the comics.

Gabrielle Dennis steps in this season of Luke Cage to add to Mariah Dillard’s (Alfre Woodard) family tree. Dennis plays the holistic doctor, Tilda Johnson who becomes the villain Nightshade. The trailers don’t tell us much about her character so Gabrielle gave us the inside scoop on the family dynamic that is going to make this character fun to watch.

Hidden Remote: I watched some of your other interviews and I know you were a fan of the show so how did this role come about?

Gabrielle Dennis: Just the traditional way. Agent submitting. They saw this role and thought I would be good for it. The problem was that at the time they were initially casting, I was still on a TV show. (laugh) They were definitely interested in me but they said they couldn’t have me come in for that final stage of auditioning until they knew if the show was going to be canceled or not. A lot of phone calls were being made and then the next thing I know, we found out the day before our show was officially cancelled, that I got the green light and I could go ahead and be seen by all the producers.

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So it was like out with one and in with another, which was great. I got to go in and I got to have the test read. Basically there’s like a regular audition, and then there’s a call back that involves more people like the producer the director. That’s what I got to do with Cheo [Hodari Coker] and some of the other producers and casting people and from there it just kind of took off. I was in New York within a few weeks of that and things moved pretty quickly. It was an exciting time, having to relocate to a whole nother state for a while and it was a lot of fun. I almost felt like there wasn’t a lot of time to think about much other than, ok how do I prepare for this and get my house in order before leaving? But it was very, very exciting and I kind of like that everything moved really fast.

Seeing Cheo when I walked in the room was kind of like: “oh wow.” Like, this is the guy behind everything. And just going into that room and everybody being really warm and friendly, it was a really fun audition. I got to sing in my addition. They weren’t sure if that was going to come into play but sometimes they just want to see a little bit of everything so the writers can decide what they can do with you.

HR: Having your other show (Rosewood) cancelled right before, it sounds like that was a hectic time. It sounds like you appreciated there not being a gap though. 

GD: Yes. I don’t think that’s happened before for me. Obviously this business has a lot of downs and ups, I’d say more downs than ups, as far as momentum and with things not going the way you want them to. But I’ve been in this place of peace for the past couple of years and just kind of accepting that what’s meant for me is meant for me and everything happens for a reason. All of these very cliche things that we say all the time to make ourselves feel better, but I’ve truly come into believing that wholeheartedly maybe like three years ago.

I was at peace with the fact that I got to do two seasons on a network television series. Forty-four episodes is nothing to sneeze at. It’s definitely my first time being able to do that and it was a celebratory moment. Like this is a big thing, this is something to celebrate and not to be sad about. It was a great experience but now it’s time to close the door on that chapter and get excited by whatever’s next. It just so happened that this happened so fast after that which just made it that much more exciting. I feel like being at peace and being ready for whatever was coming next for me really helps that transition too.

Gabrielle Dennis
Marvel’s Luke Cage /

HR: That’s exactly what I was going to say. Your attitude coming in is likely going to affect the way people view you.

GD: Yes sometimes your energy or your mindset goes with you throughout your day. You can fake it, but people pick up on things. Sometimes it’s just that calming energy, people are like: “Huh, I like this person. This is someone I want on set.” I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it but I feel like for me I just try to stay positive and focus on what’s ahead instead of harboring on what’s in the past. I’ve done that and that doesn’t necessarily work for me. (laugh)

HR: Season 2 of Luke Cage seems to be very woman focused and there are a lot of very powerful women in the show. How awesome was it coming into that environment?

GD: I mean it’s great. These women are definitely strong on so many levels. They’re definitely fearless, and I think at the end of the day they’re all defenders of their people in a sense. Of their community. Although Alfre goes about it in a different way than the average person, at their core all of these women are protectors of the community and of their people. I think that theme is very strong. I mean, Misty Knight is a detective so of course she’s a protector. Mariah, she wants to protect Harlem. She kind of wants to put this bubble around Harlem. It’s in a different way because it’s from the crime angle but she’s at least trying to limit the crime. (laugh)

But yeah, there’s definitely lots and lots of strong women in the series and I love that it’s just a different variety of that strength. Even with my character, she has her own strength. It might be a quiet strength initially because she’s very soft-spoken and very to herself, but she’s also out there giving back to the community and helping to heal people. She’s educated, she’s a business owner,  all of those things.

HR: From the trailer it looks like your character is going to be very close with Mariah. Can you describe that relationship?

GD: The biggest reveal is that our relationship is mother-daughter. So there a lot of dynamics about that people are going to be wowed by. But just like anyone who gets close to Mariah, there’s always that question of trust and there’s that question of fear. You know like how close can you get? There’s always that question of what’s the safety zone. How much can I open myself up to this person because of what she does and the people around her. You know, people in the criminal world, they don’t trust anybody. They’re always looking over their shoulder. So I think the dynamic of our mother-daughter relationship on top of her trying to take the crown of Harlem, it’s going to be a very interesting journey (laugh).

Gabrielle Dennis
Marvel’s Luke Cage /

HR: With the mother-daughter element, that sounds like something that is going to be fun to watch play out. 

GD: Oh my gosh, let me tell you. First of all, we know Alfre is a great actor, very dynamic, so there’s a lot of great scenes. We particularly have at least one or two very powerful scenes that, when you take all the amazing work that she’s doing playing this villain, but then you compound that with her also playing this mother role…. there’s just a lot of interesting things that are going to be going on that I think will shock people. There’s a lot of twists and turns that got me excited that I don’t think people are going to see coming. I just finished watching it this past weekend and man, it’s so good like it is so freaking good. Like juicy, like I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t wait to watch it again at the premiere when it comes out. It’s good. It’s a really good ride and I think what makes me most happy is that as a fan, and for all of the other fans who have waited like a year and a half now?

HR: Going on two. 

GD: Yeah like it’s worth the wait. That’s what makes me so excited. That the wait was absolutely worth it. The show has got a great pace to it. The story lines are great, I love the family ties that are added. For me, it adds to the level of the drama and realism and it helps ground the show. The performances are great. I mean, the music is off the chains. It’s just good, it’s really good. It’s really, really good. Yeah, I’m excited.

HR: Are we going to forgive Cheo for Cottonmouth?

GD: Yes. I don’t want to say you’re going to forget about Cottonmouth but I feel like you’re double-rewarded because you get two villains this season. You get a two for one. (laugh) So I feel like you lost one Stokes villain but you gain another one and Mariah does her thing. She’s going to be one that you’re going to enjoy watching a lot.

HR: I think knowing that there is a mother-daughter situation is exciting because that cousin dynamic was part of the fun at the start of last season. Now I know the show strays away from the comics a little bit, but did you get to do any research on your character at all?

GD: I wasn’t familiar with her prior to getting involved and there wasn’t much out there to research. I don’t even know where you buy old comic books because I’m not a comic book reader. So other than my going online and typing in “Nightshade” or “Tilda Johnson” or whatever name came up, I was just like: “who is this girl?” But also realizing that the comic book and what’s on the TV series are not going to be the same. So there may be nods to the comic book but what I like about this character is that initially she definitely doesn’t feel like she’s part of a comic book world. That’s what I like about this series is that everyone feels real and very grounded and you get to go on this journey with her.

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Tilda is definitely a fun character and most of the research came from the script and talking to Cheo and his vision for what Tilda was going to be but it was interesting reading some of the stuff about the original character. I was like wait, what, how are they going to put this in the show? With werewolves and all of this type of stuff, so I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how that was going to work but then I got it when I realized this was its own space you know? The comic characters have their own space and the TV characters have their own space. I think there’s going to be some very fun things about it. Obviously I don’t think that there was a mother daughter thing. They weren’t related in the comic book so it’s going to be interesting to see, for fans, especially for fans of the comic book. I think that’s part of the fun of watching these shows and Marvel movies is kind of dissecting and taking apart what fans are familiar with from the comic book versus what’s been changed for the cinematic version.

You can catch Gabrielle Dennis as Nightshade in Luke Cage as of midnight Eastern, and later this year she can be seen playing Whitney Houston in The Bobby Brown Story